David and Jonathan

I am always struck by the mild homo-erotic undertone in the relationship between David and Jonathan. There is talk of souls being bound together, the making of a covenant, and a kind of ceremonial disrobing (1 Sam 18:1-4). There is even kissing (20:41). This bromance was apparently more important to David than his relationships with women (2 Sam 1:26). I choose to use the term homo-erotic because I believe we do a disservice to the text, and a disservice to ourselves, if we gloss over possible responses we may have. I know I raise my eyebrow every time that I read these parts of the narrative. This may say more about homophobia in my own culture than it does about the text itself, but this too is part of why Scripture is so important for people of faith. It can shine light on parts of ourselves where we need to give attention.

I am part of a culture where things like racism, sexism, and homophobia are the norm, not the exception. It is a culture where human sexuality is a battle ground laced with minefields and all kinds of offensive ammunition on all sides. I know I would prefer a culture that allows sexuality to be a private matter, but I do not have to be reminded that silence is part of the problem. For reasons that are beyond understanding, people tend to experience things like sexuality (and gender) in a more complex way than tradition is comfortable with. Even king David experienced sexuality in a more complex way than his tradition was comfortable with. Remember Bathsheba? I would also point to his relationship with Jonathan, which, as far as we know, was not explicitly sexual, or even fundamentally erotic, but was certainly more than what we would call platonic.

Indeed, love is a more complicated emotion than tradition would like it to be. Tradition knows from experience that out of control love and sexuality have very real consequences, and not just unwanted pregnancies. Tradition wants to spare us from things like heartbreak, ill health, economic hardship, and social exclusion. Rules and norms are put into place for very good reasons, but they become hypocritical when they end up causing the things that they were designed to prevent. We often interpret many sayings of Jesus as valuing the spirit of the law over the letter of the law. The spirit of the law is to foster things like wholeness, health, prosperity, and community. We do well to remember this in both our zeal for tradition and in our critique of it.


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