Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Samuel 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23 | 1 Corinthians 15:45-49 | Luke 6:27-38
Grant, we pray, almighty God, that always pondering spiritual things, we may carry out in both word and deed that which is pleasing to you. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever, amen.
There’s something really profound about these readings. At least they’ve touched me very deeply, and I pray I can open your heart to what they’re really trying to say, because it seems, in many ways, what these readings are saying to me goes against what I learned as a child growing up in the Catholic community and the religious life that my parents — I inherited from my parents. And I love the church. I’ve given my life to serve it, but she’s not always correct. She’s not always perfect, and we certainly know that today more than other times in history. And that doesn’t weaken my belief or my love for the church in the least, because the one I fall in love with, the one I am called to invite you to fall in love with and have a deep personal relationship is not the church but God. The church is a means to find that, and the biggest responsibility the church has is to speak the truth. And one of the problems about truth, when it comes to religion, is it’s not really about facts, about information or knowledge. It’s about mystery.
So how does an institution dedicated to putting people in touch with what is true stay focused on that which is mysterious? Because it tends, as do all human beings, when it comes to dealing with mystery, to explain it, and if our mind can understand it and we say, “Okay, now I guess I understand,” what we really need to develop — and this is why we live on this earth, is we need to develop and grow in our ability to deal with mystery. And the part of us that needs to grow in order for that mystery to be held and believed in and submitted to is not our brains but our hearts. We don’t always realize that there’s two centers in our very body that we turn to for direction. One is the brain, logic, reasoning, absolutely essential. The other is the heart, which has to do with emotion, love and mystery. As the mind hungers for more and more facts, so does the heart long for more and more depth into these things we call mystery.
Now, the first reading we have here is about a man who has an enemy, and he’s going to destroy him, because that what you do. Back then, in the old times, you were in a conflict, and the only way to solve it was to overcome a power or destroy the enemy. And so we see this enemy being presented to the one who is trying to conquer them, and it’s almost too sweet. Walk into the very camp where they — the enemy is there, and everybody’s asleep, and they don’t notice these people. And sitting right next to the enemy is a sword, and so Saul’s helper said, “I can take one, big, swift thrust of this sword, and the enemy’s gone.” And Saul says, “No, don’t kill him. Don’t. Take his sword and his cup, and we’ll leave. They’ll know that we were here, and he was so vulnerable and so easy to kill, but we didn’t. And see what that does to him.” And so they take everything, and they wait for those particularly who would be in charge of taking care of that king. They would be absolutely ashamed — a radical change in the way to deal with an enemy, and then we have in the gospel this incredible story of Jesus talking about a way of life that must have been just absolutely ludicrous to people. He was talking about a way of life that was so against who they were in their nature. Somebody steals something, and you should call them up and say, “You missed a few things. Come back and get them.” Somebody that owes you money, you look at them and say, “Oh, listen, I don’t need that money back. You just keep it.” Yet there’s some part of our nature, even though that would seem so outlandishly crazy, if it happened to us, we would say, “Oh, wow, that was great. Interesting.” We have a great sense of justice and demand it of others, but at the same time, if we were left off the hook, we would love it.
So what’s Jesus saying? He’s trying to open their eyes to something that has been going on since the creation of the world, and that’s the evolution of the creation that God has made. And when God created the world, there was a force, a grace. It was given to the world so we continue to move in a direction toward perfection, toward wholeness. Amazing. It’s why the story in Genesis of creation is so important to interpret correctly, and most of us don’t realize there are two stories. In fact, the story we use mostly in liturgy of the word and when we teach is part of — it’s taken from one story of creation, the other from the second story of creation. The first story of creation is pretty simple. It means that God created the world in six 24-hour periods. On the sixth day, he created humans, and then he rested. And he created the world by just his word. He just said it. “Let there be unions. Let there be a man and a woman.” Poof, there they were. Amazing. That’s the story. The second story, God creates the world in one day. He creates the world. Then it doesn’t have plants or animals or insects or anything like that, but the next thing he does, he creates a man, just a man, not a woman, just a man. And he doesn’t do it by just word, but he molds it out of the earth and clay and makes water and then turns it into a human being when he breathes his Spirit into it. So he’s like a sculptor, and then he breathes life into it. And then he creates the world that this man is going to be taking care of, so we get trees and water and plants and insects and animals. And when he created the animals, he brought them to Adam and said, “I created all this for you. This is your world. It’s going to be so comforting. You’re going to have all this, and you’ll be in charge of it.” Then somehow he realized that, “Wait a minute. I think he needs a partner.” So he creates a partner. He doesn’t create it out of a word, but he makes it out of a part of the man, out of the rib and then said, “Here. What do you think of this?” And he said, “Ah, at last.” And I think this is such an interesting, kind of selfish thing. It makes so much sense about our human nature. “Yeah, it’s perfect, because it’s just like me. It’s bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh. At last I have me to be with. It’s great.” Okay, that’s the story.
The thing that strikes me so powerfully is the second reading. Paul is talking about creation, and he’s talking about there’s two Adams. There’s Adam, the first man, and there’s Adam, the man who saves the world, Christ. One is of the earth, and one is of Spirit. One is human, and one is divine. And we know that the whole salvation history story is about these two Adams. One is at the beginning; one is at the end. The thing about the story in the beginning that is so dangerous is that, when I was told as a child, I had the feeling that God, since he created human beings out of just a word, poof, they were not creatures like any other creatures. They weren’t connected to animals, but yet science tells us, and the church certainly approves this teaching, that God did create the world. Yes, something created it, and we believe — scripture says God created it, but God created it — did not necessarily create it in seven days or one day. And what seems more even appealing to me is that, when we believe that God created the world from the very beginning to evolve on its own toward where it is — by on its own, I mean God is moving it constantly to evolve to become more like the creator that made it. So everything is moving toward perfection, but I got the idea that Adam and Eve were perfect when they were born. They didn’t have any animal instincts in them. They were these little, happy, naked creatures, perfect, beautiful, and so the idea that they sinned seemed so horrendous, because they didn’t have any bad instincts. They were created perfect. God gave them a beautiful garden, and then from somewhere they get this idea, since God gave them a law, which by the way is the only way sin can exist — you have to have a law first. So sin then is revealed as a part of human beings, and the reaction I get, from the way I was told the story went, was God was so upset, so furious at these perfect creatures he made, and they’d reverted to something unnatural for them, and they just rejected God, and he was furious, he kicked them out. He said, “Go beyond me. I don’t want to have anything to do with you. Leave now.”
Well, that’s not the story. They made a mistake. They chose something that was very core to their human nature. They were not created innocent, perfect. They were created from animals that had an instinct inside of them. It was terribly self-centered. That’s where we came from, and God pours life into us, and we begin a process of moving out of that animal-like creature into a spiritual creature. That’s what we’re here on this earth to do. It’s a wonderful process, but what I always thought was, whenever I sinned, I always lost the favor of God instead of God being there to help me through this process of evolving into the person that he ultimately wanted me to be. And when I sinned, I felt it was my fault, and now I’m beginning to realize, look, it’s not our fault that we sinned. That’s how we were made. We have a sinful core to us. By sin I mean it’s just basically self-centered. The most basic instinct of an animal is self-preservation, and then it needs to mate, so it needs a partner. And so there’s relationships that it needs, and then it needs a group to work with, a community. But in our need for safety and our need for relationships and our need to live in a culture that is safe, those are all things that can be done out of the most selfish motives, and it’s that that God is calling us out of. And it’s there by nature, so when I sin, I’m sort of falling back into who I really am without grace, without evolution of the plan that God has for me. I look back at my life, and I can say, over and over again, “My God. How did I ever — why — what was I thinking when I did that?” Well, I was thinking about the way I thought as a human. I wasn’t doing this on purpose to offend God, and God didn’t take it as offensive. He never takes our sins as a personal offense, but I thought he did.
The most interesting thing about that story from scripture is God didn’t kick these people out. He said, “Yes, you can go.” What did he do before they left? He sewed clothes together for them, and that’s one sentence the church doesn’t use in its liturgy of the word, which was the only way we ever heard scripture back then. Imagine. No, he wasn’t angry. He was excited. He wanted us to go and grow and become who we are and work with this lower nature. So one of the things we need to do — someone gave me this advice when I was very young. Learn about human nature, and learn about God’s nature. If you know them both and you know that they’re made for each other, ultimately you will be successful on this planet. Human beings are naturally selfish. We’re infused with a grace called love, and once we have that love and we move out of self into others, then we grow in our ability, first to have compassion, empathy. Then we care for not only what people are going through, but we want to do something to take their pain away. We’ll give ourselves to a work, and we’ll develop the work. Then we’ll give the gift away. That’s the evolution that we’re going for, and we can reach that high level and still, all of a sudden, one minute, we flip back, and we’re down into the lowest level of self-destruction. That’s not our fault. It’s our nature. We fall back. We remember just how much we long for God’s grace and his forgiveness, because it leads us back to the place we were ultimately made to be.
Your goodness is beyond our understanding unless we really understand who we are and who you are. It is your nature to forgive, to give generously to those who harm you and disappoint you. That’s who you are, and we are in such need of a God like that, and we need to believe in you, because it’s the best hope we have for our transformation from the lower forms of our humanity evolving into higher consciousness of seeing that we really are like you ultimately. As you love us, forgive us, we will do the same for others, not because we’re told to, not because we have to, not because of the reward we’ll get, because that’s who we are. And we ask this prayer in Jesus’ name, amen.