Forgiveness is a funny thing, it warms the heart and cools the sting – Tuesday, 11th week in ordinary time – Matthew 5:43-48
Love your enemies, this is a tough one to deal with! How we wish we could love our enemies as Jesus did from the cross. The truth is that Jesus did not see those who put him to death as ‘enemies’. He never stopped loving them and because he loved them, he saw and considered them friends who were misguided. “Father,” he said, “forgive them for they know not what they do.”
So often, our friends, misguided by their actions and words, find themselves over night on our ‘enemy list.’ How we see people is how we live and deal with them. Healing comes easier when we see a person we once loved as misguided rather than a hated enemy.
Jesus did not see those around him as enemies but that does not mean they saw him as a friend. They plotted his death, hung around him to trap him and at his trial brought false witnesses. For them, Jesus was the enemy. Jesus had to deal with people who hated him for doing good and for being God.
It is amazing to see that everything that Jesus preached in the sermon on the Mount he practiced during his passion and death. Preaching to his disciples on this mount in Galilee he speaks of loving one’s neighbour and praying for those who persecute you. This was not what the Rabbis advocated. They had conveniently twisted the law of God. Leviticus 19:18 says, “you shall love your neighbour as yourself,” it never said you shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy. This was clearly a misrepresentation of the teachings of Moses.
It is for this reason that Jesus says, “you have heard it said,” for it was a man-made saying and not the prescription of God. God desired reconciliation and love for God is love. For the Jews at the time of Jesus, the concept of a neighbour was another Jewish brother or sister. To love a Jew who was your brother or your sister was considered mandatory. By teaching one to hate everyone else was tantamount to nothing short of religious sponsored racial and ethnic discrimination; one that chose to exterminate the other even physically.
When Jesus spoke of loving one’s enemies, he was mindful that among the enemies of the Jews, the Romans stood first in line. They were the political rulers who stopped at nothing. Their taxation imposed a hard life on the people but their remote controlling of the Jewish faith and their constant interference was seen as intolerable. It is for this reason that Jesus not only spoke of every and any enemy who should be loved but also the need to pray for one’s persecutors.
On calvary, Jesus was able to forgive because love and forgiveness was second nature to the Son of God. Love and forgiveness is not a podcast we tune into when we need to be lectured hard and long on how to forgive but like exercising in a gym, it is something that is practiced every day, till it becomes a way of life.
As Christians we desire to forgive. We say to people who hurt us that we forgive them, yet the sting of that pain seems hard to go. Jesus did not just say love your enemies; he also gave us the ‘magic portion’ to take away the sting; pray, he said. On the cross of suffering, Our Lord Jesus did not just pronounce a public declaration of forgiveness. He did not say “Enemies of Christ, I forgive you,” rather he made a public prayer of forgiveness. It is prayer that takes away the sting, not merely OUR human desire to forgive. By itself, our human desire is unable to deal with so grave a sting that has become the tool of satan but with Jesus, with prayer -hate is overcome, forgiveness is given, pain is forgotten and joy is restored.
If you want to truly forgive you need to ask yourself, ‘are those who you do not like on your prayer list or on you hit list?’