Sunday, February 19, 2023

The Transformation of Pain

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Readings: Leviticus 19: 1-2,17-18; Psalm 102 (103): 1-4, 8, 10, 12-13; 1 Corinthians 3: 16-23; Matthew 5: 38-48

Video: Spencer Nelson on YouTube

My dear friends, have you ever noticed how pain can become a prison? We’ve all experienced pain in one form or another. And we know, at least in theory, that it has a useful purpose. It draws our attention to what needs to be addressed. Like how a toothache is often a sign of a cavity. And yet pain can also hold us so tightly in its grip that we cannot escape. We fixate on the hurt we’ve suffered, and the one who may have caused it. We may even be driven to retaliate. To make the perpetrator suffer, as we have suffered. But retaliation only begets further retaliation, and the resulting cycle of violence becomes yet another prison. How then to break free?

The scriptures offer us a path in three steps. They widen our perspective, deepen our purpose, and propose to us a person. First, even as pain tends to narrow my vision, forcing me to focus only on myself, the readings offer a broader view. They invite me to look beyond what I suffer, to who God is, and what God does. They remind me that God is holy, and that God’s holiness is shown in God’s undying compassion and steadfast love toward me, even though I don’t deserve it. For he does not treat us according to our sins nor repay us according to our faults, but causes his sun to rise on bad… as well as good, and his rain to fall on honest and dishonest… alike.

Next, the readings also remind me that there is a deeper reason for my existence, beyond merely enjoying pleasure and avoiding pain. That by my baptism, I have become part of a people, called to be holy as God is holy. Called to be nothing less than the embodiment, in the world, of God’s mercy and compassion. So that, through us, all of creation may be set free. Didn’t you realise that you were God’s temple and that the Spirit of God was living among you?

And if, due to my own weakness and sinfulness, I find this call far too daunting, the readings reassure me that that’s to be expected. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God, and there is nothing to boast about in anything human. Instead, to fulfil this call, I need to let my attention shift away from myself to Someone Else. To the One who resisted evil to the point of sacrificing his life on the Cross, and who, even now, remains generously and humbly present to us in this Eucharist that we are gathered here to celebrate. A powerful reminder that we belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God.

Some of us here may still recall the biographical film, Gandhi, from back in the 1980s. In one particularly memorable scene, row after row of unarmed mostly Hindu and Muslim men, calmly and willingly submit to being savagely beaten by guards carrying cruel sticks. Inspired by the one they called Mahatma, or great soul, they turned the other cheek, in order to stand for truth and justice. As a result, the prison of their pain was transformed into a pathway toward national independence.

Sisters and brothers, what must we do to let the Crucified and Risen One transform our pain, and set us all on the path of true freedom today?

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