King David and Me
It has been a pleasure to have the story of King David presented from the 1st and 2nd Book of Samuel during the daily Masses these past weeks. He is for me a favourite figure in the Hebrew Bible. Perhaps it is his hutzpa in facing the giant Philistine that continues to impress me, but it is more about his faith in and reliance on God’s compassion.
Whenever he sinned, he threw himself on the mercy of God and humbly accepted sin’s consequences. He prays and fasts for the life of his innocent son conceived in adultery with the wife of Uriah, the Hittite whom he arranged to be killed in battle.
When he flees with his court from Absolom, his favourite son, who is set to kill him and seize his throne, he tells his soldiers not to kill Shimei of the family of Saul who is throwing stones at them. He tells them it may be a punishment of God and of his hope that God will have compassion on him as he suffers this indignity.
Remarkably, even in his victory in this civil war, he throws the whole of Israel into mourning at the death of his traitor son, Absolom! (All this history becomes more real if you visit the Kidron Valley and see Absolom’s monument just outside the walls of Jerusalem– and you can do this on line too, a virtual visit! https://www.go-telaviv.com/tomb-of-absalom.html )
The literal meaning of the word ‘compassion’ is ‘to suffer with’, or ‘to suffer together’. It is more than empathy. It is to literally join another person in their pain and suffering. David’s profound insight is that God’s relationship with him includes that reality. He trusts that God will have compassion on him– will suffer with him– and so have mercy on him.
In this he anticipates Jesus, son of Mary, son of God, who throughout the Gospels is shown to have compassion on God’s people, often referring to them as sheep without a shepherd. And Jesus does shepherd them, teaching them, feeding them, healing them, forgiving them, and finally joining them literally in their suffering by embracing His Way of the Cross and death.
It is astounding that our God is a God with such great love as to suffer with us! In that God illustrates for us what we are called to be– compassionate with others according to the pattern set by Jesus.
We pray to be able to look on one another, on our communities, and our world with compassion!
- Frank Obrigewitsch, S.J.