Saturday of the First Week of Lent
To forgive is to convert
“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. Mt 5,43-48
The sentence of the Old Testament to which Jesus makes reference today is written in the book of Leviticus, the legislative code of the Jews: “Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen. You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Lv 19,18). Leviticus is fundamental to understand the religious world in which Jesus lived and the liberating power of the gospel. For the Jewish environment, the neighbour to love and forgive was represented by the people of Israel; the others, if not enemies, were regarded as outsiders to keep far away in order to prevent the pollution of their Jewish mentality. This view of the neighbour is likely to be still relevant: you just need to include into it only the circle of the family members and close friends. Even nowadays we are inclined to consider as our neighbours the members of our family, country, culture, race and religion, and the other ones become strangers from whom we must keep the distance. Today’s excerpt breaks down these fences, which we continually raise to defend our peace and throws us right to the core of the gospel: “If you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?…. And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?”. Today, the Lord asks us to greet everyone and open our hearts to everyone, even to those who do not know, with all the risks that this carries about: it is the risk inherent in spreading the gospel. Today’s passage, however, goes beyond this attitude and says that we love our enemies and pray for our persecutors. It is the shortcut of conversion: convert to the gospel really means to get to love and pray for enemies and persecutors, in order to be children of our heavenly Father, “he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” Then, we give ourselves a task: in everybody’s life there is at least a person who is difficult to love and forgive. Let’s begin to pray for him or her and our feelings will change: after a while we will realize that we loves him or her and that we have forgiven him or her. This will be our conversion.