True Leadership is Founded on Humility
Is it possible to be a strong leader and humble at the same time? Is a leader considered weak if he or she owns their faults, or recolonizes the qualities and dignity of an opponent? The leaders in our lessons today extol qualities of leadership that make me yearn for a David or St. Paul, not to mention Jesus, to rise up in our culture. Our reading from 2nd Samuel particularly stands out as a model of how a true leader should treat those who are in opposition to them.
Over the last couple of weeks you heard the story of David’s rise to prominence in King Saul’s army. In the Goliath story you see David’s zeal for the God of Israel and David’s devotion to King Saul. Even though we know that God has anointed David as the new king and has swept Saul aside, David still respects Saul as God’s anointed. In the last couple of weeks you heard about David’s bravery, David and Saul’s son Jonathan’s friendship. When you left off last week everything looked as if life for David would be wonderful and that David would just let Saul’s reign come to a natural conclusion and then David we succeed Saul. Last week it all ended so perfect. Today we have David lamenting the death of Saul and Jonathan as if their relationships were healthy and strong full of mutual respect and admiration. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Saul despised David, tried to kill him numerous times and resented Jonathan for being loyal to David.
In the chapters that we skipped between 1 Samuel 17 and 2 Samuel 1 there is a lot of bad blood between Saul, Jonathan and David. Right after David joins Saul’s army Saul begins to get jealous of David’s success. Numerous times Saul attempts to assassinate David. Saul flies into rages, throws spears at David, tries to have him killed in battle and even sends assassins into his home to try and kill him. Finally, David and a band of loyal misfits flee Saul and go on the run. David even lives in enemy territory and works as a mercenary for Moabites. Saul chased David all over the kingdom with the full intention of killing him.
Ironically, David could have killed Saul on two separate occasions, but refused to kill him because Saul was God’s anointed. David didn’t have a problem with fighting and killing, but refused to kill Saul for a couple of reasons. One reason was political. If David killed Saul it would have lent credence to the propaganda that Saul had spread about David. Saul claimed that David had threatened Saul’s life and therefore must be destroyed. If David killed Saul then how would David ever prove Saul wrong? The ultimate reason was because David didn’t believe it was his call to take Saul’s life. If God took Saul’s life on the battlefield that would be fine, but David refused to lift a hand against Saul.
What’s really amazing is that in the heat of Saul’s pursuit of David; David refused to speak ill of Saul. Granted, Saul would shout all kinds of crass and insulting things at David, but David would not retaliate. David would run and hide from Saul, but he would retaliate. There was no posturing on David’s part, nor baiting, or throwing insults at Saul. David dealt with the threat of Saul with a huge amount of dignity and grace.
You would think that after Saul finally fell on the battlefield that David would seize the moment to posture himself as the ultimate leader of the kingdom, but he doesn’t. Rather, David takes the time and effort to praise and mourn the loss of both Saul and Jonathan. There are no subtle digs, or insults, or crass remarks. David takes the time to mourn over the loss of two lives Saul and Jonathan. Jonathan and David remained friends throughout Saul’s madness and obsession with David so it’s understandable that David would mourn the death of Jonathan, but Saul? Why mourn and memorialize so eloquently Saul? Because David saw the broken human condition of Saul and mourned for him. David put aside anger, fear, and the desire to destroy his enemy in order to embrace the humanity of his enemies and in the process retain his own humanity.
There is a huge lack of humility and grace in our discourse today. The only goal is to win at any cost and to destroy our opponent. When we begin to refer to those we disagree with in terms that destroy the other’s dignity and humanity then we have strayed way off course. This doesn’t mean that we don’t hold people accountable. David held Saul accountable for his actions; he just refused to demonize him.
Jesus shows us in the gospels how we oppose those who seek to destroy the humanity and dignity of others. First, Jesus stands up to them. Jesus never cowers or backs down to those who oppose him. Jesus is called evil, demon possessed, a gluten, drunkard and friend of sinners. Those who oppose Jesus use every means possible to discredit and destroy him. Jesus never backs down from a threat and is willing to debate, argue, and point out how wrong his opponents are through parables, stories, and riddles. However, Jesus never questions the dignity and humanity of his opponents. Rather, Jesus tries to win them over to the side of grace and the gospel.
You may be thinking, “Yeah, but that’s Jesus and he was like the Son of God! So, of course he kept grace and mercy and love in all of his public discourse.” But, David and St. Paul weren’t Jesus and they were able to remain civil and so can we.
St. Paul in 2nd Corinthians has had his character, his person, his intelligence, and his integrity publicly destroyed. The Corinthians have called him weak, a poor excuse of an apostle, all because other apostles have moved in and disparaged his character. Paul could have retaliated and begun destroying these other apostles, but Paul doesn’t. Instead, Paul turns the argument around and points out that he is weak, he does struggle and that he isn’t perfect. Paul even says that he has a thorn in his side that God refuses to remove to keep him humble. In the end Paul reveals that through weakness God’s strength is revealed and that God uses what is weak in the world to shame the strong, ultimately, the cross of Christ, the epitome of human weakness and the revelation of God ultimate strength.
What if we as Christians took a step back from the rhetoric, the tweets, the anger, the animosity, the dehumanizing behavior that has flooded our culture and look at our neighbors with eyes of humility, compassion and understanding. What if we took a page out of Jesus’ playbook and still held people accountable for their words, actions, policies, behaviors, and still treated them with dignity and respect?
It is possible. It can be done. If David could still love Saul can’t we still love our neighbors that we are in disagreement?