1 Samuel 17:37-40, 48-49 (NRSV)
David and Goliath
37 David said, “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” So Saul said to David, “Go, and may the Lord be with you!”
38 Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. 39 David strapped Saul’s sword over the armor, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.” So David removed them. 40 Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.
48 When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. 49 David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.
I have a confession to make. It's tale I don’t often tell, a dark secret that I don’t often share.
I’m not proud of it.
Once … when I was young and foolish … before I was old enough to know better …
I was a boy scout.
For a long time, I loved it. It was a big part of my life. I loved the trips, the camping, the cooking over an open fire. (Eventually I grew to hate it but my parents wouldn’t let me quit which led to me spending my pre-sleep pondering on fantasies running away to live with my friend Virgile until my parents saw the light.)
Hands down, however, the best part of being a boy scout was our annual involvement in the school’s Halloween Fair. We created a Haunted House and, since it was Bangladesh and the 90’s, we had a lot more creative license than political correctness would allow today.
We set it up in the halls of the elementary school and there were various vicious and bloody spectacles as part of the children’s fateful journey to the piece-de-resistance, a live-action sword fight acted out by myself and two friends.
In order to manufacture the special effects, we set up a floor-to-ceiling sheet with a bright spotlight behind it. Between the sheet and the light, we mimicked a fight with wooden swords, the light casting our shadows against the sheet for our audiences.
So far, so good.
Things became a little over-the-top/macabre/morbid, when I would ‘stab’ one scout, knock his sword away and then put my hand over his face, acting like I was tearing out his eye while he screamed in pain. I would then hold my prize in the air before throwing it away, at which point, the other scout would throw a cow’s eyeball covered in fake blood onto the plastic sheets just feet from the terrified children and their (probably angry) parents.
We didn’t stop there. I would then thrust hand between the first scout’s arm and chest and make the audience believe I was tearing out his heart … seconds before a bloodied cow’s heart would land beside the eyeball. It was gruesome stuff!
This story came back to mind the other day as I was thinking about the ego and the way in which we cast shadows for the world to see. In a way, we all live between the light and the sheet. The other side of the sheet is what the world sees. Our side of the sheet is where the truth is, where the details are, where the light is.
And we have this choice. Am I going to turn my back on the light and make shadow puppets for the assembled audience? Or am I going to face the light and know the truth about who I am even though it won’t entertain the masses?
Very few of us do just one or the other. Most of us ourselves spend our lives spinning in circles casting shadows for the world, before we remember that they can’t actually see and know us fully, or else tiring of the light and its equal measures of comfort and challenge. We find ourselves becoming dizzy and nauseous from our constant rotation.
This is, in a way, the choice that David faces before he goes to fight Goliath. He has stepped out courageously, he has worked up the nerve to cross the line and be who he believes he is called to be. But before he can leave Saul’s tent, he faces one final temptation.
Saul offers David his armor.
It is the armour of the king and we can be sure that it has no equal. No other armour in the land of Israel would offer so much protection, so much comfort, so much reassurance. It is fashioned from the finest metals and those who laboured over it were, I’m sure, the best that Saul could find.
The only problem was that it didn’t fit right. It stopped him from walking properly. He wasn’t used to it.
This is the battle of David’s life and the temptation he faces is to allow fear to take over and convince him to show up dressed as someone else.
We all feel this fear and we all face this temptation.
The fear that we are unworthy. That we are not good enough. That we don’t have what it takes.
The temptation to pretend to be someone that we are not. To look at the shadow we cast rather than the light that reveals our true selves.
The biggest problem with the armour that doesn’t fit David is that, though it increases his protection, it decreases his proficiency. His weapon is his sling and without an unencumbered arm, he will not be able to use the weapon he is gifted with.
Pretending to be a king instead of a shepherd will only delay his death, it will not lead to life.
When we pretend to be someone or something that we are not, we rob the world of who God has called us to be and the ways in which our personality, gifts and skills can meet other people’s needs. The world needs us as the people the God created us to be, not the people that we, in our fear and insecurity, masquerade as.
When David walks out to face Goliath, he is drastically underdressed. He is vulnerable and exposed.
But, without the weight of the costume that fear prescribes, his stone finds its mark.
We fear the light because it makes us vulnerable, because it exposes us.
What we fear, however, is exactly what the world needs. We have enough shadows.