What we believe
The people of God, the Church, continues Jesus' mission of healing and support today. We believe each person is precious, unique and worthy of love and respect. Click here for a reflection on what we believe about the need for healing and support in our world.
Breaking out of our shell and opening our hearts to others involves a great risk. It leaves us vulnerable to be hurt and to have our trust betrayed. What happens when we get burnt?
The expression to be "burnt" by a relationship has a particular potency. To be burnt means to be scarred or damaged, perhaps permanently. The Australian bush knows only too well what damage a fiery blaze can cause. Uncontrolled emotions, untempered thoughts and actions, can burn out of control too, and the ones who are damaged are usually those who through their love and welcome are closest to the flames.
What are we to do when one betrays our trust or flings back our welcome in our face? We are told to "turn the other cheek", to "love your enemy" and to "forgive seventy by seven times". But how do we forgive when we feel burnt and blackened by the fire of betrayal? This is especially true if the culprit is unrepentant. How can we be expected to follow the example of Jesus, who offered forgiveness on the cross to those who were his torturers and mockers, even though they showed no remorse?
The deeper the hurt, the harder it is to forgive, especially when we are hurt by those whom we love. While we may say we forgive them, do we really? Sometimes people say that they have learned to tolerate or be civil to the one who has trespassed against them. Yet the Gospel is clear: it does not say be "civil" to your enemy, but to love them! Jesus does not exhort us to tolerate others just as God has tolerated us, but to forgive others just as we have been forgiven. So how do we forgive, when we are badly scorched? Maybe we continue to feel the pain of repeated burns inflicted by our neighbour. After a fierce bushfire, many species of Banksia are reduced to lifeless husks, with only tiny seed pods left. Do we feel like this in the wake of the fire? We can be reduced to an almost lifeless husk of our former self, drained from defending against the pain others cause, or tired from fighting back.
Like the Banksia seed pod, we may close our heart against the world and guard it with strong walls. Sadly, many people stay this way. Still bearing the scars from the past, they fiercely protect themselves from further hurt. They remain a tough seed pod and are too smart to be caught out again by the fire of further rejections, insults or betrayals.
In the Gospel of Luke, a woman caught in adultery is brought before Jesus. Is she such a person who has closed their heart to the world? In one sense, to commit adultery requires a tough heart. The adulterer is betraying the trust of another. Their heart is surely walled off from their spouse and maybe inaccessible to their own self. We are not told the circumstances of her adultery. Neither her lover nor her husband appear, and it seems even the crowd don't particularly care about her personally, but instead are intent on trapping Jesus.
Jesus surprises everyone by turning the blame around on the accusers and sending them on their way. Jesus is left alone with the woman. Her accusers are gone, and the only one who has the right to judge her says: "Neither do I condemn you, go away, and don't sin any more." The episode ends there. We never hear the woman's response, perhaps because the Gospel writer wants us to consider our own response to these profound words.
Whether we feel wronged or have wronged another, we can be very much in the woman's position, burnt and scarred, pushed too far. The longer we keep our heart closed, the more it can fester leading us to dwell in the ashes of bitterness, vengeance, and victimisation. We know that entertaining such thoughts against another are contrary to God's ways. We don't know how the woman responded to Jesus' invitation. Yet the little Banksia seed pod, in the wake of the mighty bushfire, cracks open through the heat and deposits its seed in the ashy soil, rich in nutrients. Life begins again, and soon a new sapling appears.
In our own pain, in our scarred bodies, can we risk opening the hearts we so carefully guard? Can we open the hurt places in our life to the healing touch of Christ? Like the seed pod, can we allow the radiant heat of the Holy Spirit, our comforter, to crack us open, and embrace us in the divine love? For in opening ourselves to God, we can open ourselves to the possibility of new life, and renewed welcome. It is one and the same act. "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." Heal us, as we heal others. Welcome us as we welcome others. Let us grow like a new sapling from the ashen ruins of yesterday.
Have we ever considered how difficult it may have been for the woman caught in adultery in the Gospel after she went on her way? We may expect that all would be well for her now that Jesus had not condemned her. Yet here is a woman who had wronged her husband, and perhaps had been wronged in turn by her lover, a man who seemingly vanished from her side. Were there children by her marriage? How would they feel? How would her own parents and family feel? How difficult might it be to continue in her community given what people know of her now?
By loving our enemy, by opening our heart again, there is also no guarantee of security from further hurts, or even from being crucified. Yet this is Jesus' way. Let us pray for the courage to open wide the doors to our neighbour, again and again and again! For in doing so, we open wide the doors to Christ!