My Dear Parishioners:
A man who lived a very immoral life died and found himself standing before the gates of heaven. Saint Peter was already looking up his record in the book. “This doesn’t look good.” said Saint Peter. “You were cruel, unjust, selfish, and manipulative. What is even worse, I can’t find a single action of generosity or kindness in your entire life.” “Wait a minute, wait a minute.” said the man, “I distinctly remember twenty years ago I saw a homeless child on the street, and I gave that child a quarter. Look it up. It should be there.” “Ah, you’re right,” said Saint Peter, “it’s here. I missed it because it was in a footnote. But it still it is not very much.” “But it’s there,” the man said, “it has to count for something.” “I’m not sure.” said Saint Peter. “I’m going to have to take this upstairs. Excuse me for a minute.” Saint Peter left to discuss the matter with God. When he returned, the man asked, “What did God say?” “Well,” St Peter said, “God told me to give you back your quarter and tell you to go to hell.”

The Christian life is not mathematics. It’s not about calculating all our good deeds and weighing them against our sins. It is not about measuring ourselves against some perfect performance. This is why we must read the last line of today’s gospel, “The measure by which you measure shall be in turn be measured out to you” in light of Jesus’ words earlier in the passage. There he tells us to be merciful as our heavenly father is merciful. The Christian life is not about measuring one thing against another. It’s about imitating God, about being merciful to others because God is merciful to us. God does not desire to calculate our sins and achievements. God wants to change us so that we can love and show mercy even as God loves and shows mercy.

This after all is the only way that we can make sense out of Jesus’ commands in today’s gospel. He tells us that we are to love our enemies, that we are to do good to those who hate us, that we are to bless those who curse us. No one of us could follow any of those commands on our own. If we were making a list of our achievements, we could not enter any of these commands in our success column. If we are to love our enemies, God has to change us. God has to give us a new heart, a new way of seeing, a new way of loving.

Therefore, the most practical command that Jesus gives us in today’s gospel is: “Pray for those who mistreat you.” Pray for your enemies. If we take that step, if we bring the person who has hurt us, our enemy, before God in prayer, we open the possibility not only for God to change our enemy, but for God to change us. So, we should bring the person that we cannot forgive before God in prayer and ask God to show us something, to give us some understanding that can move our heart closer to forgiveness. We should place the member of our family who has severely disappointed us and hurt us in God’s presence and ask that God would give us a new way to love that person. We should take the friend who has betrayed us and spoke evil against us and before God ask that we might find a way to soften our judgement so that we might forgive as God forgives us.

One day we will find ourselves standing before the gates of heaven, and this gospel tells us that God does not expect us to come with a list of good deeds. The only thing we need to do is tell Saint Peter, “I was helpless, but I prayed that God would change me so that I could be merciful as God is merciful.” Because of that prayer, the gates of heaven will open wide.

Fr. Monteleone

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