The reading tells a story from the early years of the Kingdom of Israel. Saul is the people's first king, and after seeming like a good choice, he has turned out not so well. So David is chosen by God and anointed to be new king. But Saul is still on the throne, isn't about to give it up, and every now and then tries to have David killed. At one point David goes underground, hiding out in a cave in the neighbouring land of the Philistines (Israel's enemy at that point) and then in a forest just inside Israel’s border with the land of the Philistines. In hiding, he is joined by hundreds of others from "the underside" of Saul's kingdom.
David, for his part, has a number of opportunities to kill Saul and take the throne, but refuses to raise a hand against the sitting king. Rather, David and his followers just go about the work of helping the people of the kingdom as best they can from where they are.
When I read this story of David, the rightful and future king hiding in a cave in enemy territory and then living in a forest on the kingdom’s edge, attracting around him hundreds of others who are oppressed, in debt or dissatisfied, I think of Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest hiding from the Sherriff of Nottingham and the cruel King John usurping the throne of his brother Richard the Lionhearted, and gathering around him a band of Merry Men similarly dispossessed and creating what justice they can in a hard and unjust time.
I think of alternative communities and underground resistance of any time.
I think too of Jesus on the fringe of society and power in his time, also gathering a motley crew of disciples, united in their sense of dispossession and loss, united also in their commitment to seeking and helping to create a new world more holy and humane than the one that keeps perpetuating itself.
And that makes me think too, of what might have happened – what might have been asked and answered, each time someone new came to the cave, came to the edge of the forest, came wanting to join the community that was forming on the edge of their time.
“What are you looking for” comes a voice from somewhere up ahead, or maybe off to the side – the voice of someone still skillfully hidden from plain sight.
“I am looking for comfort,” is maybe the first response. “I have lost so much. I see no hope. I don’t know where to turn. And I have heard that there is comfort to be found here. That here with your leader there is understanding and healing, encouragement and hope that the world – that the kingdom of our time and that the life and the system and the powers of our kingdom cannot provide. I am in need of comfort.”
After a pause, during which we wonder if maybe we are now alone – that the one who asked the question has maybe left us, the voice sounds again. “And is that all you are looking for?” the voice asks, and this time we think we see the outline of a human shape in the cluster of trees where the voice seems to be coming from.
After a moment’s thought, and turning towards the human shape that we think we see, “No. Not just comfort. I am looking for community and companionship as well. I cannot be the only one feeling this way – so powerless and poor, so lost and afraid. I would like to be with others who feel the same way. Have suffered the same experience. Who know it and understand it from inside. I think that would help heal me and give me strength, more than anything.”
Again, a long pause. But this time we are sure that the shape we think we have seen really is a person, somewhere there just behind those three trees. We keep our eyes fixed there and then from that very place the voice comes again. “And is there anything else you are looking for? Will comfort and companionship – comfort and community, satisfy you?”
“No,” we say, after another moment’s hesitation. “I would also like, with the rest of the people here to help make the world anew. To help it be different than it is and has become. To help it be the place of comfort and companionship it should be for all. To make it good, the way it is meant to be in its creation.”
“And how will you do that?” The voice this time is surprisingly quick in its question. As though to catch out our real answer before we have time to think too much about it.
And we actually do reply as quickly, saying, “By starting from here. By letting this be a place where we work together at comfort, community and the world that’s meant to be. And then seeing, and being thankful for wherever the ripples may lead.”
“Welcome.” A human figure comes out from the tree. “Come in,” we are told, and the figure before us turns and begins to lead deeper into the forest, on a little pathway that we hadn’t really noticed before. And as we follow, we hear the words floating back to hover over us, “Peace be with you. God’s peace be upon you. God’s peace flow through you to all the Earth.”
And what if that’s it? What if that is how the kingdom comes? Always comes?
Not in any grand battle. Not in any great revolution. Not in any triumphal entry or even a grand second coming.
But in an alternative community of comfort and companionship, committed together to living in the ways of peace, and being thankful for wherever the ripples may lead.
Photo by John VanDuzer