how we learn

David asked, ‘Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul to whom I may show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?’ (2 Sam 9)

I thought I knew this story of David and Johnathon and Saul, but the (C of E) daily prayer lectionary has caught me off guard again. You know the broad brush strokes: At first we have Saul, loved by God, and chosen to be King. Then David comes along, and is loved by both Saul and Saul’s son’s Johnathon. But as David and Jonathon grow up and Saul grows old, Saul gets suspicious. God’s favour rests on David, and God (terribly) abandons Saul. Saul’s jealousy leads to madness, and he ends up waging war against young David whom he loved. But David and Johnathon’s love proves different: it binds them through war and betrayal, and ultimately beyond death. So, todays’ passage, ‘is there anyone left to whom I can show kindness for Jonathon’s sake?’ evokes both pain and love instantly.

But it’s what happens next that is interesting. There is one person left to whom David can show love: Jonathon’s son Mephibosheth, who is crippled. David takes the boy, who is lame in both feet, and restores all of Saul’s land and wealth to him. David takes on his servants, and tells them to till the land for Mephibosheth’s sake, so there will always be food for him — and for the servants. And then he makes Mephibosheth a part of his household so that Mephibosheth for ever eats at David’s table and is raised as his son. Because David loved Johnathon he learned to welcome his son.

So what? you say. David took on Jonathon’s son. I grant, it’s not earth shattering put like that. But remember: Mephibosheth was crippled; lame in both his feet. And just chapters before, we read this:

David… said on that day, ‘Whoever wishes to strike down the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack the lame and the blind, those whom David hates.’

So, David’s love for Johnathon leads him not only to take on Jonathon’s son, but to change his mind: the crippled boy becomes part of his family. One whom he loves. The lame and the blind sit down together to eat.

And no doubt some said it was an abomination: The crippled cannot be given land and status. They cannot be loved and treated as equals. You can see the sign of their sins in the flesh. Everyone knows they are sick and need to be cured. And unless they are cured, they are defective, defiled. Accursed.

Well, David had thought so too, till love taught him better.

You know where I’m going with this, don’t you?

There have been lots of conversations over the past few weeks about how Christians should understand homosexuality. Prejudices, assumptions and bible verses mix, for good and for ill. For salvation and destruction.

I do believe that we can take scripture seriously and affirm and bless committed, faithful relationships between people of the same gender. And we could sit down and read scripture together so that I could show you why I think that.

But I wonder if any of us really change our minds first by looking at scripture. Or does it always happen as it did for David, when we find that we love someone who shatters our expectations and opens our eyes to something new?

10 thoughts on “how we learn”

  1. I’d say the latter. I think it happens time and time again. Good post, BTW – you going to preach this? 🙂

  2. Look, I was there – that day the young king, as he liked to thik of himself, though the grey was starting to show – yes the young king plunged into noble rescue mode – Oh yes, he really did do noble. Made up for lacking anything in he way of birth and going for King and not Judge, if you ask me. So young Mephibosheth hobbles in, and I hear Absolom say: ‘Well, at least he could never be a threat’ – Absolom is part smiling, part disapproving, and part just plain admiring.

    Me? No I never liked the young King – never.

  3. I’m with Chris on this one. It was certainly how I became reconciled to the ordination of women!

  4. Further to conversation today, I see that dyslexia rules KO?

    I meant Absalom, of course.

  5. Kimberly – thanks for this. I am used to exploring David’s lament for Saul and Jonathon with LGBT folk exploring their sexuality, but had not thought to use the further evidence of the depth of the love between David and Jonathon in terms of the notion of a commitment that goes beyond death.

    Like you I suspect most folk don’t change their minds on any of their pre-existing views when they first read the Bible. My experience has been almost invariably that folk who read the Bible in a traditional way meet a crisis point in their own lives and have to re-evaluate how they read the texts. It is at this stage that the nuances of difference begin to penetrate their reading and challenge their assumptions.

    Of course, for LGBT folk the first readings of their Bibles as ’emerging gays’ just tend to reinforce typical values and prejudices to which they have already been exposed. In the same way as every one else, it’s a spiritual crisis point that might lead them to challenge the received wisdom on how to read the Bible. (This perhaps goes back to your earlier posting on how we pursue holiness and it certainly fits with + Gene’s metaphor of wrestling with the Bible).

    Just to add to the idea of commitment: I was at the blessing of a civil partnership in England two weeks ago and heard for the first time, a group of people publicly voice their commitment to support the relationship of the gay couple. This is the first time I have ever heard such a commitment, spoken as a group, for two people of the same gender. As many of my friends are gay I have only been to a couple of weddings as an adult and they were both Catholic masses (quite different – the congregations make a pledge but it seemed to me less important than the nuptial obligations between the couple). I was thus absolutely struck by how important the commitment of one’s community to the couple (as well as the commitment to one another) is essential as part of a declaration of the spirituality of love.

    ps Hi Rosemary! Good to catch up with you last weekend 🙂

  6. I’m struck by Vicky’s comment that she had previously never heard a group state their committment to a same-sex couple. The blessing service that I most recently carried out had this promise for the whole congregation:

    Will all of you support and encourage A and B in their life together?
    Answer: We will.

    Later in the service the whole congregation said:

    We have witnessed the promises of A and B.
    Together we now handsel them.
    As they are pledged to each other in love,
    so we promise, in hope,
    to be a living sign of love in the world.

    Strikes me that if we start using liturgy like this for gay couples, all the straight couples will be wanting it as well.

  7. Well, you might get to keep the handseling for yourself…

    Thanks, Vicky. That is indeed a crucial part of the service. I learned it first not from the SEC liturgies, but from a Quaker wedding in the States, where the community’s role in the marriage is very much to the fore.

    You’ve also given me the perfect opportunity to throw in something I’ve been holding onto for weeks. Some of you may remember that when I had the flu last month, all I could manage to read was Harry Potter. It made me realise that we need J.K. Rowling on the Liturgy Committee. At Fleur & Bill’s wedding she offer us:

    ‘then I declare you bonded for life.’

  8. I have often wondered whether a series of liturgical events shouldn’t punctuate a relationship. Here I am thinking of something that mirrors monastic promises and vows. You know, after the first five years (novitiate) a blessing with promises and community commitment, five years later the solemn vows of marriage, and then some time later a re-celebration. This way perhaps people could start by making promises rather than taking oaths? It has always struck me as asking too much to require vows as one of the first aspects of a liturgical statement about being a couple……..
    ps ‘bonded for life’ is a bit scary for me – sounds too much like being enslaved….the guys at the civil partnership promised to make sure they always put their relationship first. I thought that was rather a realistic promise to make?

  9. As one who wanted to stay “in the middle”, or sit on the fence in the whole gay issue, the words of +Gene last week, pushed me off. The guy’s style was as close to the teachings of Jesus as I have seen for a long time, and impressed me so much that I came to a better understanding of MANY issues we are faced with as Christians.

    So, there you go! People being used by the Holy Spirit works every time, as opposed to scripyure in isolation.

    Wonderful post.

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