“But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well…For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even the sinners love those who love them.”
It’s easy to say that these words, spoken by Christ so long ago, could never be applied today. But I don’t think they were any easier to understand or apply back then either! In fact, I am sure that in those days of very few human rights and frequent human abuses, these words fell on deaf ears. Worse, these words caused ridicule and scorn.
Love thy enemy sounds wonderful. But what happens when thy enemy is your son’s killer?
It didn’t take me long to find the article I was looking for. I simply Googled, “Mother forgives son’s killer.” And only one article appeared, repeated over and over again by various news agencies.
In February 1993, Mary Johnson’s son, Laramiun, was shot to death during an argument at a party. He was twenty and Mary’s only child. The killer was a sixteen-year-old kid named Oshea Israel. Mary, of course, wanted justice. She even said, “He was an animal. He deserved to be caged.” And he was. Tried as an adult and sentenced to twenty-five years, Oshea served only seventeen years before being released. He now lives back in his old neighborhood, next door to Mary.
How this happened is a remarkable story of mercy, not of misfortune.
The pain, hurt and anger was so strong in Mary’s life that she began to pray. The prayers continued to be answered but not in the way she expected. She kept hearing the word, “Forgive.” Finally, she went to visit her son’s killer in prison. She kept visiting him. And finally, she was able to forgive him.
Of course, Mary credits the power of prayer and the power of God. But she also understood better than ever how not forgiving is like a cancer. “It will eat you from the inside out. It’s not about that other person, me forgiving him does not diminish what he’s done. Yes, he murdered my son, but the forgiveness is for me. It’s for me.”
For Oshea, it has not been easy. “I haven’t been able to forgive myself yet; I’m learning to forgive myself. And I’m still growing toward trying to forgive myself.” Oshea lives next door to Mary because he wants to keep an eye on her. Every morning he helps to take out her trash. Every morning he checks in on her. He goes to work in the morning and goes to college at night.
Love of enemy is Christianity’s unique contribution to the world’s patrimony of true progress. If most Christians were able to forgive their enemy, the world long ago would have been converted over to Christ. It was this single doctrine that toppled the Roman Empire. It will be this doctrine alone that topples world terrorism.
Christ led the way and we have been called to follow. It’s definitely not easy, but it’s never been easy to pick up a cross and start walking! It was not a bizarre twist of fate that gave Mary Johnson her life back. It was a remarkable sign of faith that allowed Mary to have her life back and a son too. Who would have known! But then again, the name Oshea does mean "helped by God."
It’s also remarkable how a woman named Mary brought forgiveness back to the front pages of the news; and gave us finally some Good News.