The Prodigal Son by Rembrandt Image source: wikimedia.org
Word Alive — Fr. Bel San Luis, SVD February 20, 2022 / 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time
A husband, who broke up with his wife, writes: “Dear Marietta… Words cannot express my deepest regret at having broken our marriage. Your absence leaves a void which no one else can fill. Please let’s start all over again. Signed: Your ever loving, forgiving Johnny.”
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A postscript (P.S.) follows: “Congratulations! I heard you won P20 million in the lotto.” It’s not too difficult to discern the real motive behind the forgiving words of Johnny. But if that can spark a reconciliation between the two and children, why not?
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In this Sunday gospel (Lk 6, 27-38), Jesus teaches about forgiveness which, in practice, is very difficult to practice. He declares, “Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors.”
How in the world can you “love” someone who has abused your daughter or injured your brother, or a husband who’s unfaithful? How can you pray for someone who keeps on backbiting you or has not paid his debt?
Difficult, right? But this is precisely what Jesus teaches.
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The story of David (in the first reading) illustrates this point. Saul hated the much-admired David; he had become insanely jealous of him. He pursued him to get rid of him.
When David had the opportunity to assassinate Saul who was asleep together with his soldiers, he refused to do so despite the prodding of Abishai, his right-hand man. Such was David’s noble heart.
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Forgiveness does not come easily or naturally. Retribution or getting even is the more common response to wrongdoings.
But as the charismatic leader and advocate of non-violence Mahatma Gandhi once commented on Jesus’ words, “If we live by an ‘eye for an eye’ or a ‘tooth for a tooth’ kind of justice, we would all be blind or toothless today!”
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When Christ said, “Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you,” he was not asking us to have nice feelings towards our enemies. He is saying that we should not wish evil to befall on him or take revenge.
To love a person is not necessarily to like him. Loving involves willing; liking involves feeling.
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When we seek revenge, nobody wins. Vengeance never evens the score. It induces the injured and injurer to an endless cycle of retaliation.
But isn’t Jesus’ teaching of non-retaliation to evil condoning evil? Some say, “If you are always forgiving, the culprit will abuse your kindness. In response, forgiveness does not mean that we let criminals go free or that we leave society at their mercy. God is not only a God of mercy but also a God of justice.
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That’s why there are forums and courts that take care of criminal cases (that is, if the judges and commissioners are honest). Recall that on May 13, 1981 when the late Pope John Paul II now a saint was shot by a Turkish assassin Mehmet Ali Agca but he survived. Many days after the Pope had recovered, he went to the prison, met Agca and assured him that he was forgiven.
Agca was imprisoned for many years to atone for his crime. So one can forgive and love an enemy but justice is still served.
GOD’S FORGIVENESS HAS CONDITION
Is there someone whom you find hard to forgive? Or with whom you’re not in talking terms with for months and years?
We have to follow Christ’s teachings otherwise we cannot consider ourselves as true Christians.
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I had always thought that God’s forgiveness was unconditional until I learned that there’s, indeed, a condition. Read this: “If you do not forgive your brothers their offences, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you your offences” (Matthew 6,15; also the Unforgiving Servant, Mt 18.21ff.)).
Forgive and be forgiven.