Earlier in the week, one of our Morning Prayer lectionary readings was this:
“So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. If anger overcomes you at times, make sure you do not turn your anger into sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger; do not make room for the accuser… Do not go about bad-mouthing others; say only what is useful to build others up, as needed, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:25-32; tr. AAH).
Today is the inauguration of our new President and Vice-President, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. The country, our community, and even our own parish are deeply divided. We all talk about the need for unity and reconciliation, but cannot seem to come to a shared idea of how to do to achieve this. We often talk about the need to hold others accountable and not ourselves, about the need for others to forgive us, not us to forgive others. But we all seem to be are acutely aware that reconciling forgiveness can only come through painful truth telling, listening, and accountability. Simply saying “Let bygones be bygones” without any truth telling, remorse, and amends is cheap enabling, sure to make things far worse in the long run. It is not forgiveness, it is foolishness. It is not love, but sappy sentimentalism. In it there is no grace, no healing. But holding others to account and not ourselves as well is a recipe for further, deeper, more hateful division.
Since Monday was Martin Luther King Day, here are some thoughts of Dr. King that bear directly on all this:
“… How do we love our enemies? First, we must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. It is impossible even to begin the act of loving one’s enemies without the prior acceptance of the necessity, over and over again, of forgiving those who inflict evil and injury upon us. It is also necessary to realize that the forgiving act must always be initiated by the person who has been wronged… “Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship. Forgiveness is a catalyst creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning. It is the lifting of a burden or the cancelling of a debt. The words “I will forgive you, but I’ll never forget what you’ve done” never explain the real nature of forgiveness. Certainly one can never forget, if that means erasing it totally from his mind. But when we forgive, we forget in the sense that the evil deed is no longer a mental block impeding a new relationship. Likewise, we can never say, “I will forgive you, but I won’t have anything further to do with you.” Forgiveness means reconciliation, a coming together again. Without this, no man can love his enemies. The degree to which we are able to forgive determines the degree to which we are able to love our enemies. “Second, we must recognize that the evil deed of the enemy-neighbor, the thing that hurts, never quite expresses all that he is. An element of goodness may be found even in our worst enemy. Each of us is something of a schizophrenic personality, tragically divided against ourselves. A persistent civil war rages within all of our lives. … “This simply means that there is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies. When we look beneath the surface, beneath the impulsive evil deed, we see within our enemy-neighbor a measure of goodness and know that the viciousness and evilness of his acts not quite representative of all that he is. We see him in a new light. We recognize that his hate grows out of fear, pride, ignorance, prejudice, and misunderstanding, but in spite of this, we know God’s image is ineffably etched in his being. Then we love our enemies by realizing that they are not totally bad and that they are not beyond the reach of God’s redemptive love. “Third, we must not seek to defeat or humiliate the enemy but to win his friendship and understanding. … “… Why should we love our enemies? The first reason is fairly obvious. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. So when Jesus says “Love your enemies,” he is setting forth a profound and ultimately inescapable admonition. Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies—or else? The chain reaction of evil—hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars—must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation. “Another reason why we must love our enemies is that hate scars the soul and distorts the personality. … Hate is just as injurious to the person who hates [as to the person hated]. Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true. “… A third reason why we should love our enemies is that love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. We never get rid of an enemy by meeting hate with hate; we get rid of an enemy by getting rid of enmity. By its very nature, hate destroys and tears down; by its very nature, love creates and builds up. Love transforms with redemptive power. “… We must hasten to say that these are not the ultimate reasons why we should love our enemies. An even more basic reason why we are commanded to love is expressed explicitly in Jesus’ words, “Love your enemies . . . that ye may be children of your Father which is in heaven.” We are called to this difficult task in order to realize a unique relationship with God. We are potential sons of God. Through love that potentiality becomes actuality. We must love our enemies, because only by loving them can we know God and experience the beauty of his holiness." Excerpted from The Radical King by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Edited and Introduced by Dr. Cornel West. (Beacon Press, 2015).
Grace and Peace, Fr. Tony+