18 February 2007

THE HEART OF GOD TODAY

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lk 6:27-38

Saul was the first king of Israel. David was the second. Theirs was a heartbreaking story of friendship, betrayal, and misfortune. Israel has yet to know an epic of ambition, power, and madness more dramatic than that of Saul’s and David’s. Our First Reading today (I Sm 26:2, 7-9, 12-13) is one of the impressive moments in their story.

Wanting to be like their neighbors, Israel asked Yahweh to give them a king. Yahweh sent the prophet Samuel to anoint Saul as His chosen one. From day one of his kingship, however, war and internal division had always given Saul much difficulty to rule Israel. Because he was the first king of Israel, Saul, unfortunately, had neither inherited experience to rely on nor a trained mentor to teach him what to do. Eventually, Saul became melancholic, isolated, and withdrawn until his power gradually declined.

In his depression, Saul had only one consolation: his new page who was a shepherd boy named David. David played the harp so well. His music soothes the king’s sadness. However, David was not only a virtuoso harpist, he had many other skills and talents, and one of them is defeating Israel’s enemies. He slew Goliath the Giant with stones he hurled with his slingshot; thereupon, sending the Philistines running for their lives. Not too long, Saul grew envious of David’s popularity among the people. The people praised David at the expense of the king: “Saul slew his thousand,” they would shout, “while David his ten thousands!” Gradually, almost to the point of insanity, Saul hated David. But indifference, not hate, is the opposite of love; thus, even as he hated David, Saul loved him just the same. But love for people and love for power cannot go together.

If Saul wanted to eradicate David completely, things were not at all simple and easy. David was not only the best friend of Jonathan, Saul’s son, but he is also Saul’s son-in-law. Worse still, the prophet Samuel, upon Yahweh’s command, secretly anointed David as the new king of Israel even as the throne was not physically vacant.

We know the saying “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Here is one case among many others past and present, far and near: Saul decided to eliminate David by any means. One day, while David was playing the harp for Saul, Saul just suddenly threw a spear towards David who fortunately was able to avoid being pinned to death. Saul, however, was quick to apologize and David continued serving him for a short while nonetheless, while Saul’s own relatives warned David to make himself scarce. But when envy for David and love for power practically made Saul a mad king, a mad race began. Saul kept on running after David who never stopped running for his life.

The Bible describes David with much affection: David was a man according to the heart of God. Indeed, he was! Despite the two great sins – adultery and murder – that David would later on commit during his rule, and for which he greatly repented, David was a man according to the heart of God. And that means not only that he was the choice of God’s heart, but also that he always wanted to live by the dictates of God’s heart. David never returned evil for evil. Though exiled and hunted everywhere by Saul, David still loved Saul and neither wished nor actually did him any harm. Three times David had the opportunity to kill Saul, but three times David let Saul go scot-free. Today’s First Reading is one of those three times.

Stealing into Saul’s tent, David found his father-in-law sleeping with his spear stuck in the ground beside his head. Logically, David’s ally volunteered to strike Saul dead with his own spear, but David – following the heart of God – stopped him and ordered that they leave the king alone in peace. Taking Saul’s spear and the pitcher of water lying by Saul’s head, David left the sleeping king. He knew that the absence of the king’s spear and pitcher of water would put his message across strongly and clearly.

Jesus’ message in the Gospel today is just as strong and clear: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly…. Give, and there will be gifts for you…because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back.” What then is the amount of love we must give? It must be the same amount of love we beg for. But what is the true measure of love? St. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote, “The true measure of love is love without measure.” That is the measure of love that each of us deserves to receive from anyone and at the same time must give to everyone.

Jesus does not ask us to like one another. He commands us to love one another instead. But is love possible without first liking the other man? Yes, it is because love is a decision. Love is not falling in love. Love is deciding to love. Love is not an emotional appetite; it is a movement of the will towards the good of the other regardless of him being a friend or a foe. Love is to be stubbornly gracious in at all times and to refuse paying back violence with violence. Hatred can be defeated only by love; injury can be healed only by forgiveness; and evil can be conquered only by goodness. Such is not conventional wisdom, but such is the wisdom of David who was a man according to the heart of God. Such is wisdom of Jesus who Himself is the very heart of God.

The earthly life of Jesus was the first and best commentary on His radical and unconventional teachings. He worked hard at honoring His own ethic; and the cost He paid was not only high but bloody as well. He offered love, though He knew love would not be returned. He shed His blood, though He knew many would just waste it. He was never involved in stock-taking returns because He loved even without any gain. The measure of His love is love without measure.

As we profess love for Jesus, let us not forget to love like Jesus too. When we love like Jesus, then the words of St. Paul in the Second Reading (I Cor 15:45-49) today come true: “…we, who have been modeled on the earthly man, will be modeled on the heavenly man.”

We all want to be like David, a man according to the heart of God. But, despite its being already praiseworthy, that is not yet enough. We have a calling higher than being a man according to the heart of God. Strengthened by prayer, let us strive to be the heart of God instead. Let us begin today.

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