In our Judeo-Christian tradition, we believe that our God is All-powerful, all-knowing, all loving, he is God of justice and at the same time, he is God of mercy. As he is wholly transcendent, he is also immanent. In that case, he cares for the relations among his creatures, the people he has created in his image and likeness. For good relationship among his people and with him, he entered into a covenant with his people and stipulated for them the laws that will ensure good relationship, and maintenance of peace and harmony in their society.
Today, the wise-man of the Old Testament, Ben Sirach reflects on the rule of love and avoidance of hatred among God’s people. He says that wrath and anger are hateful things. Even if the sinner hugs them tight, that is not justifiable before God. Those who are vengeful will suffer the vengeance of God, because he will always remember their sins. It is the golden rule to do unto others, as one would like to be treated by others and by God (see Matthew 7:12). The original Mosaic introduction of the law of ‘eye for eye,’ ‘tooth for tooth’ and ‘wound for wound’ does not mean retaliation by causing the other the same harm received, but saw that punishment is according to equitable justice. While it might be necessary to go beyond simple justice, one must open his or her heart to mercy. Forgiveness of offences is an indispensable condition to pray and obtain pardon from God. He goes on to ask, if a man nurses anger against another, can he then demand compassion.
Ben Sirach in his reflections wants us to weigh our behavior in relationship with God’s own attributes, who though is almighty and has power to do whatever he wants, still spares the sinner and does not punish outright in every offense. That is why the Psalmist says: “if you, Lord, mark our sins, Lord, who can stand? But with you is forgiveness and so you are revered (Psalm 130:3-4).” In this, the Psalmist wants us to understand that the experience of God’s mercy leads to a greater sense of God.
In revealing the Father to us in his earthly ministry, Jesus reveals the Father of mercy and love to us. When asked by Peter about how many times one would forgive his neighbor, Jesus answered that it would be unconditional, with no limit attached to it. Jesus goes on to give the parable of the unforgiving servant who was forgiven of his debts by his master, but who refused to forgive his fellow servant who owed him very little amount. As a result of his refusal to let go, his master reversed the mercy granted him. At the conclusion, Jesus says that it is how his heavenly Father will treat us unless each of us forgives our brothers and sisters from our heart.
In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches that our own forgiveness is dependent on how we forgive others. That is why we pray, asking God to forgive us our debts as we forgive others who have sinned against us. He teaches us to forgive our enemies and take no vengeance in our own hands. On the cross he did what he taught us by asking the Father to forgive his executioners. He even made excuse for them that they did not know what they had done.
Based on these, St. Paul will instruct us not to repay anyone evil for evil; but to be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all…we should not look for revenge…he tells us rather, to give our enemy food to eat, if he is hungry; if he is thirsty, to give him drink…we should not be conquered by evil but to conquer evil with good (see Romans 12:9-21). He goes on to tell us to owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law (Romans 13:8). By doing these, we are accomplishing the will of our Master. Even if they do not sound right to us, and we feel to do something on the contrary, St. Paul tells us that we cannot, but do the will of the one to whom we are accountable to.
That is why he tells us that no one lives as his own master and no one dies as his own master. No matter what happens in this life, we are responsible to the Lord, and we die as his servants. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, he is the Lord of both the living and the dead. For that reason, we must heed his teachings and do his will.