21 March 2011

Choose your measure carefully

2nd Week of Lent (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatoula

Forgiveness doesn't come naturally. If you've ever been called upon to forgive a serious offense, to absolve a grievous injury, you know that the ability to forgive the one who sinned against you is truly supernatural, a thing of God. The most difficult part of relieving the offender of his or her guilt is surrendering what you imagine to be your right of vengeance, the privilege of getting even. An imbalance in the scales of justice must be rebalanced. Hurt for hurt. Injury for injury. How else do you ensure that the offender will not offend again? Where else will I find peace except in the sure knowledge that the one who dared to sinned against me knows that any future misbehavior will be roundly and soundly retaliated against? And besides all this, there's a certain delight in being the victim of a sin. I'm set aside as a creditor, someone who is owed a debt. Collection of the debt—with interest—is a moment to relish, a heady moment when the offender realizes that his or her sin against me is going to cost them and cost them dearly. Resisting the temptations of exacting human justice and a little personal vengeance is a supernatural task, one that we accomplish only with the generous help of a loving God. Jesus puts the supernatural task of human forgiveness in practical terms, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. . .For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.” 

We don't have to be a god or an angel in order to forgive. All we need to be is prepared to be measured by the same yardstick we have used to measure those who have sinned against us. Choose that measure carefully. Unless you are already morally perfect, spiritually whole, you might want to set aside Vengeance as your measure. You might want to rethink using Victim or Judge as your yardstick. Jesus has no illusions that we will easily set aside these all-too-human measures. He knows as well as we do—better even—what forgiveness costs in purely human terms. To be merciful as God is merciful means that we must trust that our generosity will not be abused. That our willingness to absolve an injury will not be seen as a weakness to be exploited. That we are not abandoning the need for law and order in favor of dreamy illusions that everyone has become a saints overnight. Fortunately, being merciful doesn't require us to forget about justice. But we are required to be merciful first, if for no other reason than we would want mercy for ourselves before justice is meted out.

The psalmist this morning has us praying, “Lord, do not deal with us according to our sins.” Amen to that! Deal with us according to your mercy. Deal with us according to the faith of your Church. Deal with us according to the love you have for your children. Just please don't deal with us according to our sins. If it's reasonable for us to ask for this kind of treatment from God when we sin against Him, then it is right and just that we treat those who have sinned against us in exactly the same way. Granted, thinking this way, acting this way does not come naturally to us. But the whole point of following Christ with our cross is that we are living supernatural lives, lives beyond our fallen natures. And we do so only b/c we have received the grace—the supernatural help—we need. Being merciful as God is merciful is not super-human; it's divine. And if we will be measured by the divine yardstick of mercy, we will give up vengeance, surrender beings victims, and always grant mercy before seeking justice. We were promised a cross. Pick it up and move on.

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