Today we celebrate Jesus as the Lord of compassion and love. We cannot honestly approach his altar if we are still bearing grudges against others. We ask him to rid us of our petty vengefulness
Saul rose and went down to the Wilderness of Ziph, with three thousand chosen men of Israel, to seek David in the Wilderness of Ziph. So David and Abishai went to the army by night; there Saul lay sleeping within the encampment, with his spear stuck in the ground at his head; and Abner and the army lay around him.
Abishai said to David, "God has given your enemy into your hand today; now therefore let me pin him to the ground with one stroke of the spear; I will not strike him twice." But David said to Abishai, "Do not destroy him; for who can raise his hand against the Lord's anointed, and be guiltless?" So David took the spear that was at Saul's head and the water jar, and they went away. No one saw it, or knew it, nor did anyone awake; for they were all asleep, because a deep sleep from the Lord had fallen upon them.
Then David went over to the other side, and stood on top of a hill far away, with a great distance between them. David replied, "Here is the spear, O king! Let one of the young men come over and get it. The Lord rewards everyone for his righteousness and his faithfulness; for the Lord gave you into my hand today, but I would not raise my hand against the Lord's anointed.
My soul, give thanks to the Lord,
all my being, bless his holy name.
My soul, give thanks to the Lord
and never forget all his blessings. (R./)
It is he who forgives all your guilt,
who heals every one of your ills,
who redeems your life from the grave,
who crowns you with love and compassion. (R./)
The Lord is compassion and love,
slow to anger and rich in mercy.
He does not treat us according to our sins
nor repays us according to our faults. (R./)
As far as the east is from the west
so far does he remove our sins.
As a father has compassion on his sons,
the Lord has pity on those who fear him. (R./)
It is written, "The first man Adam became a living being;" the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.
Jesus said to his disciples, "I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you. "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. "Do not judge, and you will not be judged;do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back."
There is a famous passage in Jeremiah which says, "See the days are coming, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel." It continues, "Deep within them I will plant my Law, writing it on their hearts. Then I will be their God, and they shall be my people... There will be no further need to teach one another, or say to one another, "Know the Lord." No they will all know me from the least to the greatest." (Jeremiah, 31:31). The important message is that people should look into the centre of their being, their heart, in order to discover God, what God wants them to do. St Augustine was influenced by Jeremiah's concept of a new inner covenant with God, and made it the basis of his spiritual life. "Do not seek outside," he wrote, "but enter into yourself; for truth dwells in the interior person." In his Confessions Augustine tells how he experienced this personally. "I entered, and with the eye o my soul I saw the Light that never changes lighting up my mind."
Tthe New Testament was written in Greek, and "carousing" (komos) in Greek was used to describe a noisy band of revellers who rampaged through the city streets at night, demeaning themselves and being a nuisance to others. It sounds familiar today also. Even to the pagan Greeks, drunkenness was a particular disgrace. Although they were a wine- drinking people - they did not have tea or coffee in those days - drunkenness was considered especially shameful, for the wine they drank was much diluted, and was only taken because water was scarce, and moreover dangerous, on account of possible contamination, something which is true to this day in warm climates. Drunkenness, then, was a vice which not only a Christian but any respectable pagan would condemn. Today, the last Sunday before the beginning of Lent, has been designated Temperance Sunday throughout the country. Temperance does not mean total abstinence but rather moderation in indulging our appetites.
In the 19th century, inordinate craving for strong drink was seen as a kind of curse on the Irish, a glaring weakness in our national character. People resorted to drink, during periods of great deprivation and misery, to try and escape their troubles. Nowadays it is by and large an unbridled seeking for earthly pleasure. And while the simple pleasures of life are something we should be grateful to God for, what we must impress upon our minds is that pleasure unlimited and Christianity simply cannot co-exist. "Unless you deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow me, you cannot be my disciple," Christ is saying to us as we begin our Lenten preparation for the celebration of Easter. What he is asking of us is not so much total abstinence, but rather temperance, restraint, self-control, virtues which are gifts of the Holy Spirit. Over-indulgence in alcohol does not resolve life's problems. It merely adds to them. It can lead to break-up in marriages, the disruption of personal relationships, the danger of alcohol-related diseases which after heart disease and cancer is the third most likely cause of premature death among Irish people. The over-riding reason why we should exercise restraint in drinking is that temperance is a virtue. Temperance is not only a duty; it is a test as to whether we are true disciples of Christ or not.
(1) Others had said: "do not do to others what you would not have them do to you." That is perhaps the basic law of manners and politeness. Jesus, characteristically, goes beyond this: Do to others... The Christian ethic is positive. It goes beyond "Thou shalt not..." to "Do .... " It is activist. There is the story of the man who appeared at the gate of heaven asking to be let in. St Peter asked him why he thought he should be let in. The man answered: "my hands are clean." "Yes," answered Peter, "but they are empty!'
(2) The Christian ethic always asks for more. Many people are puzzled and confused because Christian moral guides are sometimes slow to lay down a clear minimum which people must achieve to be justified. But Jesus asks for more. "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?" What is so special about that? Jesus asks for extra. We told his disciples: "unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." Yet with those who tried and failed he was full of sympathy and compassion. He will never say "enough," but he will not reject anyone who has failed and comes back to him.
(3) Some people see life in terms of dog eating dog. David had his chance to kill his enemy before his enemy killed him, as Saul fully intended to do. But he held back and he would not take Saul's life. The temptation to violence is an easy one. The world is full of wars and violent confrontations. We yield too readily to our instincts of aggression, whether it is the great aggression where nation confronts nation in a balance of terrir, or violent confrontations between groups of citizens, or violence in the home. Education in peaceful means of solving interpersonal and intercommunal difficulties is one of the greatest needs of our age. The way is open to Christians to start to learn more about non-violent means of solving conflicts and becomes peacemakers.
(4) Compassion is the characteristic of God - even of the "Old Testament God" whom many commentators, following some early Christian heretics, like to portray as harsh and cruel. Our psalm, which comes from the Old Testament emphasises that God is not the seeker of vengeance that many people imagine him to be. He is not waiting and anxious to punish each and every fault, but he is concerned only to remove our sins and to make us one with him.
(5) God's love and goodness, his desire not to reject or to lose us, is shown most powerfully in what he has done for us in his Son Jesus Christ. He has made us into a new creation. He wishes to join us with him for an eternity of fulfilment and happiness. God's compassion for sinful and unhappy humanity is the model of our compassion. St Matthew had said: "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Ch. 5:48.) St John said: "God is love" (1 John 4:7.) St Luke's report of Jesus' words is: "Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate."
Today's gospel summarises something new for the religious leaders of Jesus' day. Their lawdecreed "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." In other words, they were expected to strike back at those who harmed them in any way. It is in a gospel like that presented to us today that we see just how radical and revolutionary Jesus' teaching must have sounded back then. Indeed, it is still quite revolutionary in today's world, with our dog-eat-dog mentality. The process of salvation which he had come to establish would be based on forgiveness, and, therefore, to be part of, and to belong to that process must put each of us right Out there in the front line of tolerance, forgiveness, and love.
Imagine yourself in front of a mirror, reflect on the failures and sin in your life. You take as much time as you need for this. You are going to ask God's forgiveness, you are going to try to make amends wherever possible, and you want to move forward from here. Ask yourself one simple question: Can you absolve yourself before asking God to forgive you? Can you ask God to do something for you that you are unwilling to do for yourself? Guilt is not from God. Rather is it your own inability to forgive yourself. A leading psychiatrist said that he could discharge two-thirds of his patients immediately if he could get them to forgive themselves. Jesus taught us one simple prayer, which we call the Our Father or the Lord's Prayer. It is a simple prayer, and it is quite short. One of the petitions is where we ask God to forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. We can rattle off this prayer, and fail to realise the bind in which it can place us.
In the Lord's Prayer, we ask God to forgive us on one condition, which is that we will forgive others in our turn. There is a proven power in forgiveness and love. "Blessed are the meek" says Jesus, "they shall possess the earth." We are impressed by the power of forgiveness shown by characters like Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, and others who somehow managed to turn the other cheek. The bully cannot deal with the power of the one who won't strike back, but often resorts to violence as the only way to silence their voice of protest. To err is human, to forgive is divine. We would aim to be big-hearted, tolerant and patient.. But the ideal Jesus sets for us is, "Be merciful, just as your heavenly Father is merciful."
I bPaidir an Tiarna lorgaímid maithiúnas an Tiarna ar aon choinníol amháin, sinne a bheith maiteach le gach éinne. Tá neart agus comhacht do airmhithe mhaithúnas agus sa ghrá. "Is méanar dóibh siúd atá ceansa, óir gheobhaidh siad an talamh mar oidhreacht". Níl ceist ar bith ach chuaidh maithúnas Mahatma Ghandi agus Martin Luther King, agus daoine nach íd, i bhfeidhm go mór ar an saol. Níl ar chumas an té a imríonn cos ar bolg nó ansmacht ar dhaoine an tá ná ghabhann an bóthar céannna leis agus baineann leas as foréigin nó cos ar bholg chun an lámh in uachtar a bhaint amach ar an té a chuireann in a choinne. Níl saoi gan locht agus is diamhair í an trócaireacht. Is mór againn bheith mór-chrioch, fulangach agus foighneach. Sé an chuspóir a leagann Íosa romhainn ná "Bígí trocáireach dála bhur nAthair ar Neamh".
(Aistrithe ag an tAth. Uinseann, OCSO)