We Can Become Unrecognizable to Ourselves
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you… If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other… anyone who takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt. Do to others as you would have them do to you… If you do good to those who do good for you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same.”
After we have taken a breath from our astonishment, we can begin to ingest Jesus’ message this week. Some might contend the message is uniquely Christian about the need for reconciliation. Others may say to follow the teaching completely is tantamount to being a ‘door mat” for others to exploit. And the wise and experienced know to be a free human being, forgiveness is necessary whether we are Christian or not.
Now, how many of us on our own have turned the other cheek? How many of us have given our shirts after our coat has been taken against our wills? Well, the answer is none of us. But wait…. not so fast. There are other factors that need to brought up to excuse me from doing those things. Maybe, he had no right to say that to me; or his alienation and nastiness is totally out of line, I did not do anything to warrant that response; that hurt me so deeply I don’t think I can ever forgive that, because I am not going to give you a chance to do it again. Fool me once, shame on me, fool me twice shame on you is the rally cry.
The problem that we have in forgiving others is that we really want to harbor anger, we really want to harbor resentment because in a strange way it makes us the martyr and places us on the moral high-ground.
What a great mistake to make if the rationale for not turning the other cheek makes us feel more powerful and in control. On the contrary, each time we refuse to turn the other cheek is a moment when we lose a part of our freedom and have become less in control and certainly not more powerful.
Think of it as scar tissue building up thicker and thicker. Pretty soon, our hearts are so hardened that they become incapable of compassion, of empathy, joy, true sorrow and love. We have placed ourselves in a type of jail and our freedom is gone. And at that point, God doesn’t make sense; and Church doesn’t make sense; and then, slowly, we have ceased to be recognizable even to ourselves.
The Gospel is challenging us to the hardest part of being a Christian– forgiveness. For it is easy enough to accept the apologies of others; it can be easy to accept the forgiveness from an all-loving God; but it is very difficult for us to be the one who reconciles, the one who forgives.
If human freedom means there is nothing holding us back, then the need to turn the other cheek is not a suggestion but an imperative. An authentic human being is a free human being.