In the early weeks of the global pandemic, I seemed to get daily emails from family and friends that included a favorite YouTube video recommendation. One in particular that caught my attention was hosted and produced by sitcom star John Krasinksi, and entitled 'Some Good News.' With his inimitable wit and warmth, Krasinski’s quarantine web-series brought ordinary folks together in the same Zoom room with high powered celebrities like Boston’s own Big Papi. They highlighted the goodness of humanity by celebrating people like high school prom-goers, 2020 graduates, dedicated and compassionate healthcare workers. Much to the disappointment of his 2.5 million subscribers, Krasinksi sold his series to CBS after 8 episodes. Production was hard to sustain, he said, and sadly, in mid-May, Krasinki’s good news came to an end.
I’m tempted to return to the feel-good stories of Some Good News rather than sit with the discomfort and challenge of today’s good news in the Gospel of Matthew. Peter’s question, “Lord, if my sibling sins against me, how often must I forgive them? As many as seven times? “ echoes through time and space, addressing me now in 2020. How hard it is to forgive injustices in church and society, to find a way through the anger I hold tight, never mind forgive countless times as Jesus instructs Peter. And in the face of great suffering and betrayal, it seems justifiable, sensible even, to withhold forgiveness- to blame, retaliate, seek retribution - even after the person who does harm acknowledges their wrongdoing and commits to change. Yet, the subtle pairing of the great commandment in today’s Gospel acclamation with Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant comes to us as a double imperative: “love one another and forgive one another as I have loved and forgiven you.” This is the good news of our faith, symbolized by the cross of Christ, of God’s generous and forgiving love that is ours for the taking every day. As the psalmist writes, this is a love that is kind and merciful, slow to anger, full of compassion. Always. In the face of suffering, injustice, and exclusion, upon receipt of snarky social media comments and verbal assaults, in times of peace and in times of pandemic. Today’s readings remind us that our response to God’s goodness and mercy requires a change of heart and a commitment to ongoing conversion. To “live and die with the Lord” (Rom 14:8) not only involves agapic love, like the selflessness celebrated on Some Good News, it also involves forgiveness--like being open to the grace of forgiving our worst enemies. Oof, this last one seems so hard and demanding.
But we’re not alone. Down through the centuries, week after week, the good news of the Gospel has been proclaimed and received. God’s grace enters into human hearts. It transforms. It shapes us into a beloved people capable of putting God’s love and forgiveness into action. Two illustrations come to mind:
Three years ago this month, while serving in prison ministry, I met with a small group of women in a local prison chapel for a communion service on this same 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time. After I offered a few words to unpack the parable of the unforgiving servant, the women shared their own thoughts about the first reading and gospel. It didn’t take long for me to realize that these women had more to teach me than I had to offer them about seeing ourselves as loved sinners. From where they sat, Jesus' response to Peter and the story of the merciful king offered a priceless gift that could not and had not come from anyone else: cancellation of their debt, freedom from the failures of their past, a chance to begin again. During the prayers of the faithful, I was moved by their petitions for each other, for their families and children, for the judges who would hear their cases, and for the corrections officers who held so much power over their daily lives. And as they listened to and sang along with their favorite hymn, Amazing Grace, I prayed too, that the communities to which they returned - my own included- would be as forgiving as they needed them to be in order to rebuild their lives.
The second example concerns John Lewis. A few weeks ago after his death, I listened to a replay of a 2013 On Being interview in which Lewis spoke with Krista Tippett about the importance of his faith during the Civil Rights Movement, of the influence of Jesus, whom he referred to as the Great Treacher and the example of Mahatma Gandhi. Peaceful resistance to violence was unnatural, he said, and not something that everyone in the movement supported. Participation required disciplined preparation and training. To sustain their commitment to peaceful nonviolence for the long haul, they had to practice this “love in action,” through social drama, not only as a tactic but as a way of life. As they met with relentless hatred and oppression, their own beloved community of protestors became a source of courage, strength, friendship, and even joy. They lived, he said, as if their goals for wider society had already become a reality. At one point in the interview, Lewis imagined: “What would the halls of Congress be like, if we were all more comfortable saying, I love you, I forgive you?”
Seventy times seven? Really? Jesus knew that we needed practice. With hearts opened wide to the amazing grace of God’s mercy, can we trust that Jesus’ instruction is a sign of solidarity with the human condition? Can we live as if it is a piece of wise advice that shapes and sustains our prophetic practice of love and forgiveness for the long haul? Some Good News? I’d say it's the very best.
Jacqueline Regan (Jackie) is the Associate Dean of Student Affairs and Career Services at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry (STM). She earned an M.Div. and an M.A. in Spiritual Direction from the Weston Jesuit School of Theology and Ministry. Jackie’s greatest source of joy in her ministry is participating in and creating inclusive formation programs that foster relationships with and among students from all over the world. At the STM and in her parish of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Jackie has been active in spiritual direction, prison and interfaith ministry, international immersion experiences, hospice chaplaincy, liturgical ministry, and RCIA. She has served on executive boards for the Association of Theological Schools and Association of Graduate Programs in Ministry, and is currently a member of the Boston College Forum on Racial Justice and the Regional Council of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps.
Jackie is the mother of two adult children, Maureen Emily (M.E.) and Tom. As a family and as part of the broader church, they strive to share God’s healing love in their communities. With gratitude for his active support of women in ministry, Jackie dedicates her CWP reflection to the memory of her husband Tom, who died of cancer in 2001.
In addition to spending time with family and friends, Jackie enjoys singing and running. A former track and field athlete who has run internationally, she is a member of the hall of fame at the College of the Holy Cross and a proud Boston Marathon finisher.
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