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12 February 2011

No more Rotten Potatoes!

In tomorrow's Gospel Jesus intensifies and radicalizes Old Testament law, by taking up four of the more contentious issues of his day -- anger, adultery, divorce and swearing. The common motif is how we treat broken relationships as the People of the Kingdom.

Four times Jesus begins with "You have heard" and continues with "But I say". Four times Jesus shows that God's law is about God's love.

He enables his disciples to see the world with the eyes of God, and to be transformed in the process. Charles H. Talbert of Baylor University observes:

To see differently is to have our perceptions altered. From that come changes in our dispositions, intentions and motivations. The Beatitudes and antitheses shape character by enabling a new way of seeing God's will.

Until just a few years ago, every time I returned from visiting my parents, I was such an emotional mess that nobody wanted to be around me. Visiting my folks made me come home with anger and resentment and sadness, ... but no more, for one fine day a friend gave me the story of the sage and his disciple, a story that indeed transformed me by helping me see.
Once there was a sage who asked his disciple to carve out names of the people he could not forgive on potatoes, one potato for each name.
Then, the disciple was asked to put all the potatoes in a sack and carry it with him at all times, for one week.
The longer time went by, the heavier the potatoes seemed to have become. To make the matter worse, those carved potatoes also started to rot and smell bad. It was such an unpleasant experience for the disciple.
At the end of the week, the master asked, "So, what did you learn?" 
The disciple told the master that he now realized that holding on to grudges only brought negative things to him. Asked how he should go about correcting that, the youngster said he should strive his best to forgive everyone that used to cross him and made him angry. 

The master then asked, "What if someone crosses you again after you unload this present load of potatoes?"
The disciple suddenly felt terrified at the thought of having to start all over again with new potatoes, week after week. He said, "What can I do if there are still other people crossing me? I cannot control what other people do to me!"
At which point the master replied, "So far we only discussed the conventional way to approach forgiveness, that is, to strive to forgive. But striving is difficult. It is also quite unneccessary."
Seeing the disciple completely at a loss then, the master asked, "If resentment and anger are the potatoes, what is the sack?"
The disciple finally grasped it, "Ahh the sack is something that allows me to hold on to the negativity. It is my inflated sense of self-importance!"
The master said, "Once you learn to let go of the sack, whatever people say or do against you will no longer matter. Forgiveness is your conscious decision to get rid of the sack altogether, not just the potatoes. Get rid of your self, and your resentment will be gone."

Angry, resentful and sad, I read the story of the sage and his disciple. I cried a bit and read it again, that day and the next few days. And then I got it. It dawned on me that in my navel-gazing and my constant saying "woe is me" I had been in the way of these relationships. All I had been willing to see was my inflated ego and its constant yelling "Me-me-me".

Little by little I learned to get rid of the sack. Every time my best friend heard me returning to the old broken record of my resentment, he said, "So you put that sack on your back again, did you?"  My relationships with my family have changed, and much to the better.

"To love", says Juris Rubens, Latvian Lutheran pastor, "is to want another person to acknowledge that it was worth creating you." Forgiving my folks made it possible for me to love them again. And in doing so, I acknowledged that they were created by God with the same exquisite love and care as everything and everyone else.

The Sufi mystic Rumi -- often reduced to a new-age "poet of love" -- conceives of every expression of human love as an echo of our relationship with the divine lover:

Both light and shadow
are the dance of Love.
Love has no cause;
it is the astrolabe of God’s secrets.
Lover and Loving are inseparable
and timeless.

Although I may try to describe Love
when I experience it I am speechless.
Although I may try to write about Love
I am rendered helpless;
my pen breaks and the paper slips away
at the ineffable place
where Lover, Loving and Loved are one.

Every moment is made glorious
by the light of Love.

"Where Lover, Loving and Loved are one" -- if someone were to look for a hermeneutical key for the Sermon on the Mount, this would be a good start!

Matthew 5:21-37

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