This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
1 Samuel 20:24-42
New King James Version (NKJV)
24 Then David hid in the field. And when the New Moon had come, the king sat down to eat the feast. 25 Now the king sat on his seat, as at other times, on a seat by the wall. And Jonathan arose,[a] and Abner sat by Saul’s side, but David’s place was empty. 26 Nevertheless Saul did not say anything that day, for he thought, “Something has happened to him; he is unclean, surely he is unclean.” 27 And it happened the next day, the second day of the month, that David’s place was empty. And Saul said to Jonathan his son, “Why has the son of Jesse not come to eat, either yesterday or today?”
28 So Jonathan answered Saul, “David earnestly asked permission of me to go to Bethlehem. 29 And he said, ‘Please let me go, for our family has a sacrifice in the city, and my brother has commanded me to be there. And now, if I have found favor in your eyes, please let me get away and see my brothers.’ Therefore he has not come to the king’s table.”
30 Then Saul’s anger was aroused against Jonathan, and he said to him, “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman! Do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness? 31 For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, you shall not be established, nor your kingdom. Now therefore, send and bring him to me, for he shall surely die.”
32 And Jonathan answered Saul his father, and said to him, “Why should he be killed? What has he done?” 33 Then Saul cast a spear at him to kill him, by which Jonathan knew that it was determined by his father to kill David.
34 So Jonathan arose from the table in fierce anger, and ate no food the second day of the month, for he was grieved for David, because his father had treated him shamefully.
35 And so it was, in the morning, that Jonathan went out into the field at the time appointed with David, and a little lad was with him. 36 Then he said to his lad, “Now run, find the arrows which I shoot.” As the lad ran, he shot an arrow beyond him. 37 When the lad had come to the place where the arrow was which Jonathan had shot, Jonathan cried out after the lad and said, “Is not the arrow beyond you?” 38 And Jonathan cried out after the lad, “Make haste, hurry, do not delay!” So Jonathan’s lad gathered up the arrows and came back to his master. 39 But the lad did not know anything. Only Jonathan and David knew of the matter. 40 Then Jonathan gave his weapons to his lad, and said to him, “Go, carry them to the city.”
41 As soon as the lad had gone, David arose from a place toward the south, fell on his face to the ground, and bowed down three times. And they kissed one another; and they wept together, but David more so. 42 Then Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, since we have both sworn in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘May the Lord be between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants, forever.’” So he arose and departed, and Jonathan went into the city.
I’ve given this passage in the fairly literal translation of the New King James Version, which keeps the phrase, “To the shame of your mother’s nakedness” in verse 30. This has been claimed by certain commentators to be a reference to David’s alleged homosexual relationship with Jonathan, that is, it shames his mother’s sexuality by being different. This is a poor and biased interpretation.
Saul is in effect claiming that Jonathan’s friendship with David makes him “no son of his” rendering his mother a whore, whose sexual parts are therefore abhorrent. The word “nakedness” is used in scripture as a kind of reversed metonymy in which the whole, the naked body, stands for the part, the sexual organs of man or woman. Jonathan brings shame on his mother’s sexual organs by behaving like a bastard child, without loyalty. We might reasonably translate, “bringing shame on your mother’s womb.” Saul’s violent words express brutal patriarchal anger; they have nothing whatsoever to do with homosexuality.
The passage depicts directly the love and loyalty of two men across dynastic division . As David recognises by his bowing, Jonathan takes the greater risk out of loyalty to his friend. The author sees their mutual affection and grief at being parted, as natural and even heroic behaviour.
And notice where the Lord is. He is “between you and me”, the Beyond in the midst of life. The Lord will not perform supernatural tricks, nor will he usurp the place of a human agent. Instead he will be present to the faith of those who trust in him, blessing faithful friendship. We can’t be sure that we will never hurt our dear ones or let them down, nor will God force us to be loyal; but we can pray that God will be between us, in the space where our lives are intermingled with theirs, and His.
Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist teacher, speaks of this space as the “interbeing”; reminding us that our separated identities are only a convenient fiction which we can discard in our moments of enlightenment. Such moments of shared identity will be our greatest joy, but also, as in the leavetaking of David and Jonathan, our greatest sorrow.