Feb 24, 2019: 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)

1st Reading – 1 Samuel 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23

In those days, Saul went down to the desert of Ziph
with three thousand picked men of Israel,
to search for David in the desert of Ziph.
So David and Abishai went among Saul’s soldiers by night
and found Saul lying asleep within the barricade,
with his spear thrust into the ground at his head
and Abner and his men sleeping around him.

Abishai whispered to David:
“God has delivered your enemy into your grasp this day.
Let me nail him to the ground with one thrust of the spear;
I will not need a second thrust!”
But David said to Abishai, “Do not harm him,
for who can lay hands on the LORD’s anointed and remain unpunished?”
So David took the spear and the water jug from their place at Saul’s head,
and they got away without anyone’s seeing or knowing or awakening.
All remained asleep, because the LORD had put them into a deep slumber.

Going across to an opposite slope,
David stood on a remote hilltop
at a great distance from Abner, son of Ner, and the troops.
He 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.”

The books of Samuel provide a history of the founding of the kingdom of Israel and the settlement of the throne on King David and his line. Samuel, who is regarded as the last of the judges, was the man chosen to bring about the unification of Israel. God used him to make Saul the first king of Israel.

Our reading today is filled with human intrigue and divine mystery.  Samuel has anointed Saul as king at God’s direction and the people have confirmed it. However, Saul later disobeyed God, resulting in God rejecting him and instructing Samuel to anoint David. Saul, in his jealousy, does everything he can to kill David; David flees for his life with Saul in pursuit.

In those days Saul went off down to the desert of Ziph

Located on the eastern slope of the mountains over the Dead Sea.

with three thousand picked men of Israel, to search for David in the desert of Ziph. So David and Abishai

Abishai was David’s nephew, one of the three sons of his sister (1 Chronicles 2:16).

went among Saul’s soldiers by night and found Saul lying asleep within the barricade, with his spear thrust into the ground at his head and Abner and his men sleeping around him.

The king’s spear was part of the royal regalia.  More than a weapon, it was a sign of royal rank.  When stuck in the ground, it marked the location of the royal tent.

Abishai whispered to David: “God has delivered your enemy into your grasp this day. Let me nail him to the ground with one thrust of the spear; I will not need a second thrust!”

The ultimate disgrace was to die by one’s own spear; this is exactly what Abishai is suggesting.  He offers to deliver the blow so that David would not have to live with the guilt of having killed the king.

But David said to Abishai, “Do not harm him, for who can lay hands on the LORD’S anointed and remain unpunished?

Even though Saul is trying to kill him, David refused to harm the king, for he was still the one chosen by God to lead the people.  The fate of God’s anointed one was in God’s own hands.

So David took the spear and the water jug from their place at Saul’s head,

Taking the symbol of royal rank, David chooses to shame his enemy rather than assassinate him.  This particularly daring act was also designed to show how close they had been to Saul.

and they got away without anyone’s seeing or knowing or awakening. All remained asleep, because the LORD had put them into a deep slumber.

David is clearly favored by God, for the sleep that overcame Saul and his camp was not normal sleep.  It was the same kind of deep slumber (tardēmâ) God had cast upon Adam when a rib was taken from him (Genesis 2:21), and when God cut a covenant with Abram (Genesis 15:12).

In other words, divine intervention allowed them to get close enough to take the spear and water jug.

Going across to an opposite slope, David stood on a remote hilltop at a great
distance from Abner, son of Ner, and the troops. 

Abner is the commander of Saul’s army (1 Samuel 14:50).

He 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 does not take advantage of this favor with God.  God alone will reward or punish each one according to his or her righteousness (sedāqâ) and faithfulness (’ēmet).

2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 15:45-49

Brothers and sisters:
It is written, The first man, Adam, became a living being, 
the last Adam a life-giving spirit.
But the spiritual was not first;
rather the natural and then the spiritual.
The first man was from the earth, earthly;
the second man, from heaven.
As was the earthly one, so also are the earthly,
and as is the heavenly one, so also are the heavenly.
Just as we have borne the image of the earthly one,
we shall also bear the image of the heavenly one.

This week Paul continues his discussion on the resurrection, contrasting the ordinary human body with the resurrected body that believers will receive.

Brothers and sisters: It is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being,” the last Adam a life-giving spirit.

Paul provides his contrasting analysis in several ways.  First, he draws a clear distinction between the first man, Adam, and the last Adam, Christ.

In the second creation narrative in Genesis 2, when the breath of life was breathed into Adam, he became a living being (nepesh hayyâ; the Greek for “living soul,” psychē, does not adequately capture the Hebrew meaning).

In contrast, those possessing the spirit of the risen Christ have life through him, making him not just a living being but a life-giving spirit.

In other words, Adam received life, while Christ gives it.

  • “Love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself and you will live.” (Luke 10:27-28)
  • “He who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life.” (John 5:24)
  • “He who eats me will live because of me.” (John 6:57)
  • “Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more, but you will see me; because I live, you will live also.” (John 14:19)

But the spiritual was not first; rather the natural and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, earthly; the second man, from heaven.

Adam preceded Christ; thus it was necessary for Christ to die in order for him to be raised from the dead.

As was the earthly one, so also are the earthly, and as is the heavenly one, so also are the heavenly. 

Those who come from the dust will have natural bodies like the first man; those who are joined to the risen Lord will have resurrected bodies, as does the Lord.

Just as we have borne the image of the earthly one, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly one.

Our earthly body is patterned after Adam’s body, but our heavenly (i.e., spiritual) body is patterned after the second Adam: Christ.

“This means that just as we have borne the corruptible body of the earthly Adam, so we shall in the future bear an incorruptible body, like that of the resurrected Christ.” [The Ambrosiaster (between A.D. 366-384), Commentaries on Thirteen Pauline Epistles] 

Gospel – Luke 6:27-38

Jesus said to his disciples:
“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.
To the person who strikes you on one cheek,
offer the other one as well,
and from the person who takes your cloak,
do not withhold even your tunic.
Give to everyone who asks of you,
and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back.
Do to others as you would have them do to you.
For if you love those who love you,
what credit is that to you?
Even sinners love those who love them.
And if you do good to those who do good to you,
what credit is that to you?
Even sinners do the same.
If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment,
what credit is that to you?
Even sinners lend to sinners,
and get back the same amount.
But rather, 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.
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

“Stop judging and you will not be judged.
Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.
Give, and gifts will be given to you;
a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing,
will be poured into your lap.
For the measure with which you measure
will in return be measured out to you.”

This week we continue with Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain.

Jesus said to his disciples: “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.

The primary focus of this instruction is love (agápē), specifically, love of one’s enemies.

Jesus states this injunction to love in four parallel ways:  love / do good to / bless / pray for …  enemies / those who hate you / those who curse you / those who mistreat you.

In each case, the disciples are told to act toward their enemies in a way exactly opposite from the way they themselves are treated.  Note that it isn’t enough to merely accept their mistreatment; they are to actively love those who do not love them.

To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well,

Jesus goes on to provide four examples of how this love is to be carried out.  In each case, the disciple is asked to willingly relinquish something he has a right to claim as his own.

and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic.

One must give extravagantly, even to one’s enemies.  They are to surrender even their undergarment when an outer cloak is taken.

Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back.

The disciples are to give unquestioningly when asked and not to demand return of items taken.

Do to others as you would have them do to you.

The Golden Rule.  This saying appears elsewhere in negative form (e.g., Tobit 4:15): What is hateful to you, do not to do others.

The negative form admonishes us to refrain from evil, while Jesus’ positive, open-ended version calls for active love.  Jesus provides the supreme example of living this out and expects the same from his disciples.

For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, and get back the same amount.

Three examples of living out the Golden Rule are given, each demonstrating that there is no credit (cháris) in simple reciprocity.  The disciples must surpass human standards in loving, doing good, and in lending.

But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; 

Due to original sin, our first reaction to this command is to recoil.  Like Abishai from the first reading, in our fallenness we prefer “to nail [our enemy] to the ground.”

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.

As children of God, we must model our love after the love God has for all, even for those who have turned away from God.

Be merciful, just as also your Father is merciful.

The disciples are called to be merciful (oiktírmōn) as God is merciful.  The word is closely related to the Hebrew word rahûm, which means “compassionate,” the attitude of loving attachment a mother has for the child in her womb.

Characterizing God in this way radically reinterprets the Jewish perspective of God’s fatherhood.

“Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and gifts will be given to you;

The way the disciples treat others will be the standard for the way they are treated by God.  If they do not judge or condemn, they will not be judged or condemned.  If they forgive and are generous, they will be forgiven and receive generously.

a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”

The extent of God’s beneficence is illustrated through an image of measuring grain.  While we may be extravagant in our loving, the goodness of God far exceeds even the greatest human generosity.

This gratuitous, overflowing love from God is what enables us to live out Christ’s seemingly impossible command to agapē love.

Connections and Themes

Jesus continues to instruct his disciples, not only to change the way they act, but how they think.  Not only must we forgive our enemies, we must love them.  And not only must we love them, we must be merciful to them as God is merciful.  Paul assures us that we can attain such perfection, not by ourselves, but through the power of the risen Lord.

The divine image. Paul plays with the theology of creation.  In the beginning we were made like the first Adam: earthly, limited, weak, concerned about the things of this world, and committed to our own well-being.  Now we have been fashioned after the image of the second Adam, Christ, the risen Lord.  Being like Christ, we become godlike, empowered with his saving power, transformed with him into new beings.  It is now in our power — which is really the power of the resurrection — to be merciful as God is merciful.  In the risen Lord we experience a mystical transformation.   From now on, all our actions can flow from this new reality.

Works of love. Transformed by the power of the resurrection, we are capable of unprecedented good works.  We can live without retaliation; we can render good for evil.  We can be prodigal in our generosity toward others; we can relinquish any rights of proprietorship we might enjoy.  We can live with others without unfairly judging them.  We can be like God, boundless in our forgiveness.  When we are transformed, God becomes the source of our spiritual power, the model after whom we pattern our lives, the incentive that spurs us on, and the ultimate goal of all our works.  The works themselves are not mere external performances done out of obligation; they are visible manifestations of a deep inner reality, of the transformation that has taken place in our lives.  Schooling for discipleship results in total transformation in Christ.

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