7th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

PAN DE VIDA
7th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)
February 18, 2007

COMPASSIONATE AND MERCIFUL LIKE GOD


Readings: 1 Samuel 26:2,7-9,12-13,22-23; 1 Corinthians 15:45-49; Luke 6:27-38

Last Sunday’s rousing call to authentic “blessedness,” in contradistinction to “woefulness” is brought up a notch higher today. The poor, the hungry, those who are weeping, and the hated (on the Lord’s account) are declared “blessed” last week. Today, the liturgy converges on something patently counterintuitive, counter-cultural, and, from the worldly point of view, totally beyond the pale of ordinary logic.

The “God of reversals” jolts us one more time, and asks all of us “to do a David,” and become what He Himself is … kind and merciful, as we declared after the first reading: “The Lord is kind and merciful” (Responsorial Psalm).

I start off this reflection with what I am all too familiar with – human experience – my own, and that of many others. Doing a David, that is, sparing graciously the life of someone who, in the first place, was out on a rabid and vicious campaign to kill him, is more than just counterintuitive. It flies in the face of logic. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity ignored, unused, and wasted. It was a case of an almost perfect leverage for fame, power, and success. David, for all his talents at sleuthing and becoming a most successful “deep penetration agent,” certainly deserved to deal a death-dealing blow to Saul, his mortal enemy, who was caught woefully off-guard and utterly vulnerable (1st Reading).

But no … Great and noble men like David are made of sterner stuff, at least in this regard. He was no mere son of the “first man,” Adam, a mere “living being.” He prefigured, in his own way, the “last Adam, a life-giving spirit” (2nd Reading). He rose above the petty – and, I must add – a most natural tendency of the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve – to take sweet revenge, and use others’ misfortunes or careless inattention or downright ignorance, to prop up one’s own career, and get on ahead of the pack.

All of us sons and daughters of the “first man, Adam,” are all in it together. In our tainted nature, courtesy of the first sin of disobedience, magnanimity of heart and the courageous act of forgiving those who cause, and do us harm and woe, do not come smoothly and automatically to us. I don’t know about you, but there is just something in the story of David’s “missed chance of a lifetime” that makes me inwardly cringe in semi-disapproval. A product of post-modernity myself, I know an opportunity when I see one. Schooled as I myself am, in the culture of pragmatic productivity and result-orientedness, David’s magnanimous act simply leaves a bitter aftertaste in the mouth – at least for a very fleeting while.

I must confess that having been unfairly and unjustly treated and not given a fair hearing in a recent most difficult life experience, it does not come easy for me, to do a David. In another recent reflection, I have also confessed to my readers that, as a midlifer, it gets to be harder and harder for me to see beyond the decisions of decision-makers who, “either in mould or mind” show utter lack of ability to see the bigger picture, who may tend to look at things, situations, and events one-sidedly, and who refuse to see what good things may come from the help “human sciences” and the world of learning and information can offer.

Today’s good news afflicts me. It does not, at first blush, comfort me. It disturbs me. But tucked somewhere at the back of my mind is that theoretical knowledge that gospel good news is meant as much “to comfort the afflicted, as to afflict the comfortable.”

We who minister to the people of God, ordained or lay, can sometimes be comfortable in our “star complex.” We easily get used to this star appeal because we always have a willing audience, wherever we go. We speak to groups, little or small. We perorate and pontificate at the slightest provocation. We are generally given the choice seats everywhere. People reserve the best cuts of meat for us, the best gifts on Christmas. Priests or laity, those of us who ever held a microphone and stood on a lofty dais or ambo, can get a little too comfortable with that star appeal accorded us, in lesser or greater degrees.

But that is just half of the potential problem. The other half that is not talked about, is the “intimacy factor.” One author refers to the fact that most ministers in Church, only go for what he calls “half intimacies.” Ably developed intellectually, superbly endowed with intelligence (and degrees galore to support that), many of us really identify our worth with the number of letters that follow our names. But we may not be meaningfully connected with others. We float around engaging in shallow, superficial, nodding relationships that are precisely what those half intimacies are all about. Our emotional development does not go at par with our intellectual development.

Capable only of engaging in “half intimacies,” most of us go through our ecclesiastical and parochial careers aiming “to prove ourselves.”

This is the situation that leads people to hurt one another, tear at each other, and outdo one another “in style” – that is, through subtle sarcasm, biting humor, and relentless criticism of each other, all done “in the name of principles” and “personal conviction.”

Today’s good news afflicts me precisely because of one thing. I am part of this sinful culture being among the sons of the first man, Adam. But today’s good news comforts me because being afflicted myself, my thoughts are raised toward the big possibility and great calling that takes center stage in today’s liturgy. The readings up the ante of real and authentic blessedness: “do good to those who hate you … bless those who curse you … pray for those who mistreat you.” (Gospel)

You who listen to me now, (or who read this reflection) … I ask you to pray for me, for like all the sons of Adam, I have afflicted you in many ways. I ask you to pray for me, even as I am in the midst of an affliction for which doing a David is most difficult and trying. I ask you to pray for yourselves, that the call to genuine blessedness may continue to afflict you, too, and thus lead you, in turn, to comfort the afflicted. For we all are called in due time, to be compassionate and merciful, like God!

[Fr. Vitaliano Chito Dimaranan, SDB
Paranaque City, February 15, 2007]


THE IMPOSSIBLE MADE POSSIBLE
[Dundalk, MD February 22, 2004]

The readings today, like last Sunday’s, continue to disturb us. Not only are we told to look at things differently, to find happiness in the opposite of wealth, power, prestige and other legitimate human concerns, but also to consider ourselves blessed when our attachment to Christ leads us to a lifestyle patterned after His own, and are given a series of straightforward teachings that seem extremely difficult to accept, let alone fulfill.

Let’s face it …To equate genuine happiness with poverty, hunger, sorrow, and with being persecuted for His sake like we were reminded last week, simply flies in the face of logic and our contemporary sense of values! This week, we are shaken even more, as we are told to go the way of unconditional love … no, not for one’s friends, but for one’s enemies!

This sounds totally unacceptable, undoable, and practically impossible to fulfill.

Let’s be honest. Years of catechetical instruction have taught us to repeat this almost like a mantra, as a pious platitude, a quotable quote that comes in handy as a practical resolution after a week-end retreat or a memorable line to jot down in our journals and diaries. But to be honest, when was the last time you really had warm and cozy feelings for the one who double-crossed you, betrayed you and did evil against you? When was the last time you were tickled pink by the thought of terrorists lurking somewhere around the civilized world, waiting for the next opportunity to blow airplanes out of the sky and level-down buildings to smithereens? Since when did you feel a rush of excitement up your face at the prospect of meeting face to face with someone who has ruined your reputation and has caused other people to think less respectfully of you?

There is no denying it…to love anyone who has made, or still makes, your life difficult seems to be an impossible thing to do. And it will remain so for as long as we continue to misconstrue the Lord’s commandment of love.

I would like to suggest that, whilst the readings do tell us in positive terms what it means to love our enemies, they do not tell us what loving our enemies is not. I would like to suggest further, that our inability to do the former is due to our inability to understand the latter. According to Biblical data, love IS NOT a warm, cozy, cuddly and sentimental feeling for a person. Love is neither a natural inclination or attraction towards another. Love is not equated with liking another person. Love is not an emotion as liking something or someone is. Liking is something one cannot control. We either like something or we don’t. One does not decide one day to like someone he never liked before. If love were such an emotion, then, indeed, it would impossible to love our enemies, for no person can ever naturally like someone who makes him or her suffer.

Let us look at the Scriptural data presented in today’s liturgy. There are at least three important truths that we can cull from them. In the first reading, first of all, we are given an eloquent example of what love for an enemy is, or ought to be, made possible, not because David liked Saul (the two obviously were mortal enemies), but on account of God who has anointed Saul. He passed off a perfect opportunity to do away with a competitor on account of the God of “justice and faithfulness.” “Today, though the Lord delivered you into my grasp, I would not harm the Lord’s anointed,” said David. The implication seems clear. No one can love the unlovable unless God enters the picture. One can only love one’s enemies on account of God.

Secondly, in the New Testament (2nd ) reading, St. Paul draws a parallelism between Adam and Christ, the “earthly one” and the “heavenly one,” respectively. We all are at one and the same time, the earthly, unredeemed Adam and the “heavenly one” like unto Christ. “Just as we have borne the image of the earthly one, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly one.” On account of Jesus’ resurrection, which is also our God-given calling in Christ, we Christians really live now on a different plane, with different paradigms and sets of values. Such a different “conceptual framework,” as it were, makes us capable of acting in a way different from common expectations. The Christian, in many ways, lives in a frontier world, where the usual rule of tit-for-tat or retaliation reigns supreme. Again, the implication is clear. One can only love on account of the one who rose from the dead, whose rising has made it possible for the believer to live partially both in the “earthly” and “heavenly” sphere. We can only love all the sinful Adams in this world because of Christ, the new Adam who has redeemed us all. One worth saving is then worth loving just as the Lord did.

The third and most important truth comes from today’s Gospel passage from Luke. Here we are told in positive terms what deciding to love means. It has nothing to do with warm feelings. Essentially, it means deciding to act in exactly the opposite way people usually would be expected to behave in the face of certain stimuli. In the face of hatred, one is counseled to do good. In return for curses (bad words), we are told to bless (good words). In exchange for mistreatment, one is exhorted to prayer. We are then back to the arena of paradox that we spoke of last week – the classic tension between two opposing poles of “woes” and “blessings;” “curses” and “beatitudes.”

There is, therefore, an unmistakable flavor of “affirmative action” in the command to love one’s enemies, in today’s readings. One is clearly told to leave the level of mushy feelings and maudlin thoughts and translate them into positive actions that spring from a willful decision from deep within the person, instead of the superficial level of feelings that ebb and flow with the tides. It is for this reason that contemporary social teachings see love for neighbor (including enemies) in the context, not so much of traditional “charitable works” but in the wider and deeper context of dedication and commitment to the virtues of “social justice” and “solidarity.” Merely engaging in occasional charitable acts appeases one’s conscience but does not satisfy the commandment of love for neighbor. A purely privatistic focus on “doing a good turn” on occasion, makes one feel good, but does not fulfill the expectation of the Lord for one to “do good.” Merely running around putting up soup kitchens, without the more important and long-term effort at “evangelizing cultures” of individualism, corruption, consumerism and utter lack of environmental concern, is tantamount to just “putting out brush fires,” without contributing towards the long-term preservation of the “forest.” Giving alms from our surplus (like when we do not know where to put stuff that accumulates in the house), and not from our need is to do something out of duty, and not out of love. Giving what we have no more need of, nor place for at home, while living a wasteful, ecologically unaware “throw-away” lifestyle like as if the world has all the room for our non-biodegradable waste is to mistake the forest for a tree.

Today’s readings are a call for us to disabuse the notion of private charity. Love for others, including our enemies, is shown through solidarity and working for the common good. It is also a reminder that love, far from being a passing feeling, is something we have to positively and passionately engage ourselves in – doing good, blessing, praying. These are affirmative actions that are done in exchange for the really nasty things that we all do to each other in the course of our short lives.

This, we can only do on account of the transformative power of the resurrection. Only through the power of the resurrection can we be capable of doing good. Only on account of the resurrection that is our destiny as disciples of Christ, can we be profligate in forgiveness and in our dedication to the common good and work for solidarity – salvific, not sinful solidarity. Only on account of the power of the living and loving God in Christ His Son, can the impossible be made possible. Only through Jesus. Only in Jesus. Only because of Jesus. Only Jesus!

Comments

jonathan.manuel said…
Father,
Jon here, DBJ '88. There's a lot of talk about this "documentary" showing an old tomb found in Jerusalem around 1980 with the names Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and Judah. Cameron claims this to be the tomb of Jesus, i.e. he never resurrected.
What's the Church saying about this?
Fr. Chito said…
The Church does not "say" anything official because all these alleged "new discoveries" are really old tales being rehashed before people who do not know their history and their faith. One thing sure is, the mainstream American media that is patently anti-Christian simply loves to pounce on seemingly juicy news such as this. On questions such as these, we must look at the so-called "peer reviews" from scholars and those who are experts in the field. No archaeologist worth his salt, apart from these two who did shoddy work and cut not just a few corners in the process support such an allegation. The simple story is simply this. They found a tomb that dates back to more or less the time of Christ. To say that that is Jesus' tomb is pushing the envelope a little too far. It is pseudo scholarship with an obvious agenda. The fact that it comes in the heels of the likes of the Da Vinci Code and other so-called "discoveries" like the Gospel of Judas, merely shows there is an agenda that goes beyond mere reporting of scientific data. Be grateful you are part of a Church and community that godless people love to hate. History has a certain ending. And that ending is firmly and definitively on God's side, not some self-serving, and politically motivated pseudo scholars. Thanks for reading and inquiring. Will post something more when i get the time.
TheSenator said…
Totally agree, Fr Chito! The 'lost tombs' were cooked up by some money making 'lost souls.'

Funny as it's obvious that the names Jesus, Mary and Joseph are common during those times as it is today.

Money! What is a man who gains the world but loses his soul...

Blessings!

Alrey
DBTI HS 73

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