32David said to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” 33Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” 34But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, 35I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. 36Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God.” 37David said, “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” So Saul said to David, “Go, and may the Lord be with you!” 38Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. 39David strapped Saul’s sword over the armor, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.” So David removed them.
40Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the water, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.
First Samuel 17.32-40, NRSV
The story of David and Goliath is a familiar one. There are many popular sermons and songs that sing of the faith and courage of David. We love to celebrate his victory over Goliath, proving that “the bigger they are, the harder they fall.”
But, David’s story also makes an important point about the way we fight historical enemies that seem to be larger than life, whose stories are greater than reality. I love that David defeated Goliath but I am more impressed with the way that Goliath was defeated. David does not elevate his enemy but places Goliath on the same plane as the lions and bears that he has killed. Goliath will die just as they have not because he is David but due to the faithfulness of his God.
David does not focus on the size of Goliath but on his past success. David’s confidence is not based on who his enemy is but he relies solely on the track record of God who has delivered him again and again. “He has done it before and He will do it again.” Lions. Bears. Goliath. The Lord saved me from the lions and bears; Goliath does not have a chance. He will meet the same fate.
But, there is a problem. Saul has placed his armor on David. It is representative of Saul’s way of fighting and the weight of it renders David immobile. Sure, it is armor; he’s protected but he can’t go anywhere. He has the king’s sword, expertly tested and made of the finest materials. But, it is of no use to him if it prevents him from fighting. It doesn’t matter how many Saul killed if David can’t pick it up.
David has to use what he is most comfortable and familiar with. He will fight Goliath without the armor of Saul, picks up five stones and walks toward Goliath. He’s picking the fight today!
The armor of Saul is much like that of race. Persons accepted it in the past and were comfortable fighting with it despite its weight. They accepted the racial identities of white/ black/ red/ yellow/ brown/ beige and gave no thought to other alternatives. But, when it was passed down to me, it just didn’t fit. I couldn’t fight race with their armor, with the name Black/ black, Negro/negro. I had to use what I was most comfortable with so I put down race and picked up race-lessness.
Ironically, our racial identity makes us defensive and at the same time, defenseless. We are always on guard and standing guard because “they are out to get us.” Within the racialized reality, everyone is a suspect so we must be vigilant, expecting to be hurt or injured by every encounter. But, this mindset breeds distrust and anxiety. It is a painful way to live.
Race says life is a struggle or a battle and that we are not equipped to win. There is no protection and no direction from race while it continually feeds us the images of war and we are a part of them. Not only are “they” our enemy but we are too. Consequently, we are fighting outwardly and inwardly. We look in the mirror and want to fight. We look at our neighbor and want to fight. We look at the stranger and want to fight.
The racialized life says that our socially colored skin is both our personal power and a public weakness. It is our skin and its social coloring that is the problem and no matter what we do to it, it is never strong enough. It is our armor and the soft spot of our identity.
Race is the armor of generations past. But, I cannot fight the giants of life in the armor of race: that is, with hatred, bitterness, anger, unforgiveness, prejudice, stereotypes and segregationist habits. It doesn’t fit me; it’s not what I’m used to. It’s too big and bulky. It’s heavy and slows me down.
I know that I am young but I am not inexperienced when it comes to fighting. Just because I don’t have the experiences of generations past, just because my battles are not as great, my resume not as lengthy and my victories don’t make front page news does not mean that I cannot kill Goliath. I’ve got five smooth stones and I’m not backing down. “Here, I come Goliath!”