Thursday in the Second Week of Ordinary Time

[Scripture Readings: 1 Sam 18:6-9; 19:1-7; Mk 3:7-12]

When David was anointed by Samuel, "the spirit of the Lord rushed upon" him. We heard that a few days ago. We can't help but think about Jesus at his baptism, "He saw … the Spirit like a dove descending upon him." Jesus who, just two days ago, compared himself to David. On the other hand, of Saul it says, "The spirit of the Lord departed from" him, and several times in the story of Saul and David it says that "an evil spirit rushed upon Saul."

Saul's evil spirit expressed itself in jealous rage against David, so that more than once Saul tried to kill him. Jesus' first public act is an encounter with a man with an unclean spirit, and today we hear that unclean spirits would fall down before him whenever they saw him and keep shouting out who he was. You could read the story of David and Saul as the story of a conflict between two spirits, and you could read the Gospel of Mark as the same: A spirit is a dynamic power that moves you.

In Saul's case, the evil spirit moved him to murderous rage. It's worth noting that in Saul's case, too, even the spirit of God rushing upon him resulted in a violent demonstration of anger. In Saul's case, spirit, good or bad, seemed to get mixed up with Saul's fundamental disposition to anger and jealousy. But Saul is not so different from David in that regard, except David's disposition was toward lust and deceit. And so with all of us.

We can be so stuck in our preconceptions and expectations that even God's spirit has a hard time moving us. Saul has slain his thousands, David his tens of thousands, sang the joyful dancing women. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right, says the Psalm. The point is not that your left side is weaker than your right: the point is that you are totally protected on all sides from any threat or evil whatsoever. So with the women's song: both Saul and David are mighty warriors; with them around, no danger can befall us.

But out of his fundamental jealousy Saul could not hear the joy but only a personal slight unintended, only the literal but nothing of the poetry of the song. As the story goes on, we see that Saul is fixated on this unintended slight, immobilized, or rather, moved to murder by a mistaken interpretation of the facts that his fundamental disposition was all too ready to arrive at. He was disposed to be hurt, and so he was. People are out to get me and they will succeed. His disposition controls his life and affects his relationship with those he is closest to.

Saul is like the family member who never comes to Thanksgiving dinner anymore because of that time twenty years ago when someone overlooked her food allergy in preparing the festal meal: "They were trying to kill me," or, "They think of no one but themselves," she says. Fundamentally, it was all about her.

How often in a family, in a monastic community, will someone get stuck forever in his refusal to perform a certain service, or hold back in giving his all, because of an offence intended or not, that happened long ago, or just because of a set of circumstances morally neutral but personally disagreeable?

Fundamentally, like Saul, we want life on our terms. We want them to give us our ten thousands, when that fact is that it is not a matter of numbers at all but of communal joy. You could read our lives as monks, as Christians, as the story of spirit against spirit. But Saint Paul said as much: "Our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, … with the evil spirits in the heavens," and, we might add, with the evil spirits in our memories and in our self-centered posture of entitlement. Happily, Paul also reminds us that of these principalities and powers, Christ has made a public spectacle, leading them away in triumph by his Cross. A memory like that can go far in healing us.