Love, forgiveness, compassion – the values of the Kingdom
(Readings: 1 Samuel 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23; 1 Corinthians 15:45-49; Luke 6:27-38)
Introduction to Mass
In the gospel passage this Sunday Jesus finishes laying out his teaching about the basic values and moral attitudes that make up the Kingdom of God. His appeal to love our enemies and to bless the people who are causing our unhappiness is very exacting, but “the Kingdom” involves our characters being changed through our contact with God so that we become like him in his perfect love, forgiveness and holiness.
To begin Mass let’s think of the times we’ve clung to unloving and unforgiving attitudes and ask God for his pardon and strength.
Last Sunday, in the gospel reading, Jesus laid out some of the values and attitudes that go along with belonging to God’s Kingdom, placing our lives under his rule. We saw that the values of the Kingdom are values which in many ways involve denying ourselves things which most people consider normal and desirable and they involve going against the grain of human nature and the underlying motive of self-interest which determines a lot of our behaviour.
This week Jesus carries on explaining some more of the implications of the Reign of God, and instead of talking about the whole area of wealth and material possessions, as he did in the first part of his Sermon – “happy are you who are poor, alas to you who are rich” – he moves on to talk about the impact which God’s Kingdom is meant to have on the emotional attitudes that come into play in our relationships with other people.
And again, according to Christ, this is another area of our lives where commitment to the Kingdom is difficult and demanding. Again it’s an area which involves confronting some of our most fundamental motivations and turning them on their head.
“Love your enemies,” Jesus says, “do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly”. Be compassionate, do not judge others, don’t condemn, and forgive people when they hurt you or attack you.
Let’s be clear: these are monstrous demands. I would say myself that these values are even more difficult to put into practice than the ones we heard about last Sunday.
Maybe we could all be a bit less attached to money and possessions as part of our dedication to God, but we know from our own experiences how difficult it to genuinely love and forgive some people and inconvenience ourselves for the sake of their welfare.
Sooner or later in their lives most people have an experience of being badly hurt by someone – being betrayed or abandoned, or treated in a selfish, thoughtless, cruel way.
Sometimes we find ourselves on the receiving end of someone’s efforts to bring us down in some way, to destroy us – someone who seems blind to the unhappiness he or she is causing, or perhaps, worse, doing it deliberately and taking pleasure in it.
In those circumstances its almost impossible to react calmly towards someone like that, never mind forgiving them, praying for them and blessing them.
There are two things we need to bear in mind. One is that if we look back over our own lives we’re liable to finds that there have been times when we’ve been the person causing the unhappiness – we’re the one who needs to be forgiven for our selfishness and thoughtlessness.
Often, out of blindness and insensitivity to other people’s needs, by being so wrapped up in our own goals – we don’t see the hurt we cause.
Children cause unhappiness to their parents and make it worse by not even noticing. People can be so convinced that what they want is right that they rationalise the suffering they cause to others as a price worth paying for the end result they want to achieve. I’m sure we can all think of our own examples.
The basic point is that when we’re angry with someone, and when we feel that we’re justified in refusing to forgive them, it’s a good idea to remember the occasions when we’ve been the one that’s done something wrong, and we’ve been the one needing to be forgiven.
But the second point to bear in mind about this aspect of Jesus’ teaching is that he’s putting forward a standard of perfection – the standard of perfect holiness, mirroring God’s holiness. That’s what we’re all called to, but no one is expected to completely assimilate this God-like attitude of love and forgiveness of enemies overnight.
The spiritual person – the sincere, devoted disciple of Christ – isn’t necessarily someone who finds it easy to forgive every offence, as though they’re constantly floating around on a cloud of divine grace.
Sincere, devoted disciples are individuals who don’t give up trying; they’re people who don’t tell themselves that there are situations where they’re entitled not to forgive and they’re people who don’t tell themselves that the values of Christ’s sermon on the mount are just too much to ask of ordinary human beings.
For most of us, when we’ve been seriously offended in some way, and especially if the person responsible isn’t remotely sorry, forgiveness takes a long time. Our anger takes a long time to subside and we struggle with the feeling that we don’t really want to forgive.
When that happens there’s no point getting depressed about our lack of perfect holiness. As in so many instances, we have to turn to God and ask him for his help. God doesn’t fail to exert an influence on us when we turn to him openly and ask him to. He’ll make us more forgiving and more able to let go of the thing that’s making us angry or hurt, if we ask him.
If we turn to God in that way, then in spite of various setbacks and moving backwards and forwards in our spiritual life, we will gradually make progress and God will help us rise above the wounds we’ve suffered and make us stronger and holier.
So those are some of the ways that I think we can reflect on how to put this statement of Christ’s about the exacting values that make up a redeemed way of living into practice in the circumstances of our own lives.