Seth Patterson July 8, 2018
Readings: 1 Samuel 17 (abridged); “Even after all this time”
All this time
The Sun never says to the Earth,
“You owe me.”
With a love like that,
It lights the whole sky.
* * *
Goliath almost always wins. That is, of course, what makes the David story so remarkable and powerful. Goliath almost always wins, but that one time the young shepherd prevailed. It is memorable exactly because this is one of the special times that the weaker, smaller, less-resourced, undertrained and less powerful party triumphed. The David story has remained with us precisely because the expected did not happen that time. But Goliath almost always wins.
Goliath will almost always win. Not because it is right, but because it is real. Because it is what we assume will happen, what we understand will happen, what our experiences historically and personally have told us will happen. The larger, stronger, better trained, better resourced and more fearsome will almost always win. Those with the most money almost always win. Those with power and influence almost always win. The Goliaths of imperialism and colonialism, authoritarianism and war have not been felled. The Goliaths of white supremacy, male supremacy, hetero-supremacy, cisgender supremacy and so on are still standing tall on the battlefield. The Goliaths of hate, fear, greed, apathy, abuse and contempt still wear their heavy armor. Day to day, all of these fearsome Goliaths will likely survive and thrive. The stones of David are rarely effective. The Davids of love and compassion and equity, diversity and inclusion keep slinging smooth stones, and they have yet to kill the giants. We have seen, we have heard and we have felt that Goliath will almost always win.
We may want the Davids to prevail and so celebrate in story and memory those unique times that this occurs. Knowing that this is possible, even if it is a rare possibility, gives us some hope. One of these times, the right David will come along again and the stone will land righteously. We keep waiting for this David to arrive and defeat the giant for us.
I am no David, though. I am a Goliath. And I have the historical and experiential knowledge that I will likely survive and thrive and win. The Goliaths of whiteness and maleness and hetero-ness and North American-ness and able-bodied-ness will all stand firm and fight on my behalf. And since these Goliaths will almost always protect me, I can begin to want even more from them: more things, more safety, more recognition, more resources, more and more and more. I am a Goliath. And so are you. We may not all be the same Goliaths, but each of us embodies one in some way or another. And we will almost always win. We are all able to ignore the stones of the Davids when it is convenient to do so.
And I am David also. I am just a boy up against pieces of life that are much more powerful than I can ever hope to be. You are all Davids staring down your own Goliaths with an inadequate arsenal of stones. We each embody the paradoxical quality of being both giant and shepherd boy simultaneously. It is our egos, our most adult qualities, our fears that cling to the powerful, while the grown-up child inside each of us knows little more than to sling stones at injustices. To live in this paradox is to live with a choice.
Jesus speaks to this paradox most specifically in the Sermon on the Mount as described by the author of the book of Matthew. Here Jesus names the blessed:
Blessed are the poor. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the pure in heart. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you falsely on my account.
This is the deeper reality of God’s presence, the choice we are asked to make. We are asked not to put on the costumes of armor, but to show up with smooth stones and the hopefulness of God. We are called into blessedness not by the ways we feel powerful—the Goliaths—but in the ways that we let go and trust in the hopefulness of God. Like David we are called to derive hope from God and not just assume—although usually correctly—that the giant will almost always win. We are called to choose the side that almost never wins.
God is a source of the hope that, if we give up our various Goliaths, we will be okay. Like the sun in the poem read earlier: Even after all this time, God never says to us, “‘You owe me.’ Look what happens with a love like that, it lights up the whole sky.” We are given the abundance of God, and that includes hope. God has given us hope that Goliath doesn’t always have to win via this story of David. God, through the person of Jesus, taught us that by letting go of these powerful Goliaths, we become blessed.
This summer on Friday mornings, I am participating in a Restorative Justice class at a maximum security prison, the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Stillwater. I am not there to teach or lead. I am there as a participant from the outside. Sitting in that circle with men imprisoned anywhere from months to lifetimes has been an unexpected and incredible gift of hopefulness. Restorative Justice is an attempt at offender rehabilitation by facilitating reconciliation between offenders, victims and their respective communities. But the first step is the necessary time when the offender attempts to reconcile his own actions with himself. Here I see Goliaths slain as these men are emptied out of their ego and stand face-to-face with themselves as they truly are. This is not a system of answers but one of stark honesty and a killing of the very Goliaths that they have spent a lifetime fighting for and with. I have found such deep and sometimes overwhelming hope as I have learned from these imprisoned men. These men have given me the hope that I, too, could be okay if I worked to eliminate my Goliaths, if I worked to empty myself out, if I did more to be in the list of Jesus’ blessed ones and less to hold onto the power of the Goliaths. These men, who have made awful mistakes to various degrees in their lives, possess a depth of wisdom and power that I have not seen many other places.
And this is the valley in which we each stand. On one side is the ever-present hope of God that lights up the whole sky, and on the other is all of the powerful human elements standing in their armor. On one side is David, and the other is Goliath. And we must choose whom to ally ourselves with, whom to stand with, whom to topple. One hill is occupied by the side that almost always wins—and who among us does not wish to be on the winning side of things? The other hill is occupied by the blessed ones whom people rarely choose to align with: the poor, the meek, the peacemakers, the persecuted, the imprisoned.
Goliath will continue to almost always win unless we begin to empty ourselves out and let go of the ego’s need to win. Goliath’s need for control and power is our need for control and power. Goliath will almost always win unless we continue to choose to be blessed over the want to be powerful. Goliath’s dependence on size, strength and armor is our dependence on size, strength and armor. Goliath will almost always win while we choose the security and surety of power over the hopefulness of a God that blesses those whom we often call weak. Goliath will almost always win, but for how long is up to us.
Daniel Ladinsky, The Gift: Poems by Hafiz, the Great Sufi Master (New York: Penguin Compass, 1999), 34.