Late again! Where does the time go. I assure you, if I were preaching every week, I would be more faithful.
These passages deal with retribution and cycles of violence. Like many international and interpersonal conflicts, the present violence can only be understood in light of the historic violence but sometimes there is no shared agreement on who started it or why. In the first lesson, the divine pronouncement that there is “blood guilt” on Saul’s house leads David to conclude that blood must be spilled to expiate it according to the common cultural and religious understanding. I would like to imagine there is a space there for David to plead with God as did Abraham and Job for another way to settle the blood debt. However, David takes advantage of the opportunity to rid himself of every man and boy related to Saul who might seek vengeance or to replace him, framing him as a usurper.
The central figure of this story is Rizpah, a woman to whom Saul was married in the secondary configuration of Israelite marriage meaning, her children, her sons, would not be entitled to an inheritance. The hanging of her sons as trophy and warning, has evoked lynching for many a black woman preacher and mother. Like Maime Till, the mother of Emmett Till, she used the horror of the exposed bodies of her sons to shame the nation, and in particular, David. The psalm was chosen to be her cry for justice which in her world included retribution and vengeance.
The epistle offers the possibility that the violent person can be transformed through the grace and mercy of Jesus. Read in conversation with the first lesson, it means that the cycle of retribution is broken when one person, one nation, turns from violence.
In the Gospel, Jesus rejects the age-old principle of an eye for an eye that leads to continuous cycle of violence and vengeance. But he leaves us with a troubling teaching, to turn the other cheek, to go the extra mile, to give more than is demanded. This would seem to leave people at the mercy of their oppressors who would eagerly exploit their submission. However, there is a reading that in surrendering all, there is nothing left to be taken and the one who demands everything might be put to shame by the site of the person stripped of everything including, in the specific language of the gospel, under clothes and outer clothes. It could be considered an early form of satyagraha, “soul force,” the foundation of Gandhi’s and later, Martin Luther King Jr.’s, nonviolent activism.
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