Blood feud. Vendetta. Vengeance. Wrath. Road rage. Anger. Hostility.
Just hearing these words and phrases recited might be unsettling, might leave us feeling a bit anxious. Well, then, it’s no wonder the WORLD is so unsettled and anxious. These things are EVERYWHERE. They were everywhere in Jesus’ time, and they are everywhere today. They are part and parcel of our fallen human nature. Sometimes they ooze out of the pores of people you might not even suspect of entertaining such violent, unforgiving attitudes.
I remember once asking a nice and very proper lady in the parish where I was assigned about the health of her sister-in-law, who had been ill. “I don’t know, and I don’t care,” she replied curtly. “We haven’t spoken in years.”
“Really?” I said with much surprise. “Well, maybe this would be a good time to reach out to her and try to heal that wound. You’re both decent people. What ever happened to keep you at odds with each other?”
She stiffened. “Without asking, when my mother-in-law died, she took a piece of furniture that I had my heart set on. She’s never apologized for it.”
“Well,” I suggested, “deaths and funerals can be hard times for families. Maybe she didn’t know how important that item was to you, or that you even wanted it.”
“Father, you don’t have to try to smooth things over,” she said. “You don’t understand how families are.”
“Really?” I said again in amazement. “You must think I dropped to earth out of the sky! But I DO understand what Jesus expects us to do. Making peace with each other is even more important than going to church, he implies in the Sermon on the Mount. And then when he appeared to the Apostles on Easter night, he breathed the Holy Spirit upon them FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS. It sounds like that was pretty important to him.”
She turned on her heel and walked away without a word. And I suddenly realized how the grudges I have nursed, the slights I have entertained and nourished, the injuries of which I have not let go, how painful these might be for someone else who was aware of them. An unforgiving attitude makes the world a sadder, harsher, more violence-prone place. Is it any wonder Christ puts such a premium on forgiveness? He did it in the midst of a Middle East which even today is a kind of Petri dish for growing a culture of bitterness and rage. But we don’t have to look as far as the Middle East. We can look at Ferguson, Baltimore, our own workplaces and schools, our neighborhoods, our families, our streets and highways, our conversations. The culture of unforgiveness is everywhere. That gives us a large, large playing field on which to introduce, at Jesus’ direction, the concept and action of FORGIVENESS. The world will hate us for it, because it means the end of its destructive game-playing. The Lord knows that, and has to breathe the Holy Spirit upon us to strengthen us with and for this great gift.
We are blown out into the world on Pentecost with a radically new message: mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation. If the world doesn’t hear it from us, the followers of Christ, from whom else can it expect to hear it? We are sent out into the world to wash it, to wash it clean of its sins, even as the Blood of our Savior has washed us! What’s the primary sign of the very sacrament by which we are incorporated into God’s own divine life? WASHING! Like The Wave that was so popular for a time at sports events, the Christians of the world witness to Christ like part of a great wave washing over the world and freeing it from all those wicked attachments to hurt and injury that we cherish and polish like precious jewels. Let go of them!! You can’t get into heaven clinging to such hatred. Forget about the 72 virgins. God cannot pour forgiveness into your heart if you keep it filled with all that wrathful garbage that so many people allow to consume them from the inside out.
Start small. Take a deep breath when you turn the key in the ignition. Just say, “Come, Holy Spirit, help me drive like a disciple out here.” Resolve to put a prayer on your lips for every son-of-a-gun who cuts you off. When you’re stopped at a light, look around at how angry everybody looks when they’re driving — and SMILE! It’s really hard to hold bitterness inside when you sport a sincere smile. It’s one of the most important tools in your Pentecost washing equipment, and one that’s easily passed on. A smile is contagious. And if someone doesn’t catch it, they’ll at least be distracted from their anger by wondering what you’re up to. And for them, that might just be a tiny opening to Christ. A bit of Pentecost. A language everybody can understand.