David spares Saul's life, Pietro Antonio Magatti (1691–1767); owner unknown; image via hadrian6.tumblr.com

Fr Neil’s homily for Sexagesima, 20 February 2022

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.¹

The fundamental question that is raised reflecting on St Paul’s word is: Am I a man or person of dust, or a man or person of heaven?

The man of dust is a reference to the old Adam that fell in the garden of Eden. His fall brought sin and death into the whole created order. The man of heaven is a reference to Christ the second Adam who has brought about the heavenly kingdom. Which kingdom do I belong to? In our gospel reading,² Christ seems to be saying that the manner in which I treat my enemies may be a good indication!

If our enemy was within our power as Saul was in David’s,³ our earthly human instinct might well scream at us to plunge that spear through his heart. If you think I might be being over-dramatic then think about a time when you were the victim of another person’s cruelty. Do you not find times when you replay the situation while changing what you did and said that would have turned the tables? Or if you had the opportunity what you might say or do to repay them for the hurt they caused to you?

David stayed his own hand despite the fact that if the tables had been reversed Saul would not have done. Why? There are perhaps two reasons. This first is clearly indicated in the text that David recognised the dignity of the one who is anointed by God, stating. “Who can put forth his hand against the Lord’s anointed, and be guiltless?”⁴ The revelation of Christ expands this thinking as we are made aware that all humanity, no matter how corrupt, bears an intrinsic dignity. This dignity is that all humanity is made in the image and likeness of God.⁵ One cannot mar another human being without also marring the one in whose image they are made.

The second reason David held back might have been to do with mercy. To act mercifully is to acknowledge that often we cannot see the full picture of why someone acts in the manner that they do. There is only one who sees all and who can judge justly and that is God alone. Saul was to lose his life and throne not at the hands of David but in his own decision to go to war with the Philistines. God’s judgment was allowed to prevail, not David’s.

Are we ready to recognise the just judgement of God and that there is a day of reckoning for all? If we are, then we will be more willing to rest in the confidence that wrongs will be righted and any injustice borne will be recompensed. It is the awareness of this seat of justice that aids our ability to act with compassion and mercy toward those who wrong us. The fact that we too will have to stand before God hoping for mercy should be a sobering thought.

One might simplistically argue that there are three types of people. There are bad people who do bad things to other people no matter what they are like. There are good people who do good things to those who have in turn been good to them; and then there are heavenly people. These heavenly people do good to others whether they deserve it or not. The reality is, that like most people, I am capable of being all three different types in single day. Just take a moment to think about the interactions within your own families, with parents, siblings, the wider family, those you work with and those who you encounter in social occasions and the different types of friends you might have had over the years. I am fairly certain you will see all three types of people in others and at times in yourself!

Christ teaches us to love, bless, pray and do good to our enemies because that is the very nature of God which he reveals in his own ministry. Christ did speak truthfully when needed but was also silent when he was abused by the soldiers and prayed “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”⁶ as they crucified him.

We in turn are called to reflect the image of God after whom we are made, “whose nature is always to have mercy.”⁷ Christ teaches the disciples to pray to the Father, “forgive our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”⁸

In baptism we have died to the old Adam of dust and been clothed with with the new heavenly Adam. By the use of holy water as we enter the church, we are reminding ourselves to shake off the old Adam. In the liturgy of the mass we make confession and call upon God’s mercy. We do so in part so that the forgiveness we have received will enable us to be merciful in turn to others.

This is not an instruction to be a ‘door mat’ constantly standing up in silence taking the ongoing abuse of others. Do not keep putting yourself in front of that bus as it will keep knocking you down. Make the changes you need to and don’t hide behind Christ’s words in fearful paralysis.

Rather the words of Christ are to enable us become children of light and citizens of heaven. It is pointing the way to freedom from being trapped and poisoned by bitterness, resentment and the desire for revenge. It is the means by which we lift ourselves above the role of victim or perpetrator and reclaim the dignity of being children of God.

On Ash Wednesday we will hear the sobering reminder, “Remember that thou art dust, and unto dust shalt thou return.”⁹ Our physical body shall one day return to the earth from which they were made. It is however, only in the receiving and reflecting the mercy of God, in Christ, that our souls can be raised to the heavenly abode which our hearts long for.

¹ 1 Corinthians 15:48
² Luke 6:27–38
³ 1 Samuel 26:2–23
⁴ 1 Samuel 26:9
⁵ Genesis 1:27
⁶ Luke 23:34 et al
⁷ cf Prayer of Humble Access
⁸ cf Luke 11:4 et al
⁹ cf Genesis 3:19