Abishai whispered to David: “God has delivered your enemy into your grasp this day… But David said to Abishai, “Do not harm him, for who can lay hands on the LORD’s anointed and remain unpunished?” (1 Sam: 26:8-9)
In this Sunday’s gospel reading Jesus attaches a greater demand of love onto the commandment to love. He tells his disciples “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Lk 6:27). From there he counsels that when struck by another we should “turn the other cheek” and when another takes what is ours we should not demand it back.
Respectively, each of these instructions goes counter to our human impulse to defend ourselves and our property. However it must be pointed out that these teachings of Jesus are not about pacifism or communism; Jesus is not concerned here with negating the natural human rights to self-protection and property. What Jesus is always concerned with is living life in imitation of His Father in heaven. This is why the conclusion of today’s lesson is that we, as His disciples, behave as “children of the Most High” who is “kind to the ungrateful and the wicked” (Lk 6:35). Jesus is asking us to forgo the human for the divine, because it is for the divine that we have been created (1 Jn 3:2).
To understand this we must recall that we were once enemies of God. Since Adam, man has abused the gifts of God; and if we have not cursed him, we have certainly forgotten him. We would still be enemies of God if not for the redemptive act of Jesus Christ, who ransomed himself for our salvation through the forgiveness of our sins (Lk 1:77). God offered us his love even when we set ourselves against him (Ps 2:2). Without overcomplicating today’s gospel reading, let us say that God is asking that we his children become like Him and offer our love to those who set themselves against us.
Reaching back into the Old Testament for an early example of clemency (and even love) toward an imposing enemy, we have placed on our bulletin cover for this 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time a painting by the Victorian era artist, Richard Dadd, entitled David Spareth Saul’s Life (1854). Dadd, a British Romantic painter, moved back and forth between genre and fantasy. The latter was sadly also Dadd’s reality, as much of his painting was produced in a London psychiatric hospital. Some of Dadd’s works may be compared to Hieronymus Bosch (d. 1516) for these scenes were filled with many strange figures in minutia, except perhaps in less awkward poses than in Bosch.
In our bulletin image we see King Saul sleeping on the foreground in his battle camp while David and his companion Abishai stand over Saul. Neither spear, nor shield, nor guard, nor even mountainside can protect Saul from being delivered into David’s hand as was the will of God. Yet we also see David putting out his right hand to prevent the lance thrust that would have pinned Saul’s corpse to the ground. David spares his enemy because his first duty is to God – to not destroy God’s anointed one. David would rather risk his enemy’s wrathful pursuit than pursue a course forbidden by God. He would rather suffer the pain of his enemy than the pain of becoming like his enemy.
–Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services