There is nothing like sports rivalries to build fan excitement. I remember classic battles between the Boston Celtics and LA Lakers in the 1970s & 80s. In the NFL, the Cowboys and 49ers stand out in my mind. In international sports, an intense rivalry developed between the US and Canadian women’s soccer team after a controversial semi-final US win at the London Olympics in 2012. Whatever sport you play or watch, you can easily name the rivalries, whether that be at high school, college, professional or international matches.
When rivals face each other, it is not uncommon for a coach to refer to the other team as the enemy. Analogies of war are frequent, and the player on the other team trying to defeat you is the combatant. I know that feeling. To this day when I play old man soccer, I have to stir up at least a little distain for the other team otherwise I’d let them take the ball from me every time or I’d let them run by me on the way to the net unchallenged. That rivalry; that distain, however, can heat up to uncomfortable levels though. I remember the 2013 NFC Championship Game where wide receiver Michael Crabtree (49ers) and Cornerback Richard Sherman (Seahawks) got into a spat which turned into an infamous rant and an entire summer of venom being spewed back and forth.
How do you react in such situations with your rival? Perhaps you can think of opposing players who you hated, or maybe there are ones that you deeply dislike today. Perhaps they were dirty players or they crossed the line and said reprehensible things to you or your teammates. Now imagine, however, if a player tried to kill you. No, I don’t mean figuratively, I mean literally. In fact, they tried to kill you multiple times. Or perhaps imagine a coach who put a bounty on your head. You found out that he said to his team – “I want you to seriously maim or kill number 14”. If that same player or coach died, what would your response be? I think, at best, you would say nothing, and at worst you would be praising God.
Today’s Bible reading from 2 Samuel 1:17-27 is actually shocking if you take time to consider what transpired. This passage is called “David’s Lament for Saul and Jonathan”. If you read 1 Samuel you find out that for four years King Saul tried to kill David, and during that time David had two opportunities to kill Saul but he did not do it. Then, when his nemesis finally dies, David writes this lament. What is crazy, is that he couples it with a lament to his good friend Jonathan, who he really did love. “Saul and Jonathan—in life they were loved and admired, and in death they were not parted.” (2 Samuel 1:23a).
We live in a world that seems to be getting more polarized. Words of hate and distain are common on social media. Hating those who hate (i.e. hating your enemy), is not only accepted, but encouraged. But what is your calling as a Christian? While these are difficult days, they are also days of incredible opportunity – days to truly be a light. Jesus turned the world on its head when he said: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you…If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them” (Luke 6: 27, 32). Who is Jesus calling you to love today?