Updated: Mar 14, 2022
Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE].
I’d like to discuss three themes today: the example Christ gives us; forgiveness; and purification. We’ll begin with Christ’s example.
Just last Sunday (and at a few daily Masses this week), I mentioned that this image [gesturing to the crucifix] contains all the answers that matter most. All theology is summarized in this image. The understanding of God is gleaned from this image. And today’s gospel reading gives us yet another example of this.
In our passage, Jesus tells us: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, [and] pray for those who mistreat you…” and so on.
Friends, this is what that looks like [gesturing to the crucifix]. As challenging as our words are, our Lord goes so far as to show us what they mean. This is love’s response to hatred. This is what blessing looks like in response to a curse. He prayed for us from the cross, appealing to his Father, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The Word of God speaks for himself by his example.
As somewhat of an aside, David gives us his example in our first reading. King Saul tried to kill his champion, David, out of envy. David fled from the palace and Saul pursued him with 3,000 picked me, as we heard.
At some point, Saul finds himself in the very cave that David is hiding in. David is literally standing over him, and his companion, Abishai, says to him: “God has put your enemy at your feet! Let me pin him to the ground! I won’t need a second thrust!”
But David stops him, saying, “No! Do you think you can strike down the Lord’s anointed and escape his punishment? If God chooses to claim his life, he will do so, but it will not be by our hand.”
So David took Saul’s spear. The next morning, when Saul woke and stood on the opposing hilltop, David called out to him, “Have you come out as against a dog? I could have killed you, but I will not strike down the Lord’s anointed!” Saul responded: “Is that you, my son, David?” He experiences a conversion and the two part ways.
David gives us an example of what loving one’s enemy looks like. Our Lord shows us this on the Cross.
Second topic: forgiveness. When someone does harm to me—injures me; ironically, at some level I ought to be grateful to that person—to the point where I would want to turn the other cheek, so that one could be slapped too. Why? In our passage, Jesus tells us: “Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.”
I should be very afraid when I’ve run out of people to forgive. If there’s no one left for me to forgive, then how can I ask for forgiveness? When someone offends me in some way, it’s like they’re giving me currency. That’s how this works in God’s plan. When someone offends me, I now have something I can forgive; and in doing so, I gain forgiveness.
I know in practice, it’s actually a very difficult thing to do—to forgive another person. It takes a lot of grace and healing. It’s not my first instinct. Yet, that is our calling—to forgive. And it shouldn’t surprise us.
Our Lord forgave sins throughout his ministry. He preached about forgiveness. You might remember the parable of the wicked servant who was forgiven his debts, but failed to forgive others their debts. He’s imprisoned.
Our Lord taught us to pray with forgiveness in mind. He taught us the Our Father, in which we say: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. There’s an integrity and harmony to forgiving others and being forgiven. They go together. And what God has joined together, no one must separate.
Final topic: purification. If it seems impossible to forgive others for their offenses, it might help to remember that only the perfect can enter into heaven.
And to become perfect, we must be purified, either in this life, or in that process of purification after death we call purgatory. There are reasons why purification in this life is preferable, which we won’t get into right now.
Purification requires suffering. It’s like putting gold through fire: the gold is refined as impurities are separated out or burned away.
Now, there are basically two reasons why we suffer: we either deserve that suffering, or we don’t. That’s it. If we deserve our suffering as a consequence of our sins or mistakes, then it’s good that we suffer now. There’s no escaping punishment. And it’s better to be punished for our sins in this life than in eternity.
But if we’re suffering from something we don’t deserve—then that’s even better. If we don’t deserve the suffering we experience—if we’re suffering injustice—then our suffering has become sacrifice. Our suffering finally looks like this [gesturing to the crucifix]. And God will give us justice; a justice that could never be achieved with human strength; a justice that can only be satisfied with the resurrection from the dead. In that suffering, we become more the image and likeness of the God whom we worship. We reveal ourselves as children of our heavenly Father.
All of this goes together. All of this can be gleaned from the Cross. Last Sunday, Jesus said in our gospel: “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.” We’re blessed because such things purify us, and give us things to forgive. And so, we should (as our Lord tells us): Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.”
Blessedness, forgiveness, and purity; Jesus shows us these in his example. May God bless you.