SEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2019
WHEN THE CHRISTIAN STANDARD GETS REALLY TOUGH
Readings: 1st- 1 Sam. 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23; 2nd- 1 Cor. 15:45-49; Gospel- Lk. 6:27-38
We face the very tough demands of the Christian life in today’s readings- the huge call for forgiveness. Recently, I had someone ask me this question, “Father, what does forgiveness mean for you?” I bet you, that could be a hard question especially for someone who is hurting and still having resentments. David helps to unpack that in the first reading, whereas Christ takes it higher in the gospel.
Saul, is a known enemy to David. He vows to kill him. He plans and tries to carry it out. He pursues David all over, sets traps to catch him. In the reading, he follows him into the desert of Ziph. Fortunately, for David, Saul and his military general fall asleep. David comes so close with all the opportunities to revenge. His army general Abishai pushes him so hard. He doesn’t even ask David to commit the act himself, but here he says, “God has delivered your enemy into your grasp this day. Let me nail him to the ground with one thrust of the spear; I will not need a second thrust!” This can be called “Killing made easy.” Abishai will do it for David, so it’s no big deal for him. What is going on in your mind at this moment? Just hold to your thoughts, but hear David’s reply, “Do not harm him, for who can lay his hands on the Lord’s anointed and remain unpunished?” Then, David takes only Saul’s spear and water jug and summons him from afar.
The few questions from this encounter include the position of Abishai, the response from David, and the status of Saul. There is no doubt that many of us, I mean, the majority, would take the position of Abishai. We might take the opportunity for revenge if we have such. Let’s not go to the extreme instance of killing someone. But think of someone who used to be your close friend. Or your ex-husband/wife. He/she offends you in some serious way and both of you part ways. You’re no longer friends. You feel disappointed because she’s betrayed you or disappointed you. You are still bearing the hurt. Now you’re the boss in a company. You advertise for an open position in your office and new hires are showing up for interview. Here comes your former friend. You are the one to interview her. You are the one to make the final decision and recommend her for the job. What exactly would you do?
It’s possible to see David as a weakling in this scenario. Why should he spare a known enemy? Why not kill Saul and have the whole thing done with? The question becomes, “Is David really weak?” The answer is found in his statement to Saul when he wakes him up; “The Lord will reward each man for his justice and faithfulness. Today, though the Lord delivered you into my grasp, I would not harm the Lord’s anointed” (1 Sam. 26:23). David takes the battle to God. He recognizes that God has the power to fight on his behalf. He understands that God’s justice and faithfulness give the persecutor numerous chances to repent. He confirms what we hear in the Psalms, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in kindness” (103:8). God is David’s strength.
The real dilemma in this story is about Saul. And the question to reflect upon is, “Does Saul represent God’s anointed with such an evil mind as his?” We might even go further to ask, “Does he deserve mercy?” Obviously, Saul doesn’t portray the mercy of God. He is brutal and destructive. His intention is clear, to eliminate David. Saul is jealous, unkind, and dangerous. Humanly, speaking, Saul does not deserve David’s mercy. However, Saul still represents God since he occupies the throne. It becomes a recognition of the office he is occupying and the fact that mercy belongs to God and not us. And that’s why David states, “for who can lay hands on the Lord’s anointed and remain unpunished?” (1 Sam. 26:9). You might want to know what David’s action does to Saul afterwards. Having heard David’s words, Saul says to David, “I have done wrong. Come back, my son David, I will not harm you again, because you have held my life precious today. Indeed, I have been a fool and have made a serious mistake” (1 Sam. 26:21-22). When David hands the spear to Saul, he repeats exactly the same words to him, “The Lord will reward each man for his justice and faithfulness. Today, though the Lord delivered you into my grasp, I would not harm the Lord’s anointed” (v.23-25). Then he adds, “As I valued your life highly today, so may the Lord value my life highly and deliver me from all difficulties” (v.24). Saul then blesses David. Isn’t that an interesting movie to watch?
Jesus breaks it down for us in the gospel with real difficult demands, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Lk. 6:28). How is that possible? The answer is that Jesus wants us to act like God, a very high standard. God sends his rain and sunshine upon everyone, good and bad. Unfortunately, the bad ones act against God and his commandment. Sometimes, they refuse to even believe that God exists despite that He created them. Still, God doesn’t withdraw his favors from such people.
Remember Simon, the Pharisee, who invites Jesus to dine in his house. Scripture tells us that as Jesus enters Simon’s house, “a sinful woman in the city who learned that he was at table in the house of the Pharisee” (Lk. 7:37) stumbles in. She begins to weep and to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears. Simon reacts in a human way by expecting Jesus to send that woman away. Jesus reprimands Simon and says to him, “So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven, hence she has shown great love” (Lk. 7:47).
Numerous demanding statements stand out in the gospel teaching today (Luke 6):
- “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
- ”If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you?”
- “But rather, love your enemies and do good to them.”
- “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
- “Stop judging and you will not be judged.”
- “Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.”
- “Forgive and you will be forgiven.”
- “Give and gifts will be given to you”
I bet you, Jesus knows how tough these demands are for us as human beings. It goes back to the question that I was asked at the beginning, “What does forgiveness mean to you?” It is always good to bring God into the picture as you struggle. It’s worse when your detractor isn’t repentant or keeps making you feel guilty. You live with the wicked man/woman. He/she is unrepentant and evil. Go back and read the story of David and Saul in 1 Samuel, chapter 26. It could give you some strength. The important thing is how you heal from your pains and hurts. You need to leave resentment behind for complete and effective healing. It might take a while, but that’s the way forward. God can do it for you because He “will reward each man for his justice and faithfulness” (1 Sam. 26:23). I’m not sure that God is going to lower the standard from what it is and what Jesus tells us. Just remember this, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” That’s the golden rule. And Paul says, “Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Rom. 12:18-19).