19th FEBRUARY 2023

The Power of Forgiveness: Why Revenge Hurts You More – Care Matters



Lv 19: 1-2, 17-18;      Ps 103: 1-4,8,10,12-14;      1 Cor 3: 16-23;      Mt 5: 38-48



Bankei Yotaku, a Japanese monk, once went into seclusion for weeks, and people from all over Japan came to learn from him and take part in the seclusion. Soon, they began to notice that someone was stealing things from this gathering. They immediately informed Bankei, but he was not willing to take any action against the thief. This incident happened the next day, too; the pupils caught the man stealing again and told Bankei about it. Once again, Bankei ignored the whole incident.

Finally, people objected that they could not go on with the seclusion and mediation when they knew a thief was among them. Everyone asked Bankei to take the matter into his hands and expel the thief. No one was willing to stay unless the thief went away. These were Bankei’s words when everyone asked him to take action: “Brothers, you are wise. You know what is right and what is wrong. This brother of ours does not know right from wrong like you. If I do not teach him, then who will? I am not going to expel him. Even if it means that you all will leave, I am going to keep him beside me.” The thief heard everything and was greatly moved by Bankei’s compassion. He burst into tears and promised to never steal ever again.

Great changes can be seen outside with the most minute inward movements. Just like a tiny shift in the oceanic floor can result in tides so high, a small change in a person’s heart can cause big changes in their life and relationships. So, how can we bring about a change in the life of someone in our limited capacity? What does it mean when God says to Moses, “Though you may have to reprove your fellow citizen, do not incur sin because of him.”

It is in our human nature to find fault in the other. Therefore reproving might come to most of us quite easily. While reproving may often be holy work, it is how we do so that God is concerned with, the most. Jesus tells us that “an eye for an eye” is no more so. Reproving a sinful act in anger is not God’s way. How can we glorify God while obeying his tough commandment of love? How can we be merciful so that the justice of God may prevail? What happens if we seek revenge and act grudgingly? Could we destroy the very hearts of our brothers and sisters? Can our methods of reproving crush the very self-confidence of another?

St. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, says, “If anyone among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool, so as to become wise.” What is it then, to become a fool? The answer lies right here: “The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” If we reprove others by the measures of the world – in anger, spite, vengeance, hatred, despair or jealousy, we would be inevitably sinning ourselves! Reacting to sin in the same measure as it was committed doesn’t make us any less of a sinner. “Let no one deceive themselves” as Saint Paul asserts.

The Zen monk’s act of mercy was a small example of transformation through compassion. The suffering and death on the cross was the biggest example of unconditional sacrifice. Saint Stephen, was falsely accused of blasphemy and stoned to death by the Jewish council in Jerusalem. His death was sorrowful and heart-wrenching. Yet his martyrdom was majestic because his final words before falling into eternal sleep were: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). In his last moments, through his last words, he prayed to God not to charge his attackers who took his life brutally, for his death.

Lastly, a relatable example is that of Steven McDonald, a young policeman, who was shot by a teenager in Central Park and ended up paralyzed. McDonald not only survived but freed himself from the sin of unforgiveness. He told everyone later: “I forgave him because I believe the only thing worse than receiving a bullet in my spine would have been to nurture revenge in my heart.”

Response: The Lord is compassionate and gracious.

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