C Cycle – 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time 19
Those who deal with the human psyche, human nature tells us we like predictability. In every area of our lives we find a comfortable place and we will resist any change unless the change fits in with our sense of comfort. Anything that challenges us to do something beyond our comfort level disturbs us and creates turmoil within us. Yet if you take the time to read or even listen to the scriptures, Jesus is constantly challenging us to move beyond our human instincts to remain in our comfort zone and today’s gospel is filled with those challenges.
If someone strikes us, our instinct is to strike back. If someone mistreats us it is not likely we will be asking God to bless them. As you are stopped by a traffic light, do you give to that person who is standing on side of the road asking for a handout, or do you make judgments about them instead? Today’s gospel is filled with situations and how we are to respond to them, and our instincts tell us those responses are unrealistic. We are believers that you work for what you want, fighting is wrong, and in the Old Testament rule of an eye for an eye.
Jesus’ words were intended to not only make us reflect on our actions, but they are intended to reveal the essence of who we were created to be. Think of Jesus’s words, he gives us situations where our instinctive reaction is the opposite of what he is saying. Then he shifts from talking about our actions to talking about our hearts. He reminds us we are created in the image and likeness of God and we are to be merciful, gracious, loving and forgiving. Those are the same qualities of God; the attributes He reveals about Himself to Moses on Mt. Sinai (Ex,34:6).
Our journey with God will always be one of uncertainty because it demands we trust God instead of ourselves. The Catholic Catechism in article 397 tells us because of the sin of Adam the “seed of distrust in God was planted in our hearts.” It goes on to say because that seed in our hearts “we have a basic distrust in God’s goodness.” It is no wonder we seek comfort by following the law and clinging to rules and rituals because they do not demand a change from us only obedience. Paul is making that same case in his epistle today when he tells us we are made in the image of the earthly man and in the spiritual man Jesus. Unfortunately, it is the earthly part of us that rebels against what God is calling us to become.
There is no situation in today’s gospel that is a comfortable, safe place for us. Every one of those statements by Jesus is a challenge to our core response to others and to God. We should take them to heart and examine our response to this higher standard of living the gospel message. Jesus’s audience that day were the same people we heard about last week. A large mixed crowd of people, some of them believed and were following Him. Others were seeking something from him, others were curious and yet others unwilling to move away from the law.
We can safely say the believers were outnumbered by those Jews who would have been offended by this new teaching of forgiveness, mercy, love, compassion and serving others. They would have been schooled in the law of eye for an eye and all their troubles were a result of sin. There was nothing in that litany of Jesus that was compatible with their understanding of acceptable living. Their comfort level was, “you hurt me, I am going to hurt you.” “You strike me, I will strike you back”. “You take my coat, you will be sorry.”
Jesus’ words are like that of a prize fighter jabbing, getting the attention of his opponent setting him up for the knockout punch. Jab, you think this, but I say do the opposite. Jab, you do this, I say do that.” Jab, “you hate them, I say love them.” And then Bam, Forgive or your Heavenly Father will not forgive you.” Those words are the knockout punch for us. Forgiveness given to those who hurt us is the hardest thing we have to do – because forgiveness means we must give up our desire for retribution.
God is constantly telling us he forgives us completely. Through the prophet Jeremiah he tells us “he will forgive our sin and forget our guilt.” Now Jesus, the exact representation of the Fathers being tells us unless we forgive, we will not be forgiven. God’s love for us is unconditional, His forgiveness of our sins was sealed in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our forgiveness by God is sacred truth, but His forgiveness demands something from us. We must accept it and we must be willing to die to self and follow his way to holiness?
It is much easier to follow the rules, perform acts of piety, give of our time and talent to the community than it is to forgive. To forgive we must give up our desire to strike back at the people and the institutions that have hurt us and that is very hard to do. It is a subject that goes well beyond the few minutes we have in a homily.
Becoming a forgiving, merciful, loving, gracious, kind, slow to anger person is our destiny and we will find that destiny if we embrace the forgiveness God offers us. The ability to be the person God created us to be is ours, if we allow the Holy Spirit to write God’s law on our hearts and we seek his way of holiness. It is ours if we trust God and take that first step into discipleship and begin to walk by faith not by works.