“G‑d has today delivered your enemy into your hands: now so let me hit it”
I’m inundated with job applications right now, cursing them even though I’m grateful I can fill them, so when Marybeth asked me if I could do the dark devotion, I jumped at the chance. “Please,” I thought, “after weeks of fine-tuning my CV, using words like ‘managed’, ‘monitored’, ‘evaluated’ and ‘specification’, give me a chance to speak. of God. Inject that theology into my veins.
As I sent in another application last Friday, I indulged myself by typing “Catholic Readings February 20, 2022” into Google, clicking on the first link. Prepared for my usual reaction of “Who were the people who put the smoky lectionary readings”, I let my eyes wander lazily over the Old Testament reading, my concentration sharpening as I thought, “Oh , HELL YEAH, bring it.” My excitement grew as I read the responsorial psalm, the New Testament reading and the gospel, ending with a feeling of fullness. I have rarely seen the readings agree so well. Well done, lectionary setters, for laying your pipes that day.
I kept being taken back to reading the Old Testament (1 Samuel 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23), where David and Abi’shai met Saul asleep, with his spear at the head, and Abi’ shai said:
G‑d has today delivered your enemy into your hands:
now so let me hit it
I let the discomfort set in and deepen: we so often talk about Jacob’s struggle with the angel (and therefore with G‑d), but we often forget that our journey of faith requires us to struggle with ourselves. How many times have I said versions of these words about Donald Trump or Boris Johnson and their party/supporters, anti-vaxxers, racists, homophobes, right wing imperialists, the list goes on.
He needs his head bent into the Thames three times and pulled back twice.
I wouldn’t cross the street to [pour water] on him if his guts were on fire, but if I had gas, I could run.
A guillotine on the Capitol steps or on the White House lawn would focus Republican minds. You would only need one example.
Long walk, short pier.
I’ve often said these things with lots of laughter and agreement. As much as I like to imagine that I am David, Moses, Ruth – much more often I am Abi’shai, Pharaoh, Jezebel.
In 2016, especially after Trump was elected, I noticed a shift on my (liberal/left) side of the political spectrum. We who had avoided violence in my living memory were starting to talk about guillotines. The violence was creeping into our language, but I brushed it off, “knowing” we were just venting, we wouldn’t do anything about it. “Good!” I thought, “It’s time we stopped being nice and let these neo-Nazis and fascists know that we’re strong and bad. We can talk like this and stay on track.
In short, “Now let me hit him.”
David responds to Abi’shai:
Destroy him not: for who can stretch out his hand against the LORD’s anointed, and be innocent?
The statement, for now, is about Saul… but I think it goes much deeper than that.
I am a high church girl. I am very uncomfortable with the way “anointed” is thrown around in Christian circles. I use it to refer to sacramental anointing – holy orders, extreme unction, baptism, confirmation and, in the Bible, kings, prophets and the head and feet of Jesus. It is more or less that. Well, until now.
My friend Marie, who died in a car accident almost two years ago, used the “anointing” all the time. Conversations were sacred. The meetings were dedicated. Everybody was anointed. It drove me crazy until one day I desperately wanted him to show up in my Facebook chat one more time because that would mean she was still around.
David talks specifically about Saul being anointed by the Lord to be king, but reading it I had my usual image of us lining up before Gd to receive our gifts, but with an added twist: Gd anointing us with oil before leaving him:
With the constellation of gifts that I give to you, you are anointed to bring justice.
With the constellation of gifts that I give you, you are anointed to be a bridge.
With the constellation of gifts I give you, you are anointed to heal.
With the constellation of gifts I give you, you are anointed to stand at the gates and reunite earth and spirit.
With the constellation of gifts that I give you, you are anointed to be a mirror for the shadows of others, so that they can recognize it and fight it, in themselves and in others.
In this case, we are all anointed by Gdand which of us can reach out against another and remain innocent?
At this moment of realization, the weight of what protecting life (hint: that doesn’t include picketing abortion clinics and abusing vulnerable women) actually means hitting hard.
Every life is anointed. Every life holds endless possibilities. What does it mean to cut this thread? To execute someone? Kill someone in war? To end this possibility, the ability to change, this anointing? And not just to kill outright, but to kill someone emotionally, spiritually – to use, abuse, reject, interfere with another’s life? To think, as we so often do on mission or in various positions of authority, that we know which path a life must take and force it in that direction?
We don’t. There are endless paths an anointed can take to reach its goal: someone anointed to do justice can accomplish it through the obvious legal career path of lawyer and judge, but can also accomplish it in his friendships and his family, through teaching, by simply living his life. live with integrity every day, every choice making her a vessel for justice. Someone anointed to heal can be a doctor, a therapist, a teacher, working with an NGO, being the one who holds the space in every situation.
Every life is anointed. So what do we do with these living lives that harm and destroy themselves and others?
I receive the desire to cut short the life and the sons of those who have committed heinous crimes: those who commit genocide, those who have abused and murdered others, those who dehumanize others, those who commit violence like way of life. I understand and feel it more deeply than I care to admit.
But I also know that every act of violence leads us to destruction. And now?
The answer to the psalm gives us a clue: The Lord is good and merciful, but only if we understand that kind and merciful does not mean to sit on our hands and give free rein to those who would destroy. David and Abi’shai don’t just walk away from Saul, they take his spear and water, then walk to a hill where David holds the spear and asks a servant to come get it. He showed his strength, but did not use it to commit acts of violence. For those who would say ‘But Jesus’:
These are the means by which we coerce those who commit acts of violence. However, I would say that as creatures of the earth, it’s too easy to get whipped by chasing people with whips. How do we discern right action? 1 Corinthians 15:47 shows the way:
And as we have borne the image of the earthly, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.
As branches of the vine of Jesus, we allow his sap, his body and his blood, to flow through us, directing our growth and allowing us to channel his spirit, so that we are his hands and his feet, and his actions in the world. So we refuse to platform hate. We look to restorative justice, truth and reconciliation. We limit freedom to prevent people from doing harm. We freeze the accounts of arms dealers, drug dealers, human traffickers and break the back of their operations, reallocating the money to create a fairer world ensuring everyone is housed, fed and have the opportunities they need to thrive.
However we act towards our enemies – whether we offer them our cloak and cloak or wield their spear from a hill – we must act out of love, aware that love is not sweet, but encompasses setting boundaries and boundaries, telling the truth, conflict and its resolution… all the hard things we avoid.
And we have to do the hard things, perhaps especially for those who are most in the shadows. As Father Marcus Keane tells Lucifer on the TV show, The Exorcist:
Son of the morning, profane thing, ashes on the earth, you are redeemed. Pariah, fallen angel, you are loved.
And if Lucifer, then also the disordered, fallible, fallen dust creatures to whom G‑d sent His son.
I have spoken of righteous action towards others, but we cannot discern this without first coming ourselves, exploring and living our own anointing in all the ways our lives make possible. We must progress to wholeness and wholeness ourselves before giving way to others to do so.
How? ‘Or’ What? Pray. To be open. Listen. To learn. Live the crucible of relationships. Risk. I know I felt it last week during conversations about vocation to the priesthood with Rachel (joined later by her husband, Simon) and vocations counselor Joanna. Something bigger than us was present, something buzzed in the air. Everything that had once felt in opposition within me finally seemed to be part of a greater whole. To quote Mary, the conversations were… anointed.
(Stop cackling, girl. You think I can’t hear you up there?)
Our ways of knowing are not the same; you will find yours. As you pour your anointing out into the world, you will help others find theirs, even those you think are overshadowed and beyond hope. And every moment you will help fix the world.
Creature of dust, fallen, frail and lost, you are redeemed. Outcast or belonging, strong or weak, in joy or sorrow, in faith or despair, in light or shadow, you are loved.
As always has been, now is, and always will be.
Irim Sarvar is an American of IndoPak ancestry now living in the UK, who was born a Muslim and became a Catholic while teaching at a Modern Orthodox Jewish school. She has also cataloged books in a Dominican priory, worked in quality assurance, and is currently a churchwarden and freelance editor/proofreader. Spiritual bastard. Believes in hybrid vigor in all things, especially faith journeys.