Gospel according to Matthew (5:38-48)
JESUS SAID to his disciples: “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil, When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who, wants to borrow.
“You have heard that it was said. You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you. What recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Red Wednesday, celebrated every last Wednesday of November (before the solemnity of Christ the King), is a grim reminder that Christianity is still suffering from persecution. Pope Francis wrote that there are more Christians today who have suffered and died for their faith than during the time of the early Christians. To celebrate Red Wednesday is to live today the words of Jesus about loving enemies, not returning offenses, not succumbing to the temptation of vengeance. We are enjoined to celebrate the joy of love that these modern martyrs witness to, a love that does not include any taint of hatred against their torturers and killers. The words of the survivors rest not on the cry for justice, but on their joy of having lost their body parts or even their very lives for Jesus.
An important task of mission today is the work of reconciliation. Reconciliation does not start from the offender, the one who created the wounds, the one who had killed. It should start from the victim. In many Countries that have suffered genocide, the justice that the victims often receive is the exposition of the truth by which the oppressors are identified.
Usually, the publication of such document is preceded first by a declaration of amnesty: that all those who have killed or maimed will no longer serve time in jail. Is justice served when the only consolation that the victims receive is the names and the admission of guilt of the killers? Reconciliation is often a political act to achieve peace, and the victim may really end up at the losing end, humanly speaking. That’s why the act of reconciliation should begin from the victims. They must be prepared to forgive even if their torturers do not ask for it. The reason for their forgiveness not their enemies, but themselves: They cannot voluntarily remain in the prison of hatred.
Francis-Xavier Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan of Vietnam spent 11 years in isolation as a prisoner of the Communist regime. While in prison, he managed to write several books of short quotes, sharing his experiences. Those books, which were made from the smuggled notes from prison, became bestsellers. The Communists were enraged; they changed his guards every week. This was because if the guards stayed for a month, Nguyen ended up making them his friends, allowing him to smuggle the small written notes. When finally set free, he was able to narrate how he engaged his guards. He taught them English, and when finally as friends, his guards would ask him: “Is it true that you have already forgiven us who have caused you to stay here in prison?” Nguyen responded affirmatively. His kindness conquered the hearts of his guards. “A heart that loves,” he wrote, “only loves and manifests only joy.”
That’s what Jesus wants. His best missionaries are the people who, even after passing hard times, still managed to preserve their inner peace and joy. They can only do this if they forgive and pray for all those who are harming them. Their hearts rest in the power of God who can change the worst events in their lives for good. They refused to be victimized by their enemies, putting their trust for justice and mercy instead in God whom they know will never fail them. Their joy thus astounds others—especially their enemies.
— Tim S. Melliza, SSP