Saturday 9th November Standing up to Empire’s claims to say what love looks like
1 Sam 18: 1 – 5, 20: 30 – 42, 2 Sam 1: 23 – 27
When David had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that he was wearing, and gave it to David, and his armour, and even his sword and his bow and his belt. David went out and was successful wherever Saul sent him; as a result, Saul set him over the army. And all the people, even the servants of Saul, approved. … Then Saul’s anger was kindled against Jonathan. He said to him, ‘You son of a perverse, rebellious woman! Do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness? For as long as the son of Jesse lives upon the earth, neither you nor your kingdom shall be established. Now send and bring him to me, for he shall surely die.’ Then Jonathan answered his father Saul, ‘Why should he be put to death? What has he done?’ But Saul threw his spear at him to strike him; so Jonathan knew that it was the decision of his father to put David to death. Jonathan rose from the table in fierce anger and ate no food on the second day of the month, for he was grieved for David, and because his father had disgraced him.
In the morning Jonathan went out into the field to the appointment with David, and with him was a little boy. He said to the boy, ‘Run and find the arrows that I shoot.’ As the boy ran, he shot an arrow beyond him. When the boy came to the place where Jonathan’s arrow had fallen, Jonathan called after the boy and said, ‘Is the arrow not beyond you?’ Jonathan called after the boy, ‘Hurry, be quick, do not linger.’ So Jonathan’s boy gathered up the arrows and came to his master. But the boy knew nothing; only Jonathan and David knew the arrangement. Jonathan gave his weapons to the boy and said to him, ‘Go and carry them to the city.’ As soon as the boy had gone, David rose from beside the stone heap and prostrated himself with his face to the ground. He bowed three times, and they kissed each other, and wept with each other; David wept the more. Then Jonathan said to David, ‘Go in peace, since both of us have sworn in the name of the Lord, saying, “The Lord shall be between me and you, and between my descendants and your descendants, for ever.”’ He got up and left; and Jonathan went into the city. … 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. O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you with crimson, in luxury, who put ornaments of gold on your apparel. How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle! Jonathan lies slain upon your high places. 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. How the mighty have fallen, and the weapons of war perished!
Empire makes its claims not only on ‘land’ but also on ‘being’. It occupies the personal as well as the public space, and demonises minorities it sees as ‘abnormal’ or subversive of its power and norms. It also co-opts the majority to its values and attitudes. The Church has become deeply complicit in occupying bodies and souls. There can be nothing more Imperial than denying the realities, complexities and relationships of other: My theology says you cannot be gay so you must not be gay etc. These supposed faith affirmations tie up with and feed into repressive and violent policies, like those in Tanzania and elsewhere around the world.
Religious powers are organising against LGBTQ people and their human rights. Sacred texts are marshalled to terrorise and to justify oppression while other texts are silenced. This is to use the text in Imperial ways, because we do not own the text or its many meanings. It is easy to dehumanise our opponents in the midst of this issue in churches at the moment, yet this will always result in sin and separation, and especially the sin and separation of homophobia.
The way of Jesus is subversive and counter-imperial, and so is queer. David and Jonathan’s love is queer because it is homoerotic and subversive. It is queer because those like Saul, Jonathan’s father and Israel’s king, saw this relationship as a threat and wanted David dead. Saul was the very embodiment of Imperial and patriarchal power and intolerance, so any reading of this text has to be in opposition to this. Thus, Jonathan and David, in their love for each other, embody the counter loving alternative to the repression, control and order of Empire and Patriarchy. This counter love is queer, and it deeply and powerfully resembles God’s counter love, which is queerest of all.
Rise up Jesus. Rise up in power to inspire and lead us. Reveal in our midst the world you are creating. May your ‘last will be first’ Spirit move us to do and believe your word: “Let he, who is without sin, cast the first stone.” Amen.
The Rev’d Dr Peter Cruchley is the Mission Secretary for Mission Development for Council for World Mission and a minister of the URC.