Last Sunday’s Hebrew lesson described how David grieved about the death of King Saul and his son Jonathan. The scripture ended with David declaring that his love for Jonathan exceeded his love for the women in his life.
As tantalizing as that statement is, what struck me as I read it this year was the way David praised Saul. Of course, Saul was the first king of Israel, and David was his successor. It wasn’t exactly an easy transition, though. Today, we would say that Saul had some issues with his mental health. He grew increasingly paranoid, especially toward David. He raged at his own son Jonathan because of Jonathan’s love for David. He even went so far as to try to get David killed. While David served Saul by slaying the Philistine Goliath, and played his music to soothe Saul’s troubled mind, Saul repaid David with brutal harshness.
In the end, though, David seemed to ignore all of that. His eulogy for Saul was beautiful, tender praise. He didn’t qualify his admiration or try to get the people to think less of Saul than they did of him. As I listened to this passage on Sunday, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a glimpse into the kind of person David was, and if that was what made the scripture call him “a man after God’s own heart.”
Too often leaders seem to think that they must diminish the esteem of their predecessor or colleagues. It is as if by tearing someone else down they can build themselves up. Even if that worked for a moment it is not “the way of the Lord.”
David didn’t allow what Saul thought of him, or even how Saul treated him, to determine who he was, how he lived, and how he spoke of someone else. Just yesterday, I was praising someone and noted that he didn’t like me. The person to whom I was speaking looked perplexed, but I said, “His opinion of me doesn’t change my opinion of him.” I wish I could say that was always true, but, if David can do it for Saul who tried to kill him, perhaps I can do it for those who merely irritate me.
Rev. Michael Piazza