When I was growing up there was a crooner named Andy Williams who sang a schmaltzy love song called “It’s Impossible”
I was reminded of it when reading today’s gospel:
Jesus said to his disciples:
“To you who hear I say,
love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
To the person who strikes you on one cheek,
offer the other one as well,
and from the person who takes your cloak,
do not withhold even your tunic.
Give to everyone who asks of you,
and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back.
Do to others as you would have them do to you.
For if you love those who love you,
what credit is that to you?…
…But rather, love your enemies and do good to them,
and lend expecting nothing back;
then your reward will be great
Let’s be honest. Forgiving someone who has really hurt you–loving your enemy and all the rest. It’s just impossible. You can’t do it. In your own power you can’t do it.
When someone says to me about some wound or injury they’ve suffered, “It’s okay Father. I’ve forgiven them.” I don’t believe them or they weren’t really hurt that badly.
When Jesus healed the paralyzed man and forgave his sins the Pharisees said, “Who does he think he is? Does he not know that God alone can forgive sins?”
They were right. Only God can forgive sins, and the rich irony was that God incarnate was there before them doing just that.
Increasingly I am trying to understand everything through the lens of the cross, and when this gospel is filtered through the cross it comes alive. It is more than a command from Christ. It is a prophecy of his passion.
Go through it line by line. It describes exactly what he did on that Bad Friday we call “Good”
“Love your enemies?” That’s what he did.
“Bless those who curse you?” Ditto
“Pray for those who mistreat you?” He did that from the cross
“To the person who strikes you on the cheek offer the other one.” Remember how he was struck on the cheek at his trial?
“To the one who takes your cloak offer your tunic.” They gambled for his cloak and he did not with hold his tunic, but was crucified naked.
“Love your enemy?” Greater love has no man than this that he gives up his life for his friend. For a just man one would even dare to die, but Christ Jesus died for the ungodly.
How do you love your enemy and forgive those who have wronged you? Not in your own power, but St Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens men.”
It is as we know Christ and him crucified that we received the power to forgive, and that identity with him is a mystical transaction through the intimate divine union through the sacraments.
That sounds theological, but it is a mystery that we experience even if we cannot explain.
Forgiving our enemies is indeed “impossible” for us as humans. This article reminds me of the articles of Father Stephen Freeman of Saint Anne’s in Oak Ridge. He writes on how the moral life is actually “impossible” for humans in general without God’s grace acting upon us through the ontological change effected by sacraments. We are generally blind to our own sins, and loving our enemies is something where, the impossibility of it is only apparent when you have really genuinely been deeply hurt. I’ve struggled so much for so long bringing anger over past hurts to the confessional and praying about it as part of my daily rule. The only respite I could find was in the healing that comes from long term participation in the sacraments. And I know it is a long way to go yet. When I think of loving enemies, my imagination cannot help but drift to the extended scenes of the Coptic Christians who were martyred in Libya in 2015. If you look at the long version of the video (gruesome as it is) you can see them giving each other encouragement and even praying for those who are about to kill them. I know that I am a poor sinner and not even close to that kind of sanctity. So Lord have mercy on me. You are right father. If someone speaks of this blithely they probably haven’t deeply considered it.
I suppose like so many things, this idea is summarized in scripture.
“Apart from Me, you can do nothing.” (John. 15:5)
It is completely Impossible, apart from Him.
or “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”