David, Goliath, Taylor Swift & Jesus

MEDITATION #1

Taylor Swift wasn’t always the megastar she is now. In late 2006, Swift was a 17-year-old burgeoning Country artist trying to make it big, signed to an independent label, then the tiniest in Nashville. She was the first and only artist signed to that label and knew even at her young age the odds were not in her favor.

Country music then and now is controlled by mammoth record labels, namely Universal and Sony. They produced the hits and the stars. A tiny independent label with its 17-year-old singer-songwriter didn’t stand a chance.

It was a David versus Goliath story in the making.

Out of the context of this underdog story, Taylor Swift began writing a song titled “Change,” her kind of retelling of the David and Goliath story.

Here’s a live, acoustic version of that song from 2008


[Goliath] got closer and closer to David, and his shield-bearer was in front of him. When the Philistine Goliath looked David over, he sneered at David because he was just a boy; reddish brown and good-looking.

Goliath asked David, “Am I some sort of dog that you come at me with sticks?” And he cursed David by his gods. 44 “Come here,” he said to David, “and I’ll feed your flesh to the wild birds and the wild animals!”

But David told the Goliath, “You are coming against me with sword, spear, and curved blade, but I come against you in the name of the Lord of heavenly forces, the God of his people’s army, the one you’ve insulted. Today the Lord will hand you over to me… all those gathered here will know that the Lord doesn’t save by means of sword and spear. The Lord owns this [fight]…”

The Philistine Goliath got up and moved closer to attack David, and David ran quickly to the front line to face him. David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone. He slung it, and it hit the Philistine on his forehead. The stone penetrated his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground. And that’s how David triumphed over the Philistine with just a sling and a stone, striking the Philistine down… —and David didn’t even have a sword! (I Samuel 17:41-50)

David versus Goliath. It is an eons-old tale. In many ways, the David and Goliath story is the prototype of the underdog narrative.

Wikipedia describes the underdog as “a person or group… who is largely expected to lose.”

When the underdog defies expectations and wins, it inspires us like nothing else. It seems to be in humans’ DNA to love a good underdog story. Think of all the movies about an underdog who defies the odds and comes out on top. There are some sports-related ones: Rocky, Karate Kid, Rudy, the Bad News Bears, and their sequels. There is a new movie called Boys in the Boat that applies the sports underdog trope. Christmas movies love a good underdog story, too – Home Alone, It’s a Wonderful Life, Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Well, we might say David and Goliath is the original underdog story. Now, the David and Goliath story is more literature than history, a subject for another day. We might call it, “based on a true story”?

The larger true story David and Goliath is based on is the story of Israel itself. Israel is an underdog people. 

Israel begins with Abraham, a fatherless, old nobody living in the desert. From nobody, old Abraham is born a people. 

That people eventually become an oppressed, enslaved people. 

Among all the nations, Yahweh God chooses Abraham and chooses this people, an enslaved people, to be His people. 

God then frees the Israelites and promises faithfulness toward them in return for their keeping of the covenant and the commandments. God also promises them their own land, the Promised Land, and guides them there. Israel as a people with its own land and temple eventually comes to be.

Now, the story of Israel has many sequels along the way. Rocky has, what, nine sequels if you count the Creed movies. Well, the story of Israel has scores more.

The plot line is similar. Israel gets defeated by larger, opposing forces, often opposition of their own making. They lose, get lost, lose hope and in turn break God’s covenant. And just when all looks lost, God picks them up, forgives and helps Israel overcome.

This story plays out again and again in the Old Testament.

Well, David and Goliath in some ways is a condensed version of Israel, its struggles, and its overcoming of those struggles with God’s help.

I must highlight that world “struggle.” Indeed, there is struggle and even conflict involved in the plight of the underdog. The underdog must face the top dogs and their greater power. The powers that be want to keep the underdog down. The underdog must struggle against this, do battle, seek to break the control of the powers that be.

As the David and Goliath story shows us, in the underdog’s struggle to overcome these oppressive powers, violence is often used and condoned. The whole of the David and Goliath narrative is pretty violent.

Fast forward to Jesus, the New David. He too will struggle against the powers that be controlling and oppressing his people. But the use of violence, well, that is where Christ tells a different story.


MEDITATION #2

Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replied, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they stepped back and fell to the ground. Again he asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these people go.” This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken, “I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me.” Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

So the soldiers, their officers, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him. (John 18:3-12)

Last week, I discussed how Jesus is the New David. That idea applies this week as well. That said, we have in our gospel narrative from John a New David versus Goliath theme.

Who’s the Goliath? The Roman Empire in cahoots with the Temple’s religious hierarchy. They are in control, they have the power, they arrive on the scene ready to apply that power, ready to arrest and execute an innocent man. And in the Roman courts, arrest and execution went hand in hand, execution almost a given. Jesus knew this.

Jesus, the New David – what does he do when confronted with this Goliath? To protect his disciples, he submits. Jesus rejects violence.

Peter doesn’t. Thinking that he must defend Jesus at all cost, takes out a sword and cuts a servant’s ear. Jesus rebukes this, commands that Peter put his sword away. Like David, Jesus will have no sword! He gives his reason in John 18: “Shall I not drink the cup my father has given to me?” Matthew’s parallel text adds Jesus saying, “he who lives by the sword will die by the sword.”

Jesus submits. That word literally means to place yourself under an authority. Jesus, though divine, though God in human form, accepts underdog status and its consequences.

Now, we should not equate submission to acquiescence. Jesus is not giving up on the struggle. He is not admitting defeat. The struggle has just begun. Jesus, the New David, still must defeat Goliath.

But nonviolence will be Jesus’ slingshot. His death will be the stone that ends this Goliath. The Cross is what will overcome the powers and principalities before him.

This Goliath’s way of deadly power and death will lose, for through the Cross, Christ will destroy death itself.

The Cross gives way to the Empty Tomb, my friends! “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” Through the Christ’s nonviolence and his submission, the finality of death itself “is finished.”

As for the Roman empire, it too would fall and Christ via his church and his word would remain standing.


But we can’t end there. We can’t ignore a key question that maybe some of you are asking.

What happens when David becomes Goliath?

What happens when Israel becomes one of the most powerful militaries on earth, a nuclear power? What happens when Taylor Swift, now a billionaire, becomes one of the most powerful artists on earth? What happens when the Church becomes suffused with political power and extraordinary wealth? What happens when the underdog becomes the topdog?

I end with scripture’s answer. That answer can be summed up with these words – to remain David, resist pedestals and remain an underdog in spirit. Philippians 2: 3-7,8 says this:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or empty conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he existed in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be grasped,
but emptied himself… and
humbled himself…

Our New David shows us how to remain like David and resist the way of Goliath.

Did Christ gate himself away, high on a pedestal? No. He came to us, met us where we were, and dwelled among us. He experienced our suffering, felt our pain, and grieved our losses with us. He taught us:

Be poor in spirit. Don’t ignore the sorrow and loss all around us. Empty self, resist selfishness. Hunger and thirst for justice. Be compassion-filled, pure at heart, and a builder of peace. For blessed are you.

 

Taylor Swift seems to get it. Her goodheartedness, kindness, humility, and connection to her fans are legendary and inspiring. Here’s one example, which I close with:

In 2018, [8-year-old] Isabella McCune of Arizona went through an accident that landed her in the hospital for nine months with burns on over 65% of her body. Though she hoped to attend a concert during Swift’s 2018 Reputation Tour, she couldn’t because of her recovery.

Taylor Swift somehow heard about McCune’s story and visited Isabella in person at the hospital. Before Swift departed, she left Isabella a note.

“Isabella, I hope you feel better soon. I’m so honored you’ve been listening to my music. You’re so awesome and I can’t wait to have you at a show. Stay strong, gorgeous. Love, Taylor.”

According to McCune, Swift helped her get through some of the most difficult times of her life as she recovered from her burns. She stated,

“Her music helped me a lot while I was in the hospital.”

Swift followed up on her promise five years later, as she kicked off her 2023 Eras Tour.

With the help of a local radio station and the Valleywise Health Foundation, Swift and her team surprised McCune with four tickets to a Saturday night concert in Glendale. It’s a surprise McCune will never forget.

She stated, “Not only the fact that I’m able to go and I got these tickets gifted to me, they’re from Taylor Swift and her team and they remembered me, and thought of me to give me these tickets.”

Such goodheartedness, kindness, humility, and connection – let us, individually and collectively, as people and as a people, follow suit in the name of Christ, Amen.

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