Welcome back to the Sunday Mass notes. This week we look at several readings which get at he concept of dying to ourselves in order that God may work out His plan in our lives. This is counter-cultural and something that we can only do through God’s empowerment, while we cannot even expect a reward for during our lifetimes.
Introduction to the First Reading:
The context of the reading from First Samuel is evil King Saul’s continuing effort to locate David and murder him. The reading is a self-explanatory narrative of yet another of Saul’s many unsuccessful attempts on David’s life. Earlier, the Prophet Samuel had anointed David as king in place of Saul (1 Samuel 16:13). After this, the now king David became Saul’s armor bearer (1 Sam 16:21) and personal harp player (1 Sam 16:23) which helped comfort the soon to be dethroned king who was tormented by evil spirits from God (v. 23). We included the intervening verses from the reading which were omitted since it made the story clearer.
Note: The reading covered only 1 SM 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23, the intervening verses have been included.
1 Samuel 26:2-25 NAS95 2 So Saul arose and went down to the wilderness of Ziph, having with him three thousand chosen men of Israel, to search for David in the wilderness of Ziph. 3 Saul camped in the hill of Hachilah, which is before Jeshimon, beside the road, and David was staying in the wilderness. When he saw that Saul came after him into the wilderness, 4 David sent out spies, and he knew that Saul was definitely coming. 5 David then arose and came to the place where Saul had camped. And David saw the place where Saul lay, and Abner the son of Ner, the commander of his army; and Saul was lying in the circle of the camp, and the people were camped around him. 6 Then David said to Ahimelech the Hittite and to Abishai the son of Zeruiah, Joab's brother, saying, "Who will go down with me to Saul in the camp?" And Abishai said, "I will go down with you." 7 So David and Abishai came to the people by night, and behold, Saul lay sleeping inside the circle of the camp with his spear stuck in the ground at his head; and Abner and the people were lying around him. 8 Then Abishai said to David, "Today God has delivered your enemy into your hand; now therefore, please let me strike him with the spear to the ground with one stroke, and I will not strike him the second time." 9 But David said to Abishai, "Do not destroy him, for who can stretch out his hand against the LORD'S anointed and be without guilt?" 10 David also said, "As the LORD lives, surely the LORD will strike him, or his day will come that he dies, or he will go down into battle and perish. 11 "The LORD forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the LORD'S anointed; but now please take the spear that is at his head and the jug of water, and let us go." 12 So David took the spear and the jug of water from beside Saul's head, and they went away, but no one saw or knew it, nor did any awake, for they were all asleep, because a sound sleep from the LORD had fallen on them. 13 Then David crossed over to the other side and stood on top of the mountain at a distance with a large area between them. 14 David called to the people and to Abner the son of Ner, saying, "Will you not answer, Abner?" Then Abner replied, "Who are you who calls to the king?" 15 So David said to Abner, "Are you not a man? And who is like you in Israel? Why then have you not guarded your lord the king? For one of the people came to destroy the king your lord. 16 "This thing that you have done is not good. As the LORD lives, all of you must surely die, because you did not guard your lord, the LORD'S anointed. And now, see where the king's spear is and the jug of water that was at his head." 17 Then Saul recognized David's voice and said, "Is this your voice, my son David?" And David said, "It is my voice, my lord the king." 18 He also said, "Why then is my lord pursuing his servant? For what have I done? Or what evil is in my hand? 19 "Now therefore, please let my lord the king listen to the words of his servant. If the LORD has stirred you up against me, let Him accept an offering; but if it is men, cursed are they before the LORD, for they have driven me out today so that I would have no attachment with the inheritance of the LORD, saying, 'Go, serve other gods.' 20 "Now then, do not let my blood fall to the ground away from the presence of the LORD; for the king of Israel has come out to search for a single flea, just as one hunts a partridge in the mountains." 21 Then Saul said, "I have sinned. Return, my son David, for I will not harm you again because my life was precious in your sight this day. Behold, I have played the fool and have committed a serious error." 22 David replied, "Behold the spear of the king! Now let one of the young men come over and take it. 23 "The LORD will repay each man for his righteousness and his faithfulness; for the LORD delivered you into my hand today, but I refused to stretch out my hand against the LORD'S anointed. 24 "Now behold, as your life was highly valued in my sight this day, so may my life be highly valued in the sight of the LORD, and may He deliver me from all distress." 25 Then Saul said to David, "Blessed are you, my son David; you will both accomplish much and surely prevail." So David went on his way, and Saul returned to his place.
The reading details how King Saul set out to locate and murder David, but God delivered Saul into David’s hands who did not take advantage of the opportunity and kill him because of his respect for “the Lord’s anointed” (v. 11). David seized the opportunity only so far as to gather evidence of his innocence in harming Saul by taking his water pot and spear, which he then offered to return to him by means of some long-range yelling across the canyon (v. 14). The whole affair resulted in Saul making a public confession of his sin by way of screaming a reply to David whose voice he recognized. Saul said, “I have sinned. Return, my son David, for I will not harm you again because my life was precious in your sight this day. Behold, I have played the fool and have committed a serious error” (v. 21).
This chronicle revealed some very important attributes of godly King David. Although David was in fact the king whom God has already ordained to replace Saul, David waited for God to resolve the issue of the dueling kingship. David respected the position of King and God’s ordination of the office, and he left the deposition of the king in the hands of God rather than taking advantage of the many opportunities he had to remove Saul and step in as the rightful ruler and King of Israel. Additionally, King David was patient in waiting on God to formally induct him into the position of King.
In the context of theocratic kingdom, the king of Israel served not only as an all powerful civil ruler but also held a defacto religious position by means of their direct appointment by God. There is a clear distinction between the former kings of Israel in the rulers of our day because the religious and civil powers are more clearly separated. In terms of application, in our day, which of us hasn’t seen the obviously evil goings on of our civil rulers and wished that we could take advantage of some easy opportunity to remove these rulers from power, even if by recounting or a recall election? Which of us hasn’t looked upon a religious leader with disgust because of abuse of their position and some moral failures? Yet, even today God has made it clear that we are called to respect those people who are placed in positions of authority while not approving their wickedness. Saint Paul said in Romans,
“1 Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 3 For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; 4 for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil” Romans 13:1-4).
This reverence for authority, both of civil and religious leaders, is the primary lesson which we can take away from the reading. Second, we can learn from David and seek to become like him as he was “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22) who waited with great patience and virtual for God to work out His plan in his life.
Introduction to the Second Reading:
This week’s second reading continues from First Corinthians last week which ended at verse 20. This portion of Chapter 15 picks up after Paul had explained how our natural bodies are planted as seeds that then emerge as spiritual bodies after we die in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15: 36-44). Paul said about our natural bodies, “it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body” (v. 44). We pick up with t reading in verse 45.
1 Corinthians 15:45-49 NAS95 45 So also it is written, "The first MAN, Adam, BECAME A LIVING SOUL." The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. 47 The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. 48 As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.
The reading opened with Paul’s quotation of Genesis, the creation account of how God created man. “Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). The central idea in the reading was the continuation of the concept of the spiritual seed we mentioned in the introduction. The natural body is planted as a spiritual seed in order to accomplish God’s work on the soil of the world. It is only after the seed dies in the course of the world that it then blossoms into a spiritual one and bears much fruit by bringing others to do so.
Paul’s teaching in the reading closely parallels the Lord Jesus’ Parable of the Grain of Wheat in John 12. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). In essence, one must die to ourselves and allow God to work through ourselves in order to produce spiritual fruit. After the seed of our natural body dies on earth it then blossoms into the fruit of eternal life which comes through our faith in the Lord Jesus.
We saw in the first reading how David rather died to himself when he didn’t take advantage of a blatant opportunity to kill Saul, even though Saul sought to murder him. We know how Jesus during His first reign set aside the independent use of his divine power while looking forward to the day when He would receive His new body upon resurrection from the dead and the day in which He would return to the earth to rule and reign forever. In our lives, we too are called to die to ourselves and can do so knowing that our earthly bodies will be replaced with eternal ones in heaven with God. Through our faith in Jesus and through what we have learned in the Scriptures we can set aside our rights and privileges and die to our own desires, even when it appears obvious to nonbelievers that we should claims our rights.
Introduction to the Gospel Reading:
Today’s Gospel reading continues from last week in Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount.
Luke 6:27-38 NAS95 27 "But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. 30 Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. 31 Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. 32 If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 37 Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure--pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return."
Jesus’ heavenly perspective challenged those who heard Him to engage in many unheard of practices in a culture of Roman oppression and occupation. And yet even the common sense of that era would have ruled against doing good for one’s enemies, the most obvious case the Roman soldiers who forced the Jewish citizens to assist them in various ways or face prosecution. Imagine standing in a marketplace in Jerusalem minding your own business when you are approached by a soldier demanding you to carry his armor some distance to an adjacent city? Or one of them demanding a bribe from you in order to alleviate you of the burden. This was the culture in which Jesus presented this message.
Jesus challenged those listening to love their enemies (v. 27), bless those who cursed or mistreated them (v. 28), not retaliate against someone who struck them (v. 29), give to the needy (v. 29), and the treat others the same way that they wanted to be treated, i.e. the Golden Rule. By following these prescriptions, they would receive a heavenly reward. Jesus went on to challenge those listening even further, extending even to their thought lives regarding not judging people in their minds. In closing, Jesus reminded the people that their blessings to other people will be repaid (v. 38), however not in exactly the way they may have imagined in an earthly sense. Rather, their repayment Jesus is describing is one of spiritual value, like we saw in the second reading with the sowing of an earthly body maturing into a spiritual one.
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount isn’t as much a calling to behave better, to become a better person by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. Rather, he is challenging us to maximize our production of spiritual fruit by setting aside our earthly rights to things like responding to unfair criticism. Instead, He calls us to hold our words in the hope that our behavior may be so counter cultural that the offending party will seek to find out what is so different about us. In this way our quiet behavior may result in the worldly parties seeking the truth of the Gospel for themselves.
My brother in law once owned a breakfast / brunch type restaurant in which he had invested a great deal of money in new equipment after taking on a large business loan. One day he went to the store to begin his work day only to find out that his key wouldn’t work, he had been locked out of his own restaurant after the locks had been changed. Come to find out the store was being taken over by the employees who thought that they had better ideas on how to run the operation. My Christian brother could have sued, but with the equipment being in a rented building and the landlord in cahoots with the new “owners,” there was little possible value in the legal case. His attorney told him that he would likely win the case against his former employees, but then be unable to collect anything of any real value, and then the restaurant equipment would have to be destroyed in order to be removed. In the end and after much prayer, my brother in law chose to take the high road and allow the employees to reopen the restaurant without his interference.
How many of us could have followed Jesus’ instruction in today’s Sermon and acted in such a counter cultural way as my brother in law?
- Can you think of a time when your right were violated and you were rightfully allowed some form of retaliation but instead chose not to? What was the long-term impact of this upon the others in that case?
- In the seed-bearing analogy, God has planted us in the world in order to die to ourselves so that we can produce spiritual fruit. What are some specific circumstances in which you have recently died to yourself, and how does knowing about Jesus’ life and ministry help to deal with your feelings regarding these matters?
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation.