As children we learned the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. But as we grew older, we realized that the world operates according to a slightly different version of that rule: Do unto others before they can do unto you! We were told: Don’t give an inch! Hit ‘em where it hurts! Many of us became convinced that the only way to get ahead was to get there first, and the only way to survive was to assume a defensive stance. Unfortunately, in many cases, this is all too true.
In his unique theological approach, Paul contrasts Adam, who was formed from the earth, and Christ, who came from heaven. The first was “a living being”; the second is a “life-giving spirit.” As always, Paul’s real concern is genuine Christian behavior. He argues that, though we were born in the image of the first man, by baptism we bear the image of the second. In other words, while we may be tempted to live according to society’s version of the rule, we are called to live the Gospel’s version.
It is hard enough to follow this rule when we are in charge of the situation, but what are we expected to do when we are in vulnerable circumstances? David had been a threat to Saul’s rule, so the king gathered a vast army and set out to kill him. When David had an opportunity to strike the king and save himself, he acknowledged that Saul was God’s chosen king, and therefore he spared his life. This is a striking example of respect and forgiveness.
The Golden Rule does not require that we allow others to take advantage of us. The Gospel gives examples of this. The one who was struck on the cheek was told to rise above the attack or insult and to show who really prevailed in the situation. The one who lost the cloak was directed to act in a like manner and to relinquish even the tunic. Both individuals refused to be victims or to retaliate. By their actions they said: I can outdo your violence toward me with my willingness to give freely much more than you sought to take from me. Thus they stand with David in his attitude toward Saul. They overcame evil with good.
Is it possible to forgive our enemies in a world torn by wars, economic disparity and exploitation of the vulnerable? We are not expected to overlook these evils, but “we bear the image of the heavenly one,” and we are called to forgive and not retaliate. We are called to be merciful, not vengeful. This is real heroism, and we are called to it.