Saul and David by Rembrandt Mauritshuis, 621 Public domain

God's Word on Sunday: The high road is built on compassion

  • February 24, 2019

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Feb. 24 (Year C) 1 Samuel 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-25; Psalm 103; 1 Corinthians 15:45-49; Luke 6:27-38

We would be slightly less than human if we had never had a fantasy of revenge, even if but for a moment. 

Just imagine having your “enemies” exactly where you want them — vulnerable and unsuspecting. But would it really make us happy? There might be a fleeting moment of glee, probably followed by a hollow feeling and perhaps a sense of regret or shame. 

Saul had made David’s life miserable, constantly accusing him of plotting against him and seeking his throne. Several times he hunted David down, intending to kill him. 

Then David’s moment arrived: he and his companion Abishai found Saul sound asleep in his encampment. It doesn’t say much for the vigilance of Saul’s troops that David and Abishai were able to enter undetected. Abishai was beside himself with glee and begged David for permission to make short work of Saul. 

Strangely, David refused. After all, Saul was God’s anointed king of Israel and to kill him would be a great sin. Instead, he took his spear and water vessel as proof that he had been there. The next day, he stood on a high hill and waved it before Saul and all his troops. 

David made it clear that he could have killed Saul but chose not to — Saul’s life was precious in David’s sight. He chose the high road, and the high road is always mercy and compassion. At least for the moment it seemed to break through Saul’s murderous paranoia and rage. 

Saul blessed David and wished him well, and then went on his way. Unfortunately, the unstable Saul made several more attempts on David’s life and there was yet another instance of David getting close enough to kill Saul. 

Were David’s intentions as pure as depicted in the text? The books of Samuel were written in the court of David’s successor, his son Solomon. They were intent on absolving David of the accusation that he was a plotter and schemer and that he had stolen Israel’s throne, for a shadow also stood over Solomon’s reign. 

The historical books of the Old Testament definitely had political and dynastic issues imbedded in them. But the principle of the story is still valid: If you exercise mercy, it will return to you. We should not give in to our baser impulses, but choose mercy, forgiveness and justice. 

The Saul-David drama is played out every day in our world, especially in the political arena. We could learn so much from the extended story of David and his family.

One way that we can rise above our baser human impulses and desires is to become the heavenly person of whom Paul speaks. He recognizes that our “default settings” — what we call normal human behaviour — all reflect our earthly and physical origin and cultural formation. 

The life-giving spirit of Christ lifts us beyond our inherent human limitations. It prepares us to live in God’s presence and to comprehend spiritual things, and we are able to begin to experience this gift even in our lifetime.

The Gospel reading represents one of the most beautiful but also the most challenging passages in the New Testament. Jesus explained the difference between “normal” humans and those who have been reborn in the Spirit. The latter are able to love as God does — without distinction or conditions. God loves all unconditionally and does not show partiality. 

This is difficult for people raised in a competitive, performance-based and individualistic society and culture. Many have a sense of entitlement — we have worked harder, done more and therefore deserve more. Others have a sense of unworthiness and deficiency — God couldn’t possibly love me as I am. Still others have a list of individuals or groups whom they consider outside the mantle of God’s love and grace. 

We are so fortunate that God is not at all like us. Jesus urges His followers to be as merciful and compassionate as God — generous, giving, forgiving and kind. If we are able to do that, it will return to us in some way. If we do not, that will also return to us and that is what our world is experiencing now — we are meeting ourselves. 

We have tried the “human” way with disastrous results. It is time to try doing things God’s way.

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