Thursday, December 29, 2011

Throw Away Gifts

Today’s Old Testament lesson (2 Samuel 23:13-17b) is most curious. David and his compatriots are camped out in battle, and he makes a passing comment about wanting some water from a well back in his hometown. So three warriors head out, sneak through enemy lines, and bring back the water. But David pours the water out, saying that the Lord has forbidden him from drinking it because the task was too risky. Noble gesture or ungrateful recipient?

I need to be careful with what I say. I remember admiring aloud a painting in the St. John’s, Montgomery, parish bazaar. Someone interrupted and said to me, “Be careful. If someone hears you saying that, he or she might just buy it for you.” That would have been a nice gesture but too much. I didn’t really like the painting that much—not enough to buy it myself. And I would have felt uncomfortable if someone had given it to me.

At the same time, I need to be gracious when I am given gifts. When Elizabeth or someone else goes out of their way—probably not risking his or her life but still going above and beyond—to do something nice for me, I need to overcome my awkwardness and just say thank you. Sometimes the greatest gift I can give someone is just saying thank you and enjoying what they have given me.

But David is weird. I wonder if he felt guilty for declaring his wish out loud. I wonder whether he suddenly realized how willing his troops were to die for him. I wonder whether that water humbled him and helped him know how responsible he was for the lives of those around him. I hope the warriors weren’t insulted. This story comes at the end of his life—his wish is almost a dying wish. Maybe it's a story of sacrifice and selflessness. Maybe David demonstrates to us that his life is focused on the welfare of others rather than his own well-being. Whatever the case, it’s a curious story.

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