There’s one sentence which struck me in today’s Gospel. Jesus is at dinner at the home of a Pharisee. A sinful woman enters and washes his feet with her tears, dries them with her hair, kisses Jesus’ feet and anoints them with oil. The Pharisee is upset that Jesus would let such a woman do this. Jesus tells him…
… her many sins have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.
Notice… her sins were not forgiven because she has shown great love. Her many sins are forgiven first, then she shows great love. Think about that for a moment…
Over the course of my ministry I have talked to many people who have found it very difficult to forgive. At time it seems almost an insurmountable challenge… to forgive. Is there anyone you can’t bring yourself to forgive?
I have been thinking about the terrible racist killings of nine black members of a Charleston Church in 2015. Wikipedia sums it up this way…
The Charleston church shooting (also known as the Charleston church massacre) was a mass shooting in which Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old white supremacist, murdered nine African Americans (including the senior pastor, state senator Clementa C. Pinckney) during a prayer service at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, on the evening of June 17, 2015. Three other victims survived. The morning after the attack, police arrested Roof in Shelby, North Carolina. The shooting targeted one of the United States' oldest black churches, which has long been a site for community organization around civil rights.
What I find so amazing is that soon after this horrendous massacre the members of the Church forgave Dylann Roof. How can you forgive a self-described racist who has killed your friend, family member or church member? Of course, the Church members were roundly criticized for this.
I believe only when we realize how much we have been forgiven can we forgive others. Only when we realize how much we have been forgiven can we love enough to forgive someone who it seems impossible to forgive. The members of that Church community forgave Dylann Roof because they knew how much the Lord God forgave them… and they loved much. What good does anger, rage, demonizing and unforgiveness do? Roof did the evil and we drink the poison. There’s a lot of poison in our society today… we seem to be swimming in it.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean that justice won’t be done. It doesn’t mean we need to become the friend of the perpetrator or that we will ever trust him or invite him into our home. But we can certainly pray for him, forgive him and don’t drink the poison.
How have we been forgiven? Do we even think about this? Loving God has lavished graces and blessings on us… and we don’t even say thank you. And most of the time we aren’t even aware of God’s merciful forgiveness in our lives. Perhaps that’s why we find it so hard to forgive others.
Four lines from the beautiful poem Mercy of God by Sr. Jessica Powers come to mind…
I rose up from the acres of self that I tended with passion
and defended with flurries of pride;
I walked out of myself and went into the woods of God’s mercy,
and here I abide.
Fr. Don Ware, C.P.