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Reflections for the VII Sunday

Fr. Antony Kadavil reflects and comments on the readings at Mass for the seventh Sunday in ordinary time. He says that the readings instruct us about our right and wrong choices. The right choices lead us to God, and the wrong ones break our relationship with Him and with one another.

1 Sm 26: 2: 7-9, 12-13, 22-23, I Cor. 15:45-49, Luke 6:27-38

Homily starter anecdote: # 1: Adopt an orphaned Muslim child in your Hindu family. In his autobiography, “The Story of My Experiments with Truth,”Mahatma Gandhi mentions the “Sermon on the Mount” as one of the main religious works that inspired him to search for ways of bringing about political freedom for India by non-violent resistance to oppression. He writes: “I came to see that the Sermon on the Mount was the whole of Christianity for one who wanted to live a Christian life. It is that sermon that has endeared Jesus to me.” In 1947, when British India was divided into Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan, Mahatma Gandhi went on a hunger strike to end the communal violence which had erupted between Hindu and Moslem fanatics in the Indo-Pakistani Border States. During this time, a Hindu fanatic came to him and confessed, “I will surely go to hell and no one can save me.”  Gandhi asked the man why he thought he was doomed to hell. The man replied that he was a Hindu, and that Muslims had killed his child during a riot. In revenge, he had slaughtered a Muslim child and his parents, but felt very guilty afterwards. Gandhi said, “I know one way to save you from going to hell. “Find a Muslim child who has lost his parents, take him home, bring him up and educate him so that he grows up as a Muslim in your Hindu family. Then you won’t go to hell.”   When Mohandas Gandhi was gunned down in 1948, his last gesture was to press his palms together and raise his folded hands to his lips in the Hindu sign of forgiveness. Martin Luther King was a great admirer of Gandhi. When a gang of racial fanatics set fire to King’s house, an Afro-American mob gathered, ready to take revenge.  But he told them, “When you live by the rule ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,’ you end up with a nation of blind and toothless people.”  Then he led the gathering in prayer for the white brothers who had burned his house. That is what the “Amazing Grace” of forgiveness, the central theme of today’s readings, is all about. (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)

Introduction: The readings today are linked together by one main theme:  the power of Christian love, when exercised in unconditional forgiveness. The readings also instruct us about our right and wrong choices. The right choices lead us to God, and the wrong ones break our relationship with Him and with one another. The first reading shows us how David made the right choice respecting God’s anointed king by forgiving his offenses, while Saul continued to make the wrong choices, perpetuating his misery with his revenge. In the Responsorial Psalm, Ps 103, the Psalmist reminds us of the mercy of God and His compassion for us “as a Father has compassion on His children.” In the second reading, St. Paul tells us how the “First Adam” made a wrong choice of disobedience, bringing death into the world, whereas Jesus, the “Second Adam,” made the correct choice of fulfilling his Father’s saving plan. Today’s Gospel (Luke 6:27-38), gives us Jesus’ revolutionary moral teaching about correct choices in our human relationships, placing special emphasis on the Golden Rule, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” This Golden Rule, is amplified by a string of particular commands: “Love your enemiesDo good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you and pray for those who maltreat you.”  For Jesus, love is a fundamental attitude that seeks another’s good.  Jesus orders us to love our enemies and to be merciful as God our Father is merciful. Jesus challenges us to do for others what God does for us. “Be compassionate, as your Father is compassionate.” He concludes by instructing us to stop judging and start forgiving.

The first reading (1 Sm 26: 2: 7-9, 12-13, 22-23) explained: This reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, gives us a vivid example of self-control, forgiveness, and mercy.   The ancient Israelites were governed first by Moses, then by a long line of judges. Since they noticed the progress made by their Gentile neighbors who had kings, the Israelites finally prevailed on their last Judge, Samuel to ask God for a king for them. (1 Samuel: 8). The king was Saul. In Saul’s army, the youth David won a famous victory over Goliath, and thereby gained the admiration of the people and the envy of King Saul. Saul and his “three thousand picked men” went in search of David to kill him. Yet, David and Abishai were able to steal into Saul’s camp and stand over the sleeping king. But David turned down Abishai’s offer to “nail Saul to the ground with one thrust of the spear.” ”Do not harm him,” David commanded. Then taking Saul’s spear and water jug, he went to an opposite hill and yelled across to Abner, Saul’s lieutenant:  “Here is the king’s spear…. Today, though Yahweh delivered him into my grasp, I would not harm Yahweh’s anointed.”David’s sense of justice, spirit of forgiveness, and respect for Divine authority helped him to go beyond the retaliation which others expected him to show. David is an image of Christ and an example to us. If he can forgive his mortal enemy, so can, and so should, we.

The second reading (I Cor. 15:45-49) explained: Here we have Saint Paul’s doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus, contrasting Christ, “the last Adam,” with Adam, the “first Adam.”   He reminds the Corinthian community that everyone shares in the sinful nature of the “first Adam.” But he encourages his followers to remember that by Baptism they also share in the spiritual nature of Jesus — the “last Adam.”   Hence, we Christians are expected to go beyond our earthly, natural desire to seek revenge and retaliation. Instead, when we are injured, we are to offer the Christian response of forgiveness and mercy, whether our culture accepts or rejects it. If, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we do so, we share in the life of the risen Christ, both here and now, and after our death.

Gospel exegesis: The Gospel passage contains four commands of Jesuslove, forgive, do good, and pray. They specify the kind of love that the Christian follower is expected to show toward an enemy. The ‘enemy’ is one who injures hates or rejects the Christian. 1) Love your enemies: This command proposes a course of action that is contrary to human nature. Jesus invites those who follow him to repudiate their natural inclinations and instead follow his example and the example of the heavenly Father. He recommends, not merely a warm affection (philia), such as one might have for one’s family, or a passionate devotion (eros), such as one might expect between spouses, but a gracious, active interest (agape), in the welfare of precisely those persons who are antagonistic to us. Agape is the love that cares deeply for others simply because they are created in God’s image, and wishes them well because that is what God wishes. Jesus not only commanded us to love our enemies, he also gave us the most vivid and awesome example of this type of love in action.   While hanging on the cross, he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

2) Offer your other cheek to the one who strikes you.   This injunction and that in v. 30, cut through the old principle of retaliation (Ex 21:24; Lev 24:20; Dt 19:21-30). Jesus is not saying that we should permit the destruction of the innocent and   defenseless or allow ourselves to be abused or killed! The Catechism is very clear on this point: “Self-defense is morally legitimate, as long as it’s proportional to the attack. Let us remember that the commandment is ‘Love your neighbor AS YOU LOVE YOURSELF’…Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life” (CCC 2264). What are the challenges Jesus gives us in this command to “turn the other cheek”?   First, he challenges us to forgive others totally and completely, which means letting go of any and every grudge. He also challenges us not to seek vengeance.  In addition, he wants us to be patient with the shortcomings of others and to love everyone, even our enemies. (CCC-2264). So the bottom line is this: It’s morally wrong not to defend the innocent, when we have a responsibility to do so; it’s morally legitimate to defend ourselves from an unjust aggressor; but it can be virtuousto endure unjust sufferings and even martyrdom for the sake of Jesus Christ and his Gospel.

3) “Forgive and you will be forgiven. Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you This message might have sounded very strange to the Jews, who were familiar with a God who was merciful to his own people and vengeful to their enemies, as pictured in Psalms 18, 72 and 92. But Jesus repeats his teaching on forgiveness, both in the prayer he taught his disciples “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” (Mt 68:12; Lk 11:4), and in his final commandment to his apostles, “Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another” (Jn 15:12). Another good reason for us to forgive our enemies is, “(so that everyone will know that we are disciples of the Most High” (Jn 13:34-35). That is, Christian forgiveness can be a form of evangelization. Jesus does not advise his followers to overlook evils, wars, economic disparity, and exploitation of the vulnerable. Instead, we are called to forgive, to be merciful and not to retaliate. But we cannot achieve this level of love and forgiveness by ourselves. We need the power of God working through us by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.

4) The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Christian ethics consists not in merely refraining from evil, but in actively doing good, not only to those who are friends, but to those who hate us or do evil against us.  In other words, Jesus expects us to rise above our human instincts and imitate the goodness and generosity of God.  The observance of the golden rule makes us like God whose love and mercy embrace saints and sinners alike. At the same time the Golden Rule does not require that we allow others to take advantage of us.

Life Messages: 1) Invitation to grace-filled behavior: What makes Christianity distinct from any other religion is the quality known as grace, i.e., God’s own life working in us, so that we are able to treat others, not as they deserve but with love, kindness and mercy. God is good to the unjust as well as to the just.  Hence our love for others, even those who are ungrateful and selfish towards us, must be marked by the same kindness and mercy which God has shown to us.  When we pray for those who do us wrong, we break the power of hate in ourselves and in others and release the power of love.  How can we possibly love those who cause us harm?  God gives the necessary power and grace to those who believe and accept the gift of the Holy Spirit.  His love conquers our hurts, fears, prejudices and grief.  Only the cross of Jesus Christ can free us from the tyranny of malice, hatred, revenge, and resentment, and give us the courage to return good for evil.

2) Accept the challenges of day-to-day life. Jesus challenges our willingness to endure unjust suffering for his sake and the sake of his Gospel. For example, we must often endure the suffering that comes when a co-worker calls us “a religious fanatic” because we believe in the Ten Commandments; the pain that comes when family members refuse to associate with us because we take our Faith seriously and refuse to compromise our beliefs; the suffering that comes to a practicing Christian youth who is ostracized by his friends because he won’t do drugs or engage in promiscuous sexual activity. These are examples of the “little martyrdoms” that Jesus challenges us to embrace every day in his name! (CCC 2264)

3) Pray for the strength to forgive. At every Mass we pray the “Our Father,” asking God to forgive us as we forgive others. Our challenge is to overcome our natural inclination to hate. To meet that challenge we need to ask God for the strength to forgive each other. Each of us needs to ask: do I have anyone in my life I call an enemy?  Is there anyone who actually hates me? Are there people who would really curse me?  Is there anyone in my life who mistreats me-–a boss, a teacher, a parent, a co-worker, a family member, a former spouse?   These things hurt us, and they are often difficult to forgive.  However, we must forgive, because only forgiveness truly heals us. If we remember how God has forgiven us, it will help us forgive others.   For those who have hurt us, Jesus tells us our response should be love: “Forgive and you will be forgiven.” Let us start forgiving right now by curbing the sharp tongue of criticism, suppressing the revenge instinct and tolerating the irritating behavior of a neighbor.

4) Let us try to live our lives in accordance with “the Golden Rule”. Let us examine our conscience. Is generosity central to our lives, or do we often choose selfishness instead? Are we willing to trust in God’s providence, or do we place our Faith in ourselves? Do we really accept and embrace our responsibility for one another and for the world we live in, or do we see all things in terms of our own wants and needs? Do we allow emotions such as hatred and jealousy guide our spiritual lives, or do we try to be more like our Lord? (Anthony Kadavil)

21 February 2019, 11:16