Some years ago, a Kiwi priest confrere of mine told the story of meeting up with several American Priests just after 9/11 when he was in the States.
They had a time of shared prayer together and my confrere prayed, “Help us find a way to forgive our enemies”. He received no response from the priests gathered. Fascinating isn’t it when it comes down to it? The priests concerned would have preached for years about Christ’s call to ‘love our enemies’ but couldn’t bring themselves to see a way through at that moment. Maybe things were still too raw, and they needed time.
I remember being really moved reading an article in the newspaper about a woman whose son was murdered and how it had taken some time, but she had forgiven his murderer and did not want to harbour bitterness for the rest of her life. Her goodness emanated from the page which normally has people calling for blood in such instances.
Another case here in Aotearoa was a youth murdered in the back of a police van by another youth and how the two mothers met up and shared stories about their boys and the common problems they had encountered while they were growing up. Not an easy thing to have done but incredibly healing for the women concerned.
And some years ago, the parents who had lost their son in an army Unimog accident not wanting the police to press charges against the driver of the truck. It was a driving mistake any of us could have made, the Dad said, and it would be an injustice to the soldier concerned who was dealing with his own injuries.
In a sense, all these stories connect with the words Jesus said to his disciples:
“I say this to you who are listening: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you…. pray for those who treat you badly.”
The disciples lived in a society occupied by a foreign power and were often treated with hostility. What Jesus was asking is that they should not return hatred for hatred or hostility for hostility.
This is an attitude that the Church in all its 2000 years has hardly understood.
Several godly men and women on the world stage have had to call us back to the importance of non-violence as the true Christian response to persecution, oppression, abuse and injustice. Ghandi, Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks always come to mind. St Maximillian Kolbe and Edith Stein (St Benedicta of the Cross) in the death camp in Auschwitz and in our own country Te Whiti and Tohu, the prophets of Parihaka are other shining lights.
Compassion and Forgiveness
Jesus remains the greatest teacher and example of non-violence as he faced his persecutors and went to the cross, forgiving them because they did not know what they were doing. All of us have been hurt at one time or another and we cannot control how others will treat us, but we can control how we treat them.
Some of us have been victims of verbal and physical abuse even within our own families and we should do everything in our power to put an end to an abusive situation. However, the Gospel is reminding us that if we follow an eye for an eye approach everybody will be blind.
We are made in God’s image and Jesus challenges us to be compassionate just like the Father, not to judge or condemn. It is a tall order to be like God in these situations but that is what we are asked to do. It is possible, and when we experience it, witness it or read about it, we are in the presence of grace. A grace our divided world desperately needs more of.
Christ has forgiven us, and we are called to forgive one another in Christ. To be merciful as God is merciful to us. Listen to ‘Loved Sinners’ - Track 9 from ‘Holy Land’.
‘When anger takes possession throw away the stones’, is a reference to ‘Let those without sin, cast the first stone' from the Gospel of John, chapter 8. When we have an appreciation of how much we are loved and forgiven despite some of the choices we’ve made maybe we will have that same sensibility towards those who have sinned against us. Something we pray for everyday in the Lord’s prayer.
‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’.
We can’t do it on our own steam.