Samuel 17:1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49
The Rev. Melanie McCarley
David & Goliath is one of the great biblical stories. It has all of the elements making for a fine tale: an improbable hero as well as an evil protagonist, a slim chance for success, daring and action and, at the final moment, victory. From a theological point of view, it is a story of how God chooses the weak among us to shame the proud, and in the form of a short story it tells us that “pride goeth before a fall.”
Our story begins in the camp of the Philistines. The Philistines are pagans, and they are an occupying force, stationed on Israelite ground—on the very land that God had promised to Israel’s ancestors. The mighty Philistines also have among them a warrior named Goliath. Goliath isn’t just very tall—he’s also heavily armed. He’s a Philistine equivalent of a tank and fighter jet rolled into one. And he’s a swaggering braggart to boot. And who confronts this massive offensive machine—but David, a mere boy. In a massive twist of fate, in the end, we discover that it is nothing more than a well-aimed stone that brings Goliath down. It’s a great tale.
One of the reasons this is such a fantastic and memorable story is because those of us who read it---well, we naturally identify with David. Most of us first learn this story as children—we are small, and it is easy enough to see ourselves in his place; and of course, there is the fact that we all want to be the hero. Certainly the Israelite people, as a whole, identified with David, in this story—they were used to being underdogs, slaves in Egypt, wanderers in the desert, a small, nomadic people working to establish a nation, exiles in Babylon, on and on.
But, what if you were to read this story, and instead of seeing yourself as David, you were instead to realize that you were Goliath?
That’s a bit more uncomfortable.
It was quite a shock to have spent two weeks away from the United States—on something of a news blackout, and return to see our country embroiled in the midst of what can only be described as a moral crisis, over the decision to temporarily separate children from their parents who have illegally crossed the border from Mexico into the United States.
I must preface what I’m going to say by explaining that I see this as a problem which we are all facing, each of us, as members of our country. There is the problem, certainly, of what to do to secure the borders of the United States—that’s a political issue into which I will not delve. Suffice it to say, there are fine and thoughtful people on either side of the aisle who have differing views. Then there is the moral issue facing us with the present crisis—and this is what I would like to address this morning. Because, we, as a country crossed a line that should not have been crossed, that of separating children from their parents who have crossed the border illegally. As citizens of our country, we became collective perpetrators of a horror. For a child, to lose or be taken from a parent is a nightmare. For a parent to lose their child—now, this is a desolating terror. This is morally wrong. It is sinful. And something such as this can only happen if we see the people involved as less than human. Because, if we saw them as people such as ourselves—we could never conceive of taking children away from their parents for a crime described as a misdemeanor. Certainly, we could never do so with blithe excuses attempting to explain that these places are akin to summer camps or renaming them tender age shelters.
The Bible teaches us that families are foundational societal structures blessed by God. To utilize the threat of the destruction of those families as a means of thwarting illegal entry into the United States is a horrific threat, saying, in essence: “If you come here illegally we will take your children from you.” Have we truly become this callous? We are blessed with some of the finest and most creative minds in the world—surely, we could conceive of a more creative and compassionate solutions to secure our borders than this? This hearkens back to a brutality we might have thought belonged to an earlier, less-enlightened era than our own.
As of Thursday our country has changed tack—due to a hue and outcry, an upsurge of outrage that challenges the notion that this is indeed who we are—and for that I am grateful.
And this is what brings me back to the story of David & Goliath. A parishioner called last week, asking what an individual can do to change the situation. She mentioned that churches near the border saw children sleeping on mats with crinkly silver sheets and were knitting blankets in response. What can I do, she asked. My response was simple. You have your voice. It may be only one voice, but it is yours. What we discovered this past week is that the power of moral outrage should not be underestimated. It is powerful, powerful, powerful. It is irrespective of political party. When you see something that is wrong and name it for the evil that it is, you are doing your part. Your voice, raised with countless other voices, can indeed change the world.
The Bible tells us many things—one of them is this; that God cares for the outcast, the poor, the widowed and the orphan and those in prison. God, it seems, has a heart for the underdogs. What’s more, ours is a God filled with love and compassion. Ours is a God of empathy. Captain G. M. Gilbert, a U.S. Army psychologist wrote: “In my work with the defendants (at the Nuremburg Trials from 1945 – 1949) I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men. Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.”
There is no escaping the fact that we have perpetrated a greater evil upon the families crossing the border illegally than they have upon us. The damage we have done to them and their children is most likely irreparable. What’s more, we have damaged our own humanity in the process. Take a moment and put yourself in the place of an ICE Agent whose job it is to separate a nine month old from a loving mother and ask yourself if that is not dehumanizing. It’s worth asking ourselves to take a closer look at our own complicity this week in how we have contributed to a lack of empathy in our culture; a culture that somehow managed to put a plan such as this in place—if even for a few weeks—with many people doing their best to justify it both publicly and privately. And as we do this, we should begin looking for ways to humanize our approach with those we see as “other” than ourselves; be they of a different race, nationality, religion or political affiliation than ourselves. We must do our best to listen, to understand, and to put an end to the polarization of our society that is preventing us from seeking creative, life-giving solution to social dilemmas. For in the end, our hope and our prayer is that we might discover that even Goliath can be redeemed. In Jesus’ name. Amen.