by Br Julian McDonald cfc
“Love your enemies and do good to them, expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High…Be merciful as your Father is merciful…For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.” Luke 6, 27-38
A little over fifty-seven years ago, the Orlando Sentinel reported Martin Luther King Jr as stating: “Mankind must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.” (Orlando Sentinel, Dec. 11, 1964). That was the day after he had accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, saying: “I accept this award on behalf of a civil rights movement which is moving with determination and a majestic scorn for risk and danger to establish a reign of freedom and a rule of justice.”
In recent days, the world’s news media have been preoccupied with the posturing, threats and counter-threats that world leaders have been hurling at one another with seemingly little regard for the welfare of the citizens of Ukraine. There has been little or no mention of working in collaboration towards a peaceful outcome. And certainly nothing about loving those who disagree with us or allowing them to bring out the best in us. Like the rest of us, world leaders seem to resent it when they think their peers are trying to take advantage of them.
The readings of this seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time challenge us all to stop and reflect on how we expect other people to treat us, and then, without hesitating, to go and do that for them. If there has been anyone in living memory who has done that, it was Martin Luther King Jr. Despite having been repeatedly arrested for demonstrating for freedom and justice for his people, and having been stoned and stabbed, King did not retaliate, but persistently preached the way of non-violence, proclaiming: “I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.”
Today’s first reading from Samuel sets the scene for the gospel-reading. It’s a story of how David spared the life of King Saul who was hunting him down to kill him. The story of David’s refusal to have the king’s blood on his hands was thought to be so important in defining the character of David that it occurs twice in the First Book of Samuel. Chapter 24 is completely devoted to how David came up behind Saul when he was intent on relieving himself in the privacy of a cave (To cover one’s feet was a Hebrew idiom for “to relieve oneself). Saul was so preoccupied that David was able to snip the hem of Saul’s garment and sneak away. Today’s reading from chapter 26 describes how David and his lieutenants came upon Saul and his men so sound asleep that the writer describes it as a sleep induced by the power of God. David took the spear and bowl of water that Saul had left by his head. In the light of day, in both accounts, David confronts Saul from a distance and reveals that he had spared the king when he so easily could have slain him. In each story, David admits to those close to him that he was unable to take the life of God’s anointed representative. We are left wondering if David acted out of the fear of bringing God’s wrath down upon himself or if he was responding in love to the one who intended to murder him. The fact that he spared Saul probably raised his status among those who were close to him. In so doing, he demonstrated that he was the nobler of the two of them. However, we can safely conclude that they did not become the best of friends
However, we already know that it is the theme of love for one’s enemies that it is at the centre of today’s gospel reading. And that’s so difficult that we are inclined to think that Jesus is asking a bit too much of us. When we discover somebody walking off with our property or conducting fraudulent transactions on our credit-card, we are quick to cry foul. But Jesus seems to be urging us to seek out the miscreant and double the amount of which we have been relieved. But that’s a bit simplistic, isn’t it? There are fraudsters and schemers whose sole purpose is to get rich at the expense of the unwary. They are wealthy people bent on accumulating even more through sophisticated crime. Jesus, however, is talking about people who are victims of class distinctions and locked out of opportunities they deserve in justice. While he urges us to double our efforts to reach out to those who are genuinely in need, the crux of his message in today’s gospel-reading is to be found in the last few verses: “Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6, 36-37). That’s what he practiced in his own life, even to the point of forgiving those who crucified him. True, he did challenge the injustices and hypocrisies he saw all around him, especially as they were exhibited in the oppressive religious system of his day. But his heart was always open to forgive. Not once did he advocate violence. There was no one whom he refused to forgive.
If we dare to stop and reflect on the way in which we can slip almost automatically into judging and labelling those who have an opinion or a way of seeing things different from ours, we might well come to recognise that all we are doing is to admit to our limited capacity to love, or our reluctance to acknowledge that somebody else might have a point of view worth hearing.
A good place to begin venturing into what Jesus is calling us to consider is to be found in the opening verses of today’s gospel-reading: “Pray for those who treat you badly” (Luke 6, 28). Our first inclination may well be to set about planning how to even the score. To move into the territory of praying for those who treat us badly is not about asking God to help them see things as we see them. Surely it’s more about opening ourselves up to begin seeing others as God sees them – people worthy of compassion, love, forgiveness and mercy. And isn’t that precisely how God sees us?