Seward United Methodist Church
Monday, January 24, 2022
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John 13:12-17 and 34-35, 2nd Samuel 9
            David is firmly established as king of Israel. His capital is established. He has put an end to the foreign threats to the security of Israel. Chapter 8 tells how he brought peace from foreign enemies and established a kingdom of justice and equality. Those are the kind of things that we would expect any good king to do: To bring peace, to establish justice, and to ensure equality. But a godly king must do more. A godly king must also love. 
            We are less than fully human if we do not receive and give love. We are made in the image of a loving God, and so we are not who we are made to be without love. We are made to receive God’s love, to love God in return, and to love others as a reflection of God’s love. 
            Love cannot simply be an abstract concept. It is impossible to “love people” in general. We must love persons in particular. “Oh, I love people!” “Well, who do you love?” “Everyone!” No, there must be more to it than that. We must love personally.
            David wants to love the family of Saul. He wants to love the family of the man who hunted him almost to death for more than a decade. He wants to love his enemies. 
            Many years earlier, David made covenant with Saul’s oldest son Jonathan. They covenanted together to remain friends for life, to watch out for each other, and to care for each others’ descendants. But of course, Jonathan has been dead for more than a decade. There is no one alive to push David to remember and honor that covenant. David must choose to love Saul’s family, and David does choose to keep covenant.
            But first, he needs to find out if there is even a way to keep it. Are there any descendants of Saul and Jonathan still alive? He brings in one of Saul’s servants, a man named Ziba. And he asks, in verse 3, “Is there anyone still alive in Saul’s family, to whom I can show HESED, like the HESED of God?” 
            HESED is one of the most important Old Testament Hebrew words. It is the preferred word to describe the love of God in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, we find the Greek word AGAPE describing God’s love. It has a somewhat different meaning than HESED. Not a contradictory meaning, just a different emphasis. 
            HESED is one of those words that’s hard to translate from one language to another, because in English, we need at least two words to translate it. HESED combines the ideas of loving affection, and kindness in action, with the idea of steadfast loyalty. Sometimes Bible translators render it as “loving-kindness” or “steadfast love.” You see, our English word love, as our culture normally uses it, is actually a rather shallow concept. In our culture, love just means affection, a feeling, a warm fuzziness. HESED is more. It’s not just a feeling that comes and goes, but a commitment to show kindness to another person, regardless of how we feel at the moment. 
            Ideally, HESED is the kind of love a husband and wife should have for each other. After all, it’s impossible to feel love for our spouse every single moment of our lives. Sometimes we get angry with our spouse. Sometimes we get frustrated or unhappy with our marriage. If love is just a feeling, then when we don’t feel love any more, we should just leave. But if love is more, if love is HESED, then we keep our loyalty and continue to show kindness toward our spouse, even when we don’t feel like it. 
            True love, godly love, is HESED. And it shouldn’t just be restricted to marriage. It should be the kind of love we demonstrate in all our relationships. We should be steadfastly loyal and show kindness in all relationships, even when we don’t feel like it. 
            The answer to David’s question is yes, there is still one descendant of Saul, a son of Jonathan named Mephibosheth. In all likelihood, David never even knew of his existence till now, because he was only five years old when Saul was killed, and by that point, David had been a fugitive enemy of the state for more than a decade. 
            Mephibosheth’s life has been a sad story to this moment. When Saul was killed in that battle in the Valley of Jezreel, there was panic in his capital of Gibeon. The Philistines had free reign throughout the northern and central regions of Canaan. And worse yet, David, Saul’s rival for the throne in the minds of Saul’s loyalists, was helping the Philistines, so they thought. 
            Saul’s servants hastily grabbed whatever they could and fled across the Jordan River to the region called Gilead. As Mephibosheth was being carried, his nurse fell, and he was dropped hard on the ground. Both of his legs were broken, and he never recovered the full use of them. 
            He grew up in a little village called Lo Debar, in the region today called Golan, east of the Sea of Galilee. His identity was probably kept a secret. After all, it was a pretty common practice in that time that when a king was deposed, his successor would often hunt down every single descendant of the king and kill them all to cement his own hold on the throne. 
            But no doubt, Mephibosheth heard the stories of his grandfather’s reign. He knew of the deaths of his father and grandfather. He knew how his house had fallen from power. And the name that was connected with all those tragedies was the name of David. He was raised to hate David and to fear David. 
            Mephibosheth’s birth name was Meribbaal. But after the tragedies that befell his family and his own disability, he came to be known as Mephibosheth, a name that meant something like “Seething Dishonor” or “Burning Shame.” 
            And then David came looking for him. No doubt, he thought, “This is the end.” He called himself a dead dog, and he probably felt like it. 
            But David’s first words to Mephibosheth were “Do not be afraid.” There is so much to fear in life. International terrorism and deadly epidemic diseases come to mind at the moment.  Even God is someone to be feared. If we know our own failures and sins, then God can feel like one more person to be afraid of. And yet, how often in the Scriptures, are God’s first words to human beings: “Fear not.” 
            David’s love for Mephibosheth truly does reflect God’s love for us. David restores to Mephibosheth what had been lost, the land of his grandfather. And he gives him a seat at his own table and three square meals a day. Fortunes are restored, and a place at the table is given. And what does God do for us? He makes us whole and gives us a place at his kingly table. 
            Of course, the cynical mind says, “David is just doing what is politically advantageous! He is keeping a close eye on this descendant of Saul. It’s like the saying goes, ‘Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer!’” It’s nothing more than political expediency!
            Does it have to be one or the other? Does it have to be either David is doing what is politically expedient or he is truly loving Mephibosheth? Is it not true that the most effective way to destroy your enemy is to make him or her your friend? Mephibosheth’s “seething dishonor” and “burning shame” are put to an end by the love of David. 
            Of course, the question remains, what does Mephibosheth feel for David? Does he return David’s love? Years later, it is put to the test. One of David’s sons, Absalom, foments rebellion and makes a power grab for the throne. In the chaos, David is forced to flee from Jerusalem to save his life. 
            On the way out of town, Ziba meets David, gives him supplies, and tells him that Mephibosheth has betrayed David and stayed behind to make his own grab for the throne. David initially believes Ziba, takes away Mephibosheth’s land, and gives it to Ziba.
            After the rebellion, Mephibosheth tells a different story. He says, “Ziba left me behind, and with my crippled legs, I couldn’t come to you.” Mephibosheth’s appearance corroborates his story. He has not bathed or trimmed, as if he were in mourning while David was gone. 
            David reverses his ruling and says that Mephibosheth’s land is to be split between him and Ziba. Some think that this is David’s way of saying, “I can’t determine who’s telling the truth, so I’ll just punt.” But I think otherwise. I think David is testing Mephibosheth’s loyalty, much like a test that his son Solomon gave years later. If so, Mephibosheth passes the test. He says, “Let him have it all! I don’t care, as long as you’re alive and safe, David.” The love David gave to Mephibosheth is now completed by Mephibosheth giving David HESED in return. 
            It’s easy to see ourselves in Mephibosheth. We come before God, broken, bitter, dishonored. God loves us. He restores us. He gives us a place at his table.
            The question is, “How will we repay the steadfast loving-kindness we have received from our King?”

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