February 18, 2022

Christ the Cornerstone

Be open to God’s grace so we can offer mercy

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

The Gospel reading for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (Lk 6: 27-38) calls our attention to God’s mercy. It reminds us that Jesus has admonished us to set aside our tendency to judge others and, instead, to be merciful as our Father in heaven is merciful.

In fact, the Lord tells us, we should love and forgive even our enemies. “Love your enemies,” Jesus says, “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 Father is merciful” (Lk 6:35-36).

This is not something that we want to hear. We want mercy for ourselves and for those who are close to us (our own kind), but not for those who have done us harm, our enemies. For those who have sinned against us, we want justice, not mercy. We want them to be punished, to experience the kind of pain and rejection that we think they deserve.

This kind of reaction is understandable, especially for those who have experienced serious harm at the hands of enemies during wartime or violent criminals who have committed rape, murder or other brutal offenses against them. We are strongly tempted to seek revenge, and to demand that such offenders receive the maximum punishment available.

Jesus demands something that seems impossible, even contrary to justice:

“To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat 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. Give to ­everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Lk 6:27-31).

“Turning the other cheek” seems like weakness or appeasement. Everything in us cries out for vengeance. We want to fight back and to see our enemies defeated and humiliated. We don’t want to forgive, or to pray for, our enemies. We want justice (as we understand it), and we want to be vindicated publicly, to be seen as people who have righted the wrongs that others have done to us.

This is not Jesus’ way. Our Lord knows that from God’s perspective there is no divide between justice and mercy. In God, these two qualities are one. They are united by God’s unqualified, unconditional love, and by the grace that he extends to us, which if we can accept it, allows us to forgive our enemies just as God has forgiven us.

“Stop judging and you will not be judged,” Jesus says. “Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven” (Lk 6:37). God loves and forgives us unconditionally, but in order for us to experience his mercy, we must first love and forgive others. As long as our hearts are filled with anger, resentment and the desire for revenge, we cut ourselves off from the healing power of God’s grace.

We affirm this truth every time we pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We seek God’s mercy, but we acknowledge that we cannot fully receive it without first being merciful ourselves. “For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you” (Lk 6:38).

It’s impossible for us to fully understand how or why God is able to be just and merciful at the same time. Even when it doesn’t make sense to us—or feels absolutely wrong—we need to love our enemies and pray for those who have sinned against us. We have to let go of our desires for vengeance, and embrace the kind of peaceful, nonviolent acceptance that Jesus demonstrated on the cross when he prayed: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).

Jesus holds us, his missionary disciples, to a higher standard. He tells us to:

“Do to others as you would have them do to you. For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you?” (Lk 6:31-33).

We are to give without expecting any return, to love the unlovable, and to forgive the unforgivable.

Let’s pray that we will be open to God’s grace, so that we can be merciful, just as our heavenly Father is merciful. †

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