Scandal in the Pulpit

Homily at St Philip Evans for the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.

Today, I’d like to share a scandal with you. Yes, something quite scandalous!

It’s this: Some Christians have forgiven their enemies EVEN before their enemies have said sorry!

Gordon Wilson did it – he proclaimed he “bore no ill-will or grudge” against the IRA after his daughter, Marie, died holding has hand, fatally injured by a bomb at Enniskillen.

Barry and Margaret Mizen did it – when their son, Jimmy, was killed in London they set out to work with other young people “before they end up in prison”.

Magdeline Makola did it – she was the young woman found locked in the boot of a car in Scotland on Boxing Day 6 years ago. Her kidnapper is now in prison, and she hopes he can be helped there to change his life; she feels no hatred towards him.

Blessed John Paul II did it – he went to prison to embfrace Ali Ağca, the man who tried to assassinate him in 1981.

Yes, it’s true: Some Christians have forgiven their enemies EVEN before their enemies have said sorry.

We are invited to do it too!

Now it’s also true that as Christians, we don’t have a monopoly on forgiveness. The Jewish woman Eva Kor forgave Dr Mengele for experimenting on her in Nazi Germany. The Hindu independence leader Mahatma Ghandi could also be mentioned… these are examples of great human beings who were totally committed to good-will towards their enemies. But for us as Christians, forgiveness is not the peak achieved by a few of our saints – it is the DNA of our everyday Christian living.

This is where the true scandal lies. We live in a compensation culture. All around us we hear the message that if we have been mis-sold insurance or injured by another person, we deserve our compensation – and the lawyers will help us get it! Our politicians and trade union leaders speak about rights, especially the rights of victims. How dare we as Christians, from a church with a tarnished reputation, claim that victims ought to forgive their perpetrators at all, still less if the perpetrators are unrepentant? Absolutely scandalous!

Yes, this is a scandal – and it’s a scandal in the original sense of the word. The root meaning is obstacle or stumbling block: a skandalon was originally part of an animal trap, and later came to mean any obstacle – perhaps even a hurdle which the runner had to jump over to win a race. If we want to be followers of Jesus, this is the hurdle we need to overcome: the willingness to forgive our enemies no matter what.

John the Baptist had proclaimed a baptism of water – people came to him and were bathed as a sign of being sorry for their own sins. But he proclaimed one who would baptise with the Holy Spirit – if we have been plunged into God’s Spirit, we will have no peace until our hearts align with God’s will. God’s will is that we should forgive our enemies before they even ask! Each and every one of us proclaims in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses AS WE FORGIVE THOSE who trespass against us.” Time and time again, Jesus taught us to make peace – to forgive our enemies and pray for them, to reconcile before we take our gift to the altar.

When Christ died on Calvary, he did so with forgiveness on his lips. “Father, forgive, those who are crucifying me do not know what they are doing.” This is precisely how he became “The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”

Yes, if we have any claim to be Christians, to be followers of the Lamb, it is because forgiveness is part of our DNA, the way we live our everyday lives. And the letters D-N-A can help us understand what Our Lord is asking us to do, or to avoid:

We can pray for the well-being and conversion of the person who hurt us. Divine Nudges Assist.

We can resist the temptation to tell the story of how that person hurt us. Detraction’s Never Appropriate.

We can, indeed we must, resist the temptation to treat badly the one who has wronged us. Do Not Avenge.

The Mizens describe forgiveness as “not wanting revenge and not being angry”. We cannot always control our feelings, but we can resist running with them. Don’t Nourish Anger.

We can choose to do all of these things without needing one word of apology from the person who has hurt us. Don’t Need Apologies.

Forgiveness is first and foremost an attitude of heart. It’s the attitude which stands ready to make peace with the one who has given offence, as soon as that person says sorry, the attitude which refuses to treat the offender with less civility and respect that the average citizen.

Forgiveness is not foolishness. It does not require us to expose ourselves to the same harm again, at least not until that person has apologised and is working with us step-by-step to regain our trust. Magdeline Makola said: “Forgiveness is different from trusting. You don’t have to trust someone just because they are forgiven.” Forgiveness might bring us to totally restored trust, but this has to be earned. Do Not Assume.

If we are to be people of forgiveness, we must recognise that there are things within our power and things which lie outside. We cannot make the other person apologise. But forgiveness is part of our DNA – we do everything in our power to build the bridge, so that the one who has harmed us can cross it as soon as they are willing to do so.

The Prophet Isaiah looked forward to a day when God’s servant would restore peace and so bring light to the whole world. We bring the light of Christ into the world around us whenever we act as people of forgiveness. It’s part of our DNA. Detraction’s Never Appropriate. Divine Nudges Assist. Do Not Avenge. Don’t Nourish Anger. We Don’t Need Apologies, and when they are offered, we Do Not Assume that the one repenting is trustworthy straightaway.

Some Christians have forgiven their enemies EVEN before their enemies have said sorry! If you are not yet one of them, there’s still time. Forgive the people who have apologised to you. Forgive the people who ought to apologise to you. Forgive the people you would rather didn’t apologise to you.  But build the bridge. And remember – if you do not build the bridge of forgiveness to others, the Lord cannot extend the bridge of forgiveness to you.