GSC – 24th February 2019
When I was in my final year of training to be a priest at St Stephen’s house, I was sent off to New York for six weeks for a placement. It was a massive treat, having finished my theology degree the year before. Off I went to stay in the house of the priest and he was very generous and hospitable. He’d had a series of young men from St Stephen’s House over the years and expected that I would like gin, which I did and still do. On my first evening, he said, “I suppose you’d like a gin” and I grinned back and said yes please. When he went and did the food shopping he would often make sure there was enough gin and tonic in the house, even though he didn’t drink it himself. But then eventually the tonic ran out. Fr Gerth had a very simple solution to this, “I’m afraid we’re out of tonic,” he said, “And I couldn’t be bothered to buy any more. So you’ll just have to drink the gin without it.” Which I duly did!
Hospitality is an important part of the life of the Christian. The Church is to be a place where we can extend hospitality to each other, without necessarily opening up our own homes, for the church building becomes our home and we can extend that hospitality to others. We do this both through doing practical things within the Church, like vacuuming it, bringing flowers, washing the linens. And we also do it through our sense of welcoming others into this place, saying hello to people we don’t recognise. We are not to be possessive but with arms outstretched in our welcome.
Our readings this evening, and especially that Gospel, challenge us all to go the extra mile in the way we treat others. There’s a whole host of very specific and clear instructions from our Lord and I would encourage us all to read through them again later on this evening: if you lend something to someone, don’t expect it back. Don’t only love those who love you. Don’t judge others. Don’t condemn people. “Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate,” we heard our Lord say, sometimes translated as, “Be merciful as your Father is merciful,” as we particularly thought about when we celebrated the Year of Mercy in 2016.
Mercy is a quality in the Old Testament reserved exclusively for God, hence we heard in the Psalm that the Lord is “rich in mercy … compassion and love … forgiving all our guilt“ … one who blesses us. When Paul writes in our second reading that we are to be modelled on the heavenly man, He means supremely Christ, “the second Adam.” Being modelled on Jesus means we will look at the sinner and our enemy as Jesus looks on them, with love and compassion. Remember the story of the Good Samaritan, with which Jesus answers the question, “Who is my neighbour?” The Samaritan attends to the person who had been attacked on the roadside; he saw him and “was moved with pity.” There’s something gutsy about the word used there, the compassion comes from within, physically compels the Samaritan to do something to show a care and a connection with this unimportant person. St John XXIII led Christians to this, as he wrote, “The Bride of Christ [the Church] wishes to use the medicine of mercy rather than taking up arms of severity.”
David was similarly moved in our first reading. By the time of the episode we heard this evening, Saul had already been rejected by God as King. Saul had been told before waging his war against the Amalekites to destroy everything and everyone (I Samuel 15). Saul knew better, of course, like so often we human beings kid ourselves. And when the time came for him to destroy the Amalekites, he only destroyed what he believed to be unimportant: the crowds, the weakest of the cattle. But what seemed important, Saul saved: namely, the King of the Amalekites and the best of the cattle, he’d sacrifice them to God, he thought, and that would please God surely?
Saul, having displeased God, needs someone to succeed him, namely David, who is anointed by the prophet Samuel and shown to be mighty strong in his conquest of Goliath. David is by this point so popular, even among Saul’s sons Jonathan and Michal, that Saul sees him as a threat and their relationship deteriorates. Saul sets out to destroy David and this is where we find ourselves in our first reading, armed with the men of Zith, who had on another occasion also been loyal to Saul. Abishai wants David to strike his enemy - go on: Saul, would do it to you. Saul’s days are undoubtedly numbered, but David will not touch the Lord’s anointed in this way.
My friends, we’re to make sure that we have routines in our life that enable us to serve others. Sometimes it’s not good enough for us to help people simply when the occasion presents itself, otherwise it simply never gets done. Two little suggestions.
I love the imagery we find in some cultures where an extra place is set at meals on particular days. On 1st Janaury, for example, I understand Greek families set a place at their tables for St Basil, who traditionally comes bearing gifts. So, if you had six people for dinner, you’d set a seventh place. Now, we might struggle for space already without setting places for people who aren’t coming, but the point is that it keeps us alert to the possibility of helping others. Maybe when we make a cup of tea we will now get two cups out. Maybe we share our home with others and there is actually a chance someone will turn up unannounced. But even if not, I wonder if it might make us generally more alert to the needs of others.
Second thing is to do with when we travel. If you’re anything like me, we justify not helping people because we haven’t got time when we bump into them; “Oh, I’m sorry I’m in a rush.” Well, maybe we should live lives that always have that ten minute spare to help those whom God places in our proximity? I have to do something similar when I’m walking around the parish for I know that if I go down the High Road I could well bump into several people - and I love it because it reveals a community in the heart of the Church. But it does mean I often leave extra time to get somewhere so I can have those conversations properly. Maybe we can all do the same.
So, two little suggestions to challenge us into being able to see the divine image in everyone and thus be moved to compassion for them. We pray each day, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” may we have the same love and mercy for others that we see God having for us.