I think I was a lot more optimistic when I was younger. I mean, I’m still somewhat optimistic and hopeful today, just less. I know many people out there are still kind and gracious and welcoming, and I still meet some of them, but it’s just not the sort of behavior that gets a lot of publicity. Instead people are applauded, encouraged, even rewarded, for being divisive and condescending and outright obnoxious. I need to spend more time at the beach watching the sun set with my favorite beverage in hand, and read more Og Mandino or Leo Buscaglia, and hang out with people I love, or better yet, puppies. The possibilities are endless. Figure out what works for you.
Maybe I’ve seen too many unnecessary conflicts, too many avoidable unhelpful confrontations, too many awesome missed opportunities for bringing hearts and minds together, for building bridges, and for making great and wonderful things happen. And instead I’ve witnessed too much righteous indignation, too many petty squabbles between people with oversize egos, and not enough humility to recognize how we needlessly waste time and goodwill on account of how fragile and supersensitive we choose to be. We know we can do better than all the inconsiderate, unjust, and spiteful things we’ve done. We know we can be better. But knowing the right thing and doing it doesn’t just happen. Instead, being disrespectful or unkind or vicious just flows freely out of some of us. Okay, maybe not you. Or maybe you’re just in denial.
I know everything I’ve said might just sound like a lot of whining. But it’s only to prepare us to hear what sacred scripture has to tell us today. The friendship of David and Saul is recounted in excruciating detail in the first book of Samuel. It begins after David defeats the Philistine warrior Goliath on the battlefield. David is celebrated. He is accorded every honor imaginable. He enters the service of the king, and is placed in charge of Israel’s army. He would probably have made the rounds of late night talk shows, visiting the White House, and hosting Saturday Night Live if they did that sort of thing. Meanwhile, Saul who was king, becomes jealous and insecure. He huffs, and he puffs, and he conspires to put David in his place. A couple of times he threatens David, who eventually heads for the desert with a handful of soldier friends. Saul goes in pursuit of David, and in today’s reading, they come within spitting distance.
David sees his big chance to take out his enemy once and for all, but instead it becomes an opportunity for understanding and reconciliation. Whatever else might have been going on between them, David was reminded of his own relationship with God, and how God in his great mercy raised him from a life of obscurity shepherding his father’s flocks to a life as king and shepherd of all Israel. God had extended him great compassion. He knew he had to extend to Saul the same compassion. “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.”
St. Paul understands that intense opposing forces within our hearts battle for our attention. Like the first man Adam, we too experience earthly and natural inclinations that tend to feed our insecurities, our selfishness, and our greed. But he reminds us that we also bear the image of the man from heaven, Jesus Christ, who inspires us to act in ways that proclaim our nobler spiritual nature which is God’s own nature, and that we are not so powerless or so clueless as to unknowingly fall into ways of thinking and acting that are contrary to God. We still do have the power to choose such ways of thinking and acting that are contrary to God. Hopefully, we choose otherwise.
Last week, we heard Jesus call “blessed” the poor, the hungry, those who grieve, the persecuted, not because of their state in life which they did not choose, but because of their trust in God. Today he exhorts us further to live by God’s values. Jesus understands the limits of our nature since he shared that nature. Still he challenges us beyond our natural appetites and inclinations to open ourselves to God’s grace.
Think of a person in need. Picture their face, and recall how often they have approached you. And think of how often you call on God in your need. Our selfish nature would incline us to look out for our own interests, to be reluctant to share what we have with those who have less, even to flaunt what we have, to seek more regardless of what it does to those who are in need. Instead we reflect our heavenly Father better when we anticipate the needs of our neighbor, when we give of our resources knowing that all comes from God, when we give cheerfully over and beyond what we are asked.
Think of a person who has wronged you or someone else, the very mention of whose name repulses you. Our selfish nature would incline us to harbor a grudge, to retaliate, to respond in kind toward our oppressors, with violence, anger, and hate, to inflict upon the offender the same degree of suffering we have experienced, to seek revenge in the name of justice. Instead, we reflect our heavenly Father better when we give others the benefit of the doubt, when we excuse their insensitivity because they do not know what we know, when we give the offender a second chance, even a third. Jesus stretches us further. Forgive not just seven times, but seventy times seven times, without limit, just as God is willing to forgive us if we ask.
Think of a person who has borrowed from you, whom you know you will never hear from until they need help again. Our human nature would incline us to exact interest, to demand repayment for the good we do, to remind others that they owe us. Instead, we reflect our heavenly Father better when we recognize our total dependence on him, when we realize that God alone is our reward, when we put our trust in his providence while using the means at our disposal to live lives of true Christian witness. Stop to help whoever you come upon. If you are asked how you can be compensated, invite them to pay it forward.
We might object that Jesus seems to give his blessing to violence, that he wants us to be doormats. Rather, he invites us to see beyond the violence and the hatred and the injustice, and he provides us a vision of courage, of integrity, and self-worth. Jesus calls us not to be just as good as the next guy. Jesus calls us to be like himself. It’s not going to be easy. The challenge of Christianity is that we be better than everyone expects, that we be better than the ordinary, that we be as Jesus was.
People who do not know Jesus will find his teaching on love, mercy, and forgiveness unreasonable and unacceptable. But Christian discipleship is not for wimps. Knowing what Jesus asks of us, would we still claim to be Christian?
Rolo B Castillo © 2019
1 Samuel 26: 23