February 7, 2014 Thank you for this wonderful opportunity to speak to you today as part of this impressive panel. I was invited here to speak to you about what Christianity teaches about our theme of Tolerance, Forgiveness, and Reconciliation. We are all here to speak about our efforts to promote interfaith harmony, as well. In respect for our time, I will reserve the latter comments for our subsequent discussion. Right now I will focus on Christian teachings on Tolerance, Forgiveness, and Reconciliation.
Happily, these three virtues are all fundamental to the Christian faith tradition with Jesus as our model and teacher.
Regarding tolerance or, more pro-actively, acceptance, we see Jesus reaching out to all manner of people to the point that he was criticized for doing so. He reached out to widows and children, the sick and disabled, tax collectors and soldiers, the poor and powerless, saints and sinners. When asked what were the greatest commandments, He answered: Love God. Love your neighbor. When asked who is my neighbor, He answered with the story of the Good Samaritan, a traditional enemy of the Jews, which, of course, Jesus was. This suggested a third commandment of love, which He also preached in the Sermon on the Mount: Love your enemies. Do good to those who persecute you. There was no one outside Jesus’ circle.
Regarding forgiveness, Jesus practiced forgiveness to His death and beyond. He forgave the woman caught in adultery, the woman who washed his feet with her tears, those who crucified Him, and His apostles for denying and abandoning Him. When He taught us how to pray, He included the line, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” And when asked how often we should forgive, He said not seven times, but 70 x 7, in others words always.
Finally, regarding reconciliation, Jesus was all about creating right relationships with one another. Reconciliation was so important to Him, He said: “If you bring a gift to the altar and there recall that your brother or sister has anything against you, go firstto be reconciled, and then come and offer your gift.” The famous story of the Prodigal Son is a story of reconciliation, which flows from forgiveness, as is the story of Zacchaeus, the short tax-collector who climbed a tree to see Jesus. When Jesus saw Zacchaeus, he told him He would dine with him at his home that very day. Zacchaeus was so transformed by Jesus’s outreach that he reconciled with all whom he had cheated in the past. If we truly follow Jesus as Christians we, too, will reconcile with those whom we have offended.
I represent Pax Christi, the international Catholic peace movement that has NGO status here at the UN. Pax Christi, Latin for the Peace of Christ, was founded on the principle of reconciliation, specifically reconciliation between French and German Christians who were killing each other during WWII. Pax Christi reveals the challenge of being a Christian. Clearly, we all fail sometimes, but we also can be transformed like each and every one whom Jesus welcomed, forgave, and reconciled to Himself and each other.