By Amber Noel
A Reading from 1 Samuel 20:24-42
24 So David hid himself in the field. When the new moon came, the king sat at the feast to eat. 25 The king sat upon his seat, as at other times, upon the seat by the wall. Jonathan stood, while Abner sat by Saul’s side; but David’s place was empty.
26 Saul did not say anything that day; for he thought, “Something has befallen him; he is not clean, surely he is not clean.” 27 But on the second day, the day after the new moon, David’s place was empty. And Saul said to his son Jonathan, “Why has the son of Jesse not come to the feast, either yesterday or today?” 28 Jonathan answered Saul, “David earnestly asked leave of me to go to Bethlehem; 29 he said, ‘Let me go; for our family is holding a sacrifice in the city, and my brother has commanded me to be there. So now, if I have found favor in your sight, let me get away, and see my brothers.’ For this reason he has not come to the king’s table.”
30 Then Saul’s anger was kindled against Jonathan. He said to him, “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman! Do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness? 31 For as long as the son of Jesse lives upon the earth, neither you nor your kingdom shall be established. Now send and bring him to me, for he shall surely die.” 32 Then Jonathan answered his father Saul, “Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” 33 But Saul threw his spear at him to strike him; so Jonathan knew that it was the decision of his father to put David to death. 34 Jonathan rose from the table in fierce anger and ate no food on the second day of the month, for he was grieved for David, and because his father had disgraced him.
35 In the morning Jonathan went out into the field to the appointment with David, and with him was a little boy. 36 He said to the boy, “Run and find the arrows that I shoot.” As the boy ran, he shot an arrow beyond him. 37 When the boy came to the place where Jonathan’s arrow had fallen, Jonathan called after the boy and said, “Is the arrow not beyond you?” 38 Jonathan called after the boy, “Hurry, be quick, do not linger.” So Jonathan’s boy gathered up the arrows and came to his master. 39 But the boy knew nothing; only Jonathan and David knew the arrangement. 40 Jonathan gave his weapons to the boy and said to him, “Go and carry them to the city.” 41 As soon as the boy had gone, David rose from beside the stone heap and prostrated himself with his face to the ground. He bowed three times, and they kissed each other, and wept with each other; David wept the more. 42 Then Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, since both of us have sworn in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord shall be between me and you, and between my descendants and your descendants, for ever.’” He got up and left; and Jonathan went into the city.
One of the most difficult things, even for Christians, who have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, is to discern when we are doing the right thing and when, like Saul, we think our reasons and behaviors are justified but we’re actually being deceived. How do we make holy decisions? How do we know the truth, and how do we tell that it’s setting us free?
Saul knew David was against him, he just knew it, and yet he was completely mistaken. His darkened perception and his growing enmity remind me (among other things) of the QAnon phenomenon in the U.S. What demands total loyalty and wreaks destructive havoc on relationships — that alone may represent a failure to discern the truth. However, let’s look more carefully:
One thing about the truth is that, like a deception, it makes a primary claim on me. And I can’t deny a truth in order to preserve a relationship — that spoils the relationship. So when I follow a true thing, as when I follow a deception, there may be a breaking-off, a division.
But when something is true, division is not the end game. The fruit of the truth, of knowing and doing right, are all the fruits of the Spirit, which cultivate, among other things, true human joining, communion, faithfulness, and love even for enemies.
Deceptions, even attractive, compelling ones, even ones that seem congruent with faith, always claim to know the truth, but they do not set free, because they sever without bringing the fruits of healing or peace.
Where the truth is clear, let us lovingly reach out to those to whom it is not. And where it is not so obvious, let us pray for clarity, patience, and the grace of loving, loyal friends as we wait for our own fog to lift.
Amber Noel, M.Div., is Associate Editor at the Living Church and Associate Director of The Living Church Institute. Off the clock, she is the author of short fiction, book and culture reviews, and work for the stage.
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Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral
The Diocese of Saint Mark the Evangelist (Anglican Church of Southern Africa)