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Another sermon for Proper 8 Year B 2 Samuel 1:1,17-end

June 16, 2015

D and JJonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.

Alexander the Great – Young, handsome, driven and idealistic, he virtually conquered the world, like David with Jonathon, he was utterly dependant on the companionship of a friend. Yet he never recovered from the loss of that friend. Alexander and Hephaestion were the same age; were inseparable; had grown up together; knew each others secrets; shared one tent, drank from one cup, and fought in battle side by side.

Hephaestion was sometimes mistaken for Alexander. Darius’ queen once bowed before Hephaestion, thinking him Alexander. The young king simply smiled and said, “Hephaestion is also Alexander,” as if to indicate that the two men were one.

According to historian Will Durant, when Hephaestion died, Alexander “broke down in uncontrolled grief; lay for hours upon the corpse weeping; cut off his hair in mourning, refused to eat. He sentenced to death the physician who had left the sick youth’s side to attend the public games; ordered a gigantic funeral pile to be erected in Hephaestion’s memory, at a cost of ten thousand talents – £60 million. Alexander’s grieving stopped his living. He died of drink, aged 38

In Western, modern thinking, we’d regard Alexander the Great as gay and we might suspect that David and Jonathan’s relationship was a sexual one, despite the fact that David was very much ‘into’ women. I think we’d be wrong. Wrong because we are reading our gender roles back into history.

The male role for a long time was thus: Whatever women do is what a real man mustn’t do. Be successful. Don’t be liked, be envied, . . . Don’t be part of a group, stinguish your from others. Be aggressive – be tough, fight and don’t run away. Competitive sport emphasises these values, military training reinforces them. Men are supposed to be sexually experienced. ‘Sex isn’t a free choice when you have to perform to be a man.’ Be self-reliant. ‘Men are supposed to be confident, independent and autonomous. A “real man” doesn’t need others, particularly women.

David seems to fit this male role: He’s described as a mighty man of valour; he fights the Philistines, kills Goliath. David’s body count is something like 140,000. The language of strength is pervasive. David ‘prevails’ ‘overpowers’. It was also an important male role in Israel to be articulate. David is described as ‘intelligent in speech;’ He persuades Saul that he is capable of withstanding Goliath; explains to Saul why he did not kill him in the cave of Adullam. Words are an instrument of control

David has eight principal wives and at least ten others but the males of the David story are so casual about women. There are no love stories, no romances, no wooing, rather it’s a matter of pride for David and his men that they have kept themselves ‘clean’ from women. When David has to satisfy his lust, he does so by trickery, incest and rape. He doesn’t seem to like women very much. As if a real man can get along without women; has nothing to gain from them except children, and he owes them nothing.

The only appreciative thing he says about love sounds homoerotic: ‘I am desolate for you, Jonathan my brother. Very dear you were to me, your love more wonderful to me than the love of a woman’

There is nothing natural or God-given about the masculine role. Masculinity, like femininity, is a social construction. And it’s all too easy to read the bible in the light of our presumptions. And to render it as undisturbing as possible,

Some American theologians understand this passage as affirming committed homosexual relationships. But is that because we have such a limited sense of the nonsexual possibilities of passionate same-sex friendship? Rabbinic tradition insists adamantly that their relationship was platonic. In the ancient Near East covenants were agreements or oaths made to resolve differences between conflicting parties, vassal and lord, or conqueror and conquered. The word love used in covenant making denoted the kind of attachment people had to a king more than interpersonal affection.’ Jonathan covenanted to waive his right as Saul’s successor so the moral majority types can stress that this is about rugged male bonding and supports family values.

I think our story actually disturbs both camps – if you’ll pardon the word camp. Feminist theologians talk of texts of terror for women. This could be a text of terror for men. Why? It’s about a young man whose father is trying to force him to go into “the family business,” – monarchy. Jonathan has no desire to be king. He keeps throwing away the opportunity through making impetuous moves on the battlefield, arguing with his father, stripping off all his symbols of office and handing them to David, making repeated efforts to save the life of the only person who can overthrow the throne.

Saul’s behavior is erratic and irrational. He often tries to kill whoever happens to be at hand, including his own heir apparent. Jonathan feels an intense amount of loyalty to a mentally ill father. He never abandons him; at the beginning of the story, before meeting David, he is Saul’s military commander-in-chief.

Towards the end of the story. he resumes those duties. He has no ambition of his own: does not know how to do anything other than what is expected of him.

Some scholars rationalise Jonathan’s abdication to David because they cannot understand a noncompetitive, intimate, loving relationship between men. Gay men more readily recognise and credit human love and not politics as the most important arena of life. Jonathan puts personal affection before social and family approval. Saul is quick to judge, just as our society is quick to judge. Saul seems to assume that Jonathan’s relationship with David is sexual. He lashes out at Jonathan: “You son of a crooked whore, do you think I can’t see that you have chosen the son of Jesse, to the shame of your mother’s nakedness?

The two young men meet in a field, where they kiss and then collapse in tears into each other’s arms, sobbing. This story makes friendship look dangerous. The men get hurt emotionally. Men today are so unsure about emotions that they avoid them whenever possible, especially the ones that hurt.

Jonathan appears to foul up his career by feeling for David. Since male identity comes from what we do for a living and from success, the threat of emotions destroying a career is frightening.

In nineteenth-century America and Great Britain gay writers like Walt Whitman protected themselves from social exposure and punishment. By using the language of friendship, comradeship and the elegy, permitting an intense and open expression of love. The praised one was, after all, dead. David’s lament for Jonathan fits the elegy and soldier comrade genre. Whether or not David and Jonathan had a homosexual relationship , the story would be read differently by gay men than by nongay people. Gay men may identify with Jonathan because his father object. But his God blesses his feelings of affection

friendshipIn many societies, male friendship was a source of emotional support that couldn’t be provided within a system of arranged marriages and in warfare. Warriors needed likeminded and equally isolated men. Male friendship contained loyalty to one another, commitment to a common cause, and a valuing of the friendship above all other relationships. Adult males today have few, if any, intimate friends of either sex. When men do identify someone as a close friend, it tends to be one of only two types: their wife or their best male friend from a number of years whom they no longer see regularly.

But we live with a continuing high divorce rate. When a man’s only friend is his wife, a divorce means loss of his entire support system during the traumatic period when he needs it most. The primary difficulty in male-male friendship is how to handle the scary potential for intimacy, combined with the general male mistrust of making oneself vulnerable by telling the whole truth. At first sight, “the soul of Jonathan was knotted to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.”

Jonathan makes himself vulnerable to him. He strips and hands over all his weapons of self-defense; discarding whatever sense of competition may exist between them; laying yourself open is not something contemporary men do A Love Surpassing the Love of Women? Jonathan and David

When David receives the news of the defeat at Mount Gilboa and the death of Saul and Jonathan. He has the messenger murdered, and then bursts into one of the most poignant and piercing laments in the Scriptures: My Jonathan lies shattered on his back in death. I ache for you Jonathan, my dear brother, you have been so deeply beloved by me, and your love for me was so wonderful, far surpassing the love of women.

David is willing to embrace his sorrow. He doesn’t play the strong and silent role that so many men feel is appropriate in intensely emotional situations. Instead, he tears his clothes and he mourns….he weeps…and he fasts

It’s well known that church congregations have more women than men. But churches that offer a gospel for men are popular. In American there’s the Promise-Keepers movement. But that has a very evangelical and family values agenda. Maybe the gospel we should be offering to men is liberation from traditional masculine roles and a reappraisal of friendship. That’s if men have the balls to accept its challenge.

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