Homily for the 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: 1 Samuel 26:2-23; 1 Corinthians 15:45-49; Luke 6:27-38
20 February 2022
Today we welcome new students and their families to the college. The academic year is getting under way. We are all hopeful that the last two years of lockdowns and zoom lectures are behind us. We gather with bold expectations, grateful for all the freedoms and opportunities we took for granted before the pandemic.
The situation in the Ukraine has us all wondering about the future of world peace. The pandemonium in our Parliament this past week has us wondering about the capacity of our politicians to lead and make wise decisions in times of crisis. Everyone just seems to be throwing stones at each other. Some want to focus on an independent member of parliament who has campaigned for electoral finance reform and action against climate change. They say she should not have accepted an undeclared $100,00 cheque from someone who made his money on coal. Others think the independent member has been made a scapegoat, suffering a media hit job. They claim that all major political parties have been guilty of the same offence, only even worse. Maybe everyone is at fault; maybe everyone can be seen to be a touch hypocritical, especially by their political opponents. Let the one without sin cast the first stone.
If you think our politics is messy and dirty, consider the situation of Saul and David in today’s first reading. When Samuel became a prophet, he was judge of the people of Israel all his life. Samuel was then commissioned by Yahweh to anoint Saul as king. Pouring oil over Saul’s head, Samuel declared: ‘Has not Yahweh anointed you as leader of his people Israel. You are the one who is to govern Yahweh’s people and save them from the power of the enemies surrounding them.’
As king, Saul fought and won many battles in defence of his people against foreign foes. In the war against the Amalekites, Saul decided to spare some of his enemies despite Yahweh’s edict that he spare no one and no thing, ‘but kill man and woman, babe and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’ Yahweh told Samuel, ‘I regret having made Saul king, since he has broken his allegiance to me and not carried out my orders.’ Yahweh despatched Samuel to find Saul’s successor. Samuel was sent to Jesse who had eight sons. Samuel anointed the youngest son named David. David grew in stature. He pledged himself to military service with Saul. He defeated Goliath. Saul became increasingly jealous of David as David grew in popularity with the people. Saul decided to do him in. After a narrow escape, David had the chance to kill Saul. He symbolically cut off the border of Saul’s cloak, demonstrating the power he had over Saul. But then he reproached himself telling his troops: ‘Yahweh preserve me from doing such a thing to my lord as to raise my hand against him, since he is Yahweh’s anointed’.
Then comes the showdown in today’s first reading. Saul, with 3,000 troops, is in pursuit of David who has only 600 troops. David and one of his henchmen Abishai sneak into Saul’s camp under cover of night. Abishai urges David that this is the chance to do in Saul and that he should not blow his chance as he did last time. Once again, David baulks at the opportunity, telling Abishai: ‘Do not kill him, for who can lift his hand against the Lord’s anointed and be without guilt?’ Yet again, David wants Saul to realise the power he has over him. So he takes Saul’s spear and pitcher of water, retreats across the valley, and calls out for one of Saul’s soldiers to come and retrieve the spear. David tells Saul, ‘The Lord repays everyone for his uprightness and loyalty. Today the Lord put you in my power but I would not raise my hand against the Lord’s anointed.’ In gratitude, Saul imparts a blessing to David that he might succeed in all his undertakings.
When Saul ultimately fell on his sword literally, an Amalekite went to David falsely claiming the credit for the death of Saul. David said, ‘How was it that you were not afraid to lift your hand to destroy Yahweh’s anointed?’. He ordered the death of the Amalekite and he sang a lament for Saul.
No matter what the mess, no matter what the complexity, no matter what the conflicting loyalties, we are invited to put our trust in the Lord. We are to discern what is right, and to do it. We are commanded to be loyal and true to others who are seeking the way of the Lord.
In today’s gospel from Luke, Jesus gives his disciples a series of impossible injunctions, ideals of the Christian life from which we will all fall short no matter how good we might be. And of course our critics will be able to say that we are hypocrites, just like those politicians who do not measure up to the ideals they espouse: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly. All of us can do these things occasionally. Some of us may even do some of these things often. But none of us will ever be able to do these things always. While urging us to give to everyone who asks, and not to ask for property back even from the one who robs us, Jesus gives us a golden rule for life which is simple and more manageable: ‘Treat others as you would like them to treat you.’ He then urges us: ‘Give, and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap; because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back.’
Have confidence that the Lord is extravagantly generous, and will give all you need to take on whatever challenges are ahead of you. The scripture scholar Brendan Byrne reminds us: ‘Just as the volume of water one can draw from a tank depends upon the capacity of the vessel one brings, so the human receptacle conditions the amount (“measure”) God can give. Any limitation stems from the human side.’
For those commencing their university studies this week, I urge you to be generous with others and with yourself increasing your capacity to give, praying for the grace to trust the Lord, and preparing yourself to have a go, having the confidence that you can play your part in making our post-pandemic world a better place. As the Christian community, we can hope and pray that others will treat us as they would want us to treat them.
Whenever Jesus’ injunctions about turning the other cheek and giving away your tunic to the one who takes your cloak seem unreal or unachievable, cling fast to that golden rule: ‘Treat others as you would like them to treat you.’ At least on that one, you will always know when you’ve measured up, and when you’ve fallen short.
 Brendan Byrne, The Hospitality of God, St Pauls, 2000, p. 67
Fr Frank Brennan SJ is the Rector of Newman College, Melbourne, and the former CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia (CSSA). He has been appointed a peritus at the Fifth Plenary Council of the Australian Catholic Church.