These beautiful changes in our spiritual life have angered a lot of people. I rearranged my apartment this weekend and placed a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus by my front door. I discovered that nothing makes some people madder than to have the compassionate face of Christ greet them at the door. Who knew that one antique portrait could cause so much strife?
Since I have a strong tendency towards vanity and people-pleasing, Our Dad in Heaven has gently prepared these rejection experiences. Over the last few months my prayer conversations have consisted mostly of my duty to "rejoice" whenever I'm called names on behalf of Christ, how all insults greatly "profit my soul", and how I have a Christian duty "to not hold a grudge."
The Word of God is transforming--slowly. Yet nothing has before has clicked like Today's "Office of the Readings" story of Shimei the Benjaminite. (I've nicknamed him "Shimmy B." in my mind. Notice how that vivid Benjamin clan is all over the Old Testament!)
The Scripture reading occurs as King David flees from the murderous wrath of his son into the desert and runs into this trying test of his patience. (2nd Samuel 15:71-14,24-30,16:5-13)
As David was approaching Bahurim, a man named Shimei, the son of Gera of the same clan as Saul's family, was coming out of the place, cursing as he came. He threw stones at David and all the king's officers, even though all the soldiers, including the royal guard, were on David's right and on his left. Shimei was saying as he cursed; "Away, away, you murderous and wicked man! The Lord has requited you for all the bloodshed in the family of Saul, in whose stead you became king, and the Lord has given over the kingdom to your son Absalom. And now you suffer ruin because you are a murderer.
Abishai, son of Zeruiah, said to the king; "Why should this dead dog curse my lord the King. Let me go over, please, and lop off his head." But the king replied: "What business is it of mine or of yours, son of Zeruiah, that he curses? Supposed the Lord has told him to curse David; who then will dare say, "Why are you doing this?" Then the king said to Abishai and all of his servants: "If my own son, who came forth from my loins, is seeking my life, how much more might this Benjaminite do so? Let him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to. Perhaps, the Lord will look upon my affliction and make it up to me with benefits for the curses he is uttering this day."
David and his men continued on the road, while Shimei kept abreast of them on the hillside, all the while cursing and throwing stone and dirt as he went.
A little background information: King David was a murderer. He sinned with Bathsheba and had her husband murdered to cover up his adultery. Yet King David also gave us a beautiful model of repentance. When the prophet Nathan came to admonish the king for his sins, King David did not respond like the later King Herod and chop off Nathan's head. Instead, King David had a humble, and contrite heart. He told God he was sorry. The prophet Nathan told King David that he was forgiven and that he would live. However, he'd still suffer the punishment of having a son rebel and commit sins with King David's wives.
So at this point in the story, God and King David are on good terms. King David is submitting to the punishment of his great mortal sins in an obedient and humble fashion. God is very pleased with his servant, King David.
Absalom's rebellion had NOTHING to do with Saul's death. In fact, calling King David the murderer of Saul is a blatant lie. Saul was the crazy, jealous one who repeatedly tried to kill his faithful servant David. David did nothing but forgive Saul and protect his life. Later on, in the midst of a defeat on the battlefield, Saul tried to commit suicide himself, and later requested that another solider finish the deed with a mercy killing. That solider came to David to boast of his deed and expected to receive a big reward. Instead, David was so upset about the act that he punished the solider with the death penalty. "No one has the right to kill one of God's anointed kings," was David's life long motto.
So Shimmy B.'s personal attack with curses, rock and dirt throwing is totally unfair. The Head Guard responds, as I'm want to do, to this injustice with the comment "this isn't right, let me lop of his head!"
Yet King David extends mercy to Shimmy B. The king orders his soldiers and everyone in his household to extend mercy as well. "Leave justice up to the Lord!" King David announces. We are going to sit here and suffer these insults with humility and patience. We are not going to respond. We are not going to have revenge. We're going to suffer the slings of insults and dirt throwing for as long as it takes. Why are we doing this hard thing? Because the Lord is permitting this suffering and the Lord will bring some benefit to our souls for our afflictions this day."
Pretty cool story, right?
Hannie, my brilliant seven year old theologian, asked an interesting question when we read this passage at the breakfast table. "Why did Shimmy B. keep following King David out into the desert? It's hot out there! Did he bring some water with him?"
Hannie's question is an interesting one. The fact that Shimmy B. kept harassing the King is an important detail.
Why would you follow a person far out into the desert to keep throwing rocks at them? What if the mercy of King David infuriated Shimmy B. further? What if he kept saying to himself, "Who does this guy think he is! I know he's really a jerk and a hypocrite. If I just throw one more rock at his royal robe, if I utter just the right curse word, then King David will show his true colors at last! The King will stop this fake piety show and act like the bloodthirsty murderer I know that he is!"
So my second question is, What happened after Shimmy B. returned home? How does he explain what he did all day to his wife? "Sorry, I'm late for dinner tonight, honey. I spent all day throwing rocks at King David."
What if his wife gasped in horror? "Are you hurt? Did the Captain of the King's Guard do anything to you?"
"Um, actually King David took everything on the chin," Shimmy B. would be forced to admit. He told all his guards not to hurt me. No one responded to me at all actually." Then Shimmy B. will have to admit in his heart that King David failed to respond to his insults with anger. King David showed superhuman strength and extended the virtue of mercy. Is there a better way to convert the heart of your enemy than to model the Mercy of Jesus Christ?
Starting today, I've stopped praying for the rock throwing at my Catholic faith to end. Instead, I'm inspired to start looking at these "rejection experiences" as a chance to exercise the virtue of Mercy.