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Christine LenahanJanuary 18, 2024
Photo from Unsplash.

A Reflection for Thursday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

Find today’s readings here.

What does it mean to know someone? And I mean really know them—not just their middle name or favorite color.

Is it when you share your deepest secrets? When you know their greatest hopes and fears? Or is it when you know the minute details of their life, like their superstitious rituals before getting on an airplane or their first summer job?

Or is it when you can speak to their character, like in today’s reading from 1 Samuel?

David, the youngest son of Jesse and a lowly shepherd from Bethlehem, has just returned from “slaying the Philistine,” the great warrior Goliath of Gath. Not only does Goliath have a perfect villain name for our story;he is also a mountainous Philistine man standing at about “six cubits and a span tall,” or what scholars estimate to be about nine feet and nine inches tall. What’s more is that David defeats Goliath not with formal training or warrior instincts but with a slingshot and a stone-to-the-forehead maneuver.

(This iconic underdog story is incredibly well portrayed—and I mean this in all seriousness—in the children’s Bible show VeggieTales.)

When David returns from battle, he is celebrated throughout all of Israel with “singing and dancing, with tambourines, joyful songs, and sistrums.” King Saul is incredibly envious of David who has “slain ten thousands” when Saul has slain only “thousands.” It is not enough for Saul to be praised for his skills in battle. He has to be better, more beloved, than David.

Fearing that his power is threatened by David’s deeds and believing that “all that remains for him is the kingship,” Saul talks openly about killing David in front of his son, Jonathan.

But Jonathan knows David, and I mean really knows him. He knows that David is not looking to usurp Saul’s power: Because David is a man of God, his actions are not self-serving but only seek to fulfill God’s plans for Israel.

The relationship between Jonathan and David has been hotly contested among Scripture scholars. Believed to be around the same age, both Jonathan and David have deeply rooted faith in God. Even though the two men come from different social classes (David is the last-born son of a farmer while Jonathan is the first-born son of King Saul) the two form an intense friendship that is marked by a covenant wherein “Jonathan’s life became bound up with David’s life; he loved him as his very self” (1 Samuel 18:1). Their covenant essentially says: I know you. You are a good person. I will defend you.

Arguably, Jonathan has the most to lose because of David’s success in battle and belovedness by the Israeli people. David garners more attention than Saul, which could interfere with Jonathan’s chances of being king. Instead, because both men have such a deep relationship with God, Jonathan comes to know and love David by his faith, not just by his heroic deeds in battle.

David and Jonathan were not in it for the power, but because they were made after God’s own heart. Instead of competing with one another, they enacted his will among the people of Israel. The love of God is made manifest in their closeness, one that supersedes any sort of competition or jealousy. In fact, the covenant the two men had formed eventually led to David, after Jonathan’s death, seating Jonathan’s son at his table instead of eradicating Saul’s royal line.

Jonathan tells David about Saul’s plans to kill him and advises him to “please be on your guard tomorrow morning; get out of sight and remain in hiding.” In so doing, Jonathan turns his back on his father, surrenders his seat on the throne and stands beside the person whom he loves, the person that he truly knows. Jonathan speaks up on behalf of David, defending him and the goodness he has brought about for Israel in defeating the Philistines “​​he has committed no offense against you, but has helped you very much by his deeds.” Saul agrees not to harm him.

The platonic love between David and Jonathan shows us what it means to know someone, to speak to their character and to stand beside them. Through their faith in God, their friendship is not only solidified, it is strengthened.

More: Scripture

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