Sunday Reflection, Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Fr. Joseph Briody, Professor
Saul, the first King of Israel, seems to get a raw deal! Today’s first reading (1 Sam 26) presents one of two occasions when David spared Saul’s life. Saul was rejected by God early in his reign for disobedience and David was anointed king. Saul, however, had no intention of stepping aside. So why didn’t David destroy Saul since Saul had made several attempts to destroy him?
David was not Saul. David would not lift his hand against the Lord’s anointed. David was a man after the Lord’s heart (1 Sam 13:14). David would entrust his cause to the Lord, wait for the Lord, and be vindicated by him. David would pray through his temptations. As a result, he would not destroy. In pouring out his heart to the Lord—something we glimpse in the Psalms—David is empowered by the Lord not to destroy. For this reason Psalms 57, 58, and 59 in Jewish tradition are chanted to a melody called “Do not destroy” (see 1 Sam 26:9; cf. Ps 57, 58, 59). David gives everything to the Lord who would surely provide. David did not need to force events, to destroy Saul, or grasp the kingdom. Saul’s attempts at forcing, destroying, and grasping left him only empty-handed and fallen on Mount Gilboa.
Saul’s failure lay in his lack of trust in the Lord. His personal relationship with the Lord was lacking. While David and Samuel were continually interacting with the Lord, Saul hardly ever speaks directly to the Lord except in public ceremony or pious cliché. Saul hardly prays at all! Saul’s lack of trust in the Lord renders him incapable of obedience or devotion or leadership of God’s people. Instead, Saul is seized by fear and self-doubt. Seized by paranoia and rage, Saul madly seeks control and flails around in an envious and murderous frenzy.
The difference between Saul and David lies in the heart. David was a man after the Lord’s own heart. David’s lineage opens a way for God to enter the world and save. The Son of God comes as the Son of David. David’s magnanimous sparing of Saul provides a glimpse of the reign of the divine Son of David described in today’s Gospel: “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you . . . Love your enemies and do good to them . . . Be merciful, as your Father is merciful.” Very different from Saul! The Second Reading takes us beyond the contrast between Saul and David to a greater distinction between the Old Adam the New—the difference between nature and grace, the unspiritual and the spiritual, the earthly and the heavenly (1 Cor 15:45-49).
Saint John’s Seminary forms men after the heart of Christ, intimate with the Lord who speaks “heart to heart” (Cardinal Newman). Growing in self-knowledge and attuned to the movements of the human heart, our seminarians become better equipped to help others on the journey to God. Much of pastoral ministry—described by Gregory the Great as the “art of arts”—involves personal encounter, heart speaking to heart. Our future priests strive to lay aside self-interest and allow the Lord to work. Formed as shepherds after the heart of God, they hope to serve his holy people and feed them with knowledge and understanding (Jer 3:15). Setting aside the ways of Saul and the Old Adam, they desire to be good shepherds like David and David’s Greater Son.
Forming Disciples. Proclaiming Jesus Christ.
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