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Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Lex Talionis is an ancient law, and is referred to in Exodus 21:23-27. It was meant to redress wrongdoing and to allow the victim of a crime to exact punishment equal to that of the injury inflicted: hence the expression, “An eye for an eye.” It was an attempt to administer justice in such a way that acts of vengeance would not escalate. Jesus took a a very different view, commanding his followers to love their enemies and to do good to those who harmed them. Interestingly enough he was only repeating what Moses had been told by God in Leviticus 19, which is the subject of the first reading.

Angry feelings and desire for retribution are natural when we or our loved ones are deeply hurt. In some American states, families of those who have suffered - often from monstrous crimes - are allowed to watch the execution of the perpetrator. There seems to be little evidence that this brings closure or peace. However, people like Martin Luther King, Gordon Wilson, Edith Cavell and Nelson Mandela found peace and liberation in forgiveness.

Nelson Mandela realised that if he did not seek reconciliation, he would remain in his own prison forever. In the film Invictus he invited the captain of the Springboks to tea and together they planned to win the Rugby World Cup for South Africa. Mandela knew how much rugby meant to the Afrikaaners and even though he had been imprisoned for 27 years by the white government, enduring terrible conditions, he would not allow himself to be bitter.

On the night before her execution, Edith Cavell spoke the following words: “Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.”