Today’s Bible readings
You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. — Matthew 5:43-45
Read I Samuel 24
[An excerpt] “Now’s your opportunity!” David’s men whispered to him. “Today the Lord is telling you, ‘I will certainly put your enemy into your power, to do with as you wish.’” So David crept forward and cut off a piece of the hem of Saul’s robe.
But then David’s conscience began bothering him because he had cut Saul’s robe. He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do this to my lord the king. I shouldn’t attack the Lord’s anointed one, for the Lord himself has chosen him.” So David restrained his men and did not let them kill Saul.
After Saul had left the cave and gone on his way, David came out and shouted after him, “My lord the king!” And when Saul looked around, David bowed low before him.
Then he shouted to Saul, “Why do you listen to the people who say I am trying to harm you? This very day you can see with your own eyes it isn’t true. For the Lord placed you at my mercy back there in the cave. Some of my men told me to kill you, but I spared you. For I said, ‘I will never harm the king—he is the Lord’s anointed one.’ Look, my father, at what I have in my hand. It is a piece of the hem of your robe! I cut it off, but I didn’t kill you. This proves that I am not trying to harm you and that I have not sinned against you, even though you have been hunting for me to kill me.
“May the Lord judge between us. Perhaps the Lord will punish you for what you are trying to do to me, but I will never harm you. As that old proverb says, ‘From evil people come evil deeds.’ So you can be sure I will never harm you. Who is the king of Israel trying to catch anyway? Should he spend his time chasing one who is as worthless as a dead dog or a single flea? May the Lord therefore judge which of us is right and punish the guilty one. He is my advocate, and he will rescue me from your power!”
More thoughts for meditation
Saul is David’s enemy in this story. Saul is trying to kill David. And David has a chance in this moment to take revenge on his enemy. He could kill Saul. He doesn’t do that. He restrains himself. And then he explains why. He lets God judge and doesn’t judge himself. He removes from himself the role of avenger or punisher. He recognizes that when he does evil, that evil would be coming from within him, even if it was done in response to evil.
David lets God judge. He doesn’t seem to be absolutely sure who is right and who is wrong. He leaves space for it to be true that he may have been wrong. He doesn’t think he himself is wrong, but he leaves open a small crack for the possibility that perhaps there is something in his own heart, too, that is wrong. David’s soul lives in the land of “search me, God” and “perhaps.” Even when David thinks he is right – even when it seems clear and obvious that he’s being wronged by someone trying to kill him – he leaves room for his own doubt and for God’s correction. It is his willingness to be found wrong that stands out.
David also lets God punish. David says “Perhaps the Lord will punish you for what you are trying to do to me, but I will never harm you.” The key here is not that David is waiting for God to punish others, but that he removed from himself his own role as punisher. Maybe God will punish – maybe not – I don’t know – God is God and will do what He will do. But as for me, it is not my role to punish people.
David names that if he himself did evil, then he himself would be responsible for that evil. David leaves room for “maybe I am wrong” but he doesn’t leave any room for “the other bad guy made me do bad things.” David is cutting off the idea of vengeance. He seems to believe that if he were to do wrong – even in response to his enemies’ wrong – that that wrong is fully on him. Jesus says your soul is worth cutting off your hand. David seems to think his soul is worth more than vengeance. Jesus says that it’s not what goes into you that makes you unclean, but what comes out. David indicates that the things coming at him (murder, insult, rage from Saul) cannot make him unclean, but if he were to act with evil himself, that would make him unclean. Despite the huge evil hurled at him, David insists that he is solely responsible for his own actions and for any evil that would come out of him.
These three ideas – punishment and judgment and the source of evil – go together. We may tell ourselves all the time that we aren’t punishing people, but punishment and judgment are inextricably linked. The path away from punishment begins with walking away from judgment. It begins with thinking, “Maybe I am right. Maybe I am not. God will have to judge.”
Suggestions for action
When you perceive today that you are wronged, pause. Try imagining in your mind a dialogue with the person who has wronged you. Imagine saying to them,“May the Lord judge between us. Perhaps you are right. Perhaps you are wrong. Perhaps God will repay you for that wrong. But I will not repay you wrong for wrong. I will let the Lord judge between us.”
Pray: “Dear One, You ask us to love our enemies. You ask us to pray for those who wish to harm us. You show us that your true children let you judge rather than taking judgement into their hands. Help me to love my enemies. Help me to pray for those who wish to harm me. Help me to let you judge rather than taking judgment into my own hands.”
Today is Peter and Paul Day! Honor the practical founders of the Church at Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body.