Readings: 2 Sam 11:26 - 12:13a, Luke 9:28-36
[Left: Raphael, Transfiguration.
“You are the Man” (2 Samuel 12:7)
Today’s OT lesson is one of the 2nd instalment
of one of the great soap opera tales of the Bible.
King David has fallen for the beautiful Bathsheba,
but (unfortunately for all concerned) she is married to Uriah.
Uriah is a soldier in David’s army.
David wants to get rid of Uriah so he has him sent to the front
where he knows he will be killed.
Uriah is duly sent to the fiercest point of the battle,
where indeed he is slaughtered.
Back in Jerusalem, Bathsheba (who is already carrying David’s child)
is installed in the Palace – how willingly or unwillingly is not clear.
When the official mourning period is over,
David marries Bathsheba,
who takes her place alongside all his other wives and concubines.
A story from a very different culture –
and yet there are so many potential points of comparisons with our modern world:
you see King David as a Kitchener,
ruthlessly and heartlessly sending men
over the top into battle to almost certain death.
you see Bathsheba as a Monica Lewinski figure,
and David as a Bill Clinton desperately trying
to manage and cover up the situation brought about by his lust.
maybe you see Bathsheba as more of an unambiguous victim –
one of the countless number of largely unrecorded women
caught up in sexual violence –
maybe our mind goes to the several rape cases in the news this week.
maybe David is to be likened to the current rulers of Israel
and their supporters in Washington and London and elsewhere.
And Uriah – who is he?
Maybe he is a villager in South Lebanon –
someone just trying to make a living,
someone who suddenly and frighteningly finds himself
through no fault of his own
on the front line of a battle not of his making,
suddenly realizing that because of decisions made far away
by the ruthless men of power, his end is nigh,
and he will never see his wife again in this world.
on Hiroshima Day maybe we simply see Uriah
as the victim of the most violent and potent warfare his age could devise.
And his wife’s yet to be born son – who will also die –
is the victim of the fall-out of adult evil,
which is to blight, indeed destroy, his young short innocent life
Sadly, the story of David and Uriah resonates throughout
human history -
because it is the old old story of power,
or more precisely the abuse of power,
everywhere from the battlefield to the bedroom.
According to the old myths of Genesis
God made human race a little lower than the angels
and gave us dominion over the earth –
but with the power and authority came responsibility -
a responsibility which so often we abuse.
The power we are given by God is to be used
· for people not against them,
· to lift people up, not to grind them down
Our NT reading today is for the Feast of the Transfiguration.
disciples see Jesus in all his glory –
a powerful vision of his might and majesty.
But this is not the beginning of a jack booted Messianic Imperial rule –
quite the reverse.
Jesus tells Peter they are to go back down the Mountain
because there are sick people to be healed and demons to be expelled.
Power is used for people in the valley,
not over people from the mountain top or the palace.
The story of David and Uriah warns us about the abuse of
and reminds us that Christ’s rule
is one of love and service not strong arm violence.
But it is
also about self awareness,
spiritual sight & blindness.
After David and Bathsheba are married,
Nathan the Prophet comes to the King and tells his famous story
about the rich man with great flocks.
The rich man needs just one sheep for a meal –
but instead of taking a beast from his own flock,
he goes and takes the only sheep belonging to a poor man,
leaving him with nothing.
David is furious – this wretched and selfish man must suffer, he says.
Who is he?
Nathan looks David in the eye and says
“You are the man”.
And it is like someone has turned a light on in David’s
indeed a searing searchlight –
as he suddenly sees himself for what he is -
the man who stole all Uriah had.
Where does that leave us?
We too hear Nathan’s story of the rich and poor man and
the sheep –
and we can identify with David when he says –
Who is this guy? – He needs dealing with – What is his name?
And of course you know what happens next.
Nathan turns to you and me – and says –
You want to know who did this? You did – All of you –
You are the men and the women who have used your power and wealth
to grind down the weak and the vulnerable.
And maybe we are slower than David.
When Lord, we say, when did we do such things?
Do you not realize that you are complicit
in the plight of the poor and needy?
There is so much Nathan could say to us -
but here are just a couple of things –
1. Do you realize that the Defence
Exports Service Organization
is set up by the British Government
purely and simply to help sell arms –
pretty much to any one who will buy them?
is not about national security let alone peace keeping.
It is simply about the UK economy
and us getting richer through war and armaments.
Their literature is frightening as it looks at
new areas of conflict and bloodshed describing them
as places where new markets are opening up
incidentally is not a pacifist issue –
we may have different views on that –
But even those who support just wars
can surely never support wars
supported on the grounds of economic self interest and greed.
Before you condemn Israel’s airstrikes,
check out the UK components in their F16s.
Before you condemn hostilities between India and Pakistan,
remember we arm both sides of that conflict…..
2. Then Nathan says
Let me talk to you about national wealth.
The average UK citizen
(including everyone, men women and children)
has an annual income of around £300 pw
The average citizen of
Malawi, the Gaza Strip, Somalia and East Timor
has an annual income of under £6 per week
The British and the Americans and the rest of the G8
cannot agree trade deals to help the poorest nations -
they are too busy looking after their own national interests
to come to be able to agree a package.
So Nathan says –
me tell you about a King
who out of greed sent a poor man into battle to die.
me a story about a man who had a great flock of sheep
and took the poor man’s last sheep for his own dinner table….
These are our corporate national sins,
our abuses of wealth and power and privilege –
to which we each add our own private individual sins and excesses –
I leave you to catalogue those quietly alongside the others.
which makes the Mountain top meeting with God
in all his glory - an awesome occasion -
For as David discovered before Nathan,
as Isaiah knew in the Temple,
and as Peter knew in the Courtyard at Cockcrow,
it is when you are suddenly confronted by God
that you realize your own inadequacy.
· And Peter went out and wept.
Isaiah cried out,
Woe is me for I am a man of unclean lips
and I dwell in a land of unclean lips
· The David said “I have sinner before the Lord”
brings us to the last bit of the story
which is about Judgement.
David will suffer for what he has done –
all kinds of hard things will happen to him
because of the road he has gone down,
and God won’t just undo all that….
BUT and here is the final issue –
God does not desert David for what he has done.
At the heart of his wickedness is his liaison with Bathsheba –
and their child does indeed die –
But they have another child – and he is………
Solomon, whom God places on the throne after his Father David.
This is a story of God’s love
even for the rich and callous and heartless –
even for King David at his worst – which is good news –
it means that there is hope for victims and perpetrators alike
of violence whether domestic or military,
be it in the Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan or Exeter….
It means there is hope even for you and for me.
unlikely, but Qana in S Lebanon
where 60 men women and children died last week
just could be the place where Jesus turned water into wine
Which should remind us
that God’s miracles of grace and love can be worked
in even the darkest places in our sinful world.
So let us hear
again a story of the abuse of power –
may we learn to use our power and wealth and influence for good!
Let us hear again
a story of spiritual awakening –
may we so stand in the light of God’s presence
that we see ourselves as we really are.
And let us hear
again the promise of God’s love for all,
even the most needy and sinful,
even for King David,
even for you
even for me.