Sermon Seeds: Compassionate Leadership
Sunday, June 27, 2021
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost Year B
(Liturgical Color: Green)
2 Samuel 1:1, 17–27 and Psalm 130
Wisdom of Solomon 1:13–15, 2:23–24 or Lamentations 3:22–33 and Psalm 30
2 Corinthians 8:7–15
2 Samuel 1:1, 17–27
By Cheryl Lindsay
Leadership relationships are messy, complicated, and conflicting. Do we weep over our enemies?
In this passage, there is no surprise that David weeps over Jonathan. The two shared a relationship that challenged the boundaries, expectations, and limits that are too often placed on love. We would expect David to mourn the passing of Jonathan and to do so deeply. It is his equating the loss of Saul–the one who aggressively pursued him–to the loss of Jonathan that surprises and perhaps even confounds.
Saul and David maintained a relationship that was structured around succession. The only reason that the two encounter one another is because Saul’s leadership has been rejected and David has received God’s anointing to succeed Saul as Israel’s new king. Saul’s response to David envelopes the totality of his new de-elevated stature as not only a lame duck, but as a failed monarch. Saul must have viewed David through the lens of “what if?” What if Saul had made different choices? What if Saul had a different background that prepared him for the role of leader? What if Saul had another opportunity to get it right? What if David didn’t exist and wasn’t available to take on the mantle of leadership? What if…?
Saul only recognizes David as a tangible repudiation of his tenure and a threat in his remaining term of leadership. Jealousy, bitterness, and resentment consume Saul and fuel his treatment of him. As Hayyim Angel notes, “It appears that Saul loved David but also envied him to the point where he lost all balance.” Unresolved feelings of disappointment, anger, betrayal and grief impact Saul’s relationship with David. Transferring leadership in an acrimonious environment presents the potential for all of that and more. The threat of being replaced has caused tension between an established leader and an emerging one, and even a planned and welcomed transition can evoke nostalgia and bittersweet reflection.
In the United States, we have a long tradition of the peaceful transition of power:
In the early morning hours of March 4, 1801, John Adams, the second president of the United States, quietly left Washington, D.C. under cover of darkness. He would not attend the inauguration ceremony held later that day for his former friend—now political rival—Thomas Jefferson, who would soon replace Adams in the still-unfinished presidential mansion. On the heels of his humiliating defeat in the previous year’s election, Adams was setting an important precedent. His departure from office marked the first peaceful transfer of power between political opponents in the United States, now viewed as a hallmark of the nation’s democracy. (Sarah Pruitt)
The events of January 6, 2021 demonstrate how precariously that tradition has been held. It’s a reminder that leadership matters, not only in setting a long-term vision, enacting that vision, and the day to day minutia of governance; how we depart from leadership has an impact on our legacy and the tenure of those to follow. That transition was remarkably different from the manner in which George H. W. Bush may room for his successor, William Jefferson Clinton. Bush wrote a note to the man that defeated him. In that letter, which has since been publicized and widely circulated on social media, Bush wished Clinton the best, expressed his hopes for a successful presidency, and offered his support. That note forged a path toward a lasting friendship between the two former rivals and created a new transition tradition in the same way that Adams had done nearly two centuries before. Both illustrate compassionate leadership.
So did David in his assumption of his new position, for surely, Saul wasn’t the only one who struggled in this relationship. “David expressed conflicted emotions of loyalty to Saul as God’s anointed coupled with a desire for God to judge Saul harshly for his unjust actions.” (Hayyim Angel) At Saul’s death, David’s grief, that likely first took root with the turn in the relationship, fully blooms:
David’s lament over Saul and Jonathan is powerful, passionate poetry commonly regarded as being directly from David’s hand. Its directness, passion, and innocence are reflective of a genuine grief not inappropriate to David, who had lived with Saul so long and loved Jonathan so deeply. In this poetry, placed in the mouth of David, we have a deeply moving, pathos-filled personal statement that is at the same time a magisterial statement of public reality. (Walter Brueggemann)
As the new and undisputed leader of the nation, this grief takes public form as the private self and public self often merge for leaders.
When Israel witnesses David in his grief, it sees David in his fullest, most faithful, most powerful form. This poem marks a deep, precious, and hurtful moment in the life of Israel….out. There is a moratorium on power for the full honoring of grief. Such poetry serves to give the community time, space, and means whereby to treasure and to relinquish.” (Walter Brueggemann)
For David, he does not have the option to privately deal with the emotions spurred by the death of Saul and Jonathan. His public face must show up, and he does so with authenticity and transparency. His lament is genuinely his but, at the same time, belongs to the nation who also needs a common expression of loss. David asks them to “weep for Saul.” After all, Saul was the king the people petitioned God to appoint through the prophet Samuel. They wanted a king like those of the nations around them, and Saul provided the answer to that prayer.
David, in his lament, reminds the people of what would have been easy for them to forget or diminish as the failures of Saul would have been evident and prominent in their remembrance. David reminds them that Saul was their king, and his leadership was not all bad. This is a compassionate stance to take. It may have also had a self-serving element as the incoming king would have wanted to receive the same graceful perspective upon his own reign. The degree to which David advocates and specifically gives voice to mourning Saul, however, suggests that he was not thinking so much of himself as he was of the man who preceded him…and the people who looked toward his leadership in public lament. Their needs propel him to frame Saul’s death as cause for collective grief rather than personal relief that his adversary will no longer torment him.
Perhaps, as he faced the reality of assuming the mantle of leadership gave David a new perspective on Saul and his actions as a king. It’s one thing to be one of a group of leaders, but to hold the full authority of the office with all the associated responsibilities feels different. As David takes Saul’s seat, he also enters into Saul’s condition. The view is different. Certainly, David weeps for Saul the person, the father figure, and even the threatened, rejected king. But David also grieves with Saul, the man with a position beyond his character, a role too big for his isolated and independent leadership style, and regret for the failures he could not overcome. That’s why David’s insistence that the people also mourn, not the rejected and failed monarch, but the ruler who did some good and provided some benefit to the nation under his governance.
Human beings never get everything right and rarely get everything wrong. Leadership involves complex choices rooted in reality rather than the ideal. There’s almost always something that can be fairly critiqued, and strong leaders welcome accountability and constructive evaluation, but compassion invites us to even enter into the story of the leader…who so often has to journey alone.
Compassion means “to suffer with.” By its very definition, it isn’t necessary when things are going well. It requires us to recognize the hurt and pain experienced or anticipated by the other. In particular, Saul was sensitive to how he would be perceived in death. David reflects that concern in his lament and even adopts it as his own:
The forlorn hope that the news would not be spread among the Philistine cities and not become a matter for rejoicing there (v. 20) is unrealistic but heartfelt. Saul wanted to die before he could be mocked (1 Sam. 31:4); that mockery should take place in Philistia after his death added to David’s sadness. (Mary Evans)
In part, David asks the Israelites to weep over Saul as a counter to the glee that will take place among the nation’s enemies. In the end, David embraces solidarity with Saul and allows the adversarial nature of their relationship to die with him. By doing so, he frees the nation to do the same and give Saul the mourning to make up for the rejoicing of the Philistines.
Much of the turmoil over succession found in the books of Samuel comes because lineage isn’t producing leaders. Samuel’s sons will not take his mantle as Judge. Saul’s sons will not follow him either. Yet, lineage remained important to the people of Israel and the covenantal relationship they maintained with God. The messianic promise foretold the arrival of a new sovereign who would come from the line of David.
Jesus fully embodied compassionate leadership. From his birth, he enters into the human condition, and throughout his life, he reflects care and concern for not only friends and family but also opponents and foes. He sets aside his desires for the good of his people, weeps over and grieves human pain, and suffers with us all. David would go on to assume the mantle and authority of his office and lead to impressive victories on the military field. Jesus, in contrast, in ushering in the kin-dom of God on earth as it is in heaven, sets aside his enthroned status and secures an ultimate victory through an impressive failure. Both models of leadership pivot on radical compassion and perhaps that lineage was the most remarkable–and necessary–of all.
For further reflection:
“All I ever wanted was to reach out and touch another human being not just with my hands but with my heart.” ― Tahereh Mafi”
“Courage. Kindness. Friendship. Character. These are the qualities that define us as human beings, and propel us, on occasion, to greatness.” ― R.J. Palacio, Wonder
“In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.” ― Elizabeth Gilbert
Suggested Congregational Response to the Reflection:
The faith community could recognize someone who exemplifies compassionate leadership within the congregation or through a community partnership.
Angel, Hayyim. “When Love and Politics Mix: David and His Relationships with Saul, Jonathan, and Michal.” Jewish Bible Quarterly 40, no. 1 (January 2012): 41–51.
Brueggemann, Walter. Interpretation: First and Second Samuel. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990.Evans, Mary J. 1 and Samuel. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000.
Evans, Mary J. 1 and Samuel. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000.
Pruitt, Sarah. “How John Adams Established the Peaceful Transfer of Power” https://www.history.com/news/peaceful-transfer-power-adams-jefferson. Accessed June 17, 2021.
A Bible study version of this reflection is at Weekly Seeds.
2 Samuel 1:1, 17–27 and Psalm 130
Wisdom of Solomon 1:13–15, 2:23–24 or Lamentations 3:22–33 and Psalm 30
2 Corinthians 8:7–15
2 Samuel 1:1, 17–27
1 After the death of Saul, when David had returned from defeating the Amalekites, David remained two days in Ziklag.
17 David intoned this lamentation over Saul and his son Jonathan. 18 (He ordered that The Song of the Bow be taught to the people of Judah; it is written in the Book of Jashar.) He said:
19 Your glory, O Israel, lies slain upon your high places!
How the mighty have fallen!
20 Tell it not in Gath,
proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon;
or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice,
the daughters of the uncircumcised will exult.
21 You mountains of Gilboa,
let there be no dew or rain upon you,
nor bounteous fields!
For there the shield of the mighty was defiled,
the shield of Saul, anointed with oil no more.
22 From the blood of the slain,
from the fat of the mighty,
the bow of Jonathan did not turn back,
nor the sword of Saul return empty.
23 Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely!
In life and in death they were not divided;
they were swifter than eagles,
they were stronger than lions.
24 O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul,
who clothed you with crimson, in luxury,
who put ornaments of gold on your apparel.
25 How the mighty have fallen
in the midst of the battle!
Jonathan lies slain upon your high places.
26 I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
greatly beloved were you to me;
your love to me was wonderful,
passing the love of women.
27 How the mighty have fallen,
and the weapons of war perished!
1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD.
2 Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications!
3 If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
4 But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.
5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
6 my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.
7 O Israel, hope in the LORD!
For with the LORD there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
8 It is he who will redeem Israel
from all its iniquities.
Wisdom of Solomon 1:13–15, 2:23–24
13 because God did not make death,
and he does not delight in the death of the living.
14 For he created all things so that they might exist;
the generative forces of the world are wholesome,
and there is no destructive poison in them,
and the dominion of Hades is not on earth.
15 For righteousness is immortal.
23 for God created us for incorruption,
and made us in the image of his own eternity,
24 but through the devil’s envy death entered the world,
and those who belong to his company experience it.
22 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
1 I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up,
and did not let my foes rejoice over me.
2 O LORD my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
3 O LORD, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.
4 Sing praises to the LORD, O you his faithful ones,
and give thanks to his holy name.
5 For his anger is but for a moment;
his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
6 As for me, I said in my prosperity,
“I shall never be moved.”
7 By your favor, O LORD,
you had established me as a strong mountain;
you hid your face;
I was dismayed.
8 To you, O LORD, I cried,
and to the LORD I made supplication:
9 “What profit is there in my death,
if I go down to the Pit?
Will the dust praise you?
Will it tell of your faithfulness?
10 Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me!
O LORD, be my helper!”
11 You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy,
12 so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever.
2 Corinthians 8:7–15
7 Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.
8 I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. 9 For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. 10 And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— 11 now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. 12 For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. 13 I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between 14 your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. 15 As it is written,
“The one who had much did not have too much,
and the one who had little did not have too little.”
21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” 24 So he went with him.
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’ ” 32 He looked all around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.