19th Sunday of the Year Reflection
What does it mean to have life until the age to come?
All of us live as though we have more time; more time to do things; more time to be with loved ones and to love and be loved; more time to live. Yet our aversion of death and our clinging to the youth of our past easily traps us in illusion. As Eric Fromm, the German psychologist and philosopher famously quoted, “To die is poignantly bitter, but the idea of having to die without having lived is unbearable.”
How are we to obtain this life?
A marked Jew, an accommodating nun, and a dying Nazi. These characters take centre stage in the moral drama presented by Simon Wiesenthal in his world-famous book, “The Sunflower”. The author, an Auschwitz Jew facing probable death at the hands of his cruel Nazi handlers is brought before a fatally wounded S.S. soldier about to breathe his last. Before dying, the Nazi requests forgiveness from our Jew for participating in atrocities against the Jewish people.
An excerpt from his confession: In vain, he desperately awaits the comforting words that might provide him a peaceful death “Behind the windows of the second floor, I saw a man with a small child in his arms. His clothes were alight. By his side stood a woman, doubtless the mother of the child. With his free hand, the man covered the child’s eyes…then he jumped into the street. Seconds later, the mother followed. Then from the other windows fell burning bodies…We shot…”
Viewing Simon as a representative of his people, he seeks to absolve himself and ease his unrelenting conscience through confessing and expressing his regret to him. He asks, no, begs for a response, for confirmation that his remorse is accepted; in vain, he desperately awaits the comforting words that might provide him a peaceful death. Young Simon, torn and confused, himself still captive in a living hell manned by this man’s comrades, holds his silence.
That silence will forever haunt him, tugging at his conscience till his last day.
The author concludes his book with: “You, who have just read this sad and tragic episode in my life, can mentally change places with me and ask yourself the crucial question, ‘What would I have done?’
“Hunger, forgiveness and life are woven together into today’s gospel story as it is into the story of our journey seeking to become fully human and fully alive.
We hunger for many things that we hide behind a cloud of self-righteous incense to cover our envy, greed, gluttony, rancour and jealousy. The darkness that we frequently cherish to cover our shame becomes the bonds of our holding cell. It has been said that we are not punished for the sin but by the sin. We drink our own punishment through our rage, resentment and transference; our ineptitude and irrational unwillingness to take responsibility for our own actions or to forgive the actions of others.
There is a great and strident darkness encroaching our world and our country in this new age. We dig ever deeper into history to find the face of evil to blame for our suffering. C.S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity, “If we really want to learn how to forgive, perhaps we had better start with something easier than the Gestapo.”
Yet it is exactly here, in the hands of our most hated enemy, the ones we most despise, those we overlook as unimportant; it is here that we come to find our true value and to live lives fully human. This is what it means to be redeemed; to have our value restored. For us this is a virtual impossibility, yet we are given hope that in Christ all things become possible.
As we come to share in the very heart of God with us; God’s humanity given to us in the most intimate gift, this redemption becomes possible. The God of yesterday, today and tomorrow fills our hunger, removes the shame, guilt and anger of the past, heals us and gives us life, life to the full, now and in the age to come. All we need to bring in this exchange, is our own need and our own hunger. Let us always rejoice in our redemption and in this great gift of sharing in the life of God’s own heart.