The 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: 1st Book of Samuel 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 103:1-4, 8, 10, 12-13
Second Reading: St. Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians 15:45-49
Gospel: According to St. Luke 6:27-38
We all have an inborn sense of right and wrong.
This is a statement with which some students over the years have taken issue. Those who were sowing their intellectual wild oats and were diving into the dangerous waters of subjectivity – to mix metaphors – would propose that there is no such thing as right and wrong, there is only our opinion of what is right and wrong.
When confronted by such a student I have used both an intellectual and a visceral approach. Intellectually, I ask them to ponder whether they truly believe that my vision is wrong and their vision is right. They quickly state that they are right and I am wrong. Then I ask if that conclusion is an opinion or a fact. They respond that it is a fact. I then re-state their argument for them: “So, and let me get this straight, it is factually true that there are no objective truths, no definitive statements that are correct while others are false.” At this point they usually see the logical difficulty with proposing that it is true that there are no truths.
The visceral approach is, in some ways, more fun. I ask if they have ever complained about a grade on an essay – even if the complaint was never taken to the teacher, or angrily yelled about the call that a referee made in a sporting event. I ask them to imagine their response to a teacher or referee who said, “I did what I did because I don’t like you.” Not even the staunchest subjectivist could respond, “Ok, that’s fair. Everything is subjective, so I can live with that. ”
Young David, destined to be king, needed no such arguments. He understood that there is, as St. Paul would later tell his Roman audience, a law written on our hearts. That law draws us to a number of simple conclusions about the moral life, and one of those conclusions is that we are called to “play fair.”
In this weekend’s reading from the First Book of Samuel, David has the chance to kill the man who wants to kill him. The moral legitimacy of self-defense is one of those universals written on our hearts, yet David does not kill King Saul. He even goes against the theological argument of Abishai, his nephew and companion, who points out that “God has delivered your enemy into your grasp this day.”
But, for David there was a problem. Saul was asleep. To pull the spear from the ground and thrust it through the heart of the monarch was an act to which David could not consent. It just wasn’t right. It wasn’t playing fair. Even worse, from our Christian perspective, it would have been acting – as Jesus points out in the reading from St. Luke – like sinners act.
Life can throw situations at us where our inner Abishai is calling us to choose the easy path, to believe that God has delivered our enemy into our grasp. But we need to combat that voice and follow the example of David who chose mercy rather than vengeance and in doing so saved the life of Saul. But even more importantly, and this is the Gospel message of Jesus, he also opened himself up to the infinite mercy of God - a mercy that is our only true path of self-defense.