February 24, 2019: Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time - Pastor’s Corner
Love your enemies and do good to them…Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful…Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give, and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you. (Luke 6:34-38)
Love hurts. Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel challenge us to love, precisely when it seems impossible. To stop judging, to let go of past hurt, to be merciful with the full abundance of our heavenly Father: Jesus’s mandate to love goes beyond human strength. How can we love in this radical way?
First, we must distinguish between the emotion of love and the decision to love. Often, strong emotions can inhibit our desire to love. We think, “I do not real like this person, I don’t see how I could love them.” Yet Christ himself does not say that we have to like everyone, but we are called to love even enemies. Perhaps the most striking example of this is the crucifixion. Presumably Christ did not have warm, fuzzy feelings for those who were responsible for his death. Yet his first words on the cross are words of love and mercy: “Father forgive them.”
Love is a decision. Consider forgiveness. Forgiving someone who hurts you is not easy but, if we don’t, it is we who suffer. The prophet Sirach says: “Can anyone nurture bitterness against someone and expect healing from the Lord?” The first person harmed when we harbor resentment is ourselves. Failing to forgive is like taking a sip of poison and expecting it to harm the other person. Choosing to let go of bitterness in our heart begins this healing. Even if we recognize that letting of bitterness is difficult, the desire to want to let go and forgive is a start. One of my litmus tests for forgiveness is: Can I pray for those who have injured me in the same way I pray for myself? When I can ask God to bless the offender with the same blessing, strength and grace I pray for myself, then I know I am on the right path of healing.
Second, love is a process. It is a takes time to build this habit of the heart, to exercise this spiritual muscle. We cannot expect that simply choosing to let go in a moment has the power to heal all wounds. When Peter asks Jesus, “How often do we need to forgive? As many as 7 times?” Peter assumes that forgiveness is simply a moment. (In Biblical numerology, 7 is the number of completion or perfection, e.g., the days of creation.) Jesus’ response of “77 times” reveals that forgiveness must be even more complete or perfect than we suppose. Forgiveness is not a “one and done” event, but a choice made over and over, however long it takes. If we were to suffer a broken bone, simply setting the bone is not an immediate cure. It takes time for bone to heal, muscles to be strengthened and full range of motion to be realized. Forgiveness is surgery for our heart. It takes time, perseverance and patience for us to let go of bitterness and rancor.
Third, we cannot love without God’s help and grace. After the Resurrection, when Jesus encounters his apostles, they need his forgiveness. Jesus says: “Peace be with you” and breaths the Holy Spirit into their lives. This Spirit of Peace brings forgiveness, strength and healing. Like the apostles, we too need God’s mercy if we are to love as he loves. We often say: “Nobody is perfect.” So Jesus call to love perfectly impels us to seek His mercy that might be his mercy. As we consider how we judge others, how we harbor grudges and we withhold the decision to love from those who harm us, let us pray for this same Spirit to be active in our lives. “Come Holy Spirit, help me to love as you love. Let bitterness and rancor not take root in my heart. Be merciful to me that I may be your mercy. Amen.”