Wednesday, July 24, 2013 — Week of Proper 11, Year One
[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]
Today’s Readings for the Daily Office
(Book of Common Prayer, p. 976)
Psalms 119:49-72 (morning) // 49 (evening)
1 Samuel 25:23-44
In today’s first reading, Abigail takes on a ministry that the human community can’t do without: She moderates a clash between egos. Unfortunately for modern readers, Abigail’s approach seems a bit limited by her gender. Abigail has to protect her husband’s ego by operating behind his back instead of opposing him to his face. Then, she has to pander to David’s ego by bowing to the ground and throwing herself at his feet.
Given this context, I appreciate Abigail’s ego-deflating words all the more. Speaking of her husband Nabal, Abigail tells David, “Do not take seriously this ill-natured fellow.” With these words, Abigail brings Nabal’s offenses down to size, and she asks David to reconsider his self-importance. It’s as if she says, “Don’t take one guy’s bad mood so seriously!” Furthermore, “Don’t take yourself so seriously either.”
The conflict between Nabal and David is hard to understand in part because we don’t fully relate to its cultural context. Hospitality codes would have obliged Nabal to give gifts to David’s ten young men, since they had not stolen from Nabal’s shepherds and since they were visiting on a feast day. Nabal refuses to give them gifts, but Abigail realizes her husband’s social misstep and she delivers generous gifts to David.
Yet part of this conflict is more rooted in stubborn personalities than in cultural conventions. Instead of offering even a token of thanks to David’s men, Nabal refuses to reward them merely for not harming or stealing the sheep that belonged to Nabal in the first place. (In fact, it does seem like David and his men are running a protection racket.) Nabal claims that he has never even heard of David, and he insinuates that they are probably just a band of runaway slaves.
David quickly overreacts to this insult and tries to save his own dignity through vengeance. He sets out with four hundred men to kill Nabal and every male in Nabal’s household. David is furious because Nabal “has returned me evil for good” (25:21). (I guess David is having an off-day. Just in the previous chapter, Saul was praising David for having “repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil” (24:17). Suddenly David has lost his forgiving spirit!)
Abigail’s intervention and her simple words— “do not take seriously this ill-natured fellow”—stop this conflict from getting out of hand. By restraining David from vengeance, Abigail saves David from having any “cause of grief, or pangs of conscience, for having shed blood without cause or for having saved himself.” David learns not to take his antagonist so seriously that he falls into sin. He learns not to take himself so seriously that only he can defend, avenge, and save his own ego. David thanks Abigail for keeping him “from avenging myself by my own hand.” Instead, he learns to let Nabal’s life take its course, and to let his own trust in God secure his identity.
Abigail’s advice might help us all. Today, we might encounter some stubborn or fragile ego having a bad day. Or, we may be the ones who are feeling ill-natured at the moment. In a sense, all members of the human family constantly make our way through a minefield when we try to interact with each other. We all bring our cultural codes, our relationship histories, our personal quirks, and our moods at the moment into every meeting with another person.
We can all use Abigail’s reminder not to take any one person so seriously. We can also heed Abigail’s reminder that we don’t need to defend ourselves from every single insult or offense that comes our way. Instead, we can ask God simply and daily to “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.