In the Analects of Confucius, we read a discussion between Confucius and his student Yuan Xian about kindness and hatred. During the spring and autumn period of Chinese history, somewhere in the 400 BC range, Confucius was asked, "What do you think of returning good for evil?" Confucius replied with a rhetorical question, "If you do so, then what do you give in return for good?" He may have implied that to return good for evil is giving short shrift to acts of kindness.


To elaborate, Confucius went on to say what is considered to be the essence of his thinking on how to deal with the wrongful acts of others: repay hatred with justice, and repay kindness with kindness. 以直报怨,以德报德. The second part is easy to understand. If someone is kind to me, then it makes sense that I be kind to that person. It would be illogical for me to be mean to the person to treats me kindly.


The first part, though, is tricky. What does it mean to repay hatred with justice? Some may interpret the "justice" to mean similar acts of hatred. But it is not likely Confucius had this intent. He was probably aware of the vicious cycle that would ensue: a slap would be met with a punch, which in turn would be met with a kick, to be met with an assault with a weapon, and on and on until both parties self destruct. Confucius did not advocate taking revenge.


Yet what about his student's question, on whether to return good for evil? Confucius knew he was speaking to the masses, and that the lofty ideal of turning the other cheek may be too difficult for the average person to accept. He did not advocate forbearing one's pain so that another can get ahead at one's expense. In a sense, he had to keep it real for his teachings to take root. Otherwise he would simply be talking big, using high-flown words.


By using the term "justice" in return for hatred, perhaps Confucius was advocating a flexible approach: at times we can show kindness, at other times we have to take action to protect our safety and wellbeing, and in even other times, perhaps we need not do anything and simply stay neutral. Perhaps this is not much guidance, but we are allowed to at least make a judgment on how to respond based on the situation at hand.


Today is Divine Mercy Sunday, a day when we reflect on God's infinite mercy toward us. In today's gospel reading, Jesus gives us a different kind of instruction on how to deal with those who wrong us: "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained" (John 20:23). Jesus is saying to return forgiveness for evil. The only way to become truly healed of our wounds inflicted by others is to forgive. Jesus is giving us a roadmap to peace and freedom from the evils we faced in our past.


Yet like Confucius, Jesus is clear that forgiveness is not easy, and that it may not be intuitive for us to return kindness for hatred. He has an answer to this, though. Right before telling us to forgive, he says, "Receive the holy Spirit" (John 20:22).


And here is perhaps where Jesus picks up where Confucius left off. Confucius acknowledged the difficulty of repaying hatred with kindness, choosing to substitute this hatred with a more amorphous concept of justice. Yet Jesus tells us to forgive. By calling on us to receive the Holy Spirit, Jesus assures us that we will have the power to succeed in our forgiveness.


Forgive, and you will be forgiven (Luke 6:37). The two go together. On this Divine Mercy Sunday, we reflect on St. Maria Faustina's example, where she dedicated her life to spreading the word on the "ocean of mercy" that God has for us. The Analects reflect conversations between Confucius and his students, whereas the Diary of St. Faustina reflects her conversations with God. In entry 699 of her diary, she writes that God will pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach his Fount of Mercy. In being forgiven, it may be easier for us to forgive. With a lighter burden on our hearts, it will be easier to acquire the unspeakable joy that God promises us all.