In my former work, I often had to speak at alumni gatherings. Sometimes I would speak at gatherings in close geographic proximity to one another. To make sure I wouldn't tell the same stories to the same people at two different gatherings, I would ask the alumni director whether some at the one gathering would be attending the other. He, with tongue in cheek, assured me “it was highly unlikely that anyone who heard you speak at the one would hear you again at the other.” There's a message in that statement!
In his book “Nine Essential Things I've Learned about Life” Rabbi Harold Kushner recounts a sermon he gave on the subject of forgiveness. He suggested that just as we ask God to forgive us our wrongdoings, so we should forgive people who have wronged us. One listener was upset. She told the rabbi how her husband had left her six years ago and how, as a result, she had to work two jobs to pay the bills and put food on the table and had to explain to her children many times why they can't have the things that all their friends have.
And then the punch line. “And you want me to forgive him for what he has done to us?” she asked. The rabbi responded, “That's right. I want you to forgive him for your sake, not for his. Why are you giving him the power to define you as a victim? Why are you giving him the power to define you in terms of what you don't have, a husband and an adequate income, instead of what you do have, a loving home and two beautiful children?
“Do you realize what you are doing?” the rabbi asked. “For six years, you've been holding a ‘hot coal’ in your hand, looking for an opportunity to throw it at him. And for six years, he's been living comfortably. If he is no longer living in your house, why are you letting him live rent-free in your head? He doesn't deserve the energy you spend on being angry at him. You can evict him.”
Yes, anger and self-pity are “demons” that displace peace and joy in our lives. But with gratitude to God for the blessings we have, we can “exorcise” or drive out these demons of anger and self-pity that rob us of joy and peace. By asking God's mercy and forgiveness for ourselves and the people who have wronged us, we can make a fresh start with our own lives. That is what Paul is about today: through Jesus Christ we have a new beginning.
So what does the word of God have to say to us today?
The word carries us back to the 7th century before Jesus (the turbulent 600s in Israel), to a lament of the prophet Jeremiah. But lament quickly becomes hope. Jeremiah complains to God: “I'm trying to do what you want me to do, God, and yet people are slandering me; they want to murder me; trip me up.” But Jeremiah doesn't let these problems stop him from continuing his prophetic mission. No matter how bad things get, he will always trust in God. God is with him. Yes, God will rescue him from those who want to do him in.
Jeremiah exemplifies courage and perseverance in doing good in the face of all kinds of obstacles. He may be asking us: do we always trust in God, especially when things are not going our way, when what is happening is the opposite of what we want to happen.
Paul in his letter to the Christian community at Rome reflects upon the human condition; everywhere he sees violence, death, and injustice. We fell from grace, so proclaims the Book of Genesis. But who can save us, Paul asks? Jesus Christ, of course. Jesus has righted our relationship with God and one another. He lives. And because Christ lives, we live in relationship with God. Paul may be asking us: how are we nurturing that relationship with God?
In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus says: “do not be afraid.” Yes, do not be afraid, e. g., to do the right thing. Because God is with us. We have the energy of God within us.
How often do we hear that the world is running out of energy: oil, coal, gas and so on. How ensure sufficient energy to sustain life? Now, we are searching for power “from above”– trying to harness the sun.
All of us face a similar problem on a spiritual level. We face challenges. But where do we look for the energy to overcome them? Do we look to ourselves, our intelligence, our entrepreneurial spirit? Or do we look “above” to the living Christ, the Sun of Righteousness?
God through Jesus Christ by the power of the Spirit has given us his energy, power and strength That same energy, power and strength raised Jesus from the dead. When Jesus completed the job he had been given, he cried out, “It is finished.” (Jn 19:30) With that, he bowed his head and gave up his own spirit. The Gospel emphasizes that Jesus really did die. In the blood and water flowing from Jesus’s side, we see a symbol of hope for humanity. The “blood” symbolizes his life poured out for us; the “water” symbolizes the Spirit whose “waters” will cleanse, heal and energize us. The evidence of the empty tomb and the Jerusalem and Galilee appearances convinced the disciples that Jesus was alive. They “saw and believed” that God’s energy and power and strength had raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus was alive. This was unexpected sunshine for them. Winter was over. Spring had come.
We rightly think of power belonging to God. We easily forget that the same energy and power and strength that raised Jesus Christ from the dead now lives in us. It so “possessed” the Jerusalem disciples that they started a spiritual revolution heard ‘round the world. And the age of miracles is not over. The proof? An electrician in Poland, a prisoner in South Africa, a nun in Calcutta—Walesa, Mandela and Teresa--freed Poles from Soviet occupation, gave back to South Africans their fundamental human rights, and restored to suffering and dying people in Calcutta and elsewhere their dignity as human beings made in the likeness of God.
That energy and power and strength of God within us can fire us up to do the right thing as it fired up the disciples. Starting today, at home or at work or in the community, I hope we will realize that the quality of our life and our soul’s destiny is being measured by our god-like attitudes and behaviors: going the extra mile to help someone in need; living up to our promises; working for the common good; trusting always in an all-good and compassionate God who is ever near to us in the “twists and turns” of life and who will guide us safely home to our heavenly dwelling place. Yes, we can do all these things and more if we let that energy and power and strength of God work in us as it has worked in holy men and women throughout the ages.