The LORD said to Moses, "Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them: Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy. "You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart. Though you may have to reprove your fellow citizen, do not incur sin because of him. Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD."
Refrain: The Lord is kind and merciful.
1) Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all my being, bless his holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.(Refrain:)
2) He pardons all your iniquities, heals all your ills.
He redeems your life from destruction, crowns you with kindness and compassion.(Refrain:)
3) Merciful and gracious is the LORD, slow to anger and abounding in kindness.
Not according to our sins does he deal with us, nor does he requite us according to our crimes.(Refrain:)
4) As far as the east is from the west, so far has he put our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him.(Refrain:)
Brothers and sisters: Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy. Let no one deceive himself. If any one among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool, so as to become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God, for it is written: God catches the wise in their own ruses, and again: The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain. So let no one boast about human beings, for everything belongs to you, Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or the present or the future: all belong to you, and you to Christ, and Christ to God.
Jesus said to his disciples: "You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow. "You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect."
(Copyright 1970, 1986, 1992, 1998, 2001 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
Copyright 1970, 1997, 1998 Contraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington, D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
The English translation of some Psalm responses, some Alleluia and Gospel verses and the Lenten Gospel Acclamations, some Summaries, and the Titles and Conclusion of the Readings, from the Lectionary for Mass copyright 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc., Washington D.C. All rights reserved.
The poetic English translation of the sequences of the Roman Missal are taken from the Roman Missal approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States, copyright 1964 by the National Catholic Welfare Conference, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission of ICEL. This resource is available at a discount through the Homiletic Resource Center.)
- Immaculée Ilibagiza is a living example of faith put into action. Immaculée's life was transformed dramatically during the 1994 Rwandan genocide where she and seven other women spent 91 days huddled silently together in the cramped bathroom of a local pastor's house. Immaculée entered the bathroom a vibrant, 115-pound university student with a loving family - she emerged weighing just 65 pounds to find her most of her family had been brutally murdered.
Immaculée credits her salvage mostly to prayer and to a set of rosary beads given to her by her devout Catholic father prior to going into hiding. Anger and resentment about her situation were literally eating her alive and destroying her faith, but rather than succumbing to the rage that she felt, Immaculée instead turned to prayer. She began to pray the rosary as a way of drowning out the negativity that was building up inside her. Immaculée found solace and peace in prayer and began to pray from the time she opened her eyes in the morning to the time she closed her eyes at night. Through prayer, she eventually found it possible, and in fact imperative, to forgive her tormentors and her family's murderers.
Immaculée's strength in her faith empowered her to stare down a man armed with a machete threatening to kill her during her escape. She also later came face to face with the killer of her mother and her brother and said the unthinkable, "I forgive you." Immaculée knew, while in hiding, that she would have to overcome immeasurable odds without her family and with her country destroyed. Fortunately, Immaculée utilized her time in that tiny bathroom to teach herself English with only the Bible and a dictionary; once freed she was able to secure a job with the United Nations.
Justice or Forgiveness?
This gospel passage has our Lord quoting probably one of the most famous texts in all of Scripture: an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. In researching this passage, I came across the following commentary which I found to be very informative. The author, William Barclay, writes:
- Few passages of the New Testament have more of the essence of the Christian ethic in them than this one. Here is the characteristic ethic of the Christian life, and the conduct which should distinguish the Christian from others.
“Jesus begins by citing the oldest law in the world--an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. That law is known as the ‘Lex Talionis’, and it may be described as the law of tit for tat. It appears in the earliest known code of laws, the Code of Hammurabi, who reigned in Babylon from 2285 to 2242 B.C. This law is often quoted as amongst the blood thirsty, savage and merciless laws of the Old Testament; but before we begin to criticize them, certain things must be noted.
1) “The ‘Lex Talionis’, the law of tit for tat, so far from being a savage and bloodthirsty law, is in fact the beginning of mercy. Its original aim was definitely the limitation of vengeance. In the very earliest days the vendetta and the blood feud were characteristic of tribal society. If a man of one tribe injured a man of another tribe, then at once all the members of the tribe of the injured man were out to take vengeance on all the members of the tribe of the man who committed the injury; and the vengeance desired was nothing less than death. This law deliberately limits vengeance. It lays it down that only the man who committed the injury must be punished, and his punishment must be no more than the equivalent of the injury he has inflicted and the damage he has done. Seen against its historical setting this is not a savage law, but a law of mercy.
2) “Further, this was never a law which gave a private individual the right to extract vengeance; it was always a law which laid down how a judge in the law court must assess punishment and penalty.
3) “Still further, this law was never, at least in any even semi-civilized society, carried out literally. The Jewish jurists argued rightly that to carry it out literally might in fact be the reverse of justice, because it obviously might involve the displacement of a good eye or a good tooth for a bad eye or a bad tooth.
4) “And most important of all, it must be remembered that the ‘Lex Talionis’ is by no means the whole of Old Testament ethics. There are glimpses and even splendours of mercy elsewhere in the Old Testament.
“So, then, ancient ethics were based on the law of tit for tat. It is true that that law was a law of mercy; it is true that it was a law for a judge and not for a private individual; it is true that it was never literally carried out; it is true that there were accents of mercy speaking at the same time. But Jesus obliterated the very principle of that law, because retaliation, however controlled and restricted, has no place in the Christian life.” (1)
In essence, this principle of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” addresses a basic human need for retribution, revenge and vengeance, or as Barclay notes “retaliation”, to address a wrong. In the days before there was a judge and jury, it was really a basic form of justice. And all of these words, (justice, judge and jury) and many more that have to do with justice, derive their origin from the Latin root jus which means “right” or “law”.
But as Barclay also noted so well, “retaliation has no place in the Christian life”. Why is this? Because it is replaced in the Christian’s life by forgiveness, a principle which Christ showed us from the cross when, in a time of his most excruciating pain, he said “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do”. (It should be noted that the word “excruciating” also comes from Latin roots which mean “from the cross”.)
Some of you know that I have had a website for preachers on the internet for almost as long as I've been a deacon. Over the years, I think the topic on which I have read the most stories, and some of the most moving ones, has been on what this text is all about, namely forgiveness. Out of all those stories, I think the one that is most relevant to this text is the following one with which I’m sure you are all too familiar.
- On October 2, 2006, Charles Roberts entered a small Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, PA and proceeded to shoot ten girls aged 6 to 13, killing five and seriously wounding five, before committing suicide himself. The emphasis on forgiveness and reconciliation in the response of the Amish community to this tragedy has been widely reported. However, there are some additional details which I found to be particularly moving.
On the day of the shooting, a grandfather of one of the murdered Amish girls was heard warning some young relatives not to hate the killer, saying, "We must not think evil of this man." Another Amish father noted, "He had a mother and a wife and a soul and now he's standing before a just God."
Jack Meyer, a member of the Brethren community living near the Amish in Lancaster County, explained: "I don't think there's anybody here that wants to do anything but forgive and not only reach out to those who have suffered a loss in that way but to reach out to the family of the man who committed these acts."
A Roberts family spokesman said an Amish neighbor comforted the Roberts family hours after the shooting and extended forgiveness to them. Amish community members visited and comforted Roberts' widow, parents, and parents-in-law. One Amish man held Roberts' sobbing father in his arms, reportedly for as long as an hour, to comfort him. The Amish have also set up a charitable fund for the family of the shooter. About 30 members of the Amish community attended Roberts' funeral, and Marie Roberts, the widow of the killer, was one of the few outsiders invited to the funeral of one of the victims. Marie Roberts wrote an open letter to her Amish neighbors thanking them for their forgiveness, grace, and mercy. She wrote, "Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. Gifts you've given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you."
The Amish do not normally accept charity, but due to the extreme nature of the tragedy, donations were accepted. Richie Lauer, director of the Anabaptist Foundation, said the Amish community, whose religious beliefs prohibit them from having health insurance, will likely use the donations to help pay the medical costs of the hospitalized children. (2)
It’s hard to believe that Lent is still more than a week away (normally we are well into it by now; not that I can’t wait for it to arrive, mind you!!) but this illustration reminds us of one of the principal themes of the Lenten season, namely, reconciliation. In situations like this, many of us might be compelled to ask: where was God? Well, He certainly was not in the murder of, and injury to, those innocent children; but rather He was present in the almost unbelievable response of the families of the victims, a response rooted in their profound faith.
Note that in our story, one father, when speaking of Charles Roberts, said “now he’s standing before a just God”. In other words, he acknowledged that judging Roberts was not his place; it belonged only to God, the just judge. He believed that the responsibility of the community was to offer him and his family only one thing: forgiveness. This is based on their belief that in order to be forgiven by God for their transgressions, they must be willing to forgive others.
We all know that this is not easy. It flies in the face of all of the natural human feelings that we spoke of earlier: revenge, retaliation, retribution and vengeance. But nevertheless, it is what we are called to do if we call ourselves Christians, that is, followers of Christ. If we are his followers, then we try to the best of our ability to live by the principles that he has taught us. And one of the most basic is forgiveness, a principle that can only be achieved through faith, as the Amish demonstrated so well.
Perhaps in your own lives you are dealing with situations that challenge your own faith and your ability to forgive. We all need to pray that the Spirit will give us the strength to be faithful followers of Christ and to make this virtue a part of our lives.
1. From the Gospel of Matthew, copyright 1975 by William Barclay. St. Andrew Press, Edinburgh, Scotland. Used with permission.
2. From Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amish_school_shooting.
(Copyright 2014 by the Spirit through Deacon Sil Galvan with a little help from the friends noted above. Permission is freely granted for use, in whole or in part, in oral presentations. For permission to use in writing, please contact the human intermediary at email@example.com.)
Lord Jesus, you pardon all our iniquities. Lord, have mercy.
Christ Jesus, you call us to be reconciled with one another. Christ, have mercy.
Lord Jesus, you call us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Lord, have mercy.
Celebrant: Our Lord has called us to love one another as we love ourselves. Keeping in mind the needs of his people and confident that Christ will intercede for us, we bring our prayers and petitions to the Father.
Deacon/Lector: Our response is "Lord, hear our prayer".
That the leaders of the Church will show God's love for others by what they say and by what they do, we pray to the Lord.
That the leaders of the nations of the world will provide for the welfare of all those entrusted to their care, we pray to the Lord.
That our community will demonstrate our love for others through our caring concern for all those in need, we pray to the Lord.
That all those whose lives have been affected by unemployment may not be discouraged in their efforts to find jobs, we pray to the Lord.
That we may all come to forgive those who have hurt us and that we may also be forgiven for any wrongs we have caused, we pray to the Lord.
For all of the intentions we hold in our hearts and which we now recall in silence. (Pause) For all of these intentions, we pray to the Lord.
Celebrant: Gracious Father, your Son has called us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Grant us the grace of your Spirit to be reconciled with one another and thus fulfill the heart of your law which is love. We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.