David has to be one of the most attractive personalities of the whole Bible. When the prophet Samuel was sent to anoint a new king of Israel, David was not even considered a possibility by his father Jesse. He was the youngest, a shepherd. But Samuel insisted that Jesse call him. In the first book of Samuel David is described as ruddy, handsome and of beautiful eyes and when Samuel sees him he hears the Lord say, “Up! This is the one! Anoint him!” There is no news of how his brothers reacted to that, but I am sure they were all a bit surprised to say the least. The text says that, no sooner was David anointed than the Spirit of the Lord “fell on him.” God literally fell for David, but not because of any external appearance. No, the scripture makes clear that God loved David’s heart. It is about David that those powerful words were spoken, “Man look at appearances. God looks at the heart.” Elsewhere it is said that God chose David because he was “a man after my own heart.”
The next important thing we hear of David is that he slays Goliath. This becomes a turning point in his relationship with King Saul. Saul gets jealous and suspects David of wanting to usurp his throne, unaware that Samuel had already anointed him king. It’s made worse by the fact that Saul’s son Jonathan had become a close friend of David’s. Saul makes a point of trying to trick and trap David and eventually he embarks on an all-out hunt of him. David is aghast and does not understand Saul’s murderous rage.
So, we come to the scene in today’s first reading. Saul has taken no less than 3,000 chosen men to hunt for David. But since God is on David’s side, David has nothing to fear. “The Lord is at my side: whom shall I fear? Even if an army encamp against me, even then would I trust.” Even although God is on David’s side, he puts David to the test in the incident in question.
Saul and his army are in a “deep sleep from the Lord.” God has made Saul a sitting duck thereby increasing the pressure on David. The deep sleep allows David and his companion Abisha to walk right up to where Saul is lying. I am sure Abisha’s expressed desire to kill Saul must have crossed David’s own mind. Abisha’s words about how easy the target was must also have further tempted David to kill. But David is bigger than that. His first thought is not himself and the ascendancy to power or vengeance against someone who hated him so much. No, his first thought is: here at my feet lies the anointed one of the Lord. Saul had been anointed king of Israel; he was therefore still sacred to the Lord, even although the Lord had rejected him as king in favour of David. And so, David will not raise his hand against Saul, out of fear of God, out of respect for God’s choice and will. He puts all natural, human feelings aside, however justifiable, by not taking vengeance. David shows that his heart is worthy of God, that he is indeed a man “after God’s own heart.” He passes the test God put before him with flying colours. He puts God before himself and shows pity and magnanimity to Saul.
The story ends with David crying out to Saul, holding Saul’s spear in his hand which he had taken from beside his head while he was sleeping. Saul in response has a change of heart. David’s goodness to him had made him see his own folly and he repented.
This incident in David’s life illustrates what Jesus is saying in the Gospel. Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you. David was compassionate as the Father is compassionate. The Spirit of God that had fallen on David enabled him to think and act in God’s way, but David had to cooperate with the Spirit. He had to say no to the logic of vengeance and oppose his friend who wanted to act out in vengeance. He had to lay aside the fact that, humanly speaking, he would have been justified in not forgiving Saul. He had to walk away from the temptation. He kept God before his eyes and let God guide his judgment, decision and action. In this, David foreshadows Jesus himself. Jesus died for those who wanted him dead; he overcame the hatred and sin of the whole of humanity with love on the Cross. He overcame justice with mercy.
Like David, the Christian is called to live by the higher standard of overcoming evil with good. St. Paul speaks in the second reading of the earthly man, Adam, and of the heavenly man, Christ. David acted as a heavenly man in sparing Saul’s life. His companion Abishai was thinking, and would have acted, in an earthly way. Saul himself was behaving in an earthly way towards David. The Lord understands our earthly ways; he knows we are children of Adam. But Jesus is the new Adam who has given us the heavenly Spirit to empower us to act in a heavenly way, i.e. to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us, and so on.
Loving and forgiving our enemies and praying for those who hate and persecute us is the hallmark of the Christian. It is evidence that the Spirit of God has fallen on us and that the Crucified Jesus is in us. It is proof that we are children of the Father not only in name but in reality. No-one is saying that it is easy. To forgive is part of the way of the Cross. The prayer of Jesus, “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do”, did not fall easily off the lips of Jesus. It came at the crucified price of his own blood. Forgiving others does not mean that we have to feel warm about them. It is not a matter of feelings but of spiritual freedom. The one who forgives his enemies is truly free in spirit even if at the level of sentiment he experiences aversion towards his enemy. We are not saved because we feel good about others or ourselves but because we have made the moral and spiritual decision to want the true good of others and of ourselves and have acted on it.
Forgiveness liberates us from the prison of resentment. It releases our hearts and souls from the festering wounds of hatred and rejection. If I do not forgive, I myself am the one to suffer most from it. A heart that won’t forgive is enslaved; a heart that forgives knows the freedom of God himself. If I do forgive, it will bring healing and peace, even if the other does not care about or want my forgiveness. To forgive is divine. The forgiveness we have received from our human God, Jesus, empowers us to forgive in our turn and become divine men and women, a race of the heavenly upon the earth.
David disarmed Saul not only by taking his spear but by forgiving him for persecuting him. Saul was fast asleep when David showed him mercy. We, too, can forgive and disarm our enemies without their having to know it. Let us put down the weapons of vengeance, resentment and unforgivingness and be armed with the divine weapons of forgiveness and mercy. Let the Lord look on our hearts and see that we have become men and women with the heart of Christ, even if, like Christ, our own hearts are pierced with a spear.