“Be merciful jus as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:38)
The whole of the Bible and Jesus in particular, shower more praise to faith more than love. Most of the stories of people who have been healed by Jesus were told. “Go, your faith has made you well.” Love is the greatest but faith is that patience with mystery that allows you to negotiate the levels that lead to love. Faith leads us to walk through the darkness and be able to arrive at the final destination which is love. According to Richard Rohr, “Love is the true goal, but faith is the process of getting there, and hope is the willingness to live without resolution or closure.”
To chose to love people, especially those who have given us no reason to love them, is deeply rooted faith in the unconditional love of God for us. If you have not experienced this unconditional love of God- where you see yourself in a situation undeserving of the love God has shown you, it will be hard to love people, especially your enemies. Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk and one of the most influential spiritual writers of the 20th century. He once gazed out upon the violence that people inflict upon each other and wrote, “The beginning of the fight against hatred, the basic Christian answer to hatred, is not the commandment bearable and comprehensible. It is a prior commandment to believe. The root Christian love is not the will to love, but the faith that one is loved.” If you do not know how much you are loved, you will not be able to love.
If you look at the person of David in the first reading, you ask yourself- why did he not grab the chance to stab Saul to death. Saul was delivered to him on a platter. David did not do that. Why? Because David knew his own story very well- how God chose him from among his elder brothers, most of whom were more ‘qualified’, more handsome, and stronger. His brothers had more pedigree than him. But God ignored them and chose David. So, David has experienced this undeserving love. And because he has experienced that, he believed in the unconditionality of love. When he had opportunity to kill Saul, he remembered that we do not treat people the way they are or deserve, but the way we are. Love is who we are. Only those who have experienced this love in their lives can give it to other people. Nobody gives what he does not have. Loving your enemy cannot make sense if you have not experienced God’s unconditional love or believed in it.
When you have this faith- the belief in this unconditional love of God and have experienced it- it gives you this freedom, which will make you not to react to people the way they treat you. Victor Frankl was a Jewish psychiatrist from Vienna who was imprisoned in a Nazi death camp. He wrote about the last of human freedoms being the ability ‘to choose one’s attitude to a given set of circumstances. In that situation of terrible confinement, almost every human freedom had been taken away, but not that final freedom, the freedom to choose one’s attitude to that degrading situation. It was this final freedom which, Frankl said, helped himself and others to survive even the most inhuman of situations. To love and not to hate, to bless and not to cure, to be merciful and not to be bitter. The choice is always there. There is a difference between reacting to something and responding to it. The easiest thing in the world is to react. Reaction is automatic, but responding takes thought and strength and control. The difference between Abishai and David in today’s first reading when they came upon their enemy Saul was that Abishai reacted by wanted to kill him on the spot, whereas David responded, recognizing that Saul was, nonetheless, the Lord’s anointed as the legitimate king of Israel.