for Sunday, February 24, 2019
Nelson Mandela was convicted of sabotage during apartheid in South Africa and served 27 years in prison on Robben Island. When he was released in 1990, he didn't seek revenge against his former jailers; rather, he invited one of them, a white man named Christo Brand, to his 1994 presidential inauguration. This compassionate act symbolized the type of healing necessary for a post-apartheid nation. The world was agog at his generosity towards those who humiliated him individually or institutionally. Who acts this way? And, why not seek revenge? Retribution, even!
Truly we are called to love everyone. The only way to prove that we love everyone is in showing that we love our enemies. It is not easy to love someone who has harmed us or who has harmed someone we love very much. Yet, our Lord asks us to live this pardon each and every day of our life. Others may think that we are crazy, but we must learn to live forgiveness.
The First Book of Samuel presents us with a paragon of pardon: David. No matter how Saul tried to destroy him, David would not retaliate. David had the opportunity to kill Saul and did not harvest it for vengeance because Saul was the anointed of the Lord. Unsurprisingly, the anointed of the Lord can be a sinner and do bad things. Recalling one of the Ten Commandments, "thou shall not kill," every person is truly the anointed of the Lord and we must refrain from killing. Woefully, is this not what the world tried to do to Jesus, the New Adam?
First Corinthians distinguishes between the two Adams. The first Adam originates from the material, natural world; and the second belongs to the spiritual, eternal world. The former would be hard pressed to forgive at times. Following the tragic Amish school shooting of 10 young schoolgirls in a one-room Amish school in October 2006, observers and followers of the tragedy were anger and grief-filled. In the midst of their grief over this shocking loss, the Amish community didn't cast blame, they didn't point fingers, they didn't hold a press conference with attorneys at their sides. Instead, they reached out with grace and compassion toward the killer's family. This act of forgiveness is a fruit of our relationship with the latter Adam, Jesus Christ. God asks us to forgive. Christ must become our internal guide for how we live and what we choose to do.
The Gospel of Luke exhorts us: To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic. Mozart's "Contessa Perdono" Finale from Le Nozze di Figaro captures beautifully the sentiment of forgiveness. The Count, ashamed and remorseful, kneels and pleads for forgiveness to his wife The Countess for misdeeds ("Contessa perdono!" — "Countess, forgive me!"). The Countess, more kind than he ("Più docile io sono"– "I am more mild"), forgives her husband and all are reconciled. The opera ends in universal celebration. This scenario does not always reflect real life, but it is still an ideal to live up to!
How many of us have the courage to live this way? Perhaps occasionally we summon the strength to live this way. The invitation is to live this way consistently and always, no matter what the consequences.
Following Jesus may color us as fanatics to some people and has the potential of disrupting our comfortable ways of living. We need to know how to temper our zealousness without compromising our heart's desire: Jesus Christ. If we truly live from and for the love of Christ, we will know how to give all the compassion and forgiveness we have, prepared even to give our lives for Him who loved us with compassion and forgiveness first.
Readings of the day:
Reflections are available for the following Sundays: