Though I haven’t read or heard the sermon, I borrowed this title from a sermon in the Redeemer Presbyterian Church (Manhattan) series on David. I have in many ways relied on Brueggemann’s analysis of the passage (his commentary in the Interpretation series).
This morning we come to the climax in that contest of wills. As we recall from last week, on one side of this contest is Saul, who wants David dead. And on the other side of this contest is God, who wants David alive. Today’s story from I Samuel may not represent the high point of David’s whole life story, but it is certainly the climax of his relationship to Saul.
As we look at the story from I Samuel 24, I want to come immediately this morning to the question of what this story means for you and for me. My sermon title for this morning is intended to capture the meaning of this story for us. You’ll see it on the screen and in the bulletin. How to love a fool… It seems to me that this is what the story teaches us – it teaches us how to love a fool.
Now, who is this fool we are trying to love? When we use the word ‘fool; we might first think of a bumbling kind of person. We might think of Dr. Watson, the bumbling sidekick of Sherlock Holmes – Dr. Watson who always seems to miss the obvious – Dr. Watson who is always a few minutes late to catch the logic or a few minutes late to appear on the scene.
In the same vein, when we think of a fool we might think of a classic figure like Don Quixote. Someone who mistakes windmills for giants and proceeds to do battle with them.
But who is the fool to be loved in this story from 1 Samuel. Well, Saul is the fool. But of course Saul is not a comic fool in the sense of the bumbling Dr. Watson or peculiar Don Quixote. In fact Saul is a decidedly dangerous individual with immense political and personal power. He is also unpredictable in terms of his anger. Nevertheless, Saul is still a fool in the broadest sense of the word – someone who is utterly out of touch with the purposes of God – someone opposed to God. He’s a fool in that he is jealous of David and mistakenly thinks David is out to get him.
Perhaps a better sermon title, however, might have been, ‘How to love an enemy’. Yes, Saul is a fool in the broadest sense of the word – but from David’s perspective, Saul is more aptly described as an enemy. How to love your enemy… It’s hard not to think of Jesus’ words here: “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”
So that’s what we’re talking about this morning: How to love our enemies. We’re talking about how to love those about whom we might say under our breath – ‘the fool’. How to love those about whom we might say in our minds – ‘what an idiot’. How to love those in relation to whom we sometimes say, “I wish I could…mm” Depending on our mood, depending on our day, depending on our experiences, this category of the enemy or the fool broadly conceived might include a fair number of people for each of us.
It is a great little story we have heard this morning from 1 Samuel. Although when we read this story our reaction might well be: “That’s impossible. How did that happen? How is it possible that David and Saul end up in the same cave? How did Saul not see David in the cave? How did Saul not notice David slicing off a piece of his robe?” Interesting questions, of course, but the narrator isn’t interested in them – he’s just interested in spinning out a great story about David. Actually, this story is really told twice in 1 Samuel – and that tells you something about how much people liked the story – it tells you how important they thought the story was for the life of David. It’s the kind of story you can imagine kids begging their fathers or mothers to tell. Hey, tell me that story again, the one about David and Saul in the cave.
Saul is on a search and destroy mission with three thousand soldiers – Saul is out to get David. In running from Saul, David and his men have escaped into the wilderness area of Engedi. On one particular occasion they take refuge in a cave. Of all the amazing, impossible scenarios, Saul finds himself in that very area of the wilderness. Has God put them together, here? And, wouldn’t you know it, while they are there Saul has to go to the bathroom – but of course there is no bathroom, so he makes his way out of sight, into a cave, to relieve himself.
There in the cave, we witness a dramatic reversal.
In all of the previous interactions between Saul and David, it has been Saul who is the strong and aggressive one. It has been Saul who has the upper hand. And it is David who has been vulnerable.
But in the blink of an eye, everything is turned on its head. Here in the cave, David is in the position of power. David has the upper hand. And it is Saul who is incredibly vulnerable.
Could Saul be more vulnerable? His eyes are adjusting to the darkness. He has his robes hiked up to waist so he can relieve himself. He has no weapon. His men are not close by to rush in to his defense. Saul is exposed and vulnerable.
David’s men can hardly believe their luck. “David, this is your chance. God said you were going to be king. You’ll never get another opportunity like this. David, kill Saul and there’ll be no more running scared. Kill Saul and the old fool will be gone. Kill him and you’ll get your shot at the throne.”
David hears them and responds. He advances toward Saul in the darkness, sword drawn. But as he reaches Saul, somehow he can’t do it. Somehow he can’t finish him off. David had no problem finishing off Goliath. In the future, David will have no problem going to war against his enemies. But he couldn’t attack Saul.
Instead, he reaches out with his sword and merely slices off a corner of Saul’s cloak. And even then, he suddenly feels shame. He regrets even going as far as to cut off a piece of cloth.
Why can’t David harm Saul? Yes, in David’s mind, Saul is a fool, an enemy. But in David’s mind Saul is also the king of God’s choosing. Yes, God has anointed David as king, but David understands it is up to God to determine the moment of transition. It is up to God to achieve God’s purpose of putting David on the throne. David treats Saul as one called, chosen, and in some sense beloved of God.
How do you love a fool? How do you love an enemy? Let’s be clear. For David, loving the fool, loving the enemy, doesn’t mean naively reaching out to Saul. It doesn’t mean naively reaching out to Saul in a way that will expose David to the violence of Saul. David is in hiding. He has been on the run for days. He has conspired with Jonathan to make sure that he doesn’t needlessly expose himself to danger and to violence. For David, loving the enemy doesn’t mean reaching out to Saul in a way that puts his life and wellbeing at risk.
So how do you love a fool? How do you love an enemy? In this scene, David loves Saul by trusting God is at work in the life of Saul, by trusting that God is at work in the relationship between them.
Each of us has our own fools, our own enemies. Very often what we do with our own fools and enemies is write them off. On the less dramatic side of things, these are the people we just ignore – these are people we nod along with when they are speaking, without caring about what they say – these are people about whom we speak dismissively to others. These are the fools in our lives.
On the more dramatic side, these are people we might gladly consign to an eternity of unhappiness – or consign to hell for that matter. Our fools. Our enemies.
But David’s love toward Saul, the love of God, can come to expression in our lives – David teaches us how to love our fools. How do you love a fool? How do you love an enemy? It’s complicated for sure. But in the first instance, we love them by remembering that in this person’s life God is at work. This is the fundamental starting point: that in this person’s life God is at work.
It may not be obvious to us that God is at work in this person’s life – it may take years to come to light – it may not be clear until God’s kingdom comes finally and fully. On the other hand, it may be obvious to everyone but us that God is at work in someone’s life. Whatever our perceptions, the gospel reminds us that in Jesus Christ God is at work in the lives of our enemies, our fools. Why love a fool, an enemy? Because God in Christ would draw all people to himself.
David felt shame at cutting off the corner of Saul’s cloak. His shame might surprise us. What does he have to be ashamed of? What’s the bid deal? It’s not like he ran Saul through with his sword. It’s not like he even gave him a paper cut. But David’s shame at cutting off the corner of Saul’s cloak is, I think, shame at his own forgetfulness that this is God’s anointed – it is his shame that he forgot, even if only for a brief moment, that God is at work in the life of Saul.
From the scene in the cave, the scene shifts very quickly to the outside of the cave. David leaves the cave and stands before Saul. In some sense David perhaps makes himself vulnerable by doing so. But he seems also to understand that this will be a decisive turning point: “Saul. Why do you keep coming after me? Why do you want to destroy me? What have I ever done to deserve this threat of violence? Saul, I haven’t done anything to hurt you – I wouldn’t hurt you. Look, even now I was close enough to kill you – look, I got close enough to cut off the corner of your cloak. I’m not a threat to you. Why do you keep treating me as one?”
And then comes David’s decisive statement: “May the Lord judge between me and you. May the Lord avenge me on you; but my hand shall not be against you.”
David loves Saul by trusting Saul to the purposes of God. David loves Saul by trusting Saul and this whole situation into the hands of God. He does no harm to Saul – he does not destroy Saul – he does not antagonize or ignore or berate Saul. He loves him. And he expresses his love out loud: “Saul, I love you. I will not hurt you. I commit you and our relationship to the purposes of God.”
And what’s particularly interesting in the story is the effect of David’s love on Saul. By loving Saul, by refusing to hurt Saul, by entrusting Saul to God, David opens up a space within which Saul can see the truth of his own life and the truth of his own relationship to God. By loving Saul, by trusting Saul to God, David has provided an opportunity for Saul to recognize the truth of his own life and the truth of his relationship with God. That’s what love does at the best of times – to love anyone is to remind them of who they are in relation to God. It is to remind them of the love and justice and truth of God. In Saul’s case, discovering the truth of his identity before God evokes a painful response.
We read in the text: “Saul lifted up his voice and wept.” On account of David’s love toward him, Saul sees the truth and he cries. Saul cries over the evil he has done to David. Saul weeps over his own failure of love. Saul breaks down emotionally in the face of the tremendous failures in his life – his shortcomings as king – his failures in relation to God and David. At the end of this story, at the climax of this relationship between David and Saul, we have an individual who is utterly humbled – devastated at what his own life has become. He finally sees David for who he is. He begins to understand the purposes of God, and he says to David: May God bless you, David. May God keep you, David.
How to love a fool? How to love an enemy?
Based on this sermon it would be very tempting to see ourselves as David and our fools as Saul – its tempting to always see ourselves as the one who has been wronged. Its tempting to adopt a posture of superiority in relation to the fools and enemies of our lives. They are the ones who need to see the light. They are the ones who need to come around to the truth. And sometimes this will be the case – sometimes the fools and enemies of our life really do need to have a change of heart and perspective in relation to God. But often enough we are the ones who need a change of heart and perspective in relation to our fools, our enemies.
In either case, the key to loving our fools, and loving our enemies, is remembering their true identity. This person is never just a fool in my life – never just my enemy. He is a beloved child of God in Christ. She is one that God would draw to himself in love. The fools and enemies of my life are those who are welcomed into the resurrection life of Christ. Yes, we find it difficult to love our fools, our enemies. In some cases, we may even need to keep our distance from them, as David kept his distance from Saul. But none of that has a bearing on how we love them first and foremost. By remembering they to are beloved children of God in Christ. They are those God is drawing to himself in love. They are those invited to find their true selves through encounter with God. We relate to them as such.
Jesus said: ‘Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.’