There is a story about Abba Moses, one of the Desert Fathers, who was invited to join a council assembled for the purpose of making a judgement on a brother who had committed a fault. He refused to go until he was told everyone was waiting for him. He took a leaking jug, filled it with water, and carried it with him. As the story goes, the others came out to meet him and asked what he was doing. He replied, “My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the error of another.” According to the story they said no more and forgave the brother.
I believe this is what Jesus is saying to us in today’s Gospel. Luke places these words on Jesus’ lips in his section called the Sermon on the Plain which closely mirrors Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. Our text today is sandwiched between the Beatitudes and his exhortation to remove the log from our eye before taking the splinter from our brother.
Scholars will suggest that Jesus in this text is telling us to leave the judging of salvation or damnation to God. We hear a stern warning to those who might take on God’s role; they may end up condemning themselves. Rather, we are to hear the boundless mercy of God and act on that instead. Frankly, this is a much harder task; impossible without the grace of God in our lives. Humanity balks at these exhortations—love my enemies, be merciful, do good to those who hurt me, forgive, forgive, forgive. I can do so well in most instances because I do want to be a child of the Most High (v.35), I want to challenge myself to see with the mind of Christ as St. Paul teaches. This desire is often in tension with my idea of fairness. Is it fair that I must suffer through a hurt, to let it go while the person who hurt me gets off? Make no mistake, when un-forgiveness lies between family members, friends or co-workers suffering is there and where there is suffering the Crucified Lord is also there.
Brothers and sisters, let us lean into the merciful love offered to us from the Cross. Let us recklessly abandon this darkness and pain in our lives and take even one step towards forgiveness. The journey may take a day or even a lifetime. Let us begin our liberation today and allow that abundance to flow—let us bring God’s justice to birth in our land. May we never more be shamefaced in attending to Jesus commands.
It is only through the grace of God that we can ever reach beyond our humanity to love one another.
Into your hands, O God, Most High, I place my desire to forgive and heal—to be your child. Breakthrough my humanity recklessly so that I may be your hands and feet reaching out with mercy. Amen
Jean Bowler is a retreatant at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center in Sierra Madre, California, and a member of the Office of Mission Effectiveness Board of Holy Cross Province.