We begin the seventh week of Ordinary Time. The readings for this Sunday describe the power of forgiveness and the choices we make. The right choices lead us to God, and the wrong choices break our relationship with Him, as they lead us away from Him. So, it is left to us to decide what choices we must make. Our choices matter. They determine the course of our lives. In Deuteronomy 30:15, the Lord says, “Today I am giving you a choice. You can choose life and success or death and disaster.” Make up your mind and make good choices. Turn away from evil and hold on to what is good. The readings not only remind us to avoid bad choices, but also encourage and guide as to how and why we must make good choices.
The first reading is taken from the First Book of Samuel. The reading describes how King David made the right choice, respecting God’s first anointed king, Saul, by forgiving his offenses. Even though David’s companion encouraged David to seek revenge against the king when he had the chance, David refused. Meanwhile, King Saul continued to make the wrong choices, perpetuating his misery with revenge. David’s sense of justice, spirit of forgiveness, and respect for Divine authority helped him to go beyond the retaliation which others expected him to show. David is an image of Christ and an example to us. If he can forgive his mortal enemy, so can, and so should, we.
In the second reading, Paul describes how the “First Adam” made a wrong choice of disobedience, bringing death into the world; whereas Jesus, the “Second Adam,” made the correct choice of fulfilling his Father’s plan of salvation. Paul reminds the Corinthian community that everyone shares in the sinful nature of the “First Adam.” But he also encourages his followers to remember that by Baptism they also share in the spiritual nature of Jesus—the “Last Adam.” Hence, we Christians are expected to go beyond our earthly, natural desires to seek revenge and retaliation. Instead, when we are injured, we are to offer the Christian response of forgiveness and mercy, regardless of society’s expectations of us to seek retaliation and retribution. If, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we do so, we share in the life of the Risen Christ, both here and now, and even after our death.
In the Gospel, we have Jesus’ revolutionary moral teaching about correct choices in our human relationships, placing special emphasis on the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” The Golden Rule is amplified by a string of particular commands: “Love your enemies . . . Do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you, and pray for those who maltreat you.” For Jesus, love is a fundamental attitude that seeks another’s good. Jesus orders us to love our enemies and to be merciful to them, as God our Father is merciful to us. Jesus challenges us to do for others what God has done for us: “Be compassionate, as your Father is compassionate.” Jesus concludes by instructing us to stop judging and to start forgiving. Christian ethics dictate not only refraining from evil, but actively doing good, not only to those who are friends, but to those who hate us or do not love us. In other words, Jesus expects us to rise above our human instincts and imitate the goodness and generosity of God. Adherence to the Golden Rule makes us like God, Whose love and mercy embrace saints and sinners alike. However, the Golden Rule does not require that we allow others to take advantage of us.
God is good to the unjust as well as to the just. Hence, our love for others, even those who are ungrateful and selfish towards us, must be marked by the same kindness and mercy which God has shown to us. His love conquers our hurts, fears, prejudices and grief. Only the cross of Jesus Christ can free us from the tyranny of malice, hatred, revenge and resentment, and give us the courage to return good for evil. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to forgive us as we forgive others. Our challenge is to overcome our natural inclinations to hate family members, co-workers, neighbors, and others who have offended us. To meet that challenge, we need to ask for God’s strength to forgive one another. We must forgive, because true forgiveness brings healing. If we remember how God has forgiven us, it will help us to forgive others. Let us start forgiving by restricting the sharp tongue of criticism, suppressing the instinct for revenge and tolerating the irritating behavior of everyone around us—family members, neighbors, coworkers, and others. It is not always easy to forgive and let go of the past, the hurtful experiences; we need God’s grace to do so. Jesus not only commanded us to love our enemies, He also gave us the most vivid and awesome example of this type of love in action. While suffering on the cross, He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Let us follow the example so beautifully set by our Lord Jesus by becoming instruments of love and forgiveness.