Posts Tagged 'David'

For August 12, 2012: Proper 14, Year B

The Reading            2 Samuel 18:5-15, 31-33

When the prophet Nathan confronted David about Uriah, he prophesied trouble arising from within David’s own house. It comes to pass: David’s eldest son Amnon rapes his half-sister Tamar; when David takes no action, her full brother Absalom has Amnon killed, goes into exile, is allowed to return to court but is not seen by his father, and then leads a rebellion of the “men of Israel” against the servants of David the king.

The Response            Psalm 130

The Epistle            Ephesians 4:25-5:2

Last week’s reading from the epistle to the Ephesians explained why (and, briefly, how) to live as God’s children. This week’s reading goes into specifics: we are neither to do nor to say anything that either flows from or contributes to strife and bitterness. This is excellent advice, from the first century in Ephesus to the twenty-first century in El Cajon.

The Gospel            John 6:35, 41-51

 

Further thoughts

The career of David, King of Israel, is full of ironies large and small and of intrigue and deception. The name of David’s eldest son, Amnon, means ‘faithful’: he is the one who feigns illness so he can rape his half-sister Tamar. This rape goes unpunished by King David. Tamar’s full brother, Absalom, whose name means ‘father of peace’, bides his time, throws a party for the purpose of murdering Amnon, then flees into exile. David mourns dead Amnon and then mourns the exiled Absalom. After three years David’s general Joab maneuvers David into bringing Absalom back from exile, but David will not see him. Two years later Absalom finally gets an audience with his father by torching one of Joab’s fields. At this point Absalom launches a conspiracy to lead Israel into revolt against their anointed king. David and those loyal to him, including Joab, flee across the Jordan, leaving behind two priests as spies and a foreigner who sows disinformation in Absalom’s camp. We find out that Saul’s grandson Mephibosheth, whom David has housed and protected, has thrown his lot in with Absalom when Mephibosheth’s servant Ziba brings refreshments to David’s troops along with a side dish of ambition.

Today’s reading picks up just before the decisive battle. David’s side wins; the slaughter is great, but the passage takes pains to tell us that the battle claims fewer lives than does the forest of Ephraim. At the end of the day, when the couriers come with news, David’s concern is not for how the battle has gone or how his troops have fared but rather for his rebel son.

David’s outburst on learning of Absalom’s death is often singled out as an allegory of God’s yearning love for us no matter what. It is that, to be sure. A case can also be made for the whole of David’s story as a cautionary tale about thirsting for power and love. David’s thirsts led him to tell lies, bed Bathsheba, and let his oldest son, the rapist, off the hook. The epistle and the gospel provide the corrective. When we walk in love as Christ loved us, we begin to discern that the way Jesus gives to slake our thirsts is not to grasp for power and love but truly and deeply to give them.

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For Aug. 5, 2012: Proper 13, Year B

The Reading            2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a

In last week’s reading, King David got another man’s wife pregnant, because he could, and then attempted to cover his tracks by arranging for that man to die in battle. There is no such thing as private sin, however. In today’s reading the prophet Nathan, acting for God, tricks David into pronouncing judgment on himself. The penitential Psalm 51 that follows is David’s heartfelt response.

 

Response            Psalm 51:1-13

 

The Epistle            Ephesians 4:1-16

Psalm 51 is David’s reaction to Nathan’s affirmation of his guilt—and our own, as we survey the devastation our behavior causes. The fourth chapter of Ephesians teaches us how to live so as not to do such damage: by bearing with one another in love, by speaking truth in love, and by building up the Body of Christ in love.

 

The Gospel            John 6:24-35

 

Further thoughts

The books of Samuel paint a highly mixed portrait of David. On the one hand, it is David who connives and cheats, who keeps wanting more and who is not above manipulating his friends and fighting for their enemies to get it, whose appetite for power and its perquisites grows the more he gets, and who has the valiant Uriah disposed of, perhaps at least as much because Uriah’s self-control contrasts so tellingly with David’s self-indulgence (and one always wonders how much real choice Bathsheba ever had in all of this). On the other hand, it is David who follows God and God’s gifts to greatness, who dances unselfconsciously before the Ark of the Covenant, who repeatedly protects Saul even when Saul keeps trying to kill him, whose yearning for God pervades the psalms that he really does seem to have composed, and who—when Nathan finally gets his attention—genuinely and contritely accepts that he has offended not just the humans around him but the God whose man he is.

How can one reconcile those two Davids?

One reconciles them, because one must, the same way each of us must reconcile the warring selves within all of us. Earlier chapters of the letter to the Ephesians make it clear that I also am God’s creature, born with the yearning to make good with my gifts—and so is everyone else; bitter experience tells me that I am just as capable as David of abusing my gifts stupidly or even wickedly, sometimes even out of good intentions—and so is everyone else.

Today’s epistle reminds me that all God’s children are born this way, with gifts that surely need to be channeled but that it is a sin against the Spirit to deny. The foundational gift, as today’s epistle notes, is love, by which I understand the ability to see others not through the lens of my own wants and hurts but through the eyes of the God who died for the sake of even the worst of us.

For July 8, 2012: Proper 9, Year B

The Reading            2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10

Today we resume the story of David. The shepherd boy whom Samuel anointed has fought and schemed his way to the kingship of Judah, in the south. Now the northern tribes of Israel come to David’s capital at Hebron and ask him to become their king, for God is with him. On the strength of this David conquers a city of the Jebusites, on neutral ground between Judah and Israel, and makes it his capital—Jerusalem, the city of David.

The Response            Psalm 123

The Epistle            2 Corinthians 12:2-10

The church of Corinth was wracked by division, some of it centered on Paul himself: people said he was not physically perfect enough or spiritual enough to be God’s champion. In today’s reading Paul counters both claims: he mentions his own exceptional revelation—he himself is the “person in Christ”—only to dismiss it, and he points to the derided disability as precisely the means by which the Lord keeps him grounded and aware that the power is not his or ours but Christ’s.

The Gospel            Mark 6:1-13

 

Further thoughts

The Revised Common Lectionary, which we in the Episcopal Church follow, gives today’s reading as 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10. Here are the omitted verses:

The king and his men marched to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who said to David, “You will not come in here, even the blind and the lame will turn you back”—thinking, “David cannot come in here.” Nevertheless David took the stronghold of Zion, which is now the city of David. David had said on that day, “Whoever would strike down the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack the lame and the blind, those whom David hates.” Therefore it is said, “The blind and the lame shall not come into the house.”

Since David is the ruler chosen by God, and the one through whom Israel achieves its own greatness, this is a powerful rejection. Combine it with the list of physical impairments that disqualified a man from being a priest, and one can see the ground from which Paul’s detractors in Corinth were arguing. It’s easy to infer that God really only loves the perfect and really only works through the one who looks the part.

What if David meant something different, however? What if the point is that David is turning the taunt of the apparently whole Jebusites back on them? They were so sure of themselves that they failed to see a major flaw in their defenses: the humble water shaft, which could be either the water supply or the sewer. It lay in their power to remedy—but they did not.

So much depends on what we notice and how. Jesus did mighty works—everywhere but in his own home neighborhood, among those who “knew him when…” They saw him as just the carpenter, just the kid of Mary. They figured they knew what they could expect from him—not much—and that is exactly what they got.

Let’s not be too hasty to judge the skeptics of Corinth and of Nazareth, however. Corinth was a busy port town, which means it doubtless saw more than its share of con artists and schemers. Committing too deeply to the Next Big Thing without asking the hard questions could be bad for one’s money—and one’s health. For its part, Nazareth was a hardscrabble town in a land that was well and truly under Roman domination. The people had surely learned the hard way that getting one’s hopes up would just lead to disappointment.

The mix of pride, fear, defensiveness, and defeatism that kept Jesus’ neighbors blind to him is familiar to today. It is desperately hard to overcome all that baggage in someone else; it is even harder to overcome it in me. In both cases, as Paul’s career shows, it takes persistence, generosity, grace, and a willingness to look silly.

It also helps to pay attention to mundane things like the sewers and the water supply.

For June 17, 2012: Proper 6, Year B

The Reading            1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

Today’s reading follows a shock and contains a surprise. Samuel the prophet has had to tell King Saul that he is rejected as Israel’s king for disobeying God’s command to destroy the Amalekites totally. It then falls to Samuel to anoint the new king—and God declines to make what seems like the obvious choice.

The Response            Psalm 20

The Epistle            2 Corinthians 5:6-17

Those in the city of Corinth who expected religious leaders to be handsome and rich were disappointed in the apostle Paul, judging from today’s letter. Paul’s advice to the Corinthian church is like God’s explanation to Samuel:  look below the surface and into the heart, for things may not be as they seem in this world.

The Gospel            Mark 4:26-34

 

Further thoughts

Engraved into the passenger-side rearview mirror of every car sold in the United States is this notice:

WARNING: OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR

Such a notice never appears on the inside rearview mirror. The reason is this: The inside mirror is made with flat glass: it need only show the view out the rear window and it is close to the driver, so its field of vision can be narrow. The outside mirror that bears the inscription uses glass that is convex or slightly curved outward: this gives the driver a wider field of vision even though it is farther from the driver, but at the cost of distorting the image so that objects in the mirror seem farther away from the driver than they really are.

We see the world using our own mental concave or convex mirrors of our experience. Like Samuel and the people of Corinth, we see external things such as another’s wealth, power, or physical beauty in the concave mirror that makes them loom very large indeed. In that mirror we also see our own preoccupations and needs and entitlements; sometimes we glory in our magnified virtues and sometimes we despair at our magnified faults. We glance in the convex mirror and glimpse another’s heartache, but it doesn’t look like so much; we assure ourselves that we have plenty of time left, till suddenly the end comes up on us like a semi out of nowhere…

That we use the mirrors so much isn’t stupid or wicked, of course: it’s merely human. I for one don’t have a God’s-eye view, much as I may sound like it—and that is a good thing, because it surely takes God’s eye and God’s heart together to keep track of all the hopes and fears and conflicting priorities of everything from the least little microbe up to the universe.

But the skilled driver knows when to switch attention briefly to either mirror in order to get a sense of what’s going on beside and behind the car, and when to stop relying on the mirrors and look directly. More to the point, the wise driver learns when it’s time to stop the car altogether, get out, and consider God’s mustard seed and the inexplicable grace through which it grows.

For December 18, 2011: 4 Advent, Year B

The Reading            2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

The second book of the prophet Samuel relates the kingship of David, the mighty ancestor of Jesus. As today’s reading opens, David is flush with victory, settled in peace in a kingly dwelling, and he decides that his next move is to build God a house as grand as his own. God’s response is not what one might expect.

 

The Epistle            Romans 16:25-27

Today’s Epistle reading is both short and long. It is one sentence that forms a doxology, or statement of faith. In this very long sentence Paul takes a very long view: backward to the promises of God in the Old Testament, through the coming of Jesus Christ, and onward to God’s eternity.

 

Further thoughts

On the Sunday before Christmas, one expects the Old Testament lesson to prophesy the birth that we await so eagerly. It does that, to be sure: Nathan the prophet concludes by relaying God’s promise that the throne of David—his house, in the sense of ‘dynasty’—will endure forever.

Where the passage begins, however, is with brash King David announcing that he’s going to build God a house. God’s response to this ambition is less than enthusiastic: “Little man, did I ask for a house? Do I need a house? And do you really believe that your path from sheepfold to kingdom was all your own doing?”

In David’s lifetime God’s promises come to pass, mostly, though David’s shortcomings in impulse control, forethought, and humility lead to disasters including his liaison with Bathsheba. David’s progeny, including Solomon, fare no better to much worse, eventually bringing Israel to civil war and subjugation by foreign powers. By the time the Romans put Herod on the throne, there has been no Davidic king in almost 600 years; one could be forgiven for wondering how or even whether God’s promise of “forever” would come to pass.

We know how the story goes from here. God’s promise is fulfilled, of course, in Jesus, and through David’s descendant Mary. We tend to sentimentalize Mary as pure through sheer passivity, but today’s gospel hints that she is more disciplined, prudent, and self-aware than her famous forebear. When the angel Gabriel calls her the favored one of God, Mary doesn’t strut and preen; instead, she asks herself what this could mean. When Gabriel tells her she will be a mother, Mary asks how, showing a grasp of both biology and social implications: pure Mary pregnant out of wedlock is bound to be the subject of finger-pointing, no matter how holy the baby, and she must trust that God will either lead her fiancé and her family to understand or help her go on without them. Finally, Mary understands that, though it is up to her to say yes and then to follow through, it is God’s power and grace that will start her on this astonishing adventure and keep her going.

In short, Mary has a very good idea how costly it will be to say yes to God, and she says it anyway. Who better than she to be the mother of the Lamb who willingly died for our sins?