7th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Feb 25, 2019

SEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - Fr. Randall P. Patterson

The words of Jesus in today’s gospel seem to come from another world – almost the exact opposite – from the world we know – from the way we tend to live. To say that we should love our enemies – do good to those who hate us – has always been the most difficult part of the gospel message. Forgiving our enemies has never been a popular commandment - but it is crucial to our spiritual health. We can look at forgiveness as strength – liberation - and grace.

First – forgiveness is a sign of strength. Jesus’ words seem - at first - to be a description of weakness – but when we think about it – they describe spiritual maturity. The easiest thing in the world is to react - Jesus is teaching us to do more – not simply react – to respond as Christians.

Reaction is automatic – responding takes thought – strength – control.

In the face of conflict with others – we retain our baptismal dignity – when we choose how we will respond to all the different kinds of people who enter our life – when we are not led into forgetting we are followers of Jesus – we are in a position of strength.

In the first reading today – David has a chance to kill Saul who has been hunting and harassing him. But he refuses to harm the Lord’s anointed - David respected Saul’s office and showed his own dignity as well. 

When we relate this story to the signs of our times – we should not forget - that in August 2018 - Pope Francis changed the official teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to condemn the death penalty under all circumstances. The revised catechism teaching reads:

            The death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the

            inviolability and dignity of the person, going on to say that the

            Catholic Church works with determination for its abolition

            worldwide.

Pope Francis is taking us beyond David’s morality and pushing us to be formed by the teaching we will hear in today’s gospel.

Forgiveness is also liberation. In the second reading – St. Paul contrasts Adam and Christ.

Adam – the man of the earth is formed from the dust – Christ – the man of heaven – lives by the very life of the Father. The face of Adam and the face of Christ both exist in our world – and probably we show both in our lives. We share Adam’s nature in our weakness – the desire to strike back – to get even – the face of Adam fills our world. 

We all know people who are filled with resentments. They constantly replay he past – go over what happened years ago. They don’t hold a grudge – a grudge holds them. There is a story of a man who felt that he had two creatures at war within himself – one was forgiving and generous – the other was vicious and resentful. He wondered which one would win. A wise man answered, “The one you feed.”

We all know people who refuse to forgive - and by refusing – enable a hurt of long ago to control & dominate their lives. In doing so – our enemies and our hurts control us – they dominate us.

This is the face of Adam - we all display at one time or another.     

Jesus says we don’t have to live that way. We can break the cycle of revenge – retaliation and resentment – and be set free. This is forgiveness - not only as strength - but as liberation.

This reading is fitting for Feb 24 – the beginning of the last week of Black History Month.

One of the greatest commentaries we have on Jesus’ teaching can be found in the address Martin Luther King Jr, gave when he accepted he Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. Calling on the whole human family - as Jesus did with his disciples –

 

            King said,

            We must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects

            revenge, aggression and retaliation.  The foundation of such

            a method is love.

Like Jesus – King preached from experience. Having been arrested nine times - stabbed and stoned – he continued to preach nonviolence.

The moment we start hating a person – we become his/her slave - that person is inserted into our thoughts – we take that person wherever we go. That person becomes a burden on our spiritual life. Only an experience of God’s grace can deliver us from the feelings of anger and resentment

we may feel toward another. Forgiveness becomes not only strength - not only freedom –             but also gift or grace. We all have hurts from the past. Nursing grudges – harboring resentments –

clinging to the wrongs others have done will only burden us – diminish us – and weaken us.

Christ’s death on the cross has released us from the burden of our sins. Why not ask Christ to release us from the burdens of our resentments - the grace to forgive. Forgiveness is not easy – it takes time – but forgiveness begins with wanting to forgive.

If Jesus words seem daunting – we must always remember that God never gives us anything we are not capable of doing. All things are possible with God’s grace.

What has allowed you to overcome obstacles and forgive someone?