Scripture in Depth
Reading I: 1 Samuel 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23
First Samuel contains two versions of this episode, in which David spares King Saul after being hunted down by the king. The other version is in 1 Sam 24:1-22.
The two versions differ considerably in detail, but both reflect one of the most attractive features of David's character—his magnanimity.
Both versions, however, express something more, namely, the royal ideology according to which David is reluctant to put forth his hand against the Lord's anointed.
This reading matches the Gospel, an extract from the Great Sermon that inculcates Jesus' demand for forgiveness toward others, as God has forgiven us.
Responsorial Psalm: 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13
As would be expected, portions of this psalm are frequently used in the liturgy. The same selection of verses occurs on the seventh Sunday of the year in series A and on the eighth Sunday of the year in series B.
In our comments for the latter, it is pointed out that Psalm 103 is an individual's thanksgiving after some personal trial (perhaps sickness—see the second stanza). It emphasizes the kindness and mercy of Yhwh (note especially the refrain: 'The Lord is kind and merciful").
Today the psalm seems to be intended as a response to verses 1 Samuel 26:22-23 in the First Reading, although 1 Sam 26 speaks of God's rewarding human righteousness and faithfulness. We will discover the same quality of grace and reward in today's Gospel reading.
Reading II: 1 Corinthians 15:45-49
Let us first remind ourselves of what we have frequently observed before, namely, that Paul's letters are not abstract theologizings but responses to highly concrete situations in his churches.
Exegetes have long agreed that in this passage Paul is polemicizing against some other view. He asserts emphatically that the physical Adam was first, and the spiritual Adam second.
Commentators have contrasted this statement with Philo's exegesis of the two stories of the creation of man and woman in Gen 1 and 2. He took the human being created in Genesis 1:26 to be the heavenly, archetypal human being, and the Adam of Genesis 2-3 to be empirical, fallen humanity, and built up a dualistic anthropology of a Platonic kind.
More recently Philo's exegesis has been regarded as one form of a widespread Gnostic anthropology. This is what Paul is polemicizing against—in the form in which it was held by the Corinthian Gnostics.
According to this view, the souls of the Gnostic elite consisted of divine sparks emanating from the heavenly Adam. These sparks had tragically become incarnated in the physical body of the earthly Adam.
In this view the Christian gospel becomes a means of recovering one's heavenly origin, one's authentic selfhood. This recovery, the Corinthians believe, has already taken place for them through the communication of the Christian gnosis, or divinely revealed knowledge, and through the sacraments.
Paul reverses the order of the two Adams.
The attainment of authentic existence is not the recovery of something innate but an eschatological possibility opened up by the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Although to some extent we begin even here on earth to participate in the new being through the sacraments (a point Paul makes elsewhere but not here), we do not completely do so until the end.
Hence Paul writes this passage to emphasize the eschatological reserve, the “not yet” that marks Christian existence. Only at the end “shall” we bear the image of the heavenly.
Here some manuscripts read “let us bear the image of the heavenly,” but this would push Paul somewhat in the direction of his gnosticizing opponents, something that, in the exigencies of controversy, he is at pains to avoid.
Gospel: Luke 6:27-38
The first two paragraphs of this reading correspond to the sixth and last antithesis in Matthew's presentation of the Great Sermon: “You have heard … But I say to you” (Mt 5:43-44).
Such an antithesis is implicit in the Lucan form, since love of one's enemy was not current Jewish teaching. (Here “enemy” means “non-Israelite"; cf. the attitude of the Qumran community toward outsiders.)
Note the golden rule at the end of the first paragraph, a saying that Matthew places later in the sermon (Mt 7:12).
Of special interest is the saying that concludes the second paragraph: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Matthew places this saying in the same context, right after the saying about loving one's enemy. But his version reads: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Matthew, of course, has a special interest in the idea of perfection, as his treatment of the rich young man indicates (Mt 19:16-22). Hence it is likely that Luke's form represents the earlier reading.
This point is thoroughly biblical: a person's behavior toward others is to be the reflection of the treatment he or she receives from God. The biblical ethic is essentially one of response to God's treatment of his people—this is true both in the Old Testament and in the New.
In the Old Testament the Decalogue is given in the context of response to God's act of deliverance in bringing Israel out of Egypt.
The third paragraph, against judging others, which comes later in Matthew's version (Mt 7:1-2), uses a series of “reverential periphrases,” that is, roundabout ways of speaking about God and his action. Thus, you will not be judged … condemned … forgiven” means that God will not judge you, etc.
This paragraph seems to reverse the order of God's action and human action. In the previous paragraph the emphasis was on imitating God's treatment of us; here it is on God's responding in kind to our behavior. This apparent contradiction seems to run through much of Jesus' teaching, especially on forgiveness.
The point must be that while God in Christ has initiated forgiveness toward us, we must continue to show forgiveness to others if we are to remain in that forgiveness. We should avoid any suggestion of a quid-pro-quo relationship between ethics and rewards.
In closing this passage on judging, Luke has strengthened the exhortation to generosity and forbearance by the addition of verse 38a. Verse 38b is found also in Matthew.
Reginald H. Fuller
**From Saint Louis University