Sermons

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2 Samuel 9:1-15 & John 6:1-21
Proper 12B – 7/25/21
St. Aidan’s Alexandria
The Rev. Dr. Rosemary Beales

 

A message from the king! A message from the king!

No, this is not the intro to the comical depiction of King George III in the musical “Hamilton.” Fans liken George’s solo “You’ll Be Back” to a break-up song in the style of the British Invasion, and even though it alludes to the deadly struggle of the American Revolution, it serves as comic relief in the play. 

Not so today’s message from the king. There’s nothing comical about King David’s message to “the woman” he sees bathing while he strolls, in privileged leisure, along his rooftop. Events unfold in swift succession: David sees. He wants. He sends messengers. 

We are left to imagine how that conversation went. Perhaps Bathsheba was still in her bath when she heard their knock, and hurried to make herself presentable. At the door, I doubt the messengers held an engraved invitation. More likely, the terse announcement: “A message from the king,” and an offer she was not allowed to refuse. 

David, used to military conquests, assumes that, despite the six wives he already has, he has the right to conquer “the woman,” whom he never calls by name. If there was any romance in this transaction, we hear nothing of it. The vast imbalance of power in this scene has made David not so much a seducer as a rapist. 

Was Bathsheba flattered and excited about her encounter with his majesty, or filled with dread and under duress? Worried about what her husband Uriah – away fighting David’s war -- would think? 
We don’t know, because she gets a single line of dialogue, and that, too, is delivered by a messenger. “I’m pregnant.” How does she feel about THAT? 

It is not pleasant to sit with this story, and if it were a TV show, I’d have changed the channel. But then we’d miss the climax, as the rapist becomes a murderer – and not even an honest murderer (if there is such a thing) who strikes out in the heat of passion, but a cold and calculating conspirator. 
Desperate to hide his role in Bathsheba’s pregnancy, David sends his most loyal soldier – and an untold number of Uriah’s cohort – to certain death.

THIS is Israel’s greatest king? THIS is the shepherd boy, slayer of giants, gifted musician and singer of psalms, faithful warrior and loyal subject of Saul – the one whom the Lord has just sworn to cherish and protect and make a dynasty? “Your throne will be established forever” [2 Samuel 7:16], we heard God swear to David just last week. Eventually, David will repent today’s action, but he will never quite recover from his early luster.

Today, David has proven God right in the prophecy announced way back when the people first demanded a king, to be like other nations. A king, God warned then, will use his power to “take and take and take.” [1 Samuel 8:10-18]

Fast forward a thousand years, though, and one of David’s descendants will use his power to “give and give and give.”

Jesus, son of David, son of God, instead of using people, uses the gift of a small boy to feed the multitudes, with such abundance that 12 baskets of leftovers remain. As Austen Hartke writes in his powerful book Transforming, “Jesus did not come to make life marginally more bearable. He came to give abundant life.” [Austen Hartke, Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians (Westminster John Knox Press, 2018)]

No wonder some of the people – forgetting all they had learned from Saul and David and their heirs – wanted to make Jesus king. But Jesus knew what David’s unfettered power had done to his soul. Jesus was to be a king, but not the kind of king David was, not the kind of king that people expected. 

All of this is not to say just that Jesus is a better king than David, or that Jesus’ power, unlike David’s, is divine. You already know that!