Superheroes never go out of style.
There’s something in us, young and old, that enjoys a good superhero tale. A typical superhero story includes a villain that everyone loves to hate.
Soon the bad guy and his accomplices create all kinds of mayhem till they manage to bring the world to the brink of disaster. This turmoil creates the ripe condition for the superhero to come to the rescue.
After battling dangerous obstacles and enduring countless injuries, the superhero finally overcomes the enemy to restore order out of chaos. Watching a superhero overpower a particular face and force of evil is deeply reassuring, even when we know the characters and situations are fictional.
In today’s first reading, we have a different kind of superhero story. We meet David, a biblical superhero who challenges our usual notions of retaliation, revenge and payback for wrongdoing. We are invited to move beyond the typical superhero equation of grievance equals retribution. We are called to see our world in the light of God’s mercy and divine vindication.
The dramatic story focuses on the second opportunity given to David to right the wrong done to him by King Saul, who had attempted to murder him. So when we read that David went in search of Saul, we rightly imagine that revenge was his motive. When David eventually finds Saul, we fully expect their encounter to end in the destruction of one of them.
The story moves in a quite different direction, indicating some deeper biblical truth in this lesson. For David finds Saul asleep with his spear in the ground above his head and his bodyguards in a deep slumber.
Abishai, his companion, urges David to seize the moment when he says, “God has delivered your enemy into your grasp this day. Let me nail him to the ground with one thrust of the spear.” In a predictable superhero story, this would be the ideal moment for revenge and the restoration of right order.
Instead, David reveals a heart of righteousness that comes from being in right relationship with God. David chooses to spare Saul’s life, even though it was within his easy grasp to end it.
David was at that turning point we sometimes find ourselves when we are wronged or endure injustice, great or small. He chooses to trust in God and live by the truth that Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel, “the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”
David lived in awareness of the great measure of God’s mercy to him. So he was able to give Saul the same large measure of mercy. Rather than taking the throne by murderous revenge, David trusted God would reward his righteousness. And God did.