Discerning the Spirit of the Law within the Letter of the Law:
In today’s first reading, 1 Samuel 24: 3-21, Saul with 3000 warriors goes out “in the direction of the wild goat crags searching for David to kill him. They come to “the sheepfolds along the way,…found a cave, which [Saul] entered.” He does not realize that “David and his men were occupying the inmost recesses of [that] cave.” According to the letter of the law, David could have killed Saul that day but didn’t. David, who cuts off the end of Saul’s mantle, says to his men, who are encouraging him to put an end to Saul’s life: “The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, as to lay a hand on him, for he is the Lord’s anointed.”
David discerns the spirit of the law, not choosing to follow the letter of the law, in which case, he would have been in the right to kill Saul in self-defense. We, too, are living the letter of the law when, for instance, we ask how far can we go before committing sin, any sin, or when we make a choice on the basis of “I won’t get caught.” We know many people who go way beyond the written word and live a deep spiritual life based on love, on selfless giving, willing to go the extra mile, following the Spirit’s lead, and willing to help another, a neighbor or a family member even when such a person, according the letter of the law, does not deserve that good things be done for him/her.
Discernment includes looking deeply into the depth of one’s heart, as David did following his heart’s intuitive sense of what is right or wrong, listening to the inner voice of his spirit in sync with the Spirit of God residing within him. Like David, we need to stop running, stand up to those who are urging us to do their will instead of the will of the One who is everyone’s inner Guide.