Daily Office readings for Sunday, July 28:
Psalm 24, 29 (Morning)
Psalm 8, 84 (Evening)
“How the mighty have fallen!”
How many times have we heard that refrain in our reading in 2 Samuel, usually in relation to a high profile political situation or in a situation where deep down inside, we secretly are a little glad someone “got what’s coming to them?” Our tendency is to use it as a derision–but the origin of the phrase is not about derision at all, but lament. David uses it three times in this passage, and for three different reasons, and with three different qualifying phrases after it.
First, he laments the glory that was once Israel in Verse 19. Next, he laments Saul, who fell on his sword–literally, and in Verse 25, laments Jonathan’s death. Finally, he seems to lament war itself in Verse 27. In short, this is not a story about someone “getting what’s coming to them.” It’s a story where we see how absolute power corrupts absolutely, and how eventually, when we sow the seeds of “misuse of power,” it eventually yields a harvest of broken-ness.
This reading shows us the pain of deep mourning. The Israel David once knew is gone. Any chances to reconcile with Saul in their complicated relationship is gone, and Jonathan–someone who he loved dearly despite the fact it wasn’t exactly a politically expedient relationship–is gone. What David doesn’t see, though, is how moments of deep grief sometimes mask warnings–he isn’t catching on that this sort of mess could possibly happen to him. Once again, we are in the position of knowing the plot spoilers and know that David, will, indeed, find himself in equally messy circumstances some day.
This story is a reminder that when we think “How the mighty have fallen,” in our modern vernacular, we need to consider the possibility that “the mighty” is us. I think of the mantra that probably every adult child of an alcoholic has said in the heat of battles that occurred in their homes as children–“This will never happen to me.” “I will never live like this.” “When I grow up, it’s not gonna be like this.” Yet somewhere, in some sphere, that child, now an adult, often finds him or herself in the exact same place that he or she swore would never happen.
Our reading today encourages us to grieve deeply for the losses we’ve encountered in the battle of life–yet at the same time, hear the grief within ourselves and the warnings that yes, it could happen to us. It’s one of the tougher aspects of this complicated relationship we have with a loving God. Sometimes God loves us by allowing us to see ourselves as we really are, and ask for a different way out of the complicated maze of our own broken-ness.
When is a time you saw the mighty fall and were shocked to discover a time later, that “the mighty” was yourself?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid