Sunday, February 24, 2019

Love your enemies

In today’s first reading, King Saul has been stalking David, his rival, who has been hiding in the desert.  Saul had already tried to kill David several times.  This time the king has gone out to the desert with a party of three thousand men to search for David.
Saul realizes that David has won the hearts of his people, who sang, “Saul has killed his thousands but David his ten thousands.”   And, Saul also knows the hand of the Lord now rests on David. 
Saul and David have become deadly enemies.  David crept into the camp of Saul and his three thousand men.  He stands over the sleeping king, looking down on him.  His loyal and ruthless kinsman Abishai whispers to him: “God has delivered your enemy into your grasp this day.  Let me nail him to the ground with one thrust of the spear.” 
But David will not allow it.  He says: “Do not harm him, for who can lay hands on the Lord’s anointed and remain unpunished?”  David has a chance to kill his enemy.  But he doesn’t kill him.
Instead, David takes Saul’s spear, the symbol of the king’s authority and power, used in battle.  He goes a distance and calls across to the camp.  David says to Saul: “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.”
This incident provides an example of what Jesus is asking of us in today’s Gospel which is from what is called the Sermon on the Plain.  We find in these few verses an agenda for transforming the world. 
This Sermon on the Plain  is included in three  successive Gospel readings.  Last week we heard of God’s love for the least: the poor, those who weep, who hunger, who suffer for Jesus’ sake.     Next week the emphasis is on loving those inside our camp, those who agree with us. This week’s reading directs our attention to those outside our camp, those who disagree with us.
If we have any enemies, either as individuals or as a community, we are to love them.  In this light, David is offered to us as an example of such love in action.   Jesus' words are demanding—seemingly impossible at times.  But it can be helpful to realize that  this command doesn’t speak about transforming an enemy into a friend.  It says to love your enemy precisely as enemy.  That is, you are to love the one who hates you.
Often, it is easy for us to criticize and maybe even hate those we disagree with.  This is especially true, as Christians, when we witness the actions of those who are openly disobeying and maybe even ridiculing God's laws.  But, instead, we are meant to pray for, even bless them.
He or she may be a politician who consistently supports abortion or a movie star who openly attacks the Catholic church.  Or maybe we see a posting on Facebook which attacks our beliefs.  If we choose to respond, can we respond in love and not hate?
All of us should focus on breaking the cycle of hate which seems to be prevalent today.  If we  lash out at those who disagree with us on sensitive topics, we are likely to unleash a torrent of hate.  These skirmishes can sting, cause harm, and provoke vengeance in return.
Such moments also have an impact on us, they transform us.  A certain kind of dislike can harden or fester within,  resulting in an ongoing habit of striking out as a method of coping.  It releases a poison into our system, settling into our heart and changing it.  A heart can become cold or hard over the years. 
This cannot be the heart of a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Jesus tells us to "Do to others as you would have them do to you."  Violence and destruction are only brought to an end by those who refuse to participate, by those who will not return evil for evil.  Violence will cease only with those who are willing to absorb the impact of the blow so that it stops here and now, not going any further.
Does this mean that there is no room for hatred in life?  No, there are things to hate.  We can hate
a system that allows a young child to die in an abusive home; a cultural attitude that fosters hatred for any group—whether on the basis of nationality, ethnicity, religious faith, or gender;  policies that allows  the killing of innocent people, especially the unborn and the elderly.

We might, at times, tolerate these systems, and even inadvertently support them.  Systems can be worthy of hatred. So can policies. And cultural attitudes and values.  And the things people do can also be worthy of our hatred. 

But as for the people: Love your enemies, do good to them, bless them, pray for them.  The old saying is:  love the sinner, hate the sin.
Sometimes transformation does come. At the end of the story, after David speaks to Saul, Saul’s final words to David are: “Blessed be you, my son David.  You will do many things and will succeed in them”.

We witness transformation whenever we come here: bread and wine changed into the Body and Blood of Christ.  May all of us, as disciples of Jesus, grow in love, for each other and for all others, especially our enemies.