Be Compassionate as your Father is Compassionate – Gospel Reflection
Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate
This Sunday our Gospel (Luke 6:27-38) picks up from last Sunday when we were introduced to the Sermon on the Mount which is the charter of Christian living. This charter is inspired by a new revelation of God’s relationship with us. God is revealed as our Father in a way never previously known. In the entire Old Testament, God is called Father fourteen times, not in the sense of a personal relationship but as creator of all, and father- protector of his chosen people. In the gospels, Jesus calls God as Father more than one hundred and seventy times, fifteen times in the Sermon on the Mount alone. This is where there is a massive advance from the Old Testament to the New. Jesus came down to share in our humanity so that we might share in his divinity as children of God and heirs of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus taught us to pray not just to his Father but to our Father. “To all who did accept him he gave power to become children of God” (John 1:14). Becoming a child of God, growing in the likeness of God, is a lifelong ideal to reflect God’s love.
Ideals are like stars: we may never reach them but we chart our course by them. Certainly, some of the ideals of Christ are beyond our natural powers. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly.” Jesus did not allow the wrongs of others to contaminate his love. He prayed for those who were crucifying him. The greatest proof of authentic Christianity is being willing to forgive.
The supernatural power of God’s grace
Forgiveness is not easy. In fact, you could say that forgiveness is not natural. It has to come from a supernatural force … what we call grace. When we are faced with a problem of forgiveness, what can we do? Bitter memories, anger and maybe the desire for vengeance will burrow their way into the memory and heart. Darkness envelopes our thinking and a hard shell grows around the heart.
There is no point in saying to someone, “Ah, forget it!” You cannot switch off memory like a tap. We do not have the option of remembering or forgetting. But the option we do have is how we remember. We can remember with bitterness or we can implore God to lift us up to a higher plane of thinking where our remembering will be more compassionate and forgiving. The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers this advice: “It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offence, but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and purifies the memory in transforming hurt into intercession.” The Holy Spirit can lift us up to the bigger picture. We begin to see that it was sickness of character that caused the offender to do wrong. I met an old lady who had just been robbed of her purse by a young man. Her immediate reaction was to pray for that sick person who would attack an old lady. Pity for any sick character turns hatred into compassion. And prayer for that sick mind replaces words of bitterness. Never forget the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
In his famous book, The Art of Loving, Erich Fromm says that love is more than infatuation, attraction or compatibility of character. Love resides in the will. It is a decision to be positive. It is a stance one takes for life. True Christianity is a powerful river of love that refuses to be polluted by the wrongdoing of others.
God’s love is unconditional
The ideal that Jesus sets before us is that we should be mirrors of God’s compassionate love. “Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate.” Saint John tells us that God is love. That means that God’s love for all his creatures is never less than one-hundred per cent. God’s love is unconditional. It is not limited by any conditions. Even the worst of sinners are still loved by God although their sins are despised. “But I say this to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, for he causes his sun to rise on the bad as well as the good, and sends rain to fall on the upright and the wicked alike” (Matt 5: 44-45).
It was a message taken to heart by a young Jewish woman in Holland, Etty Hillesum, at a time when she was facing inevitable arrest and transportation to a concentration camp. In her diary she wrote about those who would one day arrest her: “They are merciless, totally without pity. And we must be all the more merciful ourselves. That is why I prayed early this morning.” She knew that only prayer and the grace of God could overcome the natural instinct to respond to hatred with more hatred. And she wrote that every atom of hatred that we add to the world makes it still more inhospitable. By the grace of God, she refused to be contaminated by the evil hatred she would face. Surely, the mind and heart of a saint.
The dream of Jesus
The dream of Jesus was for a world where the Father’s unconditional love would be reflected in the lives of his children on earth. He saw the barriers of distrust removed and the walls of hatred dismantled. He saw the hurts of life healed by compassion and the wounds of remembrance healed by forgiveness. The ideal he set before his disciples is to “love one another as I have loved you”. Where will this supernatural power come from? Saint Paul has the answer. “Hope will not let us down, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Rom 5:5).
Come Holy Spirit. Fill the hearts of your faithful. Enkindle within us the fire of your love. May the heat of this fire melt all hardness of heart and mould us into the likeness of Christ. Fill us and use us to be instruments of forgiveness, peace and compassion.
Br Silvester O’Flynn OFM Cap.