February 18, 2022.

The first Reading from the first Book of Samuel, (1 Samuel 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23), narrated an incident between King Saul and David in which, following the Old Testament morality of ‘an eye for an eye, tooth for tooth’, David should have eliminated King Saul. King Saul was envious of David because he was a rising star having fought and killed Goliath. He did not want him succeeding over his son Jonathan as king of Israel. King Saul had attempted to pin David to the wall with a spear, but David dodged the spear and fled which led King Saul to go, with some of his soldiers, in search of him.
David and his men accidentally came into an area where King Saul and his men were camping, and to their bewilderment, they found them sound asleep. David’s nephew Abishai, who was full of youthful exuberance, asked David for permission to strike King Saul saying, “Today God has put your enemy in your power; so now let me pin him to the ground with his own spear. Just one stroke! I will not need to strike him twice.’” But contrary to all norms and expectations that one had the right and freedom to destroy one’s enemies, David restrained him from killing Saul, saying, “’Do not kill him, for who can lift his hand against the Lord’s anointed and be without guilt?’” David took King Saul’s spear and water pitcher as a proof to him that he, (David) would have killed him if he had chosen to. What King David did was extraordinary when compared with the pattern of behaviour that was prevalent during his era.

David’s sparing of the life of King Saul who was out to do him in is the link between the first Reading and today’s Gospel passage, (Lk 6:27-38). The Gospel continues Jesus’ sermon on the plain. Last week we listened to the Beatitudes which challenged our world view on true happiness. Jesus’ teaching this week that we should love our enemies and do good to those who have wronged us is also contrary to our natural impulse, which tends to commensurate with those who treat us well and exact vengeance on those who have wronged us.

How realistic is it for us to love those that irritate us or want to harm us since self-preservation is our natural instinct? How can victims of rape or armed robbery love their perpetrators? How can victims of child abuse love the culprit? How can the bullied love the aggressor? How can a soldier love an adversary in battle? Does the love of enemies exclude the need for repentance from the offender? Does the love of enemies and doing good to those who hate us exclude punishment for the perpetrators?

We realise that just as the Beatitudes needed explanation, Jesus’ teachings on love of enemies and doing good to those who hate or curse us need to be contextualised. To grapple with the intention of Jesus on these teachings we should have at the back of our minds that good begets good and evil begets evil. As often as we seek revenge we will be caught up in a spiral of violence, whereby we are being consumed with negative energies. Jesus is inviting us to hate the sin but not the sinner.

These teachings of Jesus can be seen in the lives of great people like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr who, in the face of colonial brutality in India and racism against the blacks in the United States of America, advocated for conscientious objection, (non-violence), against the perpetrators rather than armed conflict. The Geneva Convention which prohibits the killing of combatant soldiers once they surrender in battle is also influenced by this teaching of Jesus.

The love of enemies and doing good to those who hate us does not exclude the need for the perpetrators to reform their lives or for them to face the consequences of their wrong choices which might include incarceration as a way of moulding them into better human beings. Hence, Jesus in teaching us to love our enemies, wants us to attune our minds to the mind of God who is compassionate to both good and bad people alike; thus, we should hate the sin and not the sinner!

Fr Chinua Okeke CSSp

Designed by Toffy Digital