SEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2019)
1 Samuel 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23
Psalm 103:1-4, 8, 10, 12-13
1 Corinthians 15:45-49
As much as people love the concept of mercy, we flawed human beings have a very difficult time exercising mercy. Humans seem to be hotwired for vengeance, for “getting even.” Our view of justice often includes a component of revenge, without which justice would be impossible. But God does not think as human beings do (Mark 8:33), nor is God’s mercy tainted by vengeance.
In our first reading from the Book of Samuel, when David and Abishai stumble upon the vulnerable King Saul in the desert, David refuses to take advantage of the situation and execute what most would consider well-deserved vengeance. But it was not on account of his love for Saul that David chose not to take Saul’s life. It was because of David’s love for the God who “anointed” Saul that David refused to harm his king. The God that David had come to know, and who would one day anoint him as king, was the kind and merciful God of the psalmist. The psalm response to the story of David and Saul reminds us that our God “pardons all our iniquities, heals all our ills. He redeems our lives from destruction, and crowns us with kindness and compassion. Merciful and gracious is the Lord, slow to anger and abounding in kindness. Not according to our sins does he heal us, nor does he requite us according to our crimes.” The God that David had come to know, and on whom he modeled his life, is the reason David showed Saul undeserved mercy.
It is that same love that is revealed to us by Jesus in today’s gospel. Jesus’ words to His disciples are so striking because they appear to go against our nature. When Jesus tells His listeners “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,” they surely must have thought Jesus had lost His mind. The people of Jesus’ day wanted a Messiah who would enact vengeance on their enemies, someone who would secure payback for all the years of oppression. Most people were not interested in a Messiah who would “make nice.” Yet, that is just who they got!
Jesus’ teaching in our gospel passage from Luke is thoroughly countercultural – love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you, stop judging, stop condemning – all rather radical and challenging commands. The brief earthly ministry of Jesus was intended to reveal the overwhelmingly generous and unconditional love of God, and all that Jesus did in that ministry provided a model for all those who would chose to follow in His footsteps. Jesus loved those who hated Him, He prayed for those who mistreated Him, and he forgave those who took His life on the very instrument used to kill Him. Michael Simone, SJ, beautifully states that “at every moment in his life, Jesus knew the Father’s love, followed the Father’s command to love, and sought to fulfill the Father’s dream of a world built on love.”
Commentator Rev. Tony P. Kadavil states that “what makes Christianity distinct from any other religion is the quality known as grace, i.e., God’s own life working in us, so that we are able to treat others, not as they deserve but with love, kindness and mercy. God is good to the unjust as well as to the just. Hence our love for others, even those who are ungrateful and selfish towards us, must be marked by the same kindness and mercy which God has shown to us.” It is no accident that in the only prayer that Jesus taught to His disciples, we ask God to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Jesus surely knew that it would be difficult for His disciples to overcome the natural inclination to hate in return. “When we pray for those who do us wrong, we break the power of hate in ourselves and in others and release the power of love. Only divine love can free us from the tyranny of malice, hatred, revenge, and resentment, and give us the courage to return good for evil.”
The 1975 movie, The Hiding Place, introduced me to the person of Corrie ten Boom and her entire Dutch family, who were caught hiding Jews in their home above their father’s watchmaker shop. The entire family is arrested and sent to the concentration camp at Ravensbruck, from which Corrie alone would survive. At the bedside of her dying sister Betsie, Corrie is seen displaying the righteous anger of one who has been abused and beaten by the Nazi regime, and who has had her entire world disappear behind the walls of Ravensbruck. Seeing her anger, the dying Betsie simply counsels her “No hate, Corrie. No hate.” For the Christian there is never any room for hate, not even within the walls of a camp which were the quintessential symbol of hate.
At every Mass when we pray the “Our Father,” we ask God to forgive us as we forgive others. The challenge to us is to overcome our natural inclination to hate, and to meet that challenge we need to ask God for the strength to forgive each other, to “do to others as you would have them do to you.” Tony Kadavil suggests that “each of us needs to ask: do I have anyone in my life I call an enemy? Is there anyone who actually hates me? Are there people who would really curse me? Is there anyone in my life who mistreats me – a boss, a teacher, a parent, a co-worker, a family member, a former spouse? These things hurt us, and they are often difficult to forgive. However, we must forgive, because only forgiveness truly heals us. If we remember how God has forgiven us, it will help us forgive others. For those who have hurt us, Jesus tells us our response should be love: “Forgive and you will be forgiven.””