Writing in the New Jerome Biblical Commentary about Sunday's second reading (I Cor 15: 45-49), Rev. Jerome Murphy-O'Connor states: "Adam and Christ each represent a possibility of human existence, possibilities that are real since all are what Adam was and can become what Christ is."

As Paul sees it, "The first man, Adam, became a living being, the last Adam (Christ) a life-giving spirit." In other words, Adam received life; Christ gives life. It's a reality which Jesus' followers applaud. We've all received life from Him.

But the Apostle takes the concept one step further: "Just as we have borne the image of the earthly one (Adam), we shall also bear the image of the heavenly one (Christ)." Paul believes we receive life because we're other Adams, but he contends we also give life because we're other Christs. For most people, life is relatively easy to receive, but difficult to give. How does one go about bringing life to others?

Hesed

The author of I Samuel and Luke's Jesus are convinced that one way to give life is to practice "hesed."

We have no one English word which conveys the meaning of this important biblical concept. Hesed is what we do for another that's not only unexpected, but also beyond what anyone could demand of us. We usually find this Hebrew word in Scripture passages dealing with treaties or covenants.

Hesed is what someone does for a person with whom he or she is covenanting, something outside the responsibilities listed in the formal agreement. Specific acts of hesed are never named. If one were specified, it would become part of the responsibilities and cease being hesed. There's simply a mention in the agreement that each party will perform acts of hesed for the other. Nothing more. People are expected to figure out their own deeds of hesed.

Hesed gives life both to the covenant and to the covenant-makers. Without such spontaneous acts, covenant responsibilities eventually become a burden, and the covenant makers begin looking for loopholes to escape the pressure.

David clearly shows hesed in the first reading (I Sam 26: 2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23). Saul is leading an expedition to capture and kill him. Following general moral laws of self-defense, David's men expect him to kill Saul when and if the opportunity arrives. It does, both there and back in chapter 24 when David was close enough to the king to cut off part of the cloak he was wearing.

In this situation, one of David's men, Abishai, begs, "Let me nail him to the ground with one thrust of the spear; I will not need a second!"

David stops Abishai from killing the king, but takes Saul's spear and water jug. He later shows them to him at a distance and reminds him, "Today, though Yahweh delivered you into my grasp, I would not harm Yahweh's anointed."

Love and give

Jesus demands parallel acts of hesed from His followers. During the Sermon on the Plain (Lk 6: 27-38), Jesus proclaims, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Offer....Do not withhold.... Give....Do not demand. For the Most High is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful just as your father is merciful."

Jesus expects those who imitate Him and His Father to do the opposite of what is expected. Other Christs go beyond the norm, beyond the responsibilities most people assume, constantly doing what no one has a right to demand.

Acts of hesed always bring life, a life which acts of retaliation can never touch. They not only offer life to the person for whom the act is performed, but also to the person who performs them. If they didn't, Jesus would never have commanded they be integrated into our lives.

(02-15-01)