Gold is placed in the fire to rid itself of impurities. The longer it remains in the fire the more pure it becomes and its worth also increases. It goes from nine karats and shrinks down to twenty-four. This purification process not only refines gold, but it also makes it softer. Thus, while a 9K ring (with use) will eventually wear and break a 24K ring will only bend. When shopping for gold jewelry, even if there are two rings that to the eye look exactly the same, people will often pay more for the higher karats because of the quality and the reassurance that the piece will last a lifetime. God uses a similar process not to increase our value, but to assist us in becoming pure. Suffering helps our hearts soften and soft hearts, like 24K gold, are malleable…
Yesterday’s Gospel reading spoke of turning the other cheek of not retaliating hurt for hurt. A hard heart doesn’t understand this and will return each hit thinking “an eye for an eye.” This is the message of the world we live in that glorifies vengeance. Some of the most popular stories that get told in books, film and art are tales of creating our own justice. I find myself often cheering at the screen and even feeling vindicated when the bad guys get what they deserve. Yet, our faith tells us to turn the other cheek to surprise the offender by offering peace instead of retaliation - to give instead of take.
I grew up with my mom often repeating, “Turn the other cheek.” I always found her logic amusing and not at all productive; to me getting a sense of justice was bigger than showing mercy. Fueled by my desire to get vengeance for the people who hurt me, I didn’t realize that I was also filling myself with darkness. When my brother died, the suffering was so great and the awareness of death so close that slowly I realized that I didn’t want to carry all the anger, hurt and evil inside me. I wanted a new heart to replace the heart of stone that was inside me. After a lifetime of laughing at my mom’s message of “turning the other cheek,” I realized that my desire for justice to inflict pain on those who hurt me, only filled me with hate. Hate that I had carried far too long.
I’m still learning to live true to yesterday’s Gospel, of choosing peace even when I really want to retaliate. However, I am in this lifetime process of purification and sometimes I forget and lose my temper, I choose to attack instead of patience, I choose hurt over forgiveness… I am no saint, my weaknesses are many and because I am pretty clear of my limitations I try to be understanding of others, but sometimes I grow tired of my futile efforts. Luckily, when God exhorts us to be more like Him, He knows that we can’t do it on our own so He provides the help to slowly get us from 9K to 10K (and eventually 24K). Yesterday, I went to a healing service to offer the hurt and receive more of Him. Worshiping, getting hands laid on me with prayer and receiving Him in the Eucharist sent me home a little lighter.