John Hay’s poem the enchanted shirt humorously describes the nature of human beings to always indulge in worries. There was a king, who thought that he was sick, though he was very healthy and he ate and drank heartily; and enjoyed a peaceful sleep. Since the king said that he was sick , many doctors came to examine him. As they were not able to drive his worry away he executed them. Finally two doctors came, one genuine and dedicated to his work, but the other was a crook. Both of them examined the king. The first said that the king was as sound as a nut. The king was displeased and ordered him to be executed. The other doctor grew pale at the judgment, thought for a while , and said that the king would be well if he slept in the shirt of a happy man. Soldiers rode far and wide in search of a happy man. Every day they sent report to the king. They found poor men who would fain be rich, and rich who thought they were poor. They saw two men by the roadside, and both bemoaned their lot. One was sad because his wife died, and the other was sad because his wife did not die. At last the soldiers saw a beggar who was very happy. They requested him to lend his shirt to the king for a day. He laughed at this request, because he had no shirt at all. Everyday the news of the sad panorama of human woes passed under his eyes. And he was ashamed of his useless life. He went out and toiled. Then the Kingdom prospered, people became happy, and the King drew satisfaction from his life.
In a recent survey reported in Reuters, via MSNBC, 90% of the respondents said that they were worried how well prepared they were for retirement. Between 20 and 30 percent of all Americans will live today under significant stress. Thirteen million will worry intensely for at least 90 minutes. It may be about our marriages, children, jobs, mortgages, health, grades, friends or a host of other issues. Whatever the source, worry is an emotion with which all of us are familiar and which 27 percent of us experience virtually on a daily basis. (Statistics taken from American Demographics and MD Magazine, p 28). But 60% of our worries are unwarranted; 20% have already become past activities and are completely out of our control; 10% are so petty that they don't make any difference at all. Of the remaining 10% only 4 to 5% are real and justifiable, and we can't do anything about half of those. So our worries are baseless.
My dear friends, today’s first reading tells us that we need not worry about tomorrow, because God assures us that “even if a woman forgets her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb, God will not forget His children." [Is. 49:14-15] "I will not forget you" says the Lord God. Here, perhaps, is the most touching expression of Divine love in the entire Bible.
The message of the Gospel, too, is the same "Do not worry."
The late Bishop Ernest Fitzgerald used to tell about a man he knew years ago who lived in one of the isolated corners of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Life was hard, and every day his little hillside farm was at the mercy of drought, wind, or cold. Yet he was about the most serene and deeply contented man Bishop Fitzgerald had ever known. So he asked the old mountaineer one day if he had ever had any troubles and if he had ever spent sleepless nights. "Sure, I've had my troubles," he said, "but no sleepless nights. When I go to bed I say, 'Lord, you have to sit up all night anyway. There's no point in both of us losing sleep. You look after things tonight and when tomorrow comes, I'll do the best I can to help you.'" [David J. Schlafer, What Makes This Day Different? (Boston, MA: Cowley Publications, 1998), p. 123.]Jesus taught His disciples,"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” We should not be concerned too much about anything, not to be uneasy about what might happen, and we should avoid anxious care. “Do not worry if you have built your castles in the air. They are where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” Wrote Thoreau.
If one places his trust in Divine Providence, he has no worries. But if he does not trust in God to provide for his future, then he begins to stockpile anything and everything which he believes will benefit him in the future. Such is a false sense of security. Jesus taught them giving examples from nature. He said, “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?”
The example of the birds tells that one’s anxiety should not exceed the labor that is required to secure subsistence. It is not the use of the necessities of life that is discouraged, but the accumulation of goods. Accumulation of goods does not prolong the life of the owner as much as a cubit. Leo F Bauscaglia wrote “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.”
Hence, Jesus taught, “Do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?’ or “What will we drink?’ or “What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”
One day the German mystic Johann Tauler met a beggar “God give you a good day, my friend,” he said. The beggar answered, “I thank God I never had a bad one.” Then Tauler said, “God give you a happy life, my friend.” “I thank God,” said the beggar, “I am never unhappy.” Tauler then said in amazement, “What do you mean?” “Well,” said the beggar, “when it is fine, I thank God. When it rains, I thank God. When I have plenty I thank God. When I am hungry I thank God. And since God’s will is my will, and whatever pleases him pleases me, why should I say I am unhappy when I am not?” Tauler looked at the man in astonishment, “Who are you?” he asked. “I am a king,” said the beggar. “Where, then, is your kingdom?” asked Tauler. The beggar replied quietly, “In my heart.” [Quoted in Michael Green, Matthew (Waco, TX: Word, 1988), p. 86]
Today, Jesus reminds us that we are more important than flowers, than the grass, than swallows. His promise to us is that He will take care of us even more than He does of the plants and birds.
In the winter of 326 BC, Alexander personally led a campaign against the clans of the Assakenoi of the Swat and Buner valleys. A fierce contest ensued. The Assakenoi fought bravely and offered stubborn resistance to Alexander in the strongholds of Massaga. The fort of Massaga could only be reduced after several days of bloody fighting in which Alexander himself was wounded seriously in the ankle. Alexander and his army took revenge for the wound he suffered by slaughtering the entire population of the city. Not being satisfied with that, they reduced its buildings to rubbles.
Since the revenge often surpassed the offense, ancient legal systems had formulas that were applied to specific crimes, laws that prescribed punishments equal to the offenses. A common expression was: “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” We find another one of those formulas expressed in the Book of Genesis where in Chapter 9 we read: If anyone sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed… (Genesis 9:6).
Jesus’ audience was familiar with that system of retribution, and they accepted it as the best means of ensuring justice. So, the words of Jesus, I say to you: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” must have sounded strange in their ears.
In the contemporary history, too, we find instances, where revenge was hundreds of times greater than that of the offense. In 1940, during the Second World War, a British bombing mission had struck Berlin - ostensibly by mistake. To take revenge on this Hitler ordered London to be targeted. Thus civilian bombing of London began, causing the death of thousands, and spreading misery to many. The history of the recent past is full of incidents of massacre, prompted by individuals or nations. Hence, the words of Jesus, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” must sound strange in our ears, too.
“By taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing over it, he is superior,” Says the proverb. Desire for revenge will beget only evil and destruction. Gandhiji expressed it as, “An eye for an eye would make the whole world blind.” Another proverb, attributed to the Chinese philosopher Confucius states, "Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves." The implication here is that a desire for revenge may ultimately hurt the seeker as much as the victim.
In the poem, “Poison Tree” William Blake gives a moral lesson of great importance. He compares anger and hatred to a poison tree.
I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.
And I watered it in fears,
Night and morning with my tears;
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.
And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine.
And he knew that it was mine,
And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.
Jesus instructed His disciples to go beyond, to follow a higher law, a law not based on retaliation and retribution but based rather on a more powerful force to govern our human relationships – the Law of Love. Jesus exemplified his teachings through his own actions. On the cross Jesus prayed for his enemies, and, as the legends states, restored sight to the soldier who pierced his side.
Toward the end of the Revolutionary War, a turncoat traitor, named Michael Whitman, was captured. At his trial it was proven that he had given the British army invaluable assistance on numerous occasions. He was found guilty of spying and sentenced to death by hanging. Michael Whitman was from a town called Ephrata. Word got back to that town of his imprisonment and impending execution. There was a Baptist preacher who also lived in that town whose name was Peter Miller. He heard about Michael Whitman's plight and walked 70 miles in the cold and the snow to Philadelphia to see George Washington. George Washington and Peter Miller were very close friends. Miller had done a great many favors for the army; he had given them spiritual nourishment and emotional strength during difficult times. When he came in to see George Washington he said, "General, I have a favor to ask of you." Washington said, "What is it?" He said, "I have come to ask you to pardon Michael Whitman." George Washington was stunned. He said, "Pastor Miller, that's impossible. Whitman has done everything in his power to betray us, even offering to join the British and help destroy us. I cannot be lenient with traitors, and for that reason I cannot pardon your friend." Peter Miller said, "Friend! He's no friend of mine. He's the bitterest enemy I've ever had in my life. For years he persecuted me and harassed me. He did everything he could to hurt my church and to hinder the preaching of the gospel. He even waited for me one time after church and beat me almost senseless, spitting in my face, knowing full well I would not strike him back." He said, "General, let's get this straight—Michael Whitman is no friend of mine." George Washington was puzzled. He said, "But you asked me to pardon him." He said, "I have, and I ask you to do it to me as a personal favor." He said, "Why?" He said, "Because that's exactly what Jesus has done for you and for me." With tears in his eyes, George Washington walked into the next room and soon returned with a paper on which was written the pardon of Michael Whitman. Peter Miller went personally with him to the stockade, saved Michael Whitman from the hangman's noose, and personally took him back to his own home where he led him to faith in Jesus Christ. Peter Miller was right. What he did for Michael Whitman Jesus Christ has done for us, and on the cross He spoke to us as we should speak to others: "With malice toward none; with charity toward all."
It must have been difficult even for the apostles, to accept the teaching of Jesus regarding the forgiveness extended to enemies.
Jesus put forward four concrete situations to emphasize His point.
First of all, “Offer the wicked man no resistance….if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well.”(Mt 5:39). Jesus did not want his disciples to react to evil by repaying evil for evil that is by taking revenge. Paul advised the Christians,
“Never try to get revenge…
if your enemy is hungry you should give him food,
and if he is thirsty, let him drink….
resist evil and conquer it with good.” (Rom 12:19-21).
History teaches us that all the kingdoms established by the power of sword, gave way to a more powerful king. They disappeared and another more powerful kingdom emerged in its place. There was constant war and bloodshed. St. Francis set out to join the crusaders. He wanted to march to the holy land with sword. But the unseen hand of God stopped him on the way. Finally, when he set foot in the holy land he carried, not the sword but the cross. He conquered not with a bloody battle, but with the captivating message of peace. That is what Jesus wants from us, too, today. Captivate the world, not by means of revenge, but by means of love. Benjamin Franklin knew the power of forgiveness. He wrote, “It is more noble to forgive, and more manly to despise, than to revenge an Injury.”
Secondly, “If a man takes you to law and would have your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” Jesus advises to give the unjust claimer even more than what he unjustly claims. According to Jesus, the Christian never stands upon his rights. Our contemporary world emphasizes more on rights than duties, justice than forgiveness. The Christian must think not of rights, but of his duties, not of his privileges but of his responsibilities.
Thirdly, “If anyone orders you to go a mile, go two miles with him” At the time of Jesus, for lack of roads travelling was always done on foot. Jesus’ advice is to be ready to carry the load even for a longer distance than we are compelled.
Fourthly, “Give to anyone who asks, and if anyone wants to borrow, do not turn away.” For Jesus giving was at once a privilege and obligation; for in reality all giving is nothing less than giving to God. So it is better to help a score of fraudulent beggars than to risk turning away from the one man in real need.
So let us remember the words of Jesus. "No one who loves and forgives those who hurt him be left out of God’s kingdom; no one refusing love will be admitted."
It was customary in ancient times that Every king established laws and code of conduct for his subjects. That code of conduct was the bond that united the subjects of his kingdom. Thus we find many laws in the ancient world.
One of the earliest collections of laws is the Code of Ur-Nammu, King of Ur. It was written in Sumerian language around 2100 BC. The laws of Eshnunna date back to 1930. Eshnunna was an ancient Sumerian city in upper Mesopotamia. There were several collection of laws, like the Hittite laws, the Assyrian laws, and Mosaic Law.
When the Israelites were led out of the land of slavery, in Egypt, they were promised a land flowing with milk and honey. Though the Israelites had no land of their own, they had formed themselves into a special people. The chosen people of Yahweh, were given their own laws, the “Ten Commandments”. Wherever the Israelites went they carried these laws with them. Whoever joined the Israelites had to adopt their laws.
Jesus came to establish a new Kingdom. Hence he had promulgated a new law. A new law for a new Kingdom. Neither the Jews who had been used to the Rabbinic interpretation of the Mosaic law, nor the Rabbis who interpreted the Mosaic law could grasp the meaning of Jesus interpretation. They thought that Jesus was abolishing all the existing laws. In this context, Jesus declared that he had not come to abolish the Law but to complete it (Mt 5:17). Jesus taught them that the Kingdom of God would be guided by a single law, “The law of love.” Hence, Jesus summed up the Ten Commandments into two, “Love the Lord, your
God with all your heart
….Love your neighbour as yourself.”(Deut 6:5. Mt 22:38-39).
Jesus demanded a higher standard of conduct from the citizens of his Kingdom.
“If your virtue goes no deeper
Than that of the Scribes and Pharisees,
You will never get into the kingdom of heaven”(Mt 9:20)
The contemporary society of Jesus followed the principle of “an eye for an eye” and “a tooth for a tooth.” But in the new Kingdom that law was abolished and a new law was promulgated. “Show the right cheek to the one who strikes on the left.” It seemed impractical for the contemporaries of Jesus. And for many centuries people thought it impossible to practice it. But a little man from India proved it very practicable. He experienced that it was more effective than any other resistance. Hence, Gandhiji followed the path of non-violent resistance in his struggle against the inhuman urge of man to enslave his fellow ken. Not only did he follow it, but also he made it a mass movement. This made Gandhiji different from any other leader, and the most unique leader.
The demand of Jesus from the citizens of His Kingdom is a step higher than the normal standards. If anger is met with anger, treachery with treachery, falsehood with falsehood, there will not be any place for such people in the new kingdom. Jesus made His demands very clear. That can be summed up as “reverence for God” and “respect for men”. Jesus showed through His life what reverence for God and respect for men in actual life are. Reverence and respect do not consist in sacrifice but in mercy, not in legalization but in love, not in prohibitions but in understanding.
This demand Jesus placed on his followers with great authority. All the Prophets spoke in the name of God. They announced, “Thus says the Lord….” The Rabbis taught in the name of the written world of God. “Thus it is written….” But Jesus taught in His own authority. “I say to you…” Everyone was amazed but no one dared to question the authority of Jesus, because his words radiated unchallengeable authority and wisdom.
By the world’s standards a man is a good man, if he never does a forbidden thing. The modern civilization has diluted it further. A man is not guilty until it is proved. The world judges a man from his deeds. But Jesus went one more step further. He judges a man from his thoughts. Jesus taught that thoughts are as important as deeds. By Jesus’ standards a man is not a good man until he never even desires to do a forbidden thing.
To some extent every man is a split personality. There is a part of him which is attracted to good, and part of him which is attracted to evil. So long as a man is like that, an inner battle is going on inside him. One voice is inciting him to take the forbidden thing; the other voice is forbidding him to take it.
William Shakespeare presents this conflict beautifully in his play “Hamlet”.
On a dark winter night, a ghost walked the ramparts of Elsinore Castle in Denmark. Discovered first by a pair of watchmen, then by the scholar Horatio, the ghost resembled the recently deceased King Hamlet, whose brother Claudius had inherited the throne and married the king’s widow, Queen Gertrude. When Horatio and the watchmen bring Prince Hamlet, the son of Gertrude and the dead king, to see the ghost, it spoke to him, declaring ominously that it was indeed his father’s spirit, and that he was murdered by none other than Claudius. Ordering Hamlet to seek revenge on the man who usurped his throne and married his wife, the ghost disappeared with the dawn.
Prince Hamlet devoted himself to avenging his father’s death, but, because he was contemplative and thoughtful by nature, he delayed, entering into a deep melancholy and even apparent madness.
He thought of taking his life:
“To be, or not to be: that is the question:”. Hamlet was unable to make a decision. One part of him instigated him to end everything in death. But the other part told him that it was against the commandment of God.
We all experience this inner tension. So long as there is this inner tension, this inner conflict, life must be insecure. In such circumstances the only way to safety, is to eradicate the desire for the forbidden thing for ever.
The standard Jesus demands from us is not only our deeds but also our thoughts should be pure. So Jesus forbids forever the anger which broods, the anger which will not forget, the anger which refuses to be pacified, the anger which seeks revenge.
To be the citizens of the New Kingdom we have to accept the new law of Jesus, the law of love.
Hubert was the eldest son and apparent heir of Bertrand, Duke of Aquitaine. As a youth, Hubert was sent to the Neustrian court of Theuderic III at Paris, where his charm and agreeable address led to his investment with the dignity of "count of the palace". Like many nobles of the time, Hubert was addicted to the chase.
Hubert retreated from the court, withdrew into the forested Ardennes, and gave himself up entirely to hunting. But a great spiritual revolution was imminent. On Good Friday morning, when the faithful were crowding the churches, Hubert sallied forth to the chase. As he was pursuing a magnificent stag, the animal turned and, as the pious legend narrates, he was astounded at perceiving a crucifix standing between its antlers, while he heard a voice saying: "Hubert, unless thou turnest to the Lord, and leadest an holy life, thou shalt quickly go down into hell". Hubert dismounted, prostrated himself and said, "Lord, what wouldst Thou have me do?" He received the answer, "Go and seek Lambert, and he will instruct you." This brought about a great change in him. He distributed his revenues among the poor, and dedicated himself for the service of the poor.
When Valerian and his brother Tiburtius believed in Christ and were converted to Christianity, they distributed their inheritance to the poor.
Bernard, a rich man of Assisi, was very much attracted by the life of Francis of Assisi. He joined Francis, and placed all his wealth at the altar of God. Eleven others also joined Francis. They distributed all their wealth to the poor.
The acts of these men were looked upon with great wonder and admiration by all. About such men of great compassion Isaiah wrote:
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn.
Jesus told his disciples
“You are the salt of the earth.” and
“You are the light of the world.”
Salt is connected with purity. The Romans considered salt as the purest of all things, because it came from the purest of all things, the sun and the sea. When Jesus spoke to his disciples, “you are the salt of the earth.”, he wanted his disciples to be the purest of all men. Association with Jesus transformed people. When Mary Magdelene came to Jesus she changed her life circumstances. Moved by the audacity of Jesus's unconditional love and acceptance, Zacchaeus publicly repented of acts of corruption and vowed to make restitution for them. A murderous Pharisee and persecutor of Christians, was thrown to the ground and blinded by a streak of light....eventually to become a Christian and soon after beheaded for the faith. That was St. Paul!
A Jewish atheist of the 20th century pursued studies in philosophy and by the witness of many, including the life of St. Theresa di Avila, became a Carmelite cloistered nun and eventually led with her sister to a concentration camp and killed in a the so called gas chambers. That was Edith Stein!
The life of all these people show that their association with Jesus caused tremendous change in them. From darkness they turned to light, and from impurity to purity. Today, our mission is to be the salt of the earth - to uphold the noble principles of love and concern for others.
Secondly, in the ancient world salt was the commonest of all preservatives. The mission of a Christian is to be the preserver of Christian values in his age. The world tends to dilute the standard of moral values. We are part of a consumerist society. The only satisfaction we know is the satisfaction derived from consumption. So there is a frantic chase to amass wealth at any cost. But, there is a great joy derived from sacrifice and sharing. The lives of St.Hubert, St. Valarian and Bernard are testimony for this. They found joy in giving. There are many things that can be given besides physical objects. Many people need time, attention, acknowledgment, the chance to be right about something. Practice giving freely. Do it in little steps at first. Let the car behind you pass you, let the person go first at the checkout counter. Give someone a hand with their bags, open the door for someone at a building. Practice being there for another. The more you do it, the more your joy will grow.
When these things are done, we will be the light of the world.
A light is to be seen. Our work must be seen by others. When the early Christians lived in unity the others wondered. Look, how they live in unity! Our life must attract others. There is an old proverb “A drop of honey catches more flies than a cup of vinegar.” Our little acts of kindness are like drops of honey. They are able to attract others, and motivate others to show acts of kindness. “A good example has twice the value of good advice”.
Secondly, a light should be a guide. Our life should be able to guide people to the light. One day a man visited Mother Teresa’s home for the poor and the dying in Calcutta. He arrived just as the sisters were bringing in some of the dying off the streets. They had picked up a man off the gutter, and he was covered with dirt and sores. Without knowing that she was being watched, one of the sisters began to care for the dying man. The visitor kept watching the sister as she worked. He saw how tenderly she cared for her patient. He noticed how as she washed the man she smiled at him. She did not miss a detail in her attentive care of that dying man. After carefully watching the Sister the visitor turned to Mother Teresa and said, “When I came here today I didn’t believe in God, and my heart was full of hatred. But now I am leaving here believing in God. I have seen the love of God in action. Through the hands of that Sister, through her tenderness, through her gestures which were so full of love for that wretched man, I have seen God’s love descend upon him. Now I believe.” (Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday & Holy Day Liturgies’).
God wants us to be the salt and light for everyone around us.
some useful anecdotes
Choosing Life: Dr. Victor E. Frankl, survivor of three grim years at Auschwitz and other Nazi prisons, has recorded his observations on life in Hitler’s camps. ‘We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken away from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. -Victor Frankl in ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’
Be good for something!: Alexander Solzhenitsyn recalls, as he says, ‘with shame’ an incident he witnessed at the front when he was a captain in the Russian army. “one day I saw a sergeant of the secret police, on horseback, using a whip on a Russian soldier who had been captured serving in a German unit. The man, naked from the waste up, was staggering under the blows, his body covered in blood. Suddenly, he saw me and cried out: “Mister Captain, save me!” ‘Any officer in any army in the world should have put a stop to this torture, but I was a coward. I said nothing. I did nothing. This picture has remained in my mind ever since.’ He could have brought light into that dark situation but he didn’t. “Be not simply good,’ says Thoreau, ‘be good for something.’ -Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday & Holy Day Liturgies’
Now I believe!: One day a man visited Mother Teresa’s home for the poor and the dying in Calcutta. He arrived just as the sisters were bringing in some of the dying off the streets. They had picked up a man off the gutter, and he was covered with dirt and sores. Without knowing that she was being watched, one of the sisters began to care for the dying man. The visitor kept watching the sister as she worked. He saw how tenderly she cared for her patient. He noticed how as she washed the man she smiled at him. She did not miss a detail in her attentive care of that dying man. After carefully watching the Sister the visitor turned to Mother Teresa and said, “When I came here today I didn’t believe in God, and my heart was full of hatred. But now I am leaving here believing in God. I have seen the love of God in action. Through the hands of that Sister, through her tenderness, through her gestures which were so full of love for that wretched man, I have seen God’s love descend upon him. Now I believe.” -Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday & Holy Day Liturgies’