The Blessing of Curses
If you are public with your faith in today’s cultural climate, you probably know what it’s like to be cursed. Opportunities for civil debate seem few and far between when making any appeal to an objective morality results in being immediately dismissed as a bigot. Acts motivated by love and a desire for another’s salvation are vilified as hate-speech that, so they say, could lead to genocide. The question is not how to avoid curses, but what to do when we receive them.
Christians, of course, have a model of silently enduring unjust contradiction and derision in Our Lord, but I would like to focus on a different figure. In today’s Mass readings, the Church offers us the example of David, who endured cursing at the hands of a man named Shimei because of the treachery of his son Absalom. As the reading tells us, Shimei was a member of the same clan as Saul, after whose death David assumed the kingship in Israel. Shimei accused David of murdering Saul and claimed that David’s present distress was the Lord’s punishment for this act of regicide. Not only was David innocent of this accusation, but he even put to death the man who confessed to putting the wounded Saul out of his misery (2 Samuel 1:16).
The accusations of Shimei seem completely unfounded at first, but they are not too far off the mark. Shimei’s curse “Away, away, you murderous and wicked man! The LORD has requited you for all the bloodshed in the family of Saul” would be perfectly accurate if one merely replaced Saul’s name for that of Uriah the Hittite, since, it could be argued, it was for the murder of Uriah that David found himself in distress (2 Samuel 12:10-12). In this way we are more like David in his sufferings than we are like Christ in His passion. Whereas Christ committed no sin for which He deserved chastisement, we have many sins for which we deserve punishment. For this reason, even if we suffer for doing what is right, we can submit to discomfort humbly in the knowledge that there are plenty of sins for which we deserve at least as much. It is for this reason that, when his entourage became enraged at Shimei, David said to them, “What business is it of mine or of yours, sons of Zeruiah, that he curses? Suppose the LORD has told him to curse David; who then will dare to say, ‘Why are you doing this?’ ”
While David’s attendant Abishai wanted to silence the “dead dog” Shimei, David saw in his curses an opportunity for penance, “Let him alone and let him curse, for the LORD has told him to. Perhaps the LORD will look upon my affliction and make it up to me with benefits for the curses he is uttering this day.” While we shouldn’t say that God wills others to sin against us, He does allow it to occur. God is not unable to silence the mouths of our revilers; He is in fact much better at silencing people than Abishai. Nevertheless, God refrains from intervening because He sees in our suffering an opportunity for our sanctification. The Lord will indeed make it up to us with benefits for the curses we endure for His name, as He has promised, “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven” (Matthew 5:11-12). While we may be more like David in our sufferings, it is only through Christ, through His passion and death on the cross, that the trials of this life can bear fruit for us in eternal life. Through Christ, the curses we suffer in this life can win for us an eternal blessing. Thank God He lets them curse.
Image: Wenceslas Hollar, David and Uriah