Thursday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time
(I Kings 18:41-46; Matthew 5:20-26)
In his book Blood Brothers Elias Chacour, the archbishop of Galilee of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, tells of a reconciliation he catalyzed as the pastor of a small Palestinian town. The parish was riddled with factions. Families as well as the community were divided. The young pastor, Fr. Elias, decided to act on the crying need of peace. At the end of Mass on Palm Sunday, 1967, he hastened to the back of the small church and locked the door. Then he announced that no one would leave until they forgave one another. He said that they were not Christians simply because they came to church. He told them that they were disgracing the body of Christ by not forgiving one another of old grudges. Shocked by the demand, perhaps insulted by the charge, and not knowing what to do, the people just stood there. The pastor began to sweat. He could hear the gait of a mule outside and may have thought himself as dumb as the animal. Then a man, the police constable of the town, spoke up. He said that he was the biggest sinner of all for hating his own brothers. He apologized to everyone. Then he went to his brothers who rushed out of their pews to him in mutual forgiveness. Fr. Elias writes, “Within an instant the church was a chaos of embracing and repentance.
Jesus commands such repentance from the heart in the gospel today. Of course, when he says “brother,” he does not mean only brothers and sisters of the same parentage but everyone created in the image of God, the Father. Critical to note as well, Jesus is not seeking here forgiveness of others when they offend us. Rather, he is asking us to recognize our offenses and ask pardon of others. Too often, we become so stuck on how others have hurt us that we overlook how we have slighted our neighbors.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus makes great demands on his followers. We wonder if we can ever live up to them. We need to remember that Jesus provides his Holy Spirit to shore up our weaknesses. As Pope Benedict has said, “Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes away nothing and gives everything.”