Jesus’ most challenging command
Matthew 5: 38–48
By Rev Kenneth & Bernadette Phillips
It is relatively easy to forgive accidental/unintended injury; not so easy to forgive wilfull, severe offences. Yet, Jesus commands us to love our enemies—those who deliberately choose to do us harm. If such love is commanded, then its pursuit must lie in the will and not in the emotions. Loving the enemy means forgiving him/her.
The story of the Rwandan genocide of 1994, as told by survivor Immaculée Ilibagiza in her book Left to Tell, is a poignant example of the human capacity for both gross inhumanity and amazing goodness. But more than anything else, it depicts the reality of the divine power to forgive, rooted in faith, grace and the indwelling Holy Spirit.
She tells of the decimation of hundreds of thousands of her people; of her miraculous escape; of the recurring nightmares she suffered and the unspeakable grief and darkness she endured as the genocide unfolded.
Eventually, she comes face to face with the killer who was responsible for the deaths of her mother and brother, and who had diligently searched for her to kill her as well. She discovers that the only option she had for dealing with the man in his wretched state was to forgive him. In her own words: “Forgiveness is all I have to offer”.
In the crucible of indescribable suffering, Immaculée discovers God, the author of forgiveness, and shows us what “enemy-love” looks like.
To forgive is to accept the negative consequences of the actions of others. It is the story of Calvary. For us however, it begins with the admission that we have also offended others.
But forgiveness transcends the immediate relations between the parties involved. It demands a mature understanding of the will of God, i.e. His instructions to us (Col 3:13)—His sovereign will; and His permissive will—which allows anyone to perform evil acts towards others as a result of God’s gift of free will.
God does not cause evil. Evil is the absence of God. But free will makes human evil inevitable. Seen in this light, and in the light of God’s limitless love for us, the words of St Catherine of Siena are very edifying: “Whatever God gives and permits: temptation, being tried by people, hurt or abuse, or any other sort of trouble, He gives and permits it for our good, either to cleanse us of our sins, or for our growth in perfection and grace.”
Christianity, however, is not stoicism. One must not accept any suffering which one can avoid. We have the example of Jesus Himself (Jn 8:59 & 18:23; Lk 4:30).
In his letter to the Philippians (3:10), Paul says that we are called to share the sufferings of Christ. This is not an option. We are called to complete/bear our share of the sufferings of Christ (Col 1:24), and as highlighted in Salvifici Doloris – The Christian meaning of Suffering by Pope John Paul II. Christian suffering is a mystery, a challenge and a joy.
In the final analysis, Paul boasts of his experiences of the power of God in his times of weakness (2 Cor 12: 9–10), as he is forced to become poor in spirit i.e. totally dependent on the grace and power of God.
So over the next two days as we jump to the rhythms of the season, let us be aware that even if the person who “mash yuh foot” is acting in malice, we should forgive, forget and move on!
Loving God, bless those who persecute us, and help us to be slow to anger and rich in mercy towards them.
The gospel meditations for February were by Rev Kenneth & Bernadette Phillips, catechists of St Joseph’s, Scarborough.