( Portia, in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, 1596)
In John's Gospel Jesus shows how this mission is to be translated into ministry by washing his disciples' feet, ministering to his disciples as friends and urging them to do the same to one another, thus demonstrating a love which is truly that of Godself. Jesus prays, not only for his disciples, but also for all who will believe in him through their word. In that way, they will all be one "as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me." (John 17:20-21) The Church is "sent" to live, in Sister Sandra's words, "...the community life of friends in equality and mutual service, which will draw others to seek the source of that life and to desire to share in it..." Clearly, you and I are "sent", not to conquer, but to share Jesus the Word of Life and to offer one another the forgiveness, mercy and reconciliation which Jesus himself offers us, thus drawing us into a communal way of living which, John says, is the very life Jesus shares with his Father and with us through the Spirit of Love.
The Church's commission, according to St. John, doesn't speak of going out to overwhelm and strong-arm nonbelievers for Christ or for any other cause. It emphasiszes, to quote Sister Sandra, "...a ministry of presence rooted in the kind of community that can only derive from the inner life of the Trinity itself. It is a preaching by being, being together..." -- reaching out in forgiveness, mercy and friendship, accepting the other as other. "...There is, or should be," Sister Sandra continues, "no moral or religious price tag..." on our ministry. Our task is simply to extend to others the love that binds the community of the Church itself, the love of the Crucified and Risen Jesus, the Wisdom of God.
Forgive is a rich word. It means that the God of mercy "fore-gifts" us, that God is way out ahead of us even at our worst, even in our moments of selfishness and sinfulness. God in Christ is always the One who takes the initiative, is already present in and through our weakness, preparing us for the time when, if we choose it, we'll again be able to rise above our selfishness. At the heart of understanding what it is to forgive is realizing that I do so not because I'm expected or told to do so, or because it's somebody's "nice idea", but because I myself have experienced and am aware of the gracious forgiving presence of Jesus. Because of that I now wish to share that with someone else, whether another person, a group, an ethnic entity, or a nation who's offended me.
Ask yourself this question: how many times in a day, a week, a month, a year, do I say the Lord's Prayer? Before ever saying that prayer again, it might be well for you and me to consult a lawyer! Do you and I have even an inkling of the terrifying commitment and responsibility which we're taking on ourselves in praying that prayer? You and I ask to be forgiven by Godself in exactly the measure that you and I DO forgive another, and AS we forgive another! Perhaps we need only think back just over the past week: to our thoughts and words about other people, other groups, other races, other nations -- them. In praying the Lord's Prayer are we calling down a blessing upon ourselves, or a curse?
Revenge is often said to be "sweet". But if you and I are honest, we know that of all the fruits revenge is ultimately the most bitter, the most poisonous, the most deadly, of all. "Vengeance is mine, says the Lord; I will repay...", the author of Deuteronomy reminds us. Sirach says "...The vengeful will face the Lord's vengeance..."
That people or groups of people have faults and sins, or that they often perpetrate ugliness and evil beyond any of our expectations can never become a reason to stop loving them or to begin hating them. It should, rather, be the occasion for us to offer forgiveness, mercy and love even more, difficult as that will be. Corita Kent writes: "...we must be more careful about stamping out evil or hating anything because we know that in the past and in the present many people and things have been tragically destroyed in the name of good. We are reminded of Rilke's words to the young poet, 'Evil may be not seeing well enough', so perhaps to become less evil we need only to see more, see what we didn't see before...things look different to different people depending on where they stand, and if we can share views, not convert others to our views, we would get a larger vision. No single group can do it alone; the job is too big and we can only make it if we work it out together, and this is true on a worldwide scale, that if we're not going to find a way to work it out together, the whole thing is going to come apart..."