Today the Church invites us to think about God’s compassion and love; these are the models on which we are to base our entire Christian living. We are to be like God; compassionate, forgiving and loving, and this is possible only if we share Our Lord’s life-giving Spirit. We know exactly how we like others to treat us: we like them to be forgiving, merciful, generous and loving towards us. But how many of us could say that we treat others in that way?
You may have heard the story about the three young lads who went to confession. The first told the priest, “I threw Peanuts in the lake.” The second confessed the same crime. When the third boy came in, the priest said, “I suppose you threw peanuts in the lake too.” The boy answered, “No Father, I’m Peanuts.”
One of the greatest challenges in Our Lord’s teaching is to love those who dislike us, or even hate us. The gospel we’ve just heard about forgiving wrongdoers and loving our enemies, must rank among the most demanding ever preached by Our Lord. We all know that forgiving those we dislike is far from easy. Not to retaliate goes against the human grain, and it requires great strength and discipline of character to resist it. And even if we do manage to resist the temptation to strike back, we can’t help thinking about it, and chewing over it in our minds and hearts.
Today’s gospel reveals the ugly side of human nature, and it shows us up for what we are: people who are full of petty jealousies, hatreds and spites. A personal remark or a cutting word from a fellow Sister, a relative or a friend automatically sparks off a row and revenge is the first thing we want. We trade insult for injury and we end up out of sorts with one another, going so far as nursing hatreds, harbouring grudges, and not speaking to one another. Life is full of people with huge chips on their shoulders because they didn’t get their own way, or didn’t get the job they were after, or they weren’t invited to the wedding, or they were omitted from a vote of thanks. Some people carry these scars for years, refusing to let the wounds heal until the scores are evened out. And there is never any shortage of excuses for such behaviour. The world we live in has raised vengeance almost to the level of virtue, and it pours contempt on the weakling who doesn’t seek retaliation, but takes it on the chin, or allows the people he loves to be insulted.
Our Lord rejects this law of revenge, and insists on his followers repaying evil with kindness. He warns against giving in to bitterness and being obsessed with feelings of vindictiveness. It’s only as we get older, and with the experience hindsight brings, that we learn that hatred never cures a situation. When we grow to hate someone we give that person power and control over us, and this eats into our heart and destroys our peace of mind. Our Lord tells us that such attitudes are not in line with his teachings. People who behave in such a manner have not even begun to appreciate what Christianity is all about.
Our Lord’s message is one of forgiveness, pardon and generosity, urging us to love others irrespective of whether or not we are loved in return. The gospel today points to the necessity of nurturing a forgiving heart as a basic essential for loving other people, including our enemies. Do we even pray for those responsible for causing suffering, inflicting hardship, and bringing unhappiness into our lives?
When we offer pardon, and show forgiveness we rise to the level of Christ. The challenge is to decide whether hatred or love is the main motivating factor in our lives.
We must never forget that love of our neighbour is, and always has been, the distinguishing mark of a Christian.