7th Sunday in O.T. (A); February 23, 2014
Lv 19:1-2, 17-18; Ps 103; 1 Cor 3:16-23; Mt 5:38-48
Deacon Jim McFadden; Folsom Prison
Last Sunday we reflected upon Jesus’ challenge not to seek revenge upon those who have hurt us. Today, he goes further by calling us to love our enemies. How can we possibly live according to his really Strange Way?
Not retaliating to an injustice and loving one’s enemies are the most difficult of Jesus’ teachings. As hard as these challenges are, they are the Gospel—we can’t get around them. We tend to ignore them: Christians are often as quick as anyone else to get even and to disparage our enemies.—just listen to the chatter that goes on in the yard. But, by ignoring our Lord’s teachings, we risk compromising our relationship with Christ Jesus Who is the Way into genuine relationship with the triune God.
Jesus simply says no longer is there an eye for an eye. He tells us that we must love our enemies. This hatred-forgiveness challenge was at the heart of a Sean Penn directed film called The Crossing Guard (1995), a striking film in which Jack Nicholson portrays an intense, angry, vengeful father whose daughter was killed by a drunk driver. Obsessed with the tragic and unnecessary loss of his daughter, the father plots to kill the perpetrator upon his release from prison. In the meantime, he tries to numb his grief with drinking and promiscuity, which do nothing to alleviate his pain. He believes that revenge will make him whole. In so doing, he is self-destructing.
Most of us can identify with the father’s desire to get even; after all, ‘an eye-for-an-eye, a tooth-for-a-tooth’ has a long history in the Old Testament. The Nicholson character is simply part of this tradition; why couldn’t Jesus leave well enough alone? Why can’t we live out of our basic instincts for revenge and retribution? Why can’t we put people in our psychological cross-hairs when they’ve offended us?
We can’t, because God lives in each and everyone of us. We can’t, because we are called to be holy as God is holy as described in the Leviticus reading. What does that mean? We are to mirror God’s magnanimous love, justice, and mercy. While the meaning of divine holiness is mysterious, we know exactly what it is like as we see it lived out by Jesus. We are called to imitate Christ, both individually and communally—which means we live out of God’s love.
This kind of love that the Father has means that “he makes the sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust” (v. 45). It’s from this disposition of being in God that the contrast between love and hate, revenge and forgiveness can be understood. As we participate in this divine Love, our lives will gradually be transformed; we will live like Christ by being non-violent
and forgiving towards those who have injured us.
Through your baptism, you are called and anointed to be a disciple of Jesus. As a member of the Body of Christ, the Church, you are to live according to His Way and teachings. But, you live in a culture that demands you hate your enemy, that you get even, stay on top, and stay in control through intimidation and the threat of violence. Staring you in the face is a fundamental choice. Are you going to follow Jesus or the dominant values of prison culture?
Jesus is challenging you and I to live a life patterned after the holiness of God. Such a life can only be lived in community because it is just too difficult to do by ourselves. We need models of Christian living that embodies integrity, honesty, and faithfulness to one another. Such people live here in Folsom Prison. Some are here in this chapel. Those are the kinds of people you want to associate. The Communion of Saints at Folsom Prison! And, these saints in the making have courage: they’ll stand up to eviI. If they see someone doing wrong, they won’t be afraid to discreetly call him aside and rebuke them: but they won’t entertain any kind of vengeance. Why? Because we are told to love them as we love ourselves because that is the Way of Jesus. If we want to abide in Him, we have to live like Him.
Brothers, being behind bars does not mean you can’t be liberated. If you follow Jesus, you will become a truly free person who is not constrained by past wounds, current cultural biases, and future expectations. A follower of Jesus has a pure heart and sees with clarity: the person knows what the issues are, what the questions are, what the goal is, and knows Who God is. They have the One container, the over-arching vision that can include everything and everyone—including their hurts and brokenness.
What happened to the Nicholson character? He lured his protagonist to a cemetery—a place of ultimate perspective—to kill him. But, in the final confrontation, he moves (or is moved) not to shoot, and to embrace the possibility for forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation.
The Gospel message was lived. The characters were moving towards the Kingdom.