Holding onto pain destroys us … only as we give mercy to others do we find confidence and joy
Mercy. This is the key message from God today. God wishes to give us mercy: not just forgiveness, but a second chance. In a real sense, this Gospel continues the story of the Prodigal Son, by addressing the self-righteous attitude of the elder son.
This Gospel often brings a lot of criticism because the woman caught in adultery appears to be unfairly singled out. What about the man?
To get the deeper meaning out of the Gospel we need to leave aside the issue of equality. Those found in adultery were to be stoned to death. Women had no power, no property and no rights.
So, we are looking at a person who has no chance in a human sense. How will we look when we stand before God?
God is simply asking us to have room for mercy in our hearts. I remember Fr Charlie OMI, in Indonesia, sharing how one of the students knifed a teacher and Fr Charlie was forced to remove him from the school. The Dad came begging for another chance, so Fr Charlie placed him in another of his schools.
Fr Charlie reasoned it this way: he wants to be a lawyer. One day he might be a Judge. He’ll be a kind Judge, because he knows how it feels to be condemned and given a second chance.
The question is: how do we feel about this God of second chances?
Of course we like it for ourselves, but are we happy if God or others give mercy?
Especially those who have hurt us or the community in a very serious way?
It’s a great challenge to us to forgive big things. That’s why it’s good to be challenged by families who have done so after horrific events.
The parents of three kids killed by a drunk driver in Sydney, Australia, forgave. My cousin forgave a woman who drove into his car at high speed, causing serious injury to himself – because her son also suffered injuries. In Kenya, many of our youth in Kenya have forgiven a parent for abusive behaviour or “stealing” the family money and becoming an alcoholic.
These are real situations with long lasting consequences, where people have been able to forgive. It does help the “sinner” and it does help the persons who suffer. How?
It helps remove bitterness from their hearts and, hopefully, frees them to do what they can with what they have. We cannot change the past, but we can change the future: sustained anger and bitterness is like a flat tyre on a car… it prevents us moving freely.
So, let’s all of us replace the flat tyres in our lives with a new tyre.
Importantly, Jesus also gave the woman a warning as He sent her away: ‘Neither do I condemn you,’ said Jesus ‘go away, and do not sin anymore.’ That is also valid for us today.
Jesus is not threatening her, but simply giving her good advice. Her previous sin(s) almost caused killed her. The advice is given so that her new chance for life will not be cut short.
Forgiveness does remove the consequences of our actions! Drunken parents suffer health problems, and sometimes are removed from the family to live a life of loneliness. The fatal car crash driver went to prison. The driver who hit my cousin now struggles with her injured son.
I believe, the older we get, the more likely we have been given a second chance to start again. These occasions should cause us to feel deep gratitude to God and the person forgiving us.
When we have gratitude in our hearts, and honest acknowledgement of the mistakes we have made, it becomes easier to forgive others and give them a second chance.
Important as receiving mercy is, the key to a better tomorrow is to give mercy to others. God wants to give us another chance, but only when we imitate God do we make it fruitful.
This is where Reconciliation can help us: not only to receive forgiveness, but to share the pain we receive when others sin against us: it is about God’s healing of us, and less about our sins.
May God grant each of us the courage to seek the Sacrament of Reconciliation and help us move forward with more confidence and joy, giving mercy even as we receive it.
By Gerard Conlan, OMI