The Gospel of Jesus Christ was never titled “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” rather, a more fitting title might be: “How to confuse your enemy by showering him with mercy.”
That is exactly what David does to Saul in the first reading for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time. King Saul and 3,000 soldiers were hunting David. When David and his body guard Abishai enter Saul’s camp and find Saul and his body guards asleep, Abishai tells David: “Let me nail him to the ground with one thrust of the spear; I will not need a second thrust!”
David’s inspired response was: “Do not harm him, for who can lay hands on the Lord’s anointed and remain unpunished?” David was aware of the larger context. He realized the issue isn’t just between Saul and himself, but an issue between both of them and their God.
David took Saul’s spear and water jug and escaped to the opposite hillside and then called back to Abner and said: “Here is the king’s spear. Let an attendant come over to get it. 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.”
David’s extraordinary kindness to Saul confused him. It’s hard to comprehend why David spared Saul’s life. Saul said to David: ‘Blessed are you, my son David! You shall certainly succeed in whatever you undertake.”
Saul had a murderous heart but David’s mercy set his heart free. God’s goodness is always more powerful than man’s evil ways.
In the Gospel, Jesus is, in a sense, unpacking the Father’s heart toward us. On the Cross, Jesus said: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” This must have confused the scribes and Pharisees because they had thought they had defeated the opposition. It must have dawned upon them gradually that the game isn’t over and Jesus is playing by a different set of rules.
In the Gospel, Jesus in effect gives us the rules by which the Father deals with His children, and Jesus invites us to live according to them.
His opening lines were jarring because they seem so contrary to reason and instinct: “To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Likely, there were those in the crowd who could, in some sense, resonate with what He said. Certainly, some of them had discovered in their own experience, that when they hated those who hated them, they felt inside an even deeper darkness. But they found relief in not thinking about the evil they have suffered at the hands of others.
Jesus continues: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Is that not what David did that so confused Saul? Did not David’s treatment of Saul set him free? This is a goodness that Saul could never have experienced if his soldiers had succeeded in killing David.
Jesus says: “…love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for He Himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.”
They are finally getting the message. It seems Jesus says, “These are the rules my Father lives by, and I am inviting you to live by these same rules.”
I think it is beginning to dawn on some of the disciples that they need God’s help to do this.
The two most difficult sayings in this Gospel passage are: “Love your enemies” and “Forgive those who have hurt you.” However, if we put these two demands in their larger context they make so much sense.
We are all children of an all-loving Father. He created us in His own image and likeness. He loves each of us as much as He loves His Son Jesus. That is why it was the Father’s will that Jesus die on Calvary for our salvation.
The more I become aware that I am a beloved child of God and that His image of me is superior to my own image of who I am, I want to come before the Father and simply say: “I like your attitude toward me better than I like my own. Would you download your image into my heart? It would help me to love myself more and to help others with your love for them.”
When I realize that my Father loves me so much, I want to participate in His love for others. Hence, if someone hurts me or even hates me, I can enter into the Father’s vision for that person and simply say: “Father, would you help that person see how much you love him/her and then simply draw that person up in your love.”
There is no end to the type of healing this prayer brings to a soul tortured by unforgiveness.