The Third Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 6) - 13 June 2010
II Samuel 11:26 – 12:10, 13-15
Saint Luke 7:36 – 8:3
David is confronted by the Prophet Nathan
We have a reading this Sunday from II Samuel. Actually I and II Samuel and I and II Kings, are regarded as being a single collection, later divided into the divisions above by the King James’ translation of the Bible. In actuality, the books are a collection of many sources, some of who were responsible for the various strands of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) and can be detected by their bias on the issues of the time. In the Hebrew Scriptures we meet Samuel, whose story may have been intermingled with that of Saul, and David – the legendary king of Israel. Here, the story of the stories may be almost as fascinating as the story itself.
II Samuel 11:26 – 12:10, 13-15
When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son.
But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD, and the LORD sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, "There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man's lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him." Then David's anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, "As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity."
Nathan said to David, "You are the man! Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master's house, and your master's wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife."
David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD." Nathan said to David, "Now the LORD has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child that is born to you shall die." Then Nathan went to his house. The LORD struck the child that Uriah's wife bore to David, and it became very ill.
This is a very interesting choice that the framers of the Lectionary have made. The person implicit, but not present in the reading – Bathsheba, seems to be the thematic link (see Mary Magdalene in the Gospel) but is not. The real theme becomes evident later. The real character in the story is Nathan, the prophet, who calls the great king David to task for David’s murder of Uriah the Hittite, and taking Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, as his own wife. There are several logical devices in the reading that engage the reader in the drama of the story. The most prominent is Nathan’s story of the lamb that moves David to condemn himself. The other is the string of consequence that is tied to the murder and adultery: the sword will never depart from the House of David, and the product of David and Bathsheba’s union will die. The closing line is poignant: the innocent child (and to this child we could add Uriah, as well, becomes the victim of the machinations of the great king.
Breaking open II Samuel:
1. What do you think of Nathan’s prophetic stance over against David? Do you think that his life might have been in danger?
2. Which other biblical character got into trouble for commenting on a king’s “marriage?”
3. How genuine is David’s confession?
Psalm 32 Beati quorum
Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, *
and whose sin is put away!
Happy are they to whom the LORD imputes no guilt, *
and in whose spirit there is no guile!
While I held my tongue, my bones withered away, *
because of my groaning all day long.
For your hand was heavy upon me day and night; *
my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you, *
and did not conceal my guilt.
I said," I will confess my transgressions to the LORD." *
Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.
Therefore all the faithful will make their prayers to you in time of trouble; *
when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach them.
You are my hiding-place; you preserve me from trouble; *
you surround me with shouts of deliverance.
"I will instruct you and teach you in the way that you should go; *
I will guide you with my eye.
Do not be like horse or mule, which have no understanding; *
who must be fitted with bit and bridle,
or else they will not stay near you."
Great are the tribulations of the wicked; *
but mercy embraces those who trust in the LORD.
Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the LORD; *
shout for joy, all who are true of heart.
Some commentators call this a “Thanksgiving Psalm”, and it’s notation as a “Maskil” has a connotation of being a joyous psalm. Actually it is a psalm of confession, for the verses speak of confession and forgiveness, with resulting thanksgiving. The psalm seems to be connected thematically with the reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, where David is confronted by the Prophet Nathan about the murder of Uriah, and the adultery with Bathsheba. Ideally, the psalm could be David’s response of thanksgiving having admitted his sin and having been forgiven. From verse 8 on, the psalm takes on a wisdom-like character, with verse 8 serving as an introduction to the aphorisms in the verses that follow.
Breaking open Psalm 32
1. Have you ever been forgiven something – that was a great relief to you?
2. Have you ever forgiven someone something that was a great relief to them?
3. What goes on in your mind during the Confession of Sins, in the liturgy?
We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners - yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law. But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.
These verses in Paul’s letter to the Galatians seem to render an intense internal discussion that Paul has in his own mind. The argument is about existence and essence: “who am I?” Paul traces, with an unflagging preciseness the points of his argument – replete with irony and paradox. Jew – Gentile, Sinner – Justified, the Law – Christ, dead to the Law – alive to God, alive in the flesh – alive in faith. These are the poles of his argument about leaving the Law for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The verses represent to us a powerful internal struggle in Paul’s mind that is not so much different from the internal struggles that every Christian has when confronted by their sin. Although this is a virtual lectio continua (continuing reading) through Galatians, it seems to be serendipitously connected to the reading from II Samuel.
Breaking open Galatians:
- Do you have an internal ethical struggle at times?
- How do you resolve it?
- What is Paul’s resolution?
Saint Luke 7:36 – 8:3
One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him-- that she is a sinner." Jesus spoke up and said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." "Teacher," he replied, "Speak." "A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?" Simon answered, "I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt." And Jesus said to him, "You have judged rightly." Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little." Then he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" And he said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."
Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.
There are several aspects to this reading from Luke. The most notable is Jesus’ use of a present situation as a kind of parable, when he uses the example of the unnamed woman who anoints Jesus with her tears and with ointment. Jesus includes in his conversation with Simon (a Pharisee) a series of questions that leads Simon to the truth Jesus wants Simon to perceive. The teaching is about forgiveness, and the value of that forgiveness. For, the woman, however, the operative principal is not forgiveness, but rather faith. She is proclaimed “a sinner” early in the reading, but we do not know what her sin was – we do know, however that her faith saved her.
The later verses name Mary Magdalene (cured of evil spirits) and it is unfortunate that Mary becomes trapped in the descriptor of “sinner”, as is the woman in the preceding passage. It is interesting that Mary Magdalene, the Apostle to the Apostles, should be bound together in these readings today with Bathsheba, the mother of Solomon, and sinner as well. What it does show, is that the faithful in every age include those who fail and are lifted up. Perhaps that ought to be the point of our preaching.
Breaking open the Gospel:
- How did Simon fail as a host?
- How did Simon fail as a judge of human character?
- What does the word “sinner” suggest to you as it relates to the woman? Is your judgment fair?
After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:
Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.