Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

First Reading: 1 Samuel 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23; Response: Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13; Second Reading: 1 Cor 15:45-49; Gospel: Luke 6:27-38

The first reading is a chopped up version of the struggle for leadership of the Israelites between Saul, the first king, and David, the usurper and eventual winner of the contest. The struggle was also tribal – between Saul’s tribe of origin, the tribe of Benjamin, and that of David, the tribe of Judah. The latter was far more numerous and powerful in land and, therefore, resources. David was an attractive young hero after defeating and dispatching the giant enemy-warrior Goliath of the Philistines, enemies of Israel. David’s growing popularity aroused Saul’s jealousy. A small hit tune of the day made it worse, “Saul killed his thousands, and David killed his ten thousands.” Saul correctly suspected that David wanted to succeed him as king. David’s side won, and the winners write the history. So, the authors of the First Book of Samuel legitimize the struggle and David’s eventual victory by showing God’s intervention through the prophet Samuel. With the Lord God’s authority, Samuel rejected Saul as king and secretly anointed David as king. Saul did not go easily, attempting to kill David.

Our first reading tells the story of Saul’s pursuit of David. While Saul and his soldiers were asleep at night in their camp, David and a companion, now officially outlaws, walked among them. The author of 1 Samuel notes, “All remained sleeping because the Lord had put them into a deep slumber.” David’s companion offered to kill Saul. David forbade violence against his king, “Who can lay hands on the anointed of the Lord and remain unpunished?” David took some souvenirs – the spear and the water jug at Saul’s head. They left Saul’s camp. They crossed a valley to a safe distance on an opposite slope. From there, David shouted, “Here is the king’s spear. Let an attendant come over and get it.” Saul was now awake. David revealed that he could have killed him, but “I would not harm the Lord’s anointed.” Why was this reading selected to correspond to this Sunday’s gospel? It describes David’s mercy toward a man who was trying to kill him. The gospel teaches, “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you.”

Psalm 103 continues the theme of mercy; the Lord’s mercy. He pardons sins, heals sickness, does not punish as deserved and has compassion on those who revere him. The people’s response says it all: “The Lord is kind and merciful.” The second reading continues a series from Paul’s teaching on the resurrection of the dead. The reading is difficult and confusing. Paul compares the first man, Adam, with Jesus Christ – the second man or, as Paul says, the last Adam. According to Paul, the first Adam was a living being, the last Adam a life-giving Spirit. The Fathers of the Church are no great help in unravelling Paul’s thoughts, but St. Ambrose, 340-397, says this, “It is not the spiritual that comes first, but the physical, then, the spiritual. The last one is like the sum of the whole. He lives in all the elements.” He continues with the second man, the resurrected, heavenly man. He lives amid beasts, swims with fish, flies above birds, talks with angels, dwells on earth, does battle in heaven, ploughs the sea, feeds in the air, is a tiller of the soil, a traveler on the deep, a fisher in streams . . . . Sounds much like Saying 77 in the 2nd century Gospel of Thomas, where Jesus says of himself, “I am the All. All came from me, and all attained to me. Cleave the wood, I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there.”

The gospel is part of Jesus’ address to the people after a night of prayer on a mountain and the choosing of the 12 apostles. He came down and stood on a level place . . . . Therefore, this address is called “The Sermon on the Plain.” Themes: love of enemies, compassion and generosity. Sayings of Jesus are assembled as guides to Christian conduct. The fact that much of the content of the Sermon on the Plain is identical or similar to Matthew’s Sermon on the Mountain indicates that both authors were using the same written document – a source that no longer exists outside of the gospels. Anyone living by the conduct proposed in this sermon cannot avoid becoming a Saint.

Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Having been slapped on your cheek, offer the other cheek, too. If someone takes your coat, offer him also your shirt. Give to anyone who asks. If you love only those who love you, or only do good to those who do good to you, what good is that? Even sinners do that, and you don’t want to be like sinners. If you lend money only to those who can repay, what good is that? Sinners do the same. It seems neither Jesus nor Luke would have been successful capitalists, loan officers or bankers. Next, we follow Luke into a more spiritual realm as he gives us the reason to live up to the sayings of Jesus. “Then, your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, who is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful as your Father is merciful.”

Without that kind of an outcome, these collected sayings of Jesus sound strange. Does anyone live like that? Can anyone live like that? Mahatma Gandhi was asked whether he thinks the Sermon on the Mountain works? He is said to have replied, “I don’t know. It has never been tried.” But it has been tried, and has often been successful. That is how Saints are made, the canonized and un-canonized. In the experience of most people, those who come closest to living the Sermon on the Plain or the Sermon on the Mount are good parents who selflessly serve their children from infancy to adulthood and often beyond. Besides Luke’s or Jesus’ promises of becoming children of the Most High, more motivation is added. Do not judge or condemn others, and you will not be judged or condemned by God. Forgive others, and God will forgive you. Give, and gifts will be given to you “in good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, poured into your lap. For as you give, so you will get back.” Let’s admit it; when we do something really unselfish, it feels so good. This sermon contains one overriding piece of advice, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Jesus also said, “Without me you can do nothing.” See John 15:5.