college travels

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Value of Stories # 4

In a beautiful episode in 2 Samuel 23:13-17, we see David at his best as sovereign, but we also get a chance to see what is meant by the masochist, one of the shadow forms for the warrior.

Courage, self-discipline, self-sacrifice, protecting the weak and living honourably are central for the warrior hero. The warrior lives to serve the sovereign in the cause of justice and honour. Arthurian tales of chivalry resonate deep within us as they excite the warrior inside us all. But when the cause takes over the warrior then the ends begin to justify the means. There is dispassionate talk of “collateral damage” and the fine line between courageous and foolhardy is obscured.

The masochist is so taken up by the cause that they do not consider personal risk and danger. Boundaries are set aside as they respond to commands, or what they perceive to be commands, without regard to their own needs and personal circumstances. Their whole life is taken over by the cause, the quest or the mission. It is to the detriment of personal health, friendships and family.

On a hot day at the end of summer David found himself camped outside Bethlehem, the town where he was born and where he grew up. His mind must have wondered back to similar occasions during his childhood or his youth. He remembered how he would go to a particular well, the one near the city gate. He would draw out some of its water, drink and be satisfied. He would immediately feel refreshed and revitalised. Good times. But for now, despite his proximity to Bethlehem it would have to stay as a memory. There was a Philistine garrison in town and it meant that he would have to stay thirsty, sweaty and dusty from his manoeuvres. He wistfully spoke out his desire, “Oh that someone would get me a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem.”

Three of David’s mighty men heard him say this. As a token of their love and respect for him as their leader and friend, they broke through enemy lines, stole into Bethlehem, went to the well, drew out some water and took it back to David. They offered it to him. As a person, there is nothing that could have been more welcome. As a sovereign, to accept this generous gift would be to encourage others to take the same sort of personal risk just to attend to his personal comfort. Not every exploit would end the same way. He cannot accept it. As sovereign his first thought is not for himself but for those he serves. But he cannot refuse it. He cannot give it back. He cannot ignore this wonderful gesture of generosity and loyalty.

David pours the water on the ground. On one level it looks like a complete waste and a disregard for the risk his friends have taken. But David is not just a thirsty man, he is sovereign. Furthermore he doesn’t just pour it on the ground. David finds a way both to honour their intentions while at the same time sending a clear message that this is not to become a precedent. He poured the water out before the Lord and explained what he was doing (2 Samuel 23:16-17).

It will be a long time in this story before we see a sovereign act like this again (Mark 10:45). Meanwhile it is important for those who find themselves in the service of that king to remember that the sort of ministry which leads to exhaustion, burn-out and extinction is likely to be associated more with the masochist than the warrior.

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