Like Filling a Cup from a Waterfall
2 Samuel 9:1-12
David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”
Now there was a servant of Saul’s household named Ziba. They called him to appear before David, and the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?”
“Your servant,” he replied.
The king asked, “Is there no one still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?”
Ziba answered the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in both feet.”
“Where is he?” the king asked.
Ziba answered, “He is at the house of Makir son of Ammiel in Lo Debar.”
So King David had him brought from Lo Debar, from the house of Makir son of Ammiel.
When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down to pay him honor. David said, “Mephibosheth!”
“Your servant,” he replied.
“Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.”
Mephibosheth bowed down and said, “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?”
Then the king summoned Ziba, Saul’s servant, and said to him, “I have given your master’s grandson everything that belonged to Saul and his family. You and your sons and your servants are to farm the land for him and bring in the crops, so that your master’s grandson may be provided for. And Mephibosheth, grandson of your master, will always eat at my table.” (Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.)
Then Ziba said to the king, “Your servant will do whatever my lord the king commands his servant to do.” So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table like one of the king’s sons.
Mephibosheth had a young son named Mica, and all the members of Ziba’s household were servants of Mephibosheth. And Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, because he always ate at the king’s table, and he was crippled in both feet.
Two things absolutely basic to the Christian life are, unfortunately, counter to most things North American, which makes this intersection a confused place, clogged with accidents, snarled traffic, and short tempers. To begin with, the Christian life is not about us; it is about God. Christian spirituality is not a life-project for becoming a better person, it is not about developing a so-called ‘deeper life.’ We are in on it, to be sure. But we are not the subject. Nor are we the action. We get included by means of a few prepositions: God with us (Matthew 1:23), Christ in me (Galatians 2:20), God for us (Romans 8:31). With…in…for…: powerful, connecting, relation-forming words, but none of them making us either subject or predicate. We are the tag-end of a prepositional phrase.
The great weakness of North American spirituality is that it is all about us: fulfilling our potential, getting in on the blessings of God, expanding our influence, finding our gifts, getting a handle on principles by which we can get an edge over the competition. And the more there is of us, the less there is of God. -Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, 335
Our story for today actually begins in chapter 4 of 2 Samuel. We read in verse 4 of that chapter that Jonathan son of Saul who had been king of Israel had also had a son who was lame in both feet. “He was five years old when the new about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel. His nurse picked him up and fled, but as she hurried to leave, he fell and became crippled. His name was Mephibosheth.”
So this young man of five who had once know the pleasure and presence of dwelling in the kings’ court, with his father, Jonathan, heir to the throne, was now alone in the world. He was on his own. His father dead. His mother evidently dead. His grandfather dead. He was no longer the prince of Israel, but now just a crippled in the feet commoner.
But it was worse in that he was crippled. There was no, back then, any Society of/for the Handicapped, no Wheelchairs for America or anything of the sort. Never again would he enjoy working feet. Never again would his life be the same. He would be, forever, dependent upon everyone around him. He would be reduced from royalty to stock. He would be a societal outcast, barred from the presence of the king and reduced to an insignificant place in the temple worship.
By the standards of those days, he would be lucky to escape with his life.
But then one day something changed. In the midst of all the changes: David the New King, the Great military leader, God’s great promise to David in chapter 7, the ark returning to Jerusalem, David taking Jerusalem-in the midst of all this-David asks, “Is there anyone left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”
When it is found out that there was someone left, David again asked, “Is there no one still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s Kindness?” And in the end it was this young man named Mephibosheth. He comes before the King to be questioned.
I’d like to make a couple of points just now. First, I find it most interesting that David sought out Mephibosheth and not the other way around. It was David who took it upon himself to seek out this crippled man and shower him with God’s Kindness. The crippled and destitute Mephibosheth had done nothing to earn this from the king, he had done nothing to deserve such unbelievable treatment at the hands of the one who was sitting on the throne that he himself would have inherited one day.
And yet that is what happened. Typically, in those ancient of days, when someone new ascended to the throne, all the members of the previous regime were put to death-Solomon follows this course when he becomes king. I don’t think David here is merely making political alliances to secure his throne. This is a different sort of kindness that he is bestowing upon Mephibosheth-it is an unmerited grace. All he had to do was open his hands and receive what was being offered to him; all he had to do was turn his back and limp away from Lo Debar and enjoy the king’s presence.
Second, I would like to note that the author of 2 Samuel goes quite out of their way to insure against any misunderstanding on our part. We are told that Mephibosheth was living in a land called Lo Debar-a place of ‘no pasture.’ He was living with a person named Makir, son of Ammiel, in a house that was not his. We are told that Mephibosheth thinks of himself as a dog-a dead dog. We are told twice that he was crippled in both feet. And we are told that the servant Ziba was better off than was Mephibosheth. We get the picture then that this young man was in quite difficult straits when David seeks him out.
Finally, I would point out to you what David did for him. He brought him from the land of no pasture and gave him quarters in Jerusalem. We are told a third time in verse 7 that David showed him kindness, “I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan.” We are told that David restored all of the ancestral land of Saul, his servants in order to works the land a provide Mephibosheth with an income. We are told four times that Mephibosheth ate at the king’s table, ‘like one of the king’s sons.’ David simply overwhelmed Mephibosheth for no other reason than the kindness he desired to share with him, God’s kindness.
I don’t want to stress this too much. Seeing the tree with the lights in it was an experience vastly different in quality as well as in import from patting the puppy. On that cedar tree shone, however briefly, the steady, inward flames of eternity; across the mountain by the gas station raced the familiar flames of the falling sun. But on both occasions I though, with rising exultation, this is it; praise the Lord; praise the land. Experiencing the present purely is being emptied and hollow; you catch grace as a man fills his cup under a waterfall.-Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 81-82
It does make one wonder, though, why the story of Mephibosheth’s waterfall experience ends the way it does. “And Mephibosheth lived in Jersusalem, because he always ate at the king’s table, and he was crippled in both feet.” I wonder if that is what Mephibosheth remembered too each day as he limped to David’s table or as he was carried in to the king’s dining room by others. No matter how often he ate at the table of David, he was continually reminded that it was the kindness of David that invited him to be there in the first place.
It was a constant reminder that he had done nothing to merit the position the king had placed him in that day. I wonder if Mephibosheth ever thought to himself: I’d rather have two perfect legs than to be here right now. Or, I wonder if he had the courage to say, David is a gracious man. He wasn’t invited in because he was alive, or because David had sympathy for a cripple, or because he deserved it. He was invited in because of David’s kindness.
“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is make perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7ff)
You see, friends, you should quite understand by now that this story is not about the dead-dog named Mephibosheth. A careful reading shows that this story in 2 Samuel is about David, king of Israel. It is about showing the actions that David took-note how his kindness imitates God’s kindness-at the beginning of his reign as king. It was David who asked. It was David who sought. It was David’s table. It was David’s kindness. It was David who restored the land and servants. It was David who was king. It was David who adopted Mephibosheth as a son much like Saul had done to David early on in David’s life.
It is God who takes the initiative in our lives. It is God who invites us to His table. It is God who invites into His Royal presence. It is God who seeks us out. It is God who shows us kindness-But when the kindness and love of God our savior appeared, he saved us not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy-in the midst of our trouble. It is God who invites to dine at his table. It is God who is King and by his own prerogative makes us adopted children by his grace. It is God who has promised us a place in His Kingdom.
We too often focus on this idea that Christian life is about me. The Bible declares unequivocally that the Christian life is about God. It is about His power. His salvation. We live, and move and have our being in Him. It is not about becoming sound. It is about opening our hands under the waterfall and allowing his grace to be poured out in such abundance that we can scarcely stand under its weight. In other words, grace will always say far more about the gracious one than it does about the one receiving the grace.
Philip Yancey, in his book Rumors of Another World, brings out an intelligent point. He writes
…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…
I reflected also on the greatest gift we have from the unseen world, the gift of grace. Grace means that no mistake we make in life disqualifies us from God’s love. It means that no person is beyond redemption, no human stain beyond cleansing. We live in a world that judges people by their behavior and requires criminals, debtors, and moral failures to live with the consequences…even the church finds it difficult to forgive those who fall short.
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. (222-223)
So many things have been shown me on these banks, so much light has illumined me by reflection here where the water comes down, that I can hardly believe that this grace never flags, that the pouring from ever-renewable sources is endless, impartial, and free. -Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 69
Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison in South Africa. When he was finally released he was elected president of South Africa. He appointed Archbishop Desmond Tutu to head the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. But he also did something else: If a white policeman or army officer voluntarily faced his accusers, confessed his crime, and fully acknowledged his guilt, he could not be tried and punished for that crime. Many grumbled. But, “Mandela insisted that the country need healing more than it needed justice.” Philip Yancey continues the story:
At one hearing, a policeman name van de Broek recounted an incident when he and other officers shot an 18 year old boy and burned the body, turning it on the first like a piece of BBQ meat in order to destroy the evidence. Eight years later van de Broek returned to the same house and seized the boy’s father. The wife was forced to watch as policemen bound her husband on a woodpile, poured gasoline over his body and ignited it.
The courtroom grew hushed as the elderly woman who had first lost her son and then her husband was given a chance to respond. “What do you want from Mr. van de Broek?” the judge asked. She said she want van de Broek to go to the place where they burned her husband’s body and gather up the dust so she could give him a decent burial. His head down, the policemen nodded agreement.
Then she added a further request, “Mr. van de Broek took all my family away from me, and I still have a lot of love to give. Twice a month, I would like for him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so I can be a mother to him. And I would like Mr. van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God, and that I forgive him too. I would like to embrace him so he can know my forgiveness is real.” (Philip Yancey, Rumors from Another World, 223-224)
Grace takes the focus away from the ugly, the heinous, the vicious. It turns our attention towards the lovely, the beautiful, the majestic. That is what God does for us, and what we must do for one another. “We can’t live a life more like Jesus by embracing a way of life less like Jesus.” (Peterson, 336) We must be people like David, like the unnamed old woman of two murdered loved ones-if grace is received like a waterfall filling our hands, then we certainly have more than enough to share. So let the grace you have received spill over, intentionally, to the lives of others.
This is but one way you can demonstrate that you do love.
David was reckless for inviting Mephibosheth into his palace to eat around his table, but it was the only hope Mephibosheth had. Tim Keller wrote a little book called The Prodigal God, in it he notes that the word ‘prodigal’ means not ‘wayward’ (as we have been taught to believe) but actually ‘recklessly spendthrift.’ He writes, ‘It means to spend until you have nothing left. This term is therefore as appropriate for describing the Father in [the story Luke 15] as his younger son. The Father’s welcome to the repentant son was literally reckless, because he refused to ‘reckon’ or count his sin against him or demand repayment…God’s reckless grace is our greatest hope, a life-changing experience…” (xiv-xv).