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Unpacking the Sermon on the Mount

We are in the midst of St. Luke’s account of the Sermon on the Mount with today’s Gospel (Lk 6:27-38). The Sermon might get more notoriety in St. Matthew’s Gospel, but the Lord’s words still pack a powerful punch through St. Luke. I’d like to do a little un-packing here with many of the strong and challenging phrases in today’s passage.

“Love your enemies”
This opening commandment gets attention of the Lord’s listeners which include us. This runs counter to what people had heard and thought before, so it is a revolutionary teaching. It sets the tone for the rest of the commands that follow here.

“Pray for those who mistreat you”
Have you ever done this? Most times, it really helps to soften the heart toward the other which is exactly what Jesus wants. It is hard to hate someone for whom you are praying. On rare occasions, however, if it stirs up too much angst and pain for the heart, it is prudent to stop praying for and thinking about the person and ask someone else to do it for you. Some people have asked me to do this for them.

“Offer the other cheek”
Bishop Robert Barron has an excellent video on turning the other cheek if you want to google that. He basically says that this means we shouldn’t leave the fight, but we shouldn’t fight evil with evil either. It means to stand your ground, not give in, and don’t
flee. This was the tactic of Rev. Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and St. Teresa of Calcutta to name a few. It’s the third option in lieu of the common “fight or flight” responses.

“Do to others as you would have them do to you”
I have heard this so many times from you all that I don’t need to say much. It’s seems as though this is truly the Golden Rule of your lives.

“Lend expecting nothing back”
This was the main phrase that we discussed in Bible Study last week. At first, we said that this seems crazy and foolish. Why would you lend if you didn’t expect a return payment? And, we can’t just be giving away what we have, or we’ll have nothing left. But, then we realized that this phrase is used by the Lord in the same sentence as “love your enemies”. So, we started thinking that when we love our enemies, we know that they probably won’t love us back. It’s like we lend them our love expecting that our love won’t be returned. And, of course, matters of the heart are much more important than
matters of the wallet especially when it comes to people who have broken our hearts. In other words, it costs a lot more to love someone who won’t return our love (unfortunately this is God’s experience all too often). Nevertheless, we have to be prudent in how we lend our money (and love) just as I said we need to be prudent about praying for those who mistreat us.

“Stop judging”
This is what the culture tells us repeatedly. For this reason, I like to refer to this as the “non-judgmental generation”. I say it tongue-in-cheek because they
even though they preach it, they often don’t practice it. We Catholics are (mis)judged as harshly now as ever especially when the terms “bigots” or “haters” are cast our way. Being non-judgmental is a good principle to live by, as Jesus says, but it must be lived.

“Forgive and you will be forgiven”
We pray in the Lord’s Prayer, ‘forgive us our trespasses AS we forgive those who trespass against us. God will forgive us as much as we have forgiven others. This is similar to the last line of the Gospel passage today, “the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you”.

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful”
This is more in the middle of the passage, but it seems to be the overall point. All of the other commands of the Lord are based in this and lead up to this one. In other words, this saying of the Lord is the heading for the entire passage, in my opinion. Everything that I’ve focused on here are ways that we can be merciful in extraordinary or extreme ways. Loving and praying for our enemies, turn the other cheek, lend expecting nothing in return, and forgiving are all imitations of the Father’s mercy. These are all things that Christ himself did, and He is the Father’s mercy Incarnate. God does all these things, so we should. This is what the Father’s mercy is all about. His mercy is always expanding, so our hearts should always be open to growing, too. If you’re not there with any or all of these commands of the Lord, please open your hearts. The Father wants to show His love and mercy through you.

May you know the peace of Christ,
Fr Greg

Why Forgive?

After Pope John Paul II was shot in 1981, the cover of Time magazine had a picture of the Roman pontiff forgiving the assassin with the headline, “Why Forgive?” If we remove the cynical tone, it is a good question to ask. While many of us might not have encountered someone who has tried to kill us, we all have been in situations where extreme forgiveness was required. In today’s Gospel, the Lord Jesus calls His disciples to forgive “not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Mt 18:22). This is extreme forgiveness. This week and next, I’d like to address all of this under the heading of “Why forgive?”

First, why should God forgive? Let’s go back to the beginning of the story between God and man. He creates man (male and female) and gives him everything that he could ever want or need. All that comes from God is good. The first roaming place on earth – the garden of Eden – is described as “paradise”. So, for man, it’s all good! God has hooked him up big time. But, then, man chooses to waste all of that through Original Sin.

To make things worse, as the Catechism says, “after that first sin, the world is virtually inundated by sin. There is Cain’s murder of his brother Abel and the universal corruption which follows in the wake of sin. Likewise, sin frequently manifests itself in the history of Israel, especially as infidelity to the God of the Covenant and as transgression of the Law of Moses” (CCC, #401).

In addition, the prophets that God sent received extreme persecution. So, basically, man spits on all the good that God gave him. God’s response? He sends His only Son into the world in order to forgive the serious and long-standing sins of His people. Throughout salvation history, God counters sin with mercy. Why? How?

It is God’s nature to forgive. That’s who He is. His essence is mercy. His essence is love. Plainly put, God cannot NOT forgive. God cannot NOT love. He is Father Almighty with “infinite mercy, for he displays his power at its height by freely forgiving sins” (CCC, # 270). We see the image of the Father of Mercy through the father of the prodigal son (Lk 15). The son represents the children of God who have wasted their inheritance – the beautiful gifts of their Creator and Father. After his disastrous sin, he comes to his father to ask for mercy. When the father saw his son returning to him, “he was filled with compassion”. God is always filled with compassion. God is always filled with love. “The first effect of the gift of love is the forgiveness of sins” (CCC, #734).

It is also God’s plan to forgive. In His infinite wisdom and providence, He knew that we would sin and reject Him when He created us. His Plan from all eternity, then, was to forgive us. It’s not like He was caught off guard by our sin and our need for forgiveness. We never catch God off guard by our sin. He has seen it all coming. It’s always a dramatic point whenever I counsel someone that Christ saw all their sins from the Cross and gave His life for their sins to be forgiven. That’s really the place to go when we ask why does God forgive. The Cross is the greatest sign of God’s mercy and love in the world. And, on top of the dramatic act of offering His body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins, He even says on the Cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”.

Second, why should we forgive? My favorite answer to this and similar questions is, because Jesus says so! He says so in today’s Gospel: “forgive seventy-seven times”. This essentially means to forgive always. It means to have radical and limitless mercy…to always being willing to forgive. Sound like anyone that I just described above? We should forgive so that we can be like God who always forgives. We should forgive in order to live God’s mercy.

We should also forgive to receive God’s mercy. In today’s first reading (Sir 27), the Lord says, “forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven”. We pray each time in the Lord’s Prayer, ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’. In other words, we will be forgiven based on how we have forgiven others.

Next week, I will present other examples of forgiving seventy-seven times. What are examples in your own life or that you have seen around you? I will also explore the process and benefits of forgiveness, and what to do when you’re having trouble forgiving someone.

May you know the peace of Christ,

Fr Greg