All Saints’ Council of the Knights of Columbus is sponsoring a clothing collection to provide winter coats to children in need; the collection begins this weekend and concludes next weekend. There are informational signs, located in the narthex, describing the collection.
When the signs first went up, I glanced briefly at the one in the west end of the narthex. Because I glanced at it only briefly, I misunderstood the text on the sign. The sign says, “Coats for Kids,” but I mistakenly understood it to say, “Goats for Kids.”
My misunderstanding immediately prompted two questions. At first, I wondered why we were providing goats to children, then I wondered if we were providing foster-goat-parents for orphaned kid goats. A second look at the sign cleared up all these misunderstandings: it said, “Coats” rather than “Goats.” A second look is often helpful.
Today’s Gospel reading continues Jesus’ prophetic vision of what human existence can be when his disciples make it their top priority to live according to God’s will. He said things like, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” and “the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.” (Lk 6: 31, 38) Jesus was calling his disciples to on-going conversion and a renewed life. Just like the “Coats for Kids” sign, however, the meaning of Jesus’ preaching can be misunderstood.
It is very popular to talk about responsibility as a virtue lacking in other people. Those who believe truly that they are owed responsibility by others are inclined to rationalize their sense of entitlement by saying that they are completely ready to be held responsible for their own actions. From this point of view, receiving “the measure with which you measure” means that those irresponsible crowds will receive a harsh judgment. It’s worth taking a second look at Jesus’ words because he was not expressing that sentiment.
Jesus’ Sermon on the Plane in Luke’s Gospel was addressed to his followers. He spoke about how his disciples were to live; he was not speaking about how his disciples were to judge others. In fact, he said explicitly, “Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.” (Lk 6:37)
His words were intended to be more than a little disconcerting. He was asking us to be completely honest about what we truly deserve. How often, for example, have you loved your enemies and done good things for those who hate you? How often do you bless those who curse at you and pray for those who mistreat you? If those actions are not daily occurrences, you can’t claim to be deserving of responsible treatment from others. If we’re honest with ourselves about what we truly deserve, the thought of just desserts should be truly terrifying.
The majority of the population (believers and non-believers alike), if they got what they deserved, would struggle under a crushing burden of guilt; the remaining minority would have no hope whatsoever. Happily, there is a way out from under the weight of our just desserts; it is to do what Jesus said, “Be merciful, just as God is merciful. . . Forgive and you will be forgiven.” (Lk 6: 36,37) Obviously, these are not easy tasks to set for ourselves; some daily help is necessary if we are to live according to Jesus’ teaching.
There is a very old-fashioned Catholic practice of doing an examination of conscience at the end of each day. The daily examination of conscience is like taking a second look at your day and your life so that there are no misunderstandings about what went on. The purpose of this is to give thanks to God for all the good of the day and to ask forgiveness for our failings during the day. A daily examination of conscience will show you exactly what you deserve; if done habitually, it will also show you how fortunate you are to be able to be forgiven.
One’s life is often worth a second look – just to avoid misunderstandings. Love withheld leads only to animosity; unforgiven slights always escalate into conflict. Retaliation never resolves anything. Forgiving one’s enemies might look like denial of reality or a fantasy-based version of holiness. On second look, however, it makes perfect sense. Only forgiveness brings forgiveness; only kindness brings compassion. Take a second look at your life – just to see what you’re missing.