Friday, July 27, 2012

Mephibosheth: From Shame to Grace (2 Samuel 9)

My nanny dropped me.  Worst day of my life.  My father and grandfather were with the army in Jezreel.  Every time they went out, I staged my own battle with little wooden men in the garden.  I had archers and chariots and flag bearers.  I was only five, but I moved the men forward in formation until they crashed into one another - with soldiers flying this way and that.  It was great fun!  Of course, Israel always won, and my father and grandfather were always the heros.  The king and the crown prince were always the gallant warriors who saved the day.
Until the rider came.  My nanny had to drag me away from my little Battle of Jezreel.  We at at the royal table, eating the best food of the land, the only food I had ever known.  I still had my dad’s toy soldier in my hand for the whole meal.  I took it with me wherever I went.  It was my way of feeling closer to him while he was away.  
Until the rider came.  We could hear him pounding on the gate - and I can still hear his desperate, haunting voice - hoarse from shouting, dry from riding.  The whole palace spilled into the courtyard to see what all the fuss was about.  There standing in our safe little sanctuary of home was a wounded, bloodied, exhausted rider announced the news that shattered our entire family:  “King Saul and Crown Prince Jonathan are dead!”  
No one had any idea what would happen next. 

         We knew that King Saul had been trying to kill Uncle David - my father’s friend and brother-in-law.  We knew that some people were saying Uncle David should be king.  Even my father supported Uncle David.  They said he was a better warrior and a better leader and that God had blessed him.  For most new kings, the first thing they do is eliminate the competition.  That means killing all of the male descendants of the old king.  For all we knew, David’s army could be coming here to kill us all right now.  
“King Saul and Crown Prince Jonathan are dead!”  The news echoed through the halls of the palace like a wave of terror - sending each room into chaos as it spread.  When it reached the dining room, my nanny snatched me up and said we had to leave right then.  
We ran out the back door and went straight for the woods.  She drug me by the hand until I couldn’t run anymore.  Then, she picked me up and kept running.  By now it was dark, but we kept running.  I was crying.  She was crying.  But we kept running.  I didn’t understand.  I told her to put me down.  I shouted that I wanted to go home.  But we kept running.  
“I want to see my Dad!  I want to see Grandpa!”  We kept running.
“They’re gone, child.  They’re dead.  We have to get away.”  We kept running.
We probably ran for a solid hour before she fell.  She was trying to step over a fallen tree, and she tripped on a root.  The weight of her whole body fell on me and pinned me against the tree.  Aaaaaiiiiiiiyaaaahhhhhhh!    I had never felt pain like that before in my sheltered life.  She knew I was hurt.  She checked to make sure I wasn’t bleeding, and we kept running.  
That’s when I realized that I had dropped my Dad’s toy soldier.  “Stop!  My daddy!  My daddy!”  We kept running.  I was alone in the world, and we kept running.
Maybe if we could have seen a doctor, maybe if we could have stopped to rested, maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad.  I would never walk right again.  But we kept going.  We slept days and traveled by night.  We ate berries and stole food from farms.  Finally, weeks after we left home, we crossed the Jordan River and found someone who would take us in.
Makir is a good man.  God bless his soul.  Everyone around knows he has a heart as good as gold and an open door to any travelers or strangers.  We were both.  We represented only risk and burden.  We were just a frightened woman and a handicapped child.  We could do nothing to help him, but he took us in.  He housed us and fed us for decades.  We became an extended part of his family.
  Out of caution and fear, my nanny changed my name.  My father named me Merib-baal or “Destroyer of Baal.”  Baal was the god of our enemies.  He expected me to become a mighty warrior like he was and like my grandfather was.  Yeah, I’m real mighty! Hmph.  
Instead, my nanny renamed me Mephibosheth or “Son of Shame.”  She thought that would make me safe.  If any of David’s men came looking for descendants of King Saul, no one would bother with a handicapped boy named Son of Shame.
But I took that name to heart.  My heart became full of shame.  Every time I moved, I was ashamed.  I was a walking display of shame - if you can call it walking.  Every time I ate, I was ashamed.  Once, I was rich; now I was poor.   I was once a royal.  Now I was a refugee, hiding in a place so dry it is called: Lo-Debar which means “no pasture.”  I was a shameful person from a shameful land.  Once, I was safe in the King’s palace; now I was always looking over my shoulder, jumping with every knock at the door, listening to every bit of news from Israel, wondering if I would have to escape again.  Once, I was healthy and whole; now I was handicapped.  Once, I was a little boy playing with wooden soldiers waiting for my daddy to come home; now I was man unable to go home, with shame in my name and shame in my legs and shame in my heart.
And then another rider came.  20 years late and still the rider came.  “King David wants to see Mephibosheth.”  
My first thought was, “So he’s found me at last!  Why doesn’t he just kill me here instead of dragging me all the way to Jerusalem?”  
Oh, how can I describe the emotions that raced through me on that long journey southward?  First, of course, was fear.  I was afraid for myself and afraid for Makir, my host.  Would he be punished for his kindness to me?  
Then, came anger.  My grandfather was king, and my father was the Crown Prince.  I was next in line.  By all rights, I should be king, not David.  But what am I?  A crippled beggar being drug to my death before an Uncle who betrayed my family and stole the crown!  I resolved to go down shouting.  I may be a man of shame, but David’s ears would turn red with shame while I shouted his shameful deeds around the palace.  They were going to kill me anyway, so I might as well go down fighting with the one weapon I had left - my speech.  
Finally, shame won out.  The first thing I noticed when I arrived in Jerusalem was how much better it was.  My family lived in Saul’s house, and we had guards around the walls.  But Jerusalem was a fortress.  We just kept going up, up, up.  It would take an army like a horde of locusts to defeat this city!  
When I arrived at David’s palace, my jaw dropped.  Fine cedar paneling.  Flowers and gold and linen everywhere.  Of course, I wore the best clothes I had, the best that Makir could offer me.  But my best country clothes looked like rags compared with the fine silks of the servants in David’s palace.  David was a thousand times richer than Grandpa Saul and a million times richer than Makir and a zillion times richer than me.  He did better than anyone in our family could have done.  Shame resumed its throne in my heart.
When I saw David, I fell to the ground.  I tried to say something.  Suddenly, all of my rehearsed speeches flew out of my head.  As if my mouth was as crippled as my legs, all I could stumble out was, “I - I - I am - y-y-your -- s-s-servant.”  Perhaps the sword would come anyway.  Perhaps I would be drug out of the room.  But I would take my chances with his mercy.
“Don’t be afraid,” he said.  -- Yeah, like that was possible. -- 
“I intend to show kindness to you because of my promise to your father Jonathan.”  I knew Dad and Uncle David were really close, but I didn’t know of any promises.  And besides that, no one would expect David to keep any promises to the children of his rivals.  
David went on, “I will give you all the property that once belonged to your grandfather Saul.”  How rich is this guy that he can give away vast farmlands in the blink of an eye?  Wait a minute!  Did he say he will give it to me?  I’m no longer a poor beggar!  King David, Uncle David, has restored my family’s wealth.  I’m rich!  Not as rich as him, but I’m restored!
Then, David surprised everyone: “You will eat here with me at the king’s table.”  David was welcoming me into the royal court - almost into the royal family.  I couldn’t believe it.  It was too much.
A wave of shame swept over me again.  “Who am I?  I’m just a dead dog!  Why are you so kind to me?”  Maybe I was caught up in the moment, but that was the truth of my heart.  I was a man of shame, just a dead dog that deserved to be kicked to the side of the road of life.
But David showed God’s loving kindness to me.  From that time one, I ate at his table, and I was like one of his sons.  He restored my family fortunes.  He restored my family name.  He restored my faith in God.  He restored my heart.   He restored me. 
I’ve had a lot of time to think about what has happened in my life.  The first thing I learned is that we’re all Mephibosheths - “Sons of Shame.”  My handicaps and “shame” are on the outside, but we’ve all got them.  We’ve all got broken, wounded places inside us.  We’ve all got shame haunting the halls of our hearts.  But somehow, we’re not able to get rid of it on our own.  We need help.  We need help from others, and we need help from God.  
The problem is not so much that we can’t give anything to God or heal our own weaknesses.  The problem is more that we can’t believe that God wants to show us his loving kindness even when we are weak and broken.  We’re all handicapped, and God loves us all the same.  None of us have any right to love, but God shows us his loving kindness anyway.  God transforms us from refugees to royals, from lonely to loved.  God’s loving kindness never fails - as long as we open our hearts.
But the second thing I learned is that my name has another meaning.  Instead of “Son of Shame,” Mephibosheth can also mean “Destroyer of Shame.”  That got me to thinking.  David showed me God’s loving kindness and changed my life - removing my shame.  Maybe it’s time for me to claim this new sense of my name, time to claim a new identity.  
Now, everyday when I wake up, I ask God to help me show his loving kindness to someone.  I look for people who are feeling like “Sons of Shame,” and I try to speak some kindness into their lives to dispel their shame.  It could be a little gift, or a compliment, or a hug.  It could be that I can help them in a way that none of us expected.  But I’ve never been disappointed.  As long as I live, I’ll keep sharing the loving kindness that God has shared with me.  That’s who I am - Mephibosheth. ;)
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