The readings today put before us specific courses of action for all who aspire to grow in the Lord. They are a source of motivation in our search for Christian growth and maturity. They contain truths that Jesus practiced and lived by, and as imitators of Jesus a way forward that we should try to live by
The first Reading from 1 Samuel (26:2-23) is an interesting story of biblical history, when King Saul and David were feuding. Saul tried to kill David several times, but always failed. Here David has an opportunity to kill Saul, but, because he saw God’s hand in all of this, he refused the opportunity and only tormented Saul a little by letting him know that he had the opportunity, but didn’t follow through. David’s love of God was greater than his desire to avenge himself, and that love extended to his enemy. The maturity that he displayed when he spared Saul’s life can only be explained as maturity that is deeply rooted in his reverence for all that is divine.
The Responsorial Psalm (102) puts before us the overriding theme of today’s readings: Love thy neighbour. When you read or listen to it, you will see how God forgives all who have offended Him. This is divine love, and our love can mirror that if we try.
The Second Reading from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (15:45-49) seems to be on an entirely different subject, or is it? It is meant for those who are planning on going to heaven. God would like us all to come back to Him, but He gives us free will to make our own decisions. Here He is contrasting those who have chosen to go their own way with living as God would want, versus those who have amended their ways and love as God would like, and that includes love of neighbour. The comparison between Adam the human being, and Jesus the divine being, provides pointers as to whose likeness we should grow into if we profess to be followers of Christ. Jesus is not alive like the first Adam, but life-giving, a source for others. He puts before us values – values indeed that at times cannot be understood when seen only in the context of this life.
The Gospel Reading from Luke (6:27-38) is a summary of all of the above, but it goes even further to include your enemies and those who hate you. Remember, we are all God’s children and He loves all of us equally, He does not dwell on our sins or omissions, but gently and firmly directs us to grow into the person He wants us to be. Here, the gospel is comparing those who tried to measure up to what God wants us to be with those who don’t, and it ends with a frightening statement. The way in which you measure or treat others, is the way you will be measured or treated…… (slightly paraphrased).
Jesus, lists common ways that one would normally regard as sensible conduct towards their neighbour – loving those who love you, doing good to those who do good to you, leading money to those from whom you expect to be repaid. His standard of comparison is God. His followers must become sons and daughters of the Most-High (v. 35), manifesting the life of God among all humankind. Only if we love our enemies and expect nothing back will we be acting like God.
As we work our way through this sermon, we find that it turns our world upside down. We are given commands and principles which are practically impossible to carry out on a regular basis. I have struggled with this text over the last few weeks and have come to the belief that in this sermon, and in the one in Matthew 5-7, Jesus is not setting out another list of do’s and don’ts. Many people read these sermons and imagine that Jesus is providing His own version of the law. The sermon in Matthew really brings this out. Over and over again, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said [in the law], but I tell you….…” People think that Jesus has put before us a new law by which we are to live. The main problem with this way of thinking is that if Jesus is presenting a new law, it is even more demanding than the old law for its standards are higher.
Throughout history, people have imagined that they are keeping the law if they simply do what it says. If they perform the outward actions prescribed by the law, then they are doing all that is necessary. Jesus preaches this sermon to show us that keeping the law is not so much about outward actions as inner attitudes of heart. St. Augustine tells us “Do not seek outside, but enter into yourself, for truth dwells in the interior person”. These are the words as mentioned above that are the source of motivation in our search for Christian growth and maturity. They are challenging words for all who would follow Jesus to become more like God. God loves us beyond our expectations, beyond anything we can imagine. In response to this love we are to love as God loves, be compassionate, do not condemn, do not judge, grant pardon and give from a heart with a depth of love beyond imagining.
Sr. Máireád Morrissey OP