7thSunday of the Year ( C ) 2019
When I looked at the readings today I wondered what to say in this homily. The gospel seemed too idealistic, Jesus words too much for us, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly”. And Jesus goes on in the same vein, “to the man who slaps you on one cheek, present the other cheek too”. And for a while I thought I need to water this down a bit, make it palatable to those who come to the 12.15 mass. I felt I had to almost rewrite the gospel in such a way that people wouldn’t switch off, as they would when you ask the impossible: “Love your enemies…bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly”. But deep down I knew I couldn’t do this; how could I water down the Gospel message, as if I understood people better than Christ.
My dilemma was resolved when I read the other readings that we have just heard; how, for example, David forgave Saul, even though he tried to kill David. Saul was jealous of David, and this jealously turned to murderous hatred. Yet when David had the opportunity to kill his persecutor he didn’t, he wouldn’t. Those who were with David couldn’t understand why not. But it was the psalmist who helped me most understand the message of the Gospel. Our refrain was: ‘The Lord is compassion and love’.
The psalmist tells us: ‘it is he (God) who forgives all your guilt… He does not treat us according to our sins nor repay us according to our faults. As far as the east is from the west so far does he remove our sins’. Now this is something to reflect on for a moment: our sins. All of us have sinned, no one in this church has never sinned. And sometimes are sins are big sins, really big sins. Sometimes the sins are so big that the sinner cannot forgive him or her self. In their hearts they know they deserve to be punished and some people will do that, they will literally punish themselves in one way or another. They refuse to believe that God can forgive them.
It is one of the greatest graces of priesthood when someone in this situation comes to confession and asks God for forgiveness. To get to this point they must have received the grace to allow God to forgive them. They have learned that great truth that the God we believe in is a God of mercy and compassion, as the psalmist told us; ‘the Lord is compassion and love, slow to anger and rich in mercy’. No matter who you are, no matter what you have done the Lord is there to forgive. And He asks His followers to do the same: “as I have forgiven you so you must forgive others.” It is only in this light that we can begin to understand those commands of the Lord: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly’.
An English poet, Alexander Pope, said something that sums up what I want to say: “To err is human to forgive divine”. We have all erred in life at some time or other, and some have erred many times. And most people I know regret it; they wished they hadn’t done wrong. We can offend, we can say the wrong thing, we can do the wrong thing. Our actions can have consequences on others, we can even destroy relationships. As I say, most people I know regret the mistakes they made. Many would like to start again. But surely, if Alexander Pope is right when he said “to err is human” he was also right when he said “to forgive is divine”. This is the message of the Gospel: learn to forgive other the harm they do to you.
Today’s gospel finishes with the words of Christ “Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate… grant pardon, and you will be pardoned”. So, yes, the Gospel message is idealistic. To love an enemy may seem impossible, but not for God. To forgive someone who has given us great offense may seem impossible, but not for God. Ask God to help you to forgive. To err is human, to forgive is divine. We can so easily err; now we who claim to be followers of Christ must learn to forgive. It is probably the hardest thing a human being is called upon to do; but we can do it, or rather, God can do it in us. It will help you do this if you reflect sometimes on the times you have offended God and been forgiven.