David was in a tight spot. That’s the backstory to the first reading today. The king, Saul, was chasing him all over the dessert, vowing to kill him, for no other reason but that Saul was jealous of how popular David had become. David and his small group of loyal followers were tired and hungry and running out of options. Their dreams of success, of long life, of accumulating riches and education, of becoming masters at their trades… all these were rapidly receding out of sight.
And for David most of all. David had already been anointed king by the prophet Samuel. He had a lot to look forward to: wealth, power, a new dynasty bearing his name. But for now, he was weak, almost helpless against the strength of an unreasonable and implacable foe who hated him.
Then, a miracle occurs. At least it must have felt like a miracle. Saul’s army made camp right below the cave where David and his men were hiding. Saul and his men were sleeping, thinking they were secure behind their barricade.
David and his closest lieutenant snuck, commando style, into the enemy’s camp, right to King Saul’s cot. David had the chance to take his future into his hands. All that was required was to kill, one swift sharp blow to end the life of the sleeping King Saul, then move on. It is a natural impulse, to strike out at those who hate us, those who endanger our dreams.
But David didn’t do it. He was merciful and restrained his impulse to strike out, because David trusted in God and in his promise to bring about good things for him. And God did bring about good things. David became king of a united Israel, the greatest king of all, still honored and remembered up to the present day. God’s promise of a dynasty was to be fulfilled in a much more wonderful way than David could have dreamed with the birth of Jesus, of the house of David.
How often have you had the impulse to strike out at whoever or whatever is in our way, whoever you perceive as blocking your path forward. It might be as simple as the person who cuts in front of you on the highway. It might be someone who once hurt you, financially or socially, or someone who has slandered you to your friends or your employer. It might be a class of people, or even an organization that makes your path forward impossible, or at least more difficult.
We call those people enemies.
We all know what our natural tendency is. We, like David, are strongly tempted to retaliate and to treat our enemy the way they treat us. Or, if we don’t retaliate directly, we are tempted to attack them in our hearts, and in conversation with others.
Jesus knows human nature. Yet what he commands in this Gospel cuts right across all these natural responses and replace them with love. It is not enough even to resist doing evil to our enemies, as David did. We are to make a choice and decide to wish good for them, even to do good to them. This affects the way we think about them, the way we speak about them, and the way we act towards them.
In issuing this challenge, Jesus gives us an insight into the mind of God. He tells us to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us, to bless those who curse us and who treat us badly, because that is the way God loves. God loves those who oppose him. God does good to those who hate him. God showers his blessings ‘a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over’ into the lap of those who curse him. God holds close to his heart those who treat him badly.
Even us. Even when we are in sin, even when we are opposing God, he loves us, offering us forgiveness, healing and liberation from whatever it is that is holding us back from true communion in him. Jesus invites us to do the same with those who oppose us, who curse us. David was merciful to Saul, but Jesus wants us to take it to a new level. Jesus tells us to take our enemies into our hearts, hold them there, and wish for them what we wish for ourselves – God’s gracious forgiveness and healing.
The key to this, of course, is to believe in the compassion which God has for us. That’s what we just heard in Psalm 103 – ” Merciful and gracious is the LORD, slow to anger and abounding in kindness. Not according to our sins does he deal with us, nor does he requite us according to our crimes.”
Reflect on the good things God has given you, freely, through God’s grace. Start with the gift of faith that brings you here today. Start with the gift of his Son as your savior. Thank God for your family, for his Word in scripture, for life, for your free will, for the Church. Trust in God and in God’s promise to bring about good things for you. This constant prayer of gratitude in your the heart is the best way to grow in understanding of God’s compassion, and learn to respond in love always, even to our enemies.