This was originally given as a sermon on January 24, 2020 at Montreal Diocesan Theology College. It is based on that day’s Eucharist lectionary passage for the Anglican Church of Canada, which was 1 Samuel 24:2-20.
Predictably, I started writing this sermon by farming Twitter for advice. One person suggested using the first lesson to talk about pacifism, and I immediately bristled at the idea. King David was no pacifist.
The Bible records a song, “Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” King David paid for his wife Michal with 100 Philistine foreskins. Let that sink in. King David killed and posthumously circumcised—which is not only corpse mutilation, but a kind of cultural genocide—100 Philistines one afternoon so that he could marry another one of King Saul’s daughters. Because one wife wasn’t enough. David’s hands were so blood-stained that God would not let him build God’s temple.
This passage is an enigma in the violent life of King David: not only does he do no physical harm to someone who is trying to kill him, he feels guilty for the social harm that he does cause by cutting off a piece of Saul’s robe. Verse 6 tells us why: Saul is the Lord’s anointed.
Numerous times, I’ve heard church leaders hold up this passage as an example of why King David was called “a man after God’s own heart”: he would not dare interrupt the God-given authority that Saul carried, and his righteousness caused Saul to repent. This way of reading the passage comes from a position of power, and does not hold up for those without it.
On Monday, the United States celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. day, and my Facebook feed was flooded with MLK quotes about “love,” and “dreams,” and “brotherhood,” shared by well-meaning Christians who enjoy a whitewashed and sanitized version of Dr. King’s legacy. Their Dr. King fought for integration through eloquent sermons and prophetic magnetism: he was not threatened by the FBI, he did not block roads, he certainly never spoke out against capitalism or the Vietnam war. His dream is fulfilled, and like King David, he accomplished his mission by treating those in authority with such honor that they saw the wickedness of their ways and repented.
But that is not the vision, nor legacy, nor methodology of Dr. King. Dr. King’s pacifism was not a deference to power. It was certainly not a belief that the powers that be were God’s anointed. Dr. Kinng affirmed the God-chosenness of all people, especially the oppressed.
King David was only concerned about the lives of those within his community. Saul was an Israelite, and an anointed Israelite King no less. Despite his injustices, he deserved the preferential treatment of one within the community. The Philistines and others who stood in David’s way were nothing. They deserved to be killed and cast aside, because they were outsiders.
Now, I don’t suspect that those in the chapel this morning have any intention of cutting off Philistine foreskins any time soon. We are far more peaceable than a blood-stained ancient king. But we all participate in the sin of King David, considering the lives of our neighbors and leaders more important than those we do not see. We may try to “love our enemies” in the Trump supporters, or the CAQ leaders advancing the discriminatory Loi 21. But who are our enemies? Are they merely those who oppose us from within our own communities and affinity groups? Do they look like us? Talk like us? Sleep in houses like our own?
In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. King said, “I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states… We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Dr. King fought segregation for the sake of his community, but he also fought against the economic injustice that plagues people of all races. He fought the needless violence of the Vietnam war, because enemies overseas were no more deserving of violence than enemies at home. Because we are all tied together. None of us is free until we’re all free.
When Jesus says to love your enemy, I believe that his vision is not that of King David, but of Dr. King. And we are not just called to love our enemies, but all people, including those we do not see as our enemies, but disregard nonetheless.
So I ask you, who are we leaving out? Who does not have a seat at our table? When we love our enemies, who are we missing? Do we love our homophobic Christian enemies at the expense of the queer community? Do we love the racist neighbors in our churches at the expense of our siblings of color? Who is suffering most? Who are we leaving out?
Dr. King speaks of a negative peace from the moderate white churches, that merely masks injustice rather than resolving it. He chastises the white clergy who were praising the Birmingham police force: “I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys; if you were to observe them, as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together.” We must not let our love for the enemies who are like us drown out the cries of those who they are oppressing.
King David is, in fact, performing an act of radical non-violence by confronting Saul. There is no doubt that his life is at risk—If Saul hadn’t repented, he likely would have killed David the moment he saw him. But this is not a “go and do likewise.” This is a call to go beyond the imperfect example set forth in Scripture, to embrace the radical call of Christ.
Let us now consider our own communities. Who are the “enemies” within them? Who are the “enemies” outside of our communities? Who are the people we disregard, to whom we do not offer the same dignity as the “enemies” we work so hard to love? Take some time today, to think of a community who you have inadvertently or intentionally ignored. Take five minutes, and pray for them.
Because legacy of Dr. King shows us that it is not just the King Sauls, but the nameless, faceless Philistines, those who are marginalized, those who are outside of our communities, and those who do not even cross our minds: we are called to love, not only the enemies within our communities, but we are also called to love the enemies outside of our communities, and we are called to love those who we most often forget.
When King David confronts Saul, he calls him “my father.” This should give us hope. For in Christ, we must call all people—our neighbors, our enemies who are like us, and the enemies we disregard—we must call them my father, my mother, my parent. My brother, my sister, my sibling.