Monday, June 20, 2011

Learning To Be Like Abigail

"For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ." (2 Corinthians 11:2)


In many ways, the story of Abigail is the story of every Christian, or at least the story we are called to live out.


Just as Abigail is introduced to us married to Nabal (in Hebrew nabal means fool), so we all begin our life married to a fool.  The fool each of us is married to is the world, the world the way it is in its fallen condition, our dysfunctional families, our dependance on economic structures that oppress us and others, our bad habits, addictions, prejudices, and various lusts and selfish desires, and our undisciplined minds flooded constantly with contradictory thoughts.  Yes, we all begin yoked to a fool.


And though Abigail was married to a fool, she accepts her reality.  She is not ashamed to identify herself with the sin of her husband.  When Abigail meets David, she immediately prostrates herself before David and says, "O my lord, let this unrighteousness be on me!"  Although Abigail's husband had rejected David's servants and although Abigail is at that very moment trying to correct her husband's mistake, Abigail takes the sin on herself.  She does not blame her husband.  She does not blame her dysfunctional family.  She does not blame an addiction or an economic necessity or even an accidental slip.  Unlike our great ancestors, Adam and Eve, Abigail blames no one but herself.


But in blaming herself it is not as if Abigail is unaware of the reality that caused the problem.  Abigail blames herself while at the same time being aware that her husband had (again) made a foolish (and probably fatal) mistake.  In fact, Abigail so identifies with her husband (although he is a fool) that she not only blames herself, but she also takes the initiative to do what is right on behalf of her husband even though her husband had refused to do it.  And once she has done her best to repent on behalf of her husband, she accepts the consequences: Abigail tells her husband what she had done--though she wisely waits for an appropriate moment.


In our own lives, we too may know that certain sins and evil, cowardly or impetuously foolish tendencies we find in ourselves indeed have their source in family disfunction, economic realities, addictions or other factors beyond our direct control; yet before Christ, the Son of David, the One to whom we are betrothed, we blame only ourselves.  We blame ourselves and we take action.  We do what is necessary, what is righteous, to save ourselves and our families and those around us.  Like Abigail, we are free to act.  And like Abigail, we are somewhat restricted in our freedom, but not completely. (Abigail was restricted due to resources; restricted due to her gender; restricted due to physical constraints like terrain, distance and travel by mule, etc.)  Like Abigail, we too must take action, whatever action we can, to save ourselves and those near us "from this perverse generation," to quote St. Peter's sermon on Pentecost.


We can never do enough.  Abigail did what she could, David saw it, accepted it, and repented of his plan to wipe out all of the men in Nabal's camp.  Abigail saved herself and her family not because she was able to stop David, but because in doing what she could, David accepted it and stopped himself.  In the same way we offer to God what we can (100% of what we can--God knows the difference) and God accepts it and shows mercy. And not only does God show mercy.  God miraculously delivers us from our oppressors.  We do not lift our own hand to smite our oppressor--even if occasionally we have to act in opposition to our oppressor for the sake of our own salvation and theirs.  We get along as best as we can with those whom life has thrown us together with--even those who oppress us--until God delivers us from our oppressors.


Just as David did not kill King Saul when he had two chances to do so and although Saul was trying to kill him; and just as Abigail identified herself with her foolish husband, taking his sin on herself and acting to save both herself, her husband and her whole tribe; so we too do not stretch out our hand (or our tongue, our most effective weapon) to smite others.  We too wait for God to deliver us.  And when God delivers us, He invites us to be His bride: just as David invites Abigail to be his wife after the sudden death of Nabal.


And note Abigail's response to the messengers that David sent (messengers can also be translated angels).  It is exactly the same as the response of the Theotokos to the Archangel Gabriel sent to Her by God--"behold your handmaiden."  The Theotokos refers to her "low estate."  Abigail refers to herself as "a servant to wash the feet of your servants" (i.e. the lowest servant).  Humility produced in the furnace of self restraint is the sweetest fruit we offer our Master, our Husband, our Lord.

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