Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
To you who hear, I say. Well, yes. We have heard many times and filed this information away. We know these verses are the center piece of Luke, as well as of Matthew. But how much actual impact they have on our daily lives is another matter. It is a beautiful ethic, but not realistic. Maybe people like Dorothy Day, Desmond Tutu, Daniel Berrigan or Gandhi can build their lives around them, but not us normal people living in a normal world. We engage in cognitive dissonance (changing our beliefs when they contradict our actions) and in cognitive distance ( holding these beliefs at arm’s distance in comfortable abstraction). The are not meant for me, personally.
To you who hear, I say. The Gospel is deeply personal. Most of us are walking around with a multitude of arrows sticking out of our backs, arrows which are the personal wounds we have incurred in the course of our life: rejections, betrayals, misunderstandings, criticisms, judgments, boxes and categories we have been crammed into. These wounds have been “learning experiences” which have shaped our character and personalities and made us “who we are.” We can shift for ourselves in the REAL WORLD, the world of injustice, litigation, dog-eat-dog, survival of the fittest, watch out for yourself. We protect and cover those areas where we have been wounded and count our change at the store. In the real world, the wise are cautious, guarded, skeptical, pessimistic, apathetic and maybe even hopeless. Yes, it is all very personal.
The Gospel speaks to those willing to hear, to acknowledge the active and creative role they have in constructing their world. It is more normal to be content with managing one’s world, to cope with the uncontrollable forces that have neutered and nullified our deliberative potentials. I’m no doormat with a “welcome” sign, but come on in anyway. I can’t stop you. Then, we have no ears to hear. The Gospel is just more verbal noise that we really don’t understand. To stand in that personal space where we can make deliberative and creative response to the world in which we live is to hear what Jesus has to say. I think it is helpful to see Jesus as a craftsman, as an artist. He is one who has mastered his craft, his artistry. Like all artists, he breaks through what is “normal” and opens our eyes to what has been hidden in front of them. Artists call us to see, hear, and experience reality in new ways. They can shock, disturb and provoke us until we learn to see with their eyes and hear with their ears. We are changed by what we see and hear. Jesus is an artist who is presenting us with a new way to live. If we really know Jesus, we know the realism of his teaching and the realism of his life. He is a master of non-violence, forgiveness, mercy, generosity, gracious gratuity, love and the agape of the Father. These are all instruments of redemption, of restoring broken hopes and relationships and making them life-giving again. He provokes and evokes those same qualities in those formed in his image, the children of the Father. It is all counter-intuitive and counter-instinctive for us. We need to be led, to be slowly taught. It is an art, after all. Real life is an art. Real life is deeply personal.
We need to be led to that primal experience of God’s love, of his mercy and forgiveness which have brought us back to life. We are being redeemed by that love and it is blasphemous to reduce it to a distant and past act of benevolence. It is the source of who we are. The only reason we can forgive is that we are being forgiven. Forgive us as we forgive. Not: we can forgive because of a past forgiveness. They are simultaneous, not consequential or conditional.
In the retreat he gave us several years ago, Dom Gerard D’Souza of Genesee remarked: One of the most insidious difficulties in the spiritual life is really being to acknowledge that God loves me with a particular and personal love. Our dignity comes from being loved and brought into being by the special love God has for us. It is very personal. Our creative power to love, serve, and forgive has its origin and source in God. It can be very disturbing.