1 Corinthians 15,45-49
This Sunday’s liturgy proclaims the so-called “discourse on the plain” of Luke’s gospel (cf. Lk 6,17), in which Jesus condenses the fundamental principles and essential values of the Christian disciple’s life. This treats of a true song to love and of pardon without limits, in the image of the Father, that is “kind to the ungrateful and the wicked” (Lk 6,35). Only assuming as one’s own the merciful behavior of God can a new humanity be created. The love of the disciple of Jesus is an action and a work that exceeds simple sentimentality; for this reason, it reaches out to those also that apparently, don’t deserve it.
The first reading (1 Sam 26: 2.7-9.12-13.22-23) makes us perceive in an account from the first book of Samuel the value of valiant and generous pardon, as conquest of the human spirit’s liberty and reflection of God himself in whom love conquers justice. This treats of the famous episode in the wilderness of Ziph, when David, having the possibility of finishing off with his adversary, chooses the path of pardon. For some time David, the young shepherd that had enrolled himself in the service of the king Saul, was persecuted to death by the same king that envied him on account of his popularity among the people. David had become an outlaw in the kingdom, obligated to live as a fugitive and a nomad in uninhabited places. For this reason, Saul “Saul set off and went down to the wilderness of Ziph, accompanied by three thousand men chosen from Israel to search for David” (v. 2). While the king slept, David and Abishai, his helper, drew near to the camp. It is the opportune moment for revenge. Abishai, in effect, advises David: “Today God has put your emery in your power” (v. 7). Nevertheless, David shows himself magnanimous to the extreme, respecting the life of the king and pardoning him. He stops himself by placing everything in the hands of God, and at the end of the account, from the other side of the mountain cries out to the king: “The Lord repays everyone for his uprightness and loyalty. Today the Lord put you in my power, but I would not raise my hand against the Lord’s anointed” (v. 23). David, before being king-shepherd of his people, comes to be for every Hebrew a model of mercy and of clemency.
The second reading (1 Cor 15,45-49) places us before an allegorical rereading that Paul makes of Genesis 2-3, in the light of the complex argument of the “two Adams” that existed already in Jewish and Hellenistic theology, above all in Philo of Alexandria. Leaving apart the complicated speculative ramifications about this theme, we recall only that which is essential to the Pauline message. For the Apostle, the Christian knows two phases: one terrestrial, “animal, natural, corruptible”; and the other “spiritual, celestial, incorruptible”. We are all born as Adam, terrestrial and sinful; but we are called to be similar to the perfect Adam, Christ, entering with him in glory. Adam, in effect, was created “as a living being” (Gn 2,7), only Christ is “spirit that gives life”.
The gospel (Lk 6,27-38) is constructed on two fundamental principles of life: “Treat others as you would like them to treat you” (v. 31) and “Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate” (v. 36).
The first principle: “Treat others as you would like them to treat you” (v. 31) makes up the so-called “golden rule” of human living together, on which just social relationships are founded and was already known in the Jewish tradition and other ethical and philosophical currents. The newness of the gospel is that Jesus expands this principle to the extreme, obligating his disciples not only to not do evil, but also rather to look for the good of others as we would like others to do with us. The maximum expression of this “treat compassionately” others is found in the love of enemies, that is concretized in the love of personal adversaries that exist in daily actual situations that are unjust and dishonest, and also in the respect and the tolerance of whoever is different from myself or who presents him or herself to me in an antagonistic or hostile way because of his or her way of thinking or acting. The exhortation of Jesus “love your enemies” is concretized in the “do good to those who hate you” (v. 27). This shows that the evangelical attitude in front of an adversary is not a disincarnated sentimentality; rather it is realized through concrete gestures of assistance and help looking for one’s good. This surprising behavior is manifested through the “blessing (eulogien) of the enemy that curses me (v. 28) and of the praying for one’s persecutors. The Greek very eulogein does not only mean “to bless”, but also “to praise”. This treats, therefore, of “blessing” “to speak-well”, of whoever curses me, of whomever “says-poorly” of me. The exhortation to pray for one’s enemies makes seen that love ought not to be the result of strategies and able tactics, of good education or of opportunism, but rather of a strong and fecund prayer that is seen in conversion of heart. Whoever does not pray for his or her adversary, will not be able to speak well of him or her, nor love him or her. The model of the prayer that prays for his enemies is Jesus crucified, that in the gospel of Luke affirms: “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they do” (Lk 23,34).
The gospel offers three concrete examples of this unlimited and strong love: “the slap”, “the cloak”, and “the loan”. These are only three selected examples to show how one ought to live in the concrete and everyday love of one’s enemy. In front of the most aggressive and unjust actions, the Christian never acts with violence, nor renounces the logic of gratuitous giving without limits in favor of others. Jesus, finally, adds an ultimate characteristic of this love. It ought not to be limited to the small circle of those “that love us”, thus this would be to follow the style of “sinners”, “that love those who love them”, based in the logic of interchange: to give to receive (v. 32-34). Whoever acts in this way is generous only in appearance; in reality, it has no merit, because it only is realized for one’s own personal interest.
In the 35th verse all of the anterior themes are resumed in a beautiful synthesis that is like the definition of being Christian: “Instead, love your enemies and do good, and lend without any hope of return. You will have a great reward, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked”. And so we connect with the second fundamental principle: “Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate” (v. 36). Now the model is infinite: the love of God. Only through this “imitation” of God do we become his sons (v. 35: “you will be sons of the Most High”). For Luke, merciful love is in the image of the Father, it is the unifying principle of all Christian existence. It is the fundamental part of the biblical creed, the affirmation of God as “loving and merciful God, slow to anger and rich in love and fidelity” (Ex 34,6). The disciple of Jesus assumes this very condition of God when, like Him, he manifests compassion and tenderness, efficacious love and fidelity toward others.
The text closes with two exhortations of Jesus that express the merciful attitude that every Christian ought to have. The first is: “Do not judge…do not condemn”. Here that which Jesus prohibits is not the discernment of that which is good or bad, but rather criticism and condemnation of others, that manifest the condition of superiority of whoever judges the person who is judged. And not only this, to judge and to condemn is to place oneself in the place of God, who is the only one who knows the heart, while man or woman sees only appearances (1 Sam 16,7). The second exhortation is “grant pardon, and you will be pardoned”. To the first part which is negative, a second positive part is added: Christian pardon, unlimited and full of mercy that recalls another sentence of Jesus: “If your brother does something wrong, rebuke him and, if he is sorry, forgive him. And if he wrongs you seven times a day and seven times come back to you and says, ‘I am sorry,’ you must forgive him” (Lk 17,3-4).
To underline the decisive importance of these attitudes, Jesus places his audience in an eschatological moment, when we all will compare ourselves before God. The secret to not being judged, nor condemned, and at the same time, to receive mercy, is to have it for others. In other words, the only possibility that man and woman have to avoid condemnation from God and to be chosen with mercy, is to abstain from judging and condemning one’s brother or sister and to always pardon them. The destiny of the disciple is decided each day on the basis of mercy. “In the evening of life you will be judged on love” (St. John of the Cross).