In the last few months I have discovered a website called the Symbolic world and its creator, a bloke called Jonathan Pageau. He is a Canadian iconographer, and he has some great stuff on understanding the bible, and understanding the world. In a recent video, he looks at the story of King Saul and King David and compares them. And I would like to run with one of his points, as I think it works with both our first reading and our gospel.
Pageau finds lots of similarities between Saul and David, but these similarities reveal more fundamental differences. One of the comparisons he makes relates to our first reading today. He notes, that in the overall story, David first enters Saul’s service as a harpist. David is the one who calms Saul when he flies into a rage. In fact, David’s music banishes the evil spirit that possesses Saul. However, after David kills Goliath and Saul becomes jealous of David’s success, the next time David is playing music, Saul says, “I am going to pin David to the wall.” Saul tries to pin him to the wall using his spear.
This story of Saul trying to pin David is a companion piece to our first reading today when the reverse occurs. David is given an opportunity to pin Saul; David is even encouraged to do this for the sake of self-preservation; but he rejects this. Pageau interprets this in a very interesting way.
He notes one of the basic vocations given to Adam in the Garden of Eden, is to name creation. God waits to see what Adam will call the different creatures. Humanity’s task then is to organise creation, to understand it and name it. However, humanity must always do this only in the awareness that it is God’s creation. Because this is the case, there will always be an aspect of creation that escapes definition. Humanity must therefore approach this task with a certain humility. When this humility is missing, human thought becomes prideful. Human society, and human governance veers toward the totalitarian. We have plenty of recent examples of this both at home and abroad.
Pageau sees all this represented in the story of Saul and David. He sees David the musician as representing the mystery of God, that which cannot be pinned down, that which escapes definition, that which transcends the moment. Saul in trying to pin David misses the mystery. He transgresses the human task of understanding and naming creation; he goes too far by seeking to name the mystery, that which goes beyond. Saul does not have the requisite humility before God.
A modern version of this might be killing the butterfly by pinning it to the card or the slide so I can study it. By doing this one can scientifically study everything about the butterfly, everything that is except the most wondrous thing of all, namely, life.
David, on the other hand, always steps back from hurting Saul; and he always does this because, as he repeatedly says, Saul has been anointed by God. David is always aware of the deep mystery that Saul symbolises. The one time David crosses the line and tears of a bit of Saul’s cloak, David immediately regrets his transgression.
Perhaps we can hear something similar in our gospel: Jesus pointing us to the reality of holiness. The overarching context of God’s mystery, a mystery that must permeate everything, even or perhaps especially our interactions with those we can’t stand, our enemies.
This desire to shut people down, what is sometimes called cancel culture but which is definitely not new, perhaps we can see this as a loss of mystery, the result of our desire to pigeon-hole, to have all the answers already. When Jesus says, love your enemies and be holy as your heavenly Father is holy, perhaps we can hear this as a reminder not to pin people down in such a way that that they have no room to move. It is always important to be clear in what we are saying. But this is not the same thing as pinning someone down in such a way that we treat them solely as an object, rather than a subject. Treating them as an object to us, rather than allowing for the fact that maybe they have something to teach us. Perhaps we can hear this as a reminder of the great mystery of life which somehow always is a participation in the divine life of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
In the story of David and Saul, I doubt anyone would have questioned David going after Saul in self-defence. After all, Saul was hunting David. However, David drew back. He saw in Saul something of God’s mystery. Can we do this? When we are under threat, when someone is coming at us with strong words or confusing us with arguments or opinions that we don’t understand, do we strike back, or do we step back, step back so as to allow the situation to breathe? Do we respond with harsher words, or do we perhaps say a prayer under our breath for the grace to see Christ in this moment? Perhaps ask the Holy Spirit to give us the words, as Jesus promises us will happen?
Let’s pray in this Mass then to be peacemakers. To be peacemakers by always making the effort to recognise the other person as created in the image and likeness of God. Let’s ask God to help us to resist pinning the other person to such an extent that they do not feel like they are living.