Saturday, February 22, 2014

2014/02/23 - Jaw-Dropping Forgiveness

Ask yourself this question… Do I listen to anybody? Do I let ANYbody tell ME what to do?

Fr. Eugene and I can stand up here and talk for 10 minutes about what we as Christians SHOULD be doing… but I often wonder how many people actually DO what we say? WE are human, so I guess it’s OK to ignore us… but I gotta wonder…Do any of us actually DO what Jesus tells us?

See – these words that Jesus used in today’s Gospel were not just nice suggestions… these were outlining the very fabric of the moral law in the Kingdom of God. “Take no revenge”…” cherish no grudge against any of your people.” “Love your enemy.” “Love your enemy”?! “Offer no resistance to one who is Evil?” Do we really HEAR Jesus?? Does ANYBODY actually LIVE like that?

I used to like to watch Walker, Texas Ranger. It was a show starring Chuck Norris – a martial arts expert. You could count on a plot that went something like this… some bad guy did something really evil, then Walker and his detectives tracked him down, and in the finale, he would always use his Martial Arts to do a turn-around-jumping-kick-in-the-face. I found myself anticipating that moment – feeling the surge of adrenaline…, pumping my fist in the air at the moment the BAD GUY GOT JUST WHAT HE DESERVED!!! And he DID deserve it, you know… these bad guys were the evilest, vilest demons to walk the face of the earth….KICK HIM AGAIN!!! BREAK HIS JAW!

But one day – who knows, maybe it was todays’ first reading… for the first time I actually HEARD what the Bible teaches: “Take no revenge”…” cherish no grudge against any of your people.” “Love your enemy.” “Offer no resistance to one who is Evil?” .”

I realized that this simple TV show – just one of the thousands that fill the airwaves every day – was teaching me that REVENGE is the answer. I loved that taste of revenge. I could see where it could almost be addictive… so I vowed to stop watching that show.

It’s a small thing, perhaps – but I wonder – how many people actually let JESUS tell us which shows to watch or not watch? How many of us take seriously the command to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”? These are not sentimental thoughts meant to make us feel holy… they are part of the prescription for Holiness. Anytime we harbor anger and unforgiveness, we are putting ourselves at risk. “Acid corrodes the container that holds it. That’s what happens when we hold onto bitterness.”

Jesus tells us the way to avoid that problem – and we pray it every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer… “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. Do ANY of us really LIVE those words?

Lancaster County, PA – October 2006 – the world was shocked when a gunman entered the small Amish schoolhouse and shot ten young girls before taking his own life. By the end of the day, 5 girls were dead and 5 were struggling for their lives.

Imagine if these girls were our daughters and sisters and parishioners and classmates… How would we react? How would the WORLD tell us to react to this kind of evil?

Well, as shocking as the shooting was… what captured the attention of the world was how the Amish community reacted. Within hours after the shooting, some of the Amish community were speaking to the widow of the gunman and offering words of forgiveness and genuine concern for HER well-being. They visited the parents of the gunman to make it clear that they held no grudge. A large portion of the Amish community attended the funeral of the gunman, just one day after burying their own daughters. Could any of us do that? In the aftermath of the shooting, the world responded by donating millions of dollars to help them deal with the tragedy – and the Amish included the widow of the gunman and their children in the distribution to make sure they were cared for now that their father was gone.(1)

This is jaw-dropping forgiveness. I don’t know about you, but This is SO counter-cultural that it screams out to me that I’m not even CLOSE to forgiving the way Jesus tells us to…in fact, I’m so far from it that I might not even be able to consider myself to be Christian. You might think, “Yeah, Mike – but you’re a Deacon, obviously you’re Christian…” But when I compare myself to this kind of forgiveness, I fall way short of the target.

Jaw-dropping – that’s the impact this Christianity is SUPPOSED to have on the world. Christianity is SUPPOSED TO GET PEOPLE’S ATTENTION! When you or I are taken to court, Jesus tells us to give more than what was asked for. When we are forced to walk one mile, walk two – in doing so, we are pouring coals on the head of the person doing the injustice to us.

I remember as a kid going to school, the other kids would make up silly names to call me and my brother and sisters. I remember how it bothered me and I shared that with the wisest person I knew… my Mom. Her advice to me was to “Just ignore them. They’re only doing it to get a rise out of you – so the more you try to fight it, the more you’re going to encourage them.” To my surprise… it worked! Next time one of the bullies called me a name, it still stung, but I just stood there and stared blank-faced at them. After a few minutes of seeing that they weren’t going to get a reaction out of me, they got bored with that game and moved on.

You see – this command of Jesus is so simple: repaying evil with evil just escalates the war. As Christians, we’re taught to absorb the blows – to let it roll off as we turn our cheek. This teaching impacts every relationship in our lives – every day. An Amish father who lost a daughter in the schoolhouse offered his perspective: “For me, forgiveness means giving up my right to revenge.”(1) …Give up my right to revenge?! I can’t do that! I have every RIGHT to retaliate… to teach them a lesson… it’s payback time!!! I’m going to get a lawyer and milk them for all they’re worth!!

Let Jesus tell us what to do: “Take no revenge”…” cherish no grudge against any of your people.” “Love your enemy.” “Love your enemy”?! “Offer no resistance to one who is Evil?”

THIS is jaw-dropping Christianity. If more of us actually LIVED this way, we would CHANGE THE WORLD!!! St. Catherine of Sienna summed it up nicely: “If you are what you should be, you will set the world ablaze.”

1.  (Dr. Donald Kraybill,

Forgiveness does not mean that the Amish were saying that it’s OK to shoot innocent little girls. Forgiveness is different from pardon, which erases any punishment. Governors and presidents have the authority to erase punishment. The Amish were quick to say that, if Charles Carl Roberts IV had lived, they would have wanted him incarcerated, not out of revenge, but to protect other innocent children. Perpetrators can be forgiven by a victim but still held accountable for their actions. In other words, forgiveness and justice are two different things and should not be confused. (1)

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