Saturday after the First Week of Lent
Today’s readings are all about a promise, a pledge of fidelity - covenant.
“Today you are making this agreement with the Lord: he is to be your God and you are to walk in his ways and observe his statutes, commandments and decrees and to hearken to his voice. And today the Lord is making this agreement with you: you are to be a people peculiarly his own as he promised you; and provided you keep all his commandments… you will be a people sacred to the Lord, your God” (Deuteronomy 26: 16-19).
What are these commandments? In Deuteronomy they are the Law of Moses. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets. I have come to fulfill them.” Laws regarding anger, impurity, divorce, oaths and retaliation are all expanded. In each instance, Jesus illustrates the meaning of the law that God intended it to have. Today’s reading concerns love: “My command to you is: love your enemies, pray for your persecutors” (Mt 5:44).
Amid the chaos and uncertainty of September 11, 2001, schools in Pittsburgh were dismissed early. I was walking across a bridge, going home after a class I had been teaching. The sky was a brilliant blue, an eerie contrast to the darkness of my thoughts and fears. I began to pray for all those victims in New York and for the safety and security of our own children, saying the Our Father. Suddenly, I heard myself saying forgive us as we forgive! Oh my! I had to listen to what Jesus was exhorting me to do. I surely didn’t want to think about forgiving terrorists, but that’s exactly what Jesus was saying: “Love your enemies! You are asking me to forgive you as you forgive them.”
As if the day were not unsettling enough, here I was confronted with the truth of a prayer I had said since I was little. As many times as I had repeated those words and pondered their meaning, it was never so hard to pray them as it became that day. Since then, I have not been able to say the Our Father without realizing that the responsibility to forgive is a prerequisite to my being forgiven.
As we commemorate the anniversaries of Bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama in 1965 and the liberation of the Concentration Camp at Auschwitz in 1945, we hear survivors describing the horrors they endured. We see grainy black and white footage which attests to both tragedies. There were recent TV documentaries to help us never to forget and to educate a new generation about the potential for cruelty inherent in humanity. Yet many survivors speak of forgiving.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said: I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” A woman who survived Auschwitz said: “I choose to forgive them. If I don’t, they still have power over me.” One of the gentlemen echoed her thoughts: “We do not want our history to be our children’s future.” That is forgiveness! Few of us will ever have to endure such horrors, but every one has been hurt in some way by another. Forgiving is the law of God. A wise pundit said: “Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and waiting for the other guy to die.” There is profound truth in that humor! “Happy are they who observe God’s laws and seek God with all their heart” (Psalm 119).
- Patricia Muehlbauer