Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
2 Samuel 18 – David organizes his men into three groups: one under Joab, one under Abishai (Joab’s brother) and one under Ittai the Gittite (Gath was a city in Philistia on the Mediterranean). David wants to go out with them, but they prevail upon him to remain in the city to send help if they need it. As they go out David says to them, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom. And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders concerning Absalom” (18:5). This is pretty amazing. I understand it as a parent. David is a man who has trouble NOT forgiving, NOT reconciling; but Absalom is the reason all these men are going out to fight and many of them will die. Yet the man who leads the rebellion they are trying to put down cannot be harmed??
The battle is fought in the Forest of Ephraim [east of the Jordan, near Mahanaim], and there is a great slaughter—20,000 fall. The men of Israel are defeated by the servants of David (18:6). Absalom, riding his donkey, is caught up in a tree: “His head caught fast in the oak, and he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on” (18:9). Remember Absalom was a man renown for his abundant head of hair (see 14:25). Someone sees him and tells Joab. Joab is angry that the man who came across Absalom did not kill him when he had the chance, but the man tells him he knows of the king’s wishes and was afraid to do it—believing that Joab would not have supported him against the king. Joab says, “I will not waste time like this with you” (18:14). He runs three spears into Absalom’s heart and his armor-bearers follow suit. They recall their troops and bury Absalom in a great pit.
Priest Zadok’s son, Ahimaaz, wants to go tell David of their victory, but Joab sends a Cushite instead (worried about his reaction to the death of Absalom). Ahimaaz, however, refuses to be outdone and he outruns the Cushite. David and his men see both running toward them. Ahimaaz, wisely, only delivers news of the victory. When David inquires about Absalom, he claims ignorance but does say there was some stir going on when he left. The Cushite does tell him, however. “The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, ‘O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you. O Absalom, my son, my son!’” (18:33).
If you have never listened to the amazing Sacred Harp version of “David’s Lamentation” you should listen to it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OCrzfrFwctg&feature=related
Mark 14:32-53 - Jesus goes to Gethsemane and asks his disciples to remain while he prays. He takes Peter, James and John with him further and then asks them to stay while he goes further. He “throws himself on the ground and prays that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him” (14: 35), “yet, not what I want, but what you want” (14:36). He returns to find his disciples sleeping—“the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (14:38). Twice more this happens. Then Judas arrives with a crowd, this time a crowd unfriendly to him. He kisses Jesus. One of his disciples draws a sword and strikes the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Jesus does not rebuke him in this account. But then all his friends desert him, including the one who runs off naked when one of the arresting men seizes his loincloth (14:51).
I am not sure of this, but I recently read that the Roman Catholic practice of “Eucharistic Adoration” originated as a way of remembering this moment in Jesus life. Those who do it sit in simple silence in the presence of the host for an hour or so. I am not sure that people today link the practice with this part of the Jesus story but I think it would be more meaningful if they did. Jesus asks his dearest followers to “wait for him” while he prays, while he faces the “cup of suffering” he must face for us. This struck me as a very beautiful idea. Quakers similarly sit in silence in his presence in their Meetings for Worship, but I am pretty sure they rarely link that experience with this moment in the lives of Jesus and his faithful few. I think linking both these practices with the narrative is very meaningful and enriching.