A For­giv­ing Heart

Bi­ble Read­ing for the Twen­ty­fourth Sun­day of Or­di­nary Time: Matthew 18: 21-35

The Freeman - - LIFESTYLE -

The com­mon theme of most ac­tion movies is re­venge. The hero has to avenge the tor­ture and death of a loved one. The bad guys have to pay. They too must suf­fer a vi­o­lent death.

This is a “pop­u­lar es­cape” from the harsh re­al­ity, wherein bad guys lit­er­ally get away with mur­ders. In the real world, count­less rapes, mur­ders, mas­sacres, kid­naps, and other crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties are still un­re­solved af­ter so many years. The bad guys seem to be hav­ing it so good!

The mur­der of Ni­noy Aquino, Cae­sar Cli­maco, and so many less-known peo­ple are still un­solved and for­got­ten. At least in the movies, the bad guys get what they de­serve. Just like the Si­cil­ian Mafia, many ori­en­tal cul­tures look to vengeance as a debt of honor, a sa­cred obli­ga­tion.

The Old Tes­ta­ment in­junc­tion of “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” was not meant to de­mand vengeance, but to put a limit, to avoid ex­cesses in vengeance. For los­ing a tooth, you can­not knock off all the teeth of your en­emy – only one may be al­lowed.

The mod­ern so­ci­ety, ap­par­ently more civ­i­lized, also knows such mech­a­nisms even though they usu­ally func­tion more dis­creetly. To for­give is con­sid­ered an act of weak­ness; while to avenge one­self is the nor­mal ac­tion of the per­son. One only has to look at the news­pa­pers to find the sad litany of re­tal­i­a­tions and crimes of vengeance.

With­out go­ing to such ex­tremes, we all har­bor se­cret re­sent­ments and sub­tle de­sire for vengeance – be it a col­league, who be­trayed us, an ar­ro­gant boss, an un­friendly neigh­bor. Vengeance is our nat­u­ral re­ac­tion, when some­one has wronged us. Of course once our de­sire for vengeance is sat­is­fied, our op­po­nent re­acts in turn by get­ting even with us at the first op­por­tu­nity. Thus, a spi­ral of re­tal­i­a­tions is ini­ti­ated and the vi­o­lence can go on es­ca­lat­ing.

To­day’s Gospel para­ble shows us how to break the vi­cious cy­cle even be­fore it gets started: through for­give­ness. No doubt the king first re­acts by or­der­ing the ser­vant with a bad debt to be sold as a slave. His de­sire for vengeance is also his pri­mary re­ac­tion.

But he lets him­self be moved by the wretched man cow­er­ing at his feet. He changes his mind and crushes his own ver­dict, thus break­ing away from the trap, which threat­ens to en­cir­cle him. His de­ci­sion is coura­geous, his gen­eros­ity royal.

As it is with God, he too would have ev­ery rea­son in the world to de­mand a vig­or­ous ac­count of our faults and sins. But God chooses to for­give.

The whole his­tory of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween God and Is­rael is a his­tory of for­give­ness. God did ev­ery­thing for the peo­ple. A hun­dred times Is­rael turned her back on her God, and a hun­dred times God for­gave her.

God never turns back on his com­mit­ment to love us. We may think God’s un­lim­ited for­give­ness ap­plies more to some hor­ri­ble crime or some heinously con­temptible ac­tion; one of those un­speak­able deeds, which shock hon­est peo­ple.

But our lit­tle sins such as back­bit­ing, un­char­i­ta­ble re­marks about oth­ers, shady busi­ness deals, oc­ca­sional ex­tra-mar­i­tal love af­fairs, neg­li­gence at work, fits of anger, are noth­ing to make a fuss about. We think we sim­ply rank among the rea­son­able av­er­age peo­ple: nei­ther saints nor crim­i­nals.

When it comes to the pure love of God, those who see things from God’s point of view know the depth of sin. Be­fore the pure love and the ab­so­lute ten­der­ness of God, the least re­jec­tion is a se­ri­ous of­fense. Our mis­take when judg­ing our sins is that we look at our­selves in­stead of look­ing at God. But as soon as we grasp some­thing of this un­ut­ter­able meek­ness, we dis­cover at the same time the hid­den face of sin.

In the Gospel, Je­sus tells us, “Par­don and you will be par­doned.” Je­sus as­sures us that we find sal­va­tion and we find God in our broth­ers and sis­ters. We are build­ing our eter­nal fu­ture by the way we treat each other.

The Gospel chal­lenges us to make an act of faith, not so much in ab­stract truths of dogma, but rather in the liv­ing pres­ence of God in ev­ery man, woman, and child we meet.

How of­ten can I for­give? How of­ten do I ex­pect to be for­given? If we un­der­stand our own way­ward hearts, if we hon­estly face the sorry record of our lives, we should have no trou­ble fig­ur­ing out the an­swer.

The fol­low­ing true story il­lus­trates what Je­sus meant by for­give­ness.

Over a hun­dred years ago in France, a but­ler at­tached to a wealthy fam­ily knew the fam­ily kept all their wealth hid­den in a vault un­der­neath the chateau. He me­thod­i­cally plot­ted to kill ev­ery­one in the fam­ily and steal the trea­sure.

One night, when ev­ery­one was asleep, he mur­dered the fa­ther and mother first, and then, one by one, the chil­dren. Only the youngest es­caped be­cause he had heard noises and couldn’t sleep. When he re­al­ized what was hap­pen­ing, he qui­etly slipped out of his room and hid in a closet un­der a pile of clothes.

For years he wan­dered the streets as an or­phan, and later he en­tered the sem­i­nary and be­came a priest. Even­tu­ally he was as­signed to Devil’s Island as a chap­lain. One af­ter­noon, a con­vict came run­ning in from the fields, fran­ti­cally call­ing for the chap­lain, “There’s a man dy­ing out in the field, Fa­ther, come quickly.”

The priest ran out with him and reached the dy­ing man. Kneel­ing down be­side him, he lifted the man’s head onto his lap and asked if he would like to con­fess his sins. The dy­ing man re­fused.

“Why, my son?” the priest asked.

“Be­cause God will never for­give me for what I have done,” the man replied.

“But what have you done?” the priest con­tin­ued. And the man went on to tell the story of how he mur­dered this whole fam­ily he was once serv­ing as a but­ler so he could have their money and only one lit­tle boy es­caped be­cause he couldn’t find him.

Then the priest said to him, “If I can for­give you, cer­tainly God can for­give you. And I for­give you with all my heart. It was my fam­ily you mur­dered, and I am that lit­tle boy.”

The con­vict cried and told the priest how he had been haunted all his life over what he had done, though no one else knew about it. Even the au­thor­i­ties never found out.

The two men cried to­gether. And as the priest was giv­ing the dy­ing man ab­so­lu­tion, the man died with his head rest­ing on the priest’s lap.

Here is an­other true-to-life rec­on­cil­i­a­tion: In 1976, the World Assem­bly of the Chris­tian Life Com­mu­nity (CLC) was held in Baguio. There were more than 200 del­e­gates from about 60 coun­tries from all con­ti­nents of the world at­tend­ing.

One of my friends, who was as­signed to help in the sec­re­tar­iat came from San Pablo, La­guna, where her fam­ily suf­fered ter­ri­bly from the Ja­panese atroc­i­ties dur­ing the Se­cond World War. Be­cause of her trauma, she had a hid­den re­sent­ment against the Ja­panese. She told me that when­ever any Ja­panese del­e­gate would come to the sec­re­tar­iat, she would leave the room.

Then late one night, she went to the chapel to pray. In the dark­ness, she thought she was alone. Min­utes later, how­ever, when her eyes ad­justed to the dark­ness of the chapel, she saw an­other per­son there. It was a Ja­panese woman del­e­gate pray­ing. A voice in­side my friend told her, “Look, you are pray­ing to the same God she is pray­ing to.”

That was the mo­ment of con­ver­sion for my friend. From that chapel ex­pe­ri­ence, she learned to for­give the Ja­panese. Her spirit felt lib­er­ated. Af­ter that time, she was able to work with the Ja­panese CLC for a num­ber of apos­tolic projects in Mindanao.

Let’s close with the fa­mil­iar Prayer of St. Fran­cis:

“Lord, make me a chan­nel of your peace. Where there is ha­tred, let me sow love; Where there is in­jury, par­don; Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is de­spair, hope; Where there is dark­ness, light;

And where there is sad­ness, joy.

“Grant that I may never seek to be con­soled as to con­sole; to be un­der­stood as to un­der­stand; to be loved as to love; for it is in giv­ing that we re­ceive; it is in par­don­ing that we are par­doned; and it is in dy­ing that we are born to eter­nal life.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Philippines

© PressReader. All rights reserved.