Seventh Sunday - C - 2019 Samuel 26: 7-23. Corinth. 15: 45-49. Luke 6: 27-38.
It wasn't until, in the seminary, I began to seriously study the Bible as part of our theological studies that I was introduced to the word hesed. It is a word difficult to translate. No single word in the English language captures its meaning. Translators use words like 'kindness', 'mercy', 'loyalty'. Perhaps 'loyal love' is close.
Hesed is one of the richest, most powerful words in the Scriptures. It reflects the loyal love that people, committed to the God of the Bible should have for one another. It is not a 'mood'; nor is it primarily something people 'feel'. It is something people do for others who have no claim on them. It is a pivotal biblical concept and is such, to the extent that if we do not regularly engage in hesed we will start cutting corners on our responsibilities. Indeed many treaties and covenants insist on hesed. It is inserted after the enumeration of each party's obligations to the other. They simply state, beyond these obligations of our contract, we also promise hesed to one another. Performed correctly it makes what we are obligated to for others a pleasant experience.
Why is that? Because it brings an element of freedom into situations in which our obligations have removed freedom.
To-day's three readings not only give us hesed examples, they also provide us with the biblical reason behind it: David's refusal to kill his enemy Saul provides us with a classical example of hesed. Abishai cannot believe the raiding party's good fortune - 'God has delivered your enemy into your grasp. Let me nail him to the ground with one thrust of the spear'. David's refusal to let him do so is almost incomprehensible. But it is an act of freedom in a situation where few would have exercised freedom. And David later informs Saul from a safe distance, 'Though God delivered you into my grasp, I could not harm Yahweh's anointed'. Turning to our gospel passage for to-day - it is total hesed:
'Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.....Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the the one who takes what is yours, do not demand it back.
Jesus' reason for such unexpected behavior is simple - that is the way God acts in our lives.. 'be merciful just as your father is merciful....be children of the Most High'.
As we see in the second reading. Paul, some 30 years before Luke had delivered Jesus' words on the subject, had grounded his Christian communities in the principles of hesed. Contrasting Adam and Jesus, he reminds his readers that Adam 'was from the earth, earthly', but Jesus is 'from heaven'. Then he presents his conclusion: 'Just as we have borne the image of the earthly one, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly one'
In other words, by imitating Jesus' death and resurrection, we have been transformed into other Christs - we have acquired the mind of Christ, taking on his value system. If Jesus taught and practiced hesed we are to do the same. It is a small way to share in the freedom of God. And once we take that step, the things we are obligated to do will become much more enjoyable.