Father Donald Senior, CP

Feb. 20: Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Forgive as you are forgiven

1 Sm 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23; Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13; 1 Cor 15:45-49; Lk 6:27-38

A short time ago, Chicago witnessed another senseless tragedy in the shooting of an 8-year-old Mexican girl, Melissa Ortega, who had only recently immigrated to the city. She was walking across the street, holding hands with her mother on the way to get a hamburger, when a 16-year-old boy began shooting at another gang member and cut down this child in the crossfire. 

The photo of the sweet-faced girl and the wanton nature of her killing were deeply sad and touched the heart of our city. Something else took place in the midst of this senseless tragedy. Upon learning the identity of the assailant, Melissa’s mother, Araceli Leanos, said something extraordinary, “To the aggressor, I forgive you. You were a victim, too. As a 16-year-old, the community failed you, just like it failed my precious baby.”

Her words struck me as I reflected on the readings for this Sunday. The reading from the First Book of Samuel tells how David spared the life of King Saul, who was intent on killing David as a rival to his throne.

Slipping into the king’s camp at night, David could have murdered the sleeping monarch under the cover of darkness but chose to be merciful instead. David took Saul’s spear and water jug to later prove to the king that he had refrained from violence.

This is one of several stories portraying David’s virtue. (Later the same biblical book will describe David’s own terrible sins. He was not perfect.)

This is only a faint preface to the reading from Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain found in Luke’s Gospel (basically the same sermon that in Matthew takes place on a mountain), a striking text that represents the core of Jesus’ teaching and states the most radical and heroic ethical directives of the Christian faith.

 “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” “Love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” “Be merciful, just as your heavenly Father is merciful.” “Stop judging and you will not be judged.  Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.”

Jesus rejects the “transactional” type of relationships we hear a lot about today: “You scratch my back, and I will scratch yours.” Not so for the followers of Jesus: “For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? ... And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same.”

Over the centuries commentators have debated the moral force of Jesus’ teaching about forgiveness. Perhaps these are only impossible ideals to help us understand how weak we really are? Perhaps such teachings are only for saints or monks and contemplative sisters leading a sheltered life?

But Jesus’ teachings cannot be so easily dismissed. Jesus encourages each of us as his followers to strive for radical mercy and forgiveness “because your merciful Father is merciful.”

Jesus, in fact, echoes here a startling teaching found in the Old Testament text of Leviticus 11:44, “For I, the Lord am your God. You shall make and keep yourselves holy because I am holy.” 

The unsurpassable mercy of God is to be reflected, however feebly, in our own commitment to mercy and forgiveness for those who offend us. We are to act like daughters and sons of God.

The capacity for disciples of Jesus to actually enact his teaching is, in fact, demonstrated over and over by ordinary people who exercise extraordinary virtue in difficult circumstances: like those who try to bring justice and healing to our city streets; like parents who never give up on their children who deeply wound them; like those who find the strength to seek forgiveness even in the face of terrible violence and loss; like Melissa Ortega’s mother. 



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