Sunday, February 24, 2019



Jesus said to his disciples:
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you.
To the person who strikes you on one cheek,
offer the other one as well,
and from the person who takes your cloak,
do not withhold even your tunic.
Love your enemies and do good to them,
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.

Luke 6

The teaching of Jesus we have here about forgiveness of those who hurt us, friends and enemies alike, goes against almost everything we see today on social media, in political news and in the entertainment industry.  What we hear there are things like: “Hate your enemies, get even with those who wrong you, hit back if you are hit, sue anyone who takes from you, don’t show weakness and hold a grudge until you can find a way to get your revenge.”  Meanness is spreading like a virus through our culture the further away we stray from the Christian principles that guided us the past and kept some of our anger and revenge in check.

Here is just one example of the things we do these days to our enemies. It’s a bit humorous on one level, but not so funny when you think about the need for revenge that lies behind it.

A zoo in Texas celebrated Valentine's Day a couple of weeks ago by inviting visitors to name cockroaches after their ex-partners. In an event called “Quit Bugging Me,” zoo keepers at the El Paso Zoo will feed the “named” insects to hungry meerkats. They also offered to display the ex-partners' names around the meerkat enclosure and on social media. Sarah Borrego, the event organizer, said it was a "fun and different" way to celebrate Valentine's Day. "All of us have exes and we are still not over it and it's a great way to get the community into the zoo and also get out a little bit of the frustration," she said. 

Let me be perfectly clear in this homily! Forgiveness is not some kind of favor we do for God to make God feel better! Jesus is teaching us something that is good for our own good! Mark Twain said something about anger and the inability to forgive that has resonated with me more than anything I have ever read. He said, “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”

One of the most intense religious experiences I have ever had revolved around forgiving another person in my youth for years and years of psychological abuse and emotional neglect. Many of you know my story. After being eaten up with anger for years and years, I finally realized that my anger was killing me! It finally dawned on me that I was holding the key to the prison I found myself in! I came to realized that, to forgive, my heart had to soften, and if it was going to soften, I needed God’s help! After months and months of prayer, after two failed attempts, I finally got there! On June 6, 1987, at 6:00 pm, I unilaterally forgave him in a face-to-face sit-down. When I did, I felt a huge weight that had been I was carrying on my shoulders, a weight I had obsessed over almost every day of my life, dissolve within minutes. It was the best thing I have ever done for myself! 

I felt as light as air that night on my way home. We never spoke of it again. We never got to a friendship, but I hugged him for the first and last time in my life as I left there. I was OK just to be free of all that hatred and anger! I can look at his grave today without one bit of resentment and even with a bit of gratitude. I shudder to think what my spiritual life would be like today, if God had not helped me look at him with different eyes, if I had not wanted those different eyes or if he had died before I received that new way of seeing! I could still be under that chronic spell of resentment. That night, he went from a vicious old alley dog to a pathetic, toothless old hound, right before my eyes. Now I am free and so is he. Nothing changed, but my mind – the way I saw things - and that has made a world of difference in my life!

People say that you cannot change the past, but you can. You can change the past by changing how you choose to look at it and how you choose to remember it. You can change the past by looking at it from another point of view. You can change the past by moving from your own point of view to a viewing point. From there you can appreciate, not only your own point of view, but the other’s point of view as well. From there, compassion is possible.

Bitterness, hard feelings and even hatred are festering wounds that many people carry around with them daily. They have convinced themselves that they have been wronged and the only way out is for the one who wronged them to apologize and ask for forgiveness. More times than not, that never happens and so they self-righteously hug their poisonous hard feelings until those feelings become an integral part of their crippled personalities.

Every time I have told the story of our reconciliation from a pulpit, someone has been motivated to forgive a parent, a child, or an old spouse! Maybe that is why I had to go through it – to help others through it?
 If you are holding onto anger, let me tell you how freeing it is, personally, to offer forgiveness. The secret is to understand that to forgive is something you do for your own good, not the one who offended you in the first place.

In the past, I used to think that if someone disliked me, it was because there was something bad about me that I could not see.  Lately, when I know that I have done nothing wrong toward them, I have been trying to train myself to look behind their meanness and try to see where their hurt comes from. If I can find the source of their hurt, I try to do something to help heal that wound.  

Loving one’s enemies is a basic tenet of Christianity – maybe the hardest tenet to live by. One of the best ways to “love one’s enemies” is to put oneself in their shoes, try to see where they are hurting and feed that need. Often enough, it works.    

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