The first reading and the responsorial psalm feature a common element. Both David, the author of Psalm 51, and Ahab were kings of Israel who were guilty of murdering someone because they had something or someone that they wanted. David wanted Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. Ahab wanted the vineyard of Naboth. Uriah and Naboth were both killed by the respective king. True, neither David nor Ahab were the actual murderers. However, they both set the wheels in motion guaranteeing the death of their rival.
They have something else in common as well. They both repent of their sins. God relents in punishing David and Ahab directly and passes the punishment on to their sons. I am sure that we find this disturbing. It hardly seems fair of God to punish the innocent for their guilty fathers. It isn’t fair and it doesn’t fit our image of God. So we have to read these bits of the Hebrew Scriptures understanding their perspective of the covenant relationship. You might remember the story of Abram and God striking a covenant by walking together through the slaughtered corpses of animals. In so doing, they were actually saying, “May this happen to me if I break the covenant.”
Jesus brings us a different image of God. The Sermon on the Mount asks us to love our enemies and to pray for them. We have heard these words so many times. Despite that, we don’t have to look far to realize that revenge is still a powerful motive in our own times and in our own culture. All too often we hark back to the “eye for an eye” kind of religion.
When Jesus asks us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, he is simply telling us that God’s perfection is best found in God’s mercy. We are all sinners and in need of that mercy. Each day we ask to be forgiven as we forgive. These are powerful words that need to be repeated again and again lest we suffer the same fate as David and Ahab.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator