“Forgive them….” Luke 23: For Christ the King Sunday
Father Michael Daly* served as priest at Sacred Heart Parish in Camden New Jersey. What attracted one to Michael and some of his
contemporaries in Camden such as Martin Gutwein, was their willingness and commitment to work and live in the poorest city in the eastern US.
Michael said of the city where he served for at least 25 years, “Those with wings have flown over the wall, all who are left have broken wings and cannot fly”. Still there were some who could fly and chose to stay. Those were among the great ones.
Michael said about the passage for this day that the words of Jesus
“Father, forgive them” is at the heart of the faith in which many of
us call our own. Certainly the words of Jesus from the cross placed forgiveness where it can’t be ignored. I know people who have been abused who cannot hear those words without tears and anger. I met a man who survived the death camps of Poland. He does not believe in God and does not forgive. I respect his fierce refusal to be consoled.
In the face of such deep hurt and suffering, one whispers forgiveness.Maybe forgiveness cannot come for some unless there is justice. And yet even when justice comes, for some forgiveness seems impossible and unwanted. Sometimes the sense of moral superiority and outrage keeps one going. Who is not outraged at the abuse of children, the concentration camps of Europe, the slaughter of innocents here in this
land, our history of racism. Who would not be outraged? Who could tell the parents of Trayvon Martin to forgive. It can’t bring back the lost innocence, or the murdered innocent. It can’t return the beloved who dies too young or too soon. To many forgiveness seems to white-wash injustice and cruelty
And still forgiveness sits with them like a maiden aunt at an Irish wake while they toss and churn. Forgiveness sits and keens and waits. Forgiveness is God’s gift to us, not primarily for the perpetrator. If we forgive the one who causes the harm, we act out of a sense of self preservation, freedom from the urge for revenge or to inflict similar punishment.
The wheels of God’s justice turn. It may not be on our schedule, and yet when we can forgive, when we are able to let go, we are doing the work God desires for us so that we can be merciful to ourselves as well as those who trouble us.
To forgive is not to forget. Forgetting is to sweep under the rug the memory of the hurt. The memory of the hurt of the act or acts returns. Again and again they will come and visit. Yet they come in for a few minutes. They never stay long enough for tea. Unless they begin to fester and the memory of the act is played again and again. That’s why forgiveness is central to faith, to protect us from playing the hurt over and over until it festers and becomes an infection to the life of the spirit.
More to come.
*Michael had been involved in one of the seminal trials of the
generation with his actions with the Camden 28. The group attempted to destroy the draft files of those young men classified I-A during the end of the Vietnam War. Michael and the rest of the Camden 28 were found not guilty. Howard Zinn, by the way, testified at their trial.
I’d Like to See with the Eyes of the Holy
I’d like to see with the eyes of the Holy,
To witness the whole tapestry of ancestors,
Their angels and demons,
Through the eyes of God.
Then, maybe, I’d understand
Their whys and oughts and shoulds.
I’d see their captivity to old wounds
I’d love them for their ugliness as for their beauty.
I’d see a procession
From the beginning, extending to now
And to the great-great grandchildren
Of the lame and the crippled,
Addicts and those who ran from reality,
The abused and the abusers.
I’d look into the eyes of the great-souled ones,
The workers, the mothers
The warriors and healers,
The fighters for freedom,
The humble righteous, the kind and
Maybe I’d know how they were all
Enclosed and Included into God’s great heart
Simply as they were,
“Warts and all”.
The Sadducees are the One-Percenters, establishment people. They, as many in the church, are charged with protecting the institution and the hegemony of an all male establishment. Sound familiar? The contest they put before Jesus is laughable. The Sadducees do not believe in the resurrection. So they put a riddle to Jesus hoping to catch him. Tradition said that if a husband died, the widow of that man would become the responsibility of the next brother on down the line. “To which one”, they challenge Jesus, “will she be married in the resurrection?”
Jesus is not tied to protect the establishment. His focus is on the Great and generous heart of God. The Sadducees and their riddles work from a system in which widows are protected by being “given” in marriage to the next surviving brother in the family. There was a certain security for the widow and the orphan in this situation. And yet women were still seen as property.
Jesus as usual turns the debate on its head and argues that in the life to come women will not be “given” in marriage. There will be no ownership because we are all, both the living and the dead, “possessions” of God.
That’s what struck me from the reading: “All are alive, the living and the dead, are all alive in God.” What a way to see life and death, as a continuum. We know what it is like to live with the ghosts of the ancestors. Families and political systems live the legacy of their gifts and their weaknesses, their good will and their wickedness. Now, Jesus seems to me to be saying is that we all, living and dead, live within the circle of God’s compassion and mercy. Here in this realm, forgiveness abounds, giving and owning do not exist, because we are all connected to the great heart of God and to the Holy. There is no slave or free, no male or female, no division, we are all One in the heart of God. In this space, even the ancient wounds are staunched. The blood flow of pain, anger, resentment, confusion and hate find resolution.
Those who are now alive have the power to make choices that free them to live outside imposed structures to grow into the mind and heart of God. We are now free to imagine and create a more loving and hopeful place for all beings and creatures.
Read the poem again and see what comes up for you.
Peace and Shalom, Bob