Homily for the 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, ©, February 24, 2019:
My mother used to say that an apple never falls far from the tree. She’d say that about someone who did the same things that his or her parents did. Jesus touches on the same saying in today’s gospel. A true Christian bears the mark of Christ’s and God’s radical love. It is love of one’s enemies that is the true test of discipleship. It is faith in God that is the foundation for this radical discipleship.
The Scripture commentary I looked at for this gospel reading from St. Luke points out that Jesus says “love,” “do good,” and “give” or “lend” three times each. It is in verse 35 that Jesus says, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish.” In verse 36 Jesus says, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Jesus expects us to not fall far from the tree. We must be compassionate, forgiving of offenses, withholding of condemnation and judgment, and to be generous without regard to the cost. God has done as much for us. In Hebrew thought, parents reproduce character traits in their children. Jesus applies this to God’s family. Just as God, His Father, is forgiving and loving, so His children must imitate His kindness toward all without any type of discrimination.
What Jesus tells His disciples is revolutionary. Jesus tells them and us to love our enemies. Jesus expands the act of charity in His New Covenant. In the Old Covenant, loving one’s neighbor meant loving everyone within the covenantal family of Israel. That’s it.
Jesus also warns against retaliation. He says Christians must be willing to part with possessions in the face of persecution by their oppressors.
Jesus also establishes mercy as the identifying rule of His kingdom. In the Old Covenant, God commanded His people, the Israelites, to be holy. God ordered the Israelites to be holy by separating themselves from everything that was ungodly, unclean, and impure, and everyone. That included Gentiles and sinners. That’s why the Pharisees question Jesus about eating and drinking with sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes. Jesus gives holiness a new focus. Jesus defines holiness as unqualified, universal mercy. Jesus commands His disciples (and us) to “Be merciful,…”(Lk 6:36). Jesus’s idea of being merciful is to reach out to others and to no longer divide people into separate groups that would justify withholding mercy from some and giving mercy to others, thereby preventing some from entering God’s family.
Quite frankly, we see this type of love and mercy in today’s first reading. David shows mercy to King Saul, an enemy, who regards David as his personal enemy. David and Abishai enter Saul’s camp undetected. They come upon King Saul, sleeping, with his personal spear jammed into the ground by his head. Abishai wants to run it through Saul’s head. And there is nothing to stop him, except David. Remember that Saul had thrown his spear at David earlier, in a fit of rage. David could exact his revenge right here, right now. David says no. His reason is that he must respect and sacredness of a king anointed by God Himself. King Saul is Israel’s first king. God chose Saul and anointed him king. David will respect that and spare the life of King Saul. That is important. It is mercy and restraint from retaliation that David enacts and which Jesus expects us to enact to be holy and God-like. We must not fall far from the tree.
And finally, if we do this, then God will overflow His mercy on our behalf when we ask Him for mercy for ourselves.
It requires a major transformation in us to do this. But if we do, then we won’t fall far from the tree and quite frankly, we will embrace and make visible the character traits in our actions that God Himself enacts toward us AND that HE WANTS TO ENACT toward us.
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