St. Paul reminds us that we are temples of God—actual living tabernacles of the Holy Spirit. He reminds us to be that holy combo of head and heart in all our dealings with our fellow humans. Jesus today gives us the hardest command to follow about turning the other cheek, no resistance to evil persons, loving enemies and praying for those who persecute you—asking us to be perfect. Be holy, be perfect! Geez. None of this is easy, especially in this political climate with social media giving hidden platforms to the worst temptations of mean-spirits, criticism, greed and schaudenfruede. (Pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune.)
I am reminded about a story of Nelson Mandela who took a bit of proverbial wisdom and made it his: “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” Others have said it before him, but Mandela lived it out in a public way, and showed forgiveness toward those who kept him in prison, even inviting one of his prison guards to his inauguration.
Studies have shown that resentment (and other sinful, hurtful feelings) are actually harmful to our health, while forgiveness (and loving thoughts) have the opposite effect. A 2004 Harvard study found five principal benefits to forgiveness: Reduced stress, better heart health, stronger relationships, reduced pain, and greater happiness. Jesus offered us a more powerful reason: we forgive others because God forgives us. The Psalm response today is: “The Lord is kind and merciful.” God forgives us our sins; how can we then turn around and be unforgiving toward others? Forgiveness is good for you and resentment is harmful. The choice should be easy, yet we often find ourselves keeping a record of the wrongs done against us—and then posting it on social media…
As we turn toward the Lenten Season of reconciliation, I know that many of you will be giving up stuff (chocolate, etc.), and giving alms and praying more—wonderful! But let me encourage you to strive to be holy and be perfect in maybe some un-thought-of ways as Disciples. What does that mean? Maybe less axes to grind; and less posting about it. Letting our better angels guide us to forgiveness, tolerance, gentleness and compassion—especially when you feel called to “reprove your fellow citizen…” If we live “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” we’ll all be blind and toothless. Better to follow the Scriptural advice in both the Old and New Testaments today to ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” Consider living this Lent to strive to ‘Be holy and perfect.’