Memorial of Saint Agnes, Virgin and Martyr

Lectionary: 314

When David and Saul approached (on David’s return after slaying the Philistine), women came out from each of the cities of Israel to meet King Saul, singing and dancing, with tambourines, joyful songs, and sistrums.
The women played and sang:
“Saul has slain his thousands,
and David his ten thousands.”
Saul was very angry and resentful of the song, for he thought: “They give David ten thousands, but only thousands to me. All that remains for him is the kingship.” And from that day on, Saul was jealous of David.


Rene Girard, a literary critic and philosopher, observed that we learn to want from observing what others want. He called it mimetic (imitation) desire. Put two children in a room with three identical toys and they’ll quarrel over one of them. “I only want what they want!” they might say. There's probably something beneficial in that principle, but it sure causes a lot of trouble. 

Other corollaries of mimetic desire: I want others to want what I want; I want what important people want; if an important person doesn't want it anymore, neither do I. 
Much of advertising and all of fashion is built on imitative desire. If you can persuade a Tiger Wood or Michael Jordan to wear your brand -- no matter how ugly -- people will buy it.

But Girard was more interested in those conflicts of two or more people who want the one thing that cannot be split, divided, or shared. Things like lovers and kingdoms. 
King Saul had not endeared himself to his Hebrew nation despite his conquests, and he didn’t much care about that; but when he saw how the girls were gaga about the young warrior David, he was consumed with jealousy. There was something seriously lacking in his soul, something which David seemed to have. 
Their relationship strongly resembles that of Cain and Abel. Like Saul, Cain was the elder but, for reasons known only to God, the younger men – Abel and David – were preferred. David was certainly a flawed character, as later developments would show; but Saul couldn’t get it right from the start. God had chosen him as king but he ran afoul of God’s blessing almost immediately.
Saul might have yet redeemed himself had he taken a different attitude toward David. He could have been proud of his protégé’s successes and laughed about the women’s songs. He might have supported the great friendship between his son Jonathan and David, allowing God to choose which should succeed him.
But Saul habitually presumed that he knew God’s mind and didn’t hesitate to force God’s hand. Anxious about an ensuing battle and impatient for Samuel’s arrival he presumptively offered sacrifices to God, although he was not a priest. Later he would try to discourage Jonathan’s loyalty to David, reminding his son that he should be suspicious of the shepherd warrior. But God had already chosen David to succeed Saul and Saul’s manipulations only made matters worse. On the day before he died he hired a necromancer to summon the shade of Samuel. With that he violated God's law, his own decree and Samuel's peaceful rest.
David would not kill Saul even when he had just cause and the perfect opportunity; nor would he violate Jonathan's affection. He certainly wanted to be king but he preferred to wait until God worked out his intentions. For his patience he was reward with a privilege given to few monarchs, to die of natural causes at a ripe old age in his own bed. 
Centuries later the wise man Qoheleth would teach us, “There is a time for every purpose under heaven.” As we study God’s ways we learn to “participate, not anticipate.” We learn to act according to the time; to weep with those who weep and laugh with those who laugh. We discover that God makes all the important decisions and most of the minor one. We learn to sail with the Spirit of God through many dangerous, confusing and conflicted straits with God as our steersman.

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

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