Reflection & Dialogue: Forgiveness; No Revenge. A Message for faith communities and civil society.
The biblical and Gospel message, while primarily addressed to believers, may also have much to say to leaders of civil society. This need not surprise us since all humanity are children of our Father in heaven and most of their life is lived out in civil, rather than in faith or religious settings. Rational beings, with our without faith in God, are reflective and concerned about mutual relationships in society. Early Jewish wisdom tradition, although the possession and activity of believers in the God of Israel, drew its reflection on human behaviour not from the Law of Moses or revelation but from human experience. Whereas Ben Sira, Ecclesiasticus, from a later period of this wisdom movement read and reflected on the Law and the Prophets as well as earlier Wisdom literature, we can surmise that what he has to say on forgiveness, rather than revenge, was influenced by his observation of human behaviour rather that as deductions from revealed teaching. We can then reflect on today’s readings as message to religious communities and civil society.
While the Father in heaven is generally associated with pity and compassion, we can see from today’s Gospel reading he can be very demanding with regard to seeing one of his central messages put into practice among believers in him. Jesus himself had said that of old a prevailing message may have been “an eye for an eye” (Matthew 5:38), whereas his message was not to resist an evildoer. In the Sermon on then Mount he stresses various aspects of this a number of time: resist anger, be reconciled with one’s brother or sister before offering sacrifice; loving one’s enemies, praying for those who hate you. It is all a required part of faithful service of the loving Father in heaven. Jesus himself gave the example of understanding and forgiveness on the cross. This was new teaching, a new emphasis, which is clearly seen as central in the Gospels and other New Testament writings. The message of this emphasis and of today’s parable should be kept before the Christian community, but as most pastors will know the application of it with regard to reconciliation in individual cases has to be prudently undertaken, with due respect to human psychology.
With regard to reconciliation in civil life, and in cases of strife and post-war situations, it is good to see that civil society has learned the value of what Israel Wisdom tradition and the Gospel message has stressed. Strife-resolution is now part of most organized societies, and on many occasions it is those who were once involved in organized military activity that have been active in promoting it. So may it long continue. Blessed are the peace-makers.