Martin McNamara, MSC
A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
B. Reflection & Dialogue:
A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
First Reading (1 Samuel 26:7-9, 12-13, 22-23). The Lord put you in my power but I would not raise my hand. Saul, a very temperamental man, was the first king in the tribes of Israel, the northern tribes. He had frequent wars with the Philistines, and was very jealous of the young David from the southern tribe of Judah who was more successful in battle than himself. He feared that David would take the kingdom from him or his son and heir Jonathan, and planned to kill David. David and his band of followers fled to the mountain territory of Ziph in Judah, west of the Dead Sea. His whereabouts were betrayed by a Ziphite to Saul who came with his army to capture David. David was informed of this, and with nephew, faithful companion and army part-leader Abishai penetrated Saul’s force by night. Saul, for safety, was at the centre of the camp, and his spear, as a sign of his authority, stuck in the ground beside his head, Abner, the commander of Saul’s army, and his troops around him. It was an opportunity for David to slay his enemy Saul, but he had already made it clear that he would not be guilty of putting the king, the anointed of the lord, to death. He would allow God himself, natural causes or Saul’s enemies do this. Abishai requested David to allow himself to do it, but got the same reply from David. Instead he took the spear and pitcher of water and went a safe distance to the top of a mountain and called on one of the king’s soldiers to collect the spear, and inform the king, the Lord’s anointed, how he had been spared by David.
The Old Testament figure showed mercy towards his enemy, which explains the choice of this Old Testament reading to be chosen to go with today’s Gospel reading in which Jesus stresses the requirement of showing mercy in imitation of an all-merciful Father.
Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 102). The Lord is compassion and love.
Second Reading (1 Corinthians 15:45-49). We who have been modelled on the earthly man will be modelled on the heavenly man. In this reading Paul is coming towards the end of what he wishes to say on the resurrection of the dead and of the future resurrection body. A little later (verse 50) he will say: “What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable”. A little before this present reading he had written that what is sown (in death) is one kind of body –perishable, inglorious and weak – but what is raised can be a body of a completely different kind. The one he calls a ‘physical’ body, animated by a psyche, the Greek word that can be rendered “soul”. The other is a spiritual body, inhabited by a spirit, possibly the Spirit of God.
In the present reading he illustrates this by the two prototypes of these, first (man) Adam and Jesus, the second Adam. Citing the Greek text of Genesis he recalls that the first Adam, formed from dust, became a living (but mortal) psyche “soul” (Genesis 2:7), while the second man, the Second Adam, whose origin in from heaven became a life-giving (and immortal) spirit. Our bodies bear are as perishable as Adam’s (“We bear the image of the man of dust”) but the future resurrection body will bear the image of Christ.
The Gospel (Luke 6:27-38). Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate. Last Sunday Luke’s version of the Beatitudes was read. Preceding it, at the beginning of his message of a new age Jesus spent the night in prayer on the mountain. Then he came down to a level place where a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of other people awaited him. Luke makes it clear that Jesus addressed the Beatitudes not to the multitudes but to his disciples. After the Beatitudes Luke’s version of the Sermon, for him on the Plain, follows, the beginning of which is read in this reading. Although not directly in the biblical text itself, the lectionary rightly introduces this as direct4ed to his disciples. As distinct from Mathew’s much longer Sermon on the Mount, Luke’s version is brief: first today’s reading with much stress on the love of one’s enemies, followed by a related passage on not judging others. This is followed by a parable, illustrating the message on not judging, which will be read next Sunday, followed by a passage on a tree and its fruits, good and bad. The tree is a symbol of the human person, the human heart being the source of good and evil, the good person produces good fruit from the good treasure of his heart and the evil person bad fruit. The Sermon ends with Jesus’ message to his disciples: “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’, and do not do what I tell you?”, comparing response by action to his words, or lack thereof, to a building founded on rock or on ground without a foundation.
Today’s reading has a very impressive call by Jesus to his disciples to be compassionate beyond measure, to love their enemies, to do good to those who hate them, bless those who curse them, and pray for those who treat them badly, to give without expecting anything in return, in this way to be children of the Most High God, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Their behaviour in this regard is to go beyond that expected of others. The Sermon, as Luke presents it, gives us Jesus’ concept of his mission which his disciples, in a life in obedience to his call, are expected to present to the world, the multitude. As one commentator (Eric Franklin) expresses himself at the end of his exposition of the Sermon: Luke pictures a community formed as a response to the grace of God revealed in Jesus and one which lives out the life of the kingdom which Jesus established and which the community’s life itself anticipates. The sermon’s demands are therefore radical. The disciples are to become like their master (verse 40): they are not to outdo his non-judgemental attitude. Their good fruit must reflect a “good treasure of the heart”. The true disciple of the Lord hears his call and acts upon it (see Luke 8:15).
B. Reflection & Dialogue with Questions of the Day: Call of the Sermon in the believing community, in civil and secular society.
In Church life. Jesus’ words in the Beatitudes and the Sermon are clearly addressed to his disciples, not to the crowds. He stresses, as Lord, that his words on the Kingdom, be put into practice, not just listened to. His words are for all time, for the Church of our own day, that is all believing disciples, not just the “institutional” Church. Christ should be at the very centre of belief and practice of Church life, that is of the believing community. It should be characterized by the spirit of Jesus, of the Beatitudes, not of a secular society. It should be one of mercy, of forgiveness, of a non-judgemental nature. This they called to live in so far as possible in the society in which they live. Often they will be called ton do this keeping in mind another saying of Jesus: “Be as wise as serpents, but as gentles as doves”. It is great to see public examples of this when some grievously offended and grieved, after verdicts in court cases, say that they pardon the perpetrator.
In civil and secular society. The central message of the Sermon, as presented by Luke, has in a variety of ways influenced modern society in its call for forgiveness, not revenge, but this is not the place to develop this point.