SMC – 24th February 2019
The theme of today`s scripture reading is well summed up in the response to Psalm 102: “The Lord is compassion and love”.
The Old Testament reading from 1 Samuel 26 shows the opportunity that King David had of being able to kill King Saul who had so badly treated him who had been utterly consumed with jealousy. David`s servant Abishai even offers to kill Saul who was, like his exhausted men, in a deep sleep. David resists the temptation and refuses to harm the Lord`s anointed. They make off with Saul`s spear and the water jar and then, from a safe distance and on the top of a hill David shouts out: `Here is the king`s spear. Let one of the soldiers come across and take it. The Lord repays everyone for his uprightness and loyalty. Today the Lord .ut you in my power, but I would not raise my han d against the Lord`s anointed.` There is almost a sacramental nature in the anointing of the kings of Israel of old just as there is with the anointing of our own sovereign at her Coronation! Just as Saul, and later King David, was set apart for their Kingship by God and anointed so in our own time this has happened to our Queen as it will happen again to the Prince of Wales when our Queen leaves this world!
The psalmist calls us to give thanks to the Lord and to never forget his blessings going on to say, “It is he who forgives all your guilt….who crowns you with love and compassion.” And again, “As far as the east is from the west so far does he remove our sins. As a father has compassion on his children, the Lord has pity on those who fear him.”
St. Paul in those short five verses from chapter 15 of his first letter to the Christian at Corinth also shows what we shall be as children of God – that is children by adoption and grace through the waters of Baptism. Just as Adam, the first man, became a living soul, so we become heavenly by nature through the waters of Baptism. We were born in the model of Adam as the earthy man so on Baptism we were reborn as brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ by water and the Holy Spirit.
St. Luke in chapter 6 of his Gospel continues where we left off last Sunday moving on from the Beatitudes as taught by Jesus in the Sermon on the Plain to the radical teaching of how to treat others. In this case Jesus seems to be teaching his disciples rather than the crowds when he says, `I say this to you who are listening: Lo e your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly.` Even these words follow a little later: `Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for your property back from the man who robs you.` and yet later, `Instead, love your enemies and do good, and lend without any hope of return. You will have a great reward, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he himself is king to the ungrateful and the wicked.` `Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge, and you will not be judged yourselves; grant pardon, and you will be pardoned.` We are reminded of what Jesus taught in response to the request, `Lord, teach us to pray.` To which he responded, `When you pray say, “Our Father, who art in heaven…….. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
The disciples, and indeed the rest of the crowd on that plain, would have been brought up on the Jewish Law`s idea of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” – the old wreaking of vengeance. We too in the ways of the world are tempted to that dog -eat-dog mentality. The radical teaching of Jesus would have come as a significant shock to his hearers for the process of salvation that he had come to establish would be based on forgiveness and, therefore, to be part of, and to belong to that process must put each one of us right out there in the front line of tolerance, forgiveness and love.
Lent is just around the corner, some ten days away, when we are called to repentance and penitence. A wise spiritual director suggests, `Imagine yourself in front of a mirror, reflect on the failures and sin in your life. Take as much time as you need but don`t become obsessional about it. You re going to ask God for forgiveness, you are going to try to make amends wherever possible, an you want to move forward from here. Ask yourself one simple question: Can you absolve yourself before asking God to forgive you ? Can you ask God to do something for you that you are unwilling to do for yourself ? Guilt is not from God Rather it is your own inability to forgive yourself. I remember a very senior GP saying to me many years ago: `What is wrong with you clergy ? You are not teaching people about the Sacrament of Penance – the means of the assurance of God`s loving forgiveness. If more people used a regular routine, say three or four times a year, of making their confession we would have many less people suffering from guilt and other neurosis.
In that part of the Lord`s prayer which I quoted earlier, `Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us` we are tempted to rattle it off through over familiarity without looking at the depth of what we are saying or the deep consequence of what we are saying. We ourselves can lonely be forgiven by God if we ourselves are ready to forgive those who have offended us.
There is a proven power in forgiveness and love and the ability to turn the other cheek. The bully cannot deal with the power of the one who won`t strike back, but often resorts to violence as the only way to silence their voice protest. To err is human, to forgive is divine! Of course, a Christians we aim to be bid-hearted, tolerant and patient but the ideal that Jesus sets before us is, “Be merciful, just as your heavenly Father is merciful.”