Monday of Week 4 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on 2 Samuel 15:13-14,30, 16:5-13

Today’s First Reading is a strange narrative that shows the humility of David and has much to say to us. First, David is told that his son, Absalom, has rebelled against him and is acting as king. David, realising that Absalom has won over the majority, decides to flee from Jerusalem. He did not want to fall into the hands of his son and have a bloodbath in the city. At the same time, he did not altogether despair of the situation because he had left supporters behind. He sent Zadok the priest and Abiathar with the Ark back to the city. He also left ten of his concubines there. But, as he was caught between rebels from both the north and south parts of the kingdom, he decided to make a strategic withdrawal (see 2 Sam 15:27 and 34).

But he was brokenhearted over the turn of events. As he went up the Mount of Olives (clearly he had not gone far from the city), he wept constantly, with his head covered and walking barefoot, as did his followers. This was the usual mourning ritual but came to be used as a sign of deep sorrow in general.

A little later, as David was approaching Bahurim, which was on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, he was approached by a man who started cursing the king. The man’s name was Shimei, son of a man called Gera and from the same clan as Saul. He also began throwing stones at David and at the royal guards, who were on either side of him. He shouted at the king:

Out! Out! Murderer! Scoundrel!

The term he used was belial, a name used for Satan and hence the personification of evil and lawlessness (Paul uses the term in 2 Cor 6:15). He called out to David, saying that David was only suffering the consequences of his actions, especially his bloodshed against the family of Saul.

We are told later on that David agreed to avenge the sufferings of the Gibeonites at the hands of Saul by delivering into their hands seven of Saul’s sons, who were dismembered and killed. Because of a promise, the son of Jonathan was spared (see 2 Sam 21:1-14). For all his humanity and sensitivity, David was a product of his age.

In addition, said Shimei, David had lost his kingdom to his son Absalom:

See, disaster has overtaken you, for you are a man of blood.

The story of Uriah and Bathseba was also public knowledge.

Naturally, David’s followers were all for killing the man who spoke in such an insulting way to their king. Says Abishai (one of the court officials with David):

Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and take off his head.

In that culture, one could hardly use a worse insult than call a living person a “dead dog”.

David, however, wondered if the man was only doing the Lord’s bidding. After all, he was not saying anything that was untrue. If Absalom, his own son, could turn against him, why not a man of Saul’s family? David told his followers:

It may be that the Lord will look on my distress, and the Lord will repay me with good for this cursing of me today.

David and his followers continued on their journey, but Shimei went on taunting them by cursing and throwing stones and dirt.

To round off the full story (which is not in the reading’s passages), some time later, Shimei approached David and apologised profusely for what he did that day in cursing the king. Although Abishai was for killing him, David held his hand and made an oath to protect Shimei. However, when giving his final instructions on his death-bed, David said Shimei should not go unpunished for what he did, but he left the form of punishment to his successors (see 2 Sam 19:18-23 and 1 Kgs 2:8-9).

It would have been so easy for David, using his kingly prerogative, to wipe out the man who cursed him. In a similar situation, how would we – plebeians that we are – have acted? How do we feel when people speak critically or abusively of us?

In this story we have here a very good example of turning the other cheek (very rare in the Old Testament – not to mention in contemporary life!).

Our hitting back does not protect our dignity, but rather reveals our insecurity. When people say bad things about us, either they are true or they are false. If true, we can accept them; nothing new is being said. If they are false, we can ignore them.

Of course, there may be situations where, for serious reasons, we might have to defend our reputation. I might lose my job because of false accusations, or I might even find myself unjustly being charged with a crime.

But much of the time, our reaction is an indication of our touchiness and an inner sense that we really deserve even more than is being said. So we go on the defensive.

Apart from David’s example, we can look at Jesus, especially during his trial. He met his accusers with a dignified silence. In doing so, he towers over them in dignity and strength.

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