1 Sm 26:2, 7-23; Ps 103:1-13; 1 Cor 15:45-49; Lk 6:27-38
Today the themes of mercy, judging and forgiveness are weaved into our Scriptures in a most insightful way. In today’s first reading from 1 Samuel Saul is out to kill David. Recall that we are talking about the first two Kings of Israel; Saul the first and David the second. Even though David has a clear chance to kill Saul he spares him out of mercy and out of his respect for Saul’s status as one anointed by God. This was an extraordinary example of mercy and an awareness of the big picture. Even under these dire circumstance David recognized the primacy of God in the whole situation. It’s almost as if David also recognized his own capacity to violate God’s laws as well as his own principles. Eventually he too would need God’s mercy in a most extreme circumstance.
Mercy and forgiveness tend to go hand in hand. We are reminded in the Gospel today the radical expectations of biblical forgiveness. Forgiveness is one of the more useful skills or talents one can develop in life. Marriage is often called the ‘school of forgiveness’. Marriage is the type of relationship where everything is at stake so an ever deeper understanding of oneself and one’s spouse is part of the agreement. To make things even more interesting, people can often change. Marriage is also the motif for God’s relationship with Israel and Jesus’ relationship with the Church. Marriage implies a lifelong covenant where everything is at stake, where lives are so interwoven that we can’t help but learn more about ourselves and about others. If we did Christianity properly, we would be developing these types of interdependent relationships even at the parish level.
We cannot expect to be faithful to this level of relational challenges without the personal presence of God. The last several hundred thousand years of history, right up until today, demonstrate that humans do not do well when left to our own intelligence and volition. Real community requires real prayer; real deep prayer; ‘prayer from the heart.’ Listen to how the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes prayer (CCC #2562-2564)
Prayer as covenant
2562 Where does prayer come from? Whether prayer is expressed in words or gestures, it is the whole man who prays. But in naming the source of prayer, Scripture speaks sometimes of the soul or the spirit, but most often of the heart (more than a thousand times). According to Scripture, it is the heart that prays. If our heart is far from God, the words of prayer are in vain.
2563 The heart is the dwelling-place where I am, where I live; according to the Semitic or Biblical expression, the heart is the place “to which I withdraw.” The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully. The heart is the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives. It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death. It is the place of encounter, because as image of God we live in relation: it is the place of covenant.
2564 Christian prayer is a covenant relationship between God and man in Christ. It is the action of God and of man, springing forth from both the Holy Spirit and ourselves, wholly directed to the Father, in union with the human will of the Son of God made man.
In order to maintain these biblical levels of relationship and to extend mercy graciously, we would also need extraordinary communication skills and self-awareness as well as an understanding of group dynamics. Just as in a close family we know that aberrant behavior by one member can quickly cause confusion and havoc amongst the whole family. One of the things that most helps us learn to forgive is to recognize our own need for mercy. Our prayers are often most earnest and focused when we find ourselves in a situation that requires mercy from God and from others. It’s usually not until we understand our own failings and our need for God’s mercy that we actually feel the depth of God’s love and the great sacrifice He made for us. (Point to the crucifix in the sanctuary). Desperation and mercy and often helplessness can keep us focused on God’s providence and God’s plan for our lives.
Mercy is particularly helpful when we feel tempted to judge someone. We are warned about judging in the Gospel today. ‘Judge’ in this sense implies some kind of moral condemnation which is simply out of the purview of human beings. It is only the place of God to cast moral judgements.
The Spiritual Works of Mercy, however, do require us to admonish sinners and to teach the ignorant and to counsel the doubtful. ‘Ignorance’ of course does not mean ‘stupid’. It means someone hasn’t learned something yet. Distinctions between different types of behavior are necessary and usually some type of corrective is in order. These works of admonishing, teaching, counseling and correcting require a mature assessment of another’s behavior which usually implies a very mature level of self-awareness. If we are completely honest, we can probably relate personally to most other people’s failings. Even if we can’t relate directly to another’s failings, it is incumbent on us to learn more about human nature, psychology, spirituality, etc., etc. To actually counsel and teach implies learning and wisdom and understanding; gifts of the Holy Spirit.
I would imagine that everyone currently sitting in this church needs to forgive someone and quite likely ask for forgiveness. Forgiveness doesn’t mean everything is all right, but it does mean that with a certain level of understanding and healing we can eventually untangle ourselves from the deadening effect of resentment and bitterness.
Forgiveness and mercy and learning will be some main themes we always consider during Lent which is coming right up. These are also some themes to consider in our discussions on Synodality. The type of communities and families we expect to have will largely determine the type and amount of effort we put into relationship building.
As a little warm-up for Lent and Synodality we could consider the following reflection questions (which are included in the bulletin today) during the week:
What is the difference between judging, assessing, admonishing and teaching?
How is the distinction between the above behaviors related to forgiving?
Who might you be most tempted to judge? What would be the better option?
Also see Praying from the Heart: Catechism of the Catholic Church # 2559 -65