Even Enemies Need a Bathroom Break

Monday, July 22, 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 41, 52 (morning) // 44 (evening)

1 Samuel 24:1-22

Acts 13:44-52

Mark 4:1-20

I once participated in a meditation exercise that involved choosing someone we disliked and then picturing them as a small child. Our antagonism or irritation would dissolve once we imagined a difficult person in a more vulnerable and lovable stage of life. While reading today’s passage from First Samuel, it occurred to me that this meditation practice might be equally effective if we simply pictured an enemy rushing to the bathroom.

David encounters Saul in such circumstances. Accompanied by three thousand soldiers, Saul has been pursuing the young upstart David with the intent to kill. David poses a threat to Saul’s authority in Israel, and Saul must stop him or lose his kingdom. But in the midst of his hunt for David, Saul needs to take a bathroom break. Our translation says that he “went in to relieve himself.” The original euphemism is that Saul went “to cover his feet.” Whatever the delicate language, the meaning is clear: Saul goes into a cave for some privacy.

David and his own men are waiting in the depths of that very cave, and they can hardly believe their luck. In fact, they don’t think that it’s luck at all but the Lord himself who brings Saul into their clutches. They press David to seize this opportunity and kill Saul while he is exposed and unsuspecting.

However, this moment may have been engineered by the Lord for something much greater than an easy win over an enemy. Saul’s vulnerability presents David with the extraordinary opportunity to be both deftly strategic and stunningly merciful.

Instead of assassinating Saul, David gets just close enough to cut off a corner of Saul’s cloak without Saul even noticing. After Saul leaves the cave, David calls to him, bows in front of him, and shows him the corner of the cloak as proof that he could have killed him but did not.

That scrap of fabric turns hatred and violence into reconciliation and reverence. David earns Saul’s respect by declaring, “I have not sinned against you, though you are hunting me to take my life.” Saul is dumbstruck, “For who has ever found an enemy, and sent the enemy safely away?” He recognizes that the kingdom justly belongs to David, who in this moment chose to repay evil with good. Saul asks only that David refrain from killing all of his descendants, who might threaten David’s own grasp on the monarchy.

David insists that he refused to kill Saul because Saul is the Lord’s anointed, the king. Yet, what precipitates this awesome show of respect is David’s encounter with Saul at his most vulnerable, tending to a basic human need, and leaving himself defenseless.

Perhaps today will present us with a similar moment. Perhaps we will tangle with someone who is out to get us. Perhaps someone will unexpectedly drop their defenses right in front of us. Hopefully, we will see the Lord’s hand in each opportunity to be wise, merciful, and creative in how we approach others in their strength and in their weakness. Encounter by encounter, we have the opportunity to secure the peaceful transfer of God’s kingdom to one another.

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.

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