One of the more compelling—and perhaps more complicated—persons in the Old Testament is a man we find in the first reading this morning: King David. One of the first times we are introduced to David in the Scriptures is in that well-known encounter with the giant Philistine named Goliath. David takes down Goliath with just a sling and a stone, and he goes on to quickly win the hearts of the people. He becomes the most beloved king in the history of Israel.
But again, although he is a compelling man, a charismatic leader, he is also somewhat complicated. We know David is far from perfect. As well known as the story is of David and Goliath, so also is the infamous story of David and Bathsheba. To cover up the sin of adultery, David commits the sin of murder by sending Uriah the Hitite, Bathsheba’s husband, to the front lines in battle.
Yet even after that colossal failure David is able to come back again, full circle, and return wholeheartedly to the Lord. In his tremendous sorrow and deep contrition he writes one of the most beautiful hymns of repentance and renewal ever recorded in the Book of Psalms (Psalm 51). He is, in many respects, a towering figure in the Old Testament.
But it is in the New Testament, in the Acts of the Apostles, that St. Paul reminds us of the greatest accolade David ever received. St. Paul quotes the beautiful words of God Himself, who said “I have found David, Son of Jesse, to be a man after my own heart” (Acts 13:22). Can you imagine how we would feel if God were to say those words about us, if He were to say that we were men or women after His own heart?
Our first reading this weekend, from the First Book of Samuel, gives us a glimpse of why God might have said that. It is the story of King Saul, Israel’s first king, who has gathered 3,000 men to hunt down David in the desert of Ziph. He is seeking to destroy David not because he is an enemy of the state, or a threat to the people of Israel, but because David is a threat to Saul’s own pride! The people had quickly taken to David, they loved him; and Saul feared that David would soon take the throne so he seeks to take David’s life.
But in our reading the tables have turned. God has delivered Saul into the hands of David, to do with him as he chooses. David now has his chance to even the score. Yet, remarkably, he doesn’t do it! Just as surprising is the language David uses when he addresses King Saul. Holding the spear that could have easily ended Saul’s life, he says to him:
Today, though the Lord delivered you into my grasp, I would not harm the Lord’s anointed.
—1 Samuel 26:23
Notice that he does not say, “I would not harm you, the one who came out to harm me,” or “I would not harm you, my enemy,” or “You who are filled with jealousy and pride.” No. He says to Saul “I would not harm the Lord’s anointed.” That is whom David sees: the one chosen and anointed by God to lead the people of Israel. David looked at King Saul and saw what God saw. David loved King Saul the way God loved him. That is what is at the very heart of our very challenging gospel this weekend. Jesus challenges all of us to look at the people in our lives the way David looked at Saul. He addresses us in that Sermon on the Plain and says:
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you . . .Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Do those words sound difficult to you? Think of the people in your life that you have had conflicts with. Think of those who have said or done things to you that were harmful or perhaps even hateful. Christ is saying so much more than “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). We certainly hear that “Golden Rule” in this Sermon on the Plain. But what Jesus is saying to us is that we are to look at these people in our lives and see them as God sees them.
That is not something that is difficult. It is nearly impossible, without the grace and help of God. What God is asking of us is that we love like He loves, and forgive as He forgives. Who among us could do that? We would have to have a heart like God’s. He would literally have to give us a heart like His. What we need is a heart transplant. St. Paul, in our second reading, tells us that we’ve got one!
He speaks of the first Adam and the earthly image that each of us are created in. But he goes on to talk about the last Adam, Jesus Christ, and the heavenly image that we are all called to share. God has come to us in the person of Jesus Christ and taken on a human heart: a heart that could be broken, and rejected, and scorned, and hated. With that heart, God’s only response, in Christ, is to love: He loves those who persecute Him, prays for those who oppose Him, forgives those who come out against Him. Jesus Christ follows His own counsel and command to the letter as He is being crucified, and prays, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
The reason why Christ endures such agony and loves so deeply is so that, in taking on our human nature and our human heart, He might bring us to share in His divine nature. He comes to give us all a heart like God, a heart filled with love and compassion. It is only by the grace and mercy of God that we can truly love our enemies, and do good to those who hate us.
This week, might this gospel challenge us to seek the supernatural help and strength we need to see the world the way God sees it, and to love the way God loves. And when the people in our lives look at us—even in the midst of our own imperfections and failures—might they also see what God and St. Paul saw in King David: that we, too, are men and women after God’s own heart.