We all share the same limitations

By  Fr. Scott Lewis S.J.
  • February 11, 2007
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C), Feb. 18 (1 Samuel 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-25; Psalm 103; 1 Corinthians 15:45-50; Luke 6:27-38)

Most of us love to see the movie villain get his or her comeuppance. There is a palpable sense of glee and satisfaction in the audience, sometimes even erupting into applause. Be honest: how many of us have fantasized about having our own enemy — whoever it might be — right where we want them? I think that is probably a common experience.

David finds himself in a similar situation. Saul has given David plenty of reasons to hate him and to want revenge. Possessed by his paranoid obsessions, he has hunted and hounded David unmercifully. He is convinced that David wants to harm him and steal his throne. 

Now David has his chance: he and his general have slipped into Saul’s camp in the middle of the night when everyone is asleep. His general Abishai can hardly wait: Just say the word and I’ll do him in!

But David will not. He knows he is innocent of Saul’s accusations and he also knows that for better or worse, Saul is still the anointed king of Israel. He takes the high road and shows himself to be the better man. Unfortunately, it will not be the last encounter of this sort before Saul’s final demise.

We might be in similar situations — perhaps we can bring down someone who has been unjust or unkind to us. We might be able to get them in trouble, start rumours and gossip about them, or hurt them deeply with a well-honed insult. We can do that, and we will have many like Abishai urging us on. But we can also show what we are really made of by refusing to take advantage of the vulnerability of the other.

This could apply to nations too: forgiveness of monetary debt or the refusal to use violence or force even when we could would all be shining “Davidic moments.”

By now science has disclosed enough to convince us that Adam was not an actual person, and that we are not descended from one set of primal, biological parents. The Genesis image that Paul uses is not intended to teach biology, but to illustrate our common humanity and the continuing creative work of God. Paul’s use of the Adam symbol shows us that all people share the limitations of mortal flesh and all must experience death. Jesus is a new symbol, and it is through the Christ that we can all experience the life-giving divine spirit and experience a transcendent life. Creation is not complete, and our journey does not end with death.

And what is it like to live a transcendent life here on earth? Jesus insists that one who is really a child of the highest God — one who has truly been spiritually renewed and enlightened — is able to love as God does. Divine love does not lay down conditions or expect anything in return. Nor does it draw lines in the sand or separate those who deserve love from those who do not. The quality of our love alone will determine how close and how faithful we are to God.

It is part of the world’s illusion that we are separate from one another or that one person or group is superior to another. When we harm or reject another, we injure ourselves. When we dishonour another, we dishonour God. When we love another, we love both ourselves and God. All of the judging, cursing, violence, indifference and unkindness we show to others rebound on us — it is the law of moral cause and effect at the heart of the universe.

The good news is that compassion, mercy and justice also come back to us in one form or another. We can choose what kind of life we have and what sort of world we inhabit. In the past few years, we have used a lot of collective violence, hatred, us-versus-them mentality, and lack of love to meet the frightening challenges of our time. But we are not safer or more secure; we are not happier; we are not at peace; the world is decidedly more hostile and negative.

The human way of responding to challenges is a manifest failure. The Gospel offers us a way out — God’s way. Shouldn’t we at least give it a serious and honest try?