Today’s lessons are about violence and vengeance, fitting as they fall on September 11 this year, 9/11. In the first lesson, David commits massacre after massacre: Neither woman nor man David left living…saying, “Lest they tell about us, and say, ‘Thus did David.’ ” Thus was his custom… (1 Samuel 27:11) The rationale for the slaughter was to leave no witnesses alive. But the rationale for the initial engagement is astonishingly insufficient: David and his men went up and raided on the Geshurites, the Girzites, and the Amalekites, for they were the inhabitants of the land from of old on your way to Shur and on to the land of Egypt. (v 8) They were ancient enemies and they were in the in the way. So David exterminated them. These are the stories about David that many of us were not taught and that rarely are preached. David, like warlords across time, decided that slaughter was the way to achieve his personal and political aims. David is not an anomaly. Not in history and not in the scriptures.
The psalm is written in the voice of someone who has survived such atrocity and prays for the God of Vengeance, the Dread God to do justice by and for them. The psalmist gives testimony of the depredations of the wicked, those who slaughter widow and orphan as in the first text. (Children are not mentioned however, the slaughter of all the adults and the intent that no one be able to tell the tale indicates David murdered the children as well. Though it cannot be ruled out that the children were abandoned or sold.)
After her passionate petition, the psalmist turns to an unknown audience who is perhaps despairing at these words and at the cycles of violence they have seen and experienced. Perhaps someone has told the Psalmist that God does not see, God does not hear, God does not care, God is not there. Her response is brisk and a tad insulting. Calling her interlocutors “fools,” she proclaims that God indeed hears and sees and will provide justice for her people, that She Who is Faithful will not forsake them.
The epistle calls the beloved community back to the Torah, back to the Ten Commandments, back to the Golden Rule and proclaims a merciless judgment to those who have shown no mercy and, offers the promise that mercy triumphs over judgment.
In the gospel Jesus identifies the human heart as the source of all the wickedness that comes forth from a person in their thoughts, words and deeds.
Today we remember that some human hearts decided to stop other human hearts through horrific acts of violence on a nearly unimaginable scale and that it was not the first time and that it would not be the last. We remember and attend to the state of our own hearts, broken though they may be.