David was a man after God’s own heart. He was also a courageous boy with a hand full of rocks, an outlaw and fugitive, a singer, an adulterer, a king, and a seeker. But in Second Samuel 9:1-12, he was something more. Here, David shows compassion; here, David is grace.
I want to encourage you to consider what grace you receive regularly – and what grace you have experienced that you know changed the course of your life. Did you know it then? Or has it taken you years to acknowledge it?
For Mephibosheth, his whole life changed in the course of a single invitation.
Mephibosheth, which means “out of the mouth of shame,” was the last remaining descendent of King Saul and Jonathan. Ironically, we know that Saul was one of David’s greatest enemies but Jonathan was David’s best friend as a youth. When David was established as the king, he sought out one of Saul’s old servants, and asked if there was anyone left because he wanted to show God’s kindness to them.
This man, Ziba, knew of Mephibosheth – a son of Jonathan’s who was crippled in both feet. Mephibosheth was living in the home of another man, at Lo-debar, which means “place of no pasture.”
David and Mephibosheth haven’t even met yet, and we know several things about him. We know that this man has lost his father and grandfather.
We know he’s lost his place in the world and doesn’t even own his own home. He is dependent on others to feed him and house him because he holds no status in society, and owns nothing to change his place.
We know that he’s crippled (some apocryphal understandings say that it’s because his nurse dropped him as a child, upon discovering the death of Saul and Jonathan).
We know that where he lives – Lo-debar – has its name because nothing grows there. It’s the wilderness, the desert, the outskirts of common society and community. It’s ostracization personified.
Now, it says that when David had Mephibosheth brought to the palace, that Mephibosheth bowed low in respect. To be clear, Mephibosheth must’ve been terrified. It would have been considered nothing to a conquering warrior king to cut off all descendants of the previous king. This would establish his absolute sovereignty and reduce the potential for an uprising or coup rallying behind the remaining family member. This would also incline some of David’s enemies to believe David weak – it could even cause some of his governmental allies to question his leadership abilities.
Compassion on David’s part is as risky to David as Mephibosheth’s trip to the palace is for Mephibosheth.
David knows this and so he says, “Do not be afraid.”
David promises kindness – and demonstrates it in two ways. He turns over all property that had previously been Saul’s, and he assigns Mephibosheth a seat at the king’s table.
What difference would this make, you might wonder? I remember as a college student when we assembled a Random Acts of Kindness day. For four hours, we stood in the commons as our classmates came through, offering lollipops and ‘free hugs’ to everyone who came through. Some people recoiled – others smiled shyly and didn’t stop. But for the majority, a lollipop and a hug was worth the moment’s pause. The kindness mattered.
So what difference does it make where this man eats? Consider the response of Mephibosheth: “Who am I that you would show kindness to a dead dog like me?”
A dead dog. No longer bearing life, or purpose. Disposed of and no longer remembered.
This is what the grandson of the first king of Israel believes about himself and his self worth.
Isn’t this the state of much of the world? Isn’t it true that for some people, self-esteem is so low that it is non-existent, that they do not believe they matter to God or anyone else?
David doesn’t reply. He has no time for low self-esteem, only fixing problems and establishing his kingdom. David wants his kingdom to be one of compassion – even in the face of conventional wisdom.
David calls Ziba – the servant who had known where Mephibosheth was in the first place – and puts him in charge of the property once owned by Saul. In one invitation, David has reestablished a family, including all of Ziba’s family as well.
But more than property, David re-establishes that the first king of Israel’s family would always have a seat at the table.
David saw weakness and made it a strength. David saw tragedy and made it a triumph.
David saw his own power, and he made it a gift to be shared not clutched for himself.
David saw an opportunity and he chose compassion.
In Rumors from Another World, Philip Yancey wrote, ”
…I found myself reflecting…on the sharp contrast between how Jesus treated moral failures and how the church often does. Jesus elevated sinners…He appointed a Samaritan woman as his first missionary. He defended the woman who anointed him with expensive perfume…He restored Peter to leadership…
Grace is irrational, unfair, unjust and only makes sense if I believe in another world governed by a merciful God who always offers another chance…When the world sees grace in action, it falls silent.
Have we as a society embraced grace? Have we as a church?
I must admit that I can quickly fall into the pattern that demands #winning rather than mercy, that makes life about competition rather than collaboration.
I can buy into the American myth that all of life can be boiled down to survival of the fittest, not Charles Darwin’s last thought but his most famous.
And yet, to follow Jesus means that we are to choose compassion. We are to recognize that the weak are often the strongest in the kingdom of God, and that we are called to reach out to the least, to the last, and to the lost.
David understood the kingdom of God – as the youngest, smallest, and least ‘noble’ of all of Jesse’s sons. And he knew that God chose him anyway.
I wonder, what it would look like if we chose compassion.
What would the church look like if we accepted people as they are, rather than as we expected them to be?
What would happen if we took slights and mistreatment and responded to them with kindness and mercy?
What would happen if we found someone who didn’t deserve or earn or benefit us, but who could use our reckless compassion?
Isn’t that what happened when we were saved by grace? That God looked down and had mercy on our plight – on our being stuck in our sin – and sent Jesus?
Like forgiveness, compassion seems to be a Christian trait because we recognize that God already treated us this way. We are not merciful or compassionate on our own, but ultimately, because we are loved by a mighty God.
Paul writes in Colossians 3:12: “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Several of the words mean similar things, but it’s as if Paul wanted to make sure we didn’t miss it.
No matter what you call it – compassion, mercy, humility, etc. – we are called to live it out, to share it with others, and to bring the kingdom of God upon the earth.
One small act of service at a time.