Monday, July 23, 2012

The Church Year and the Lectionary Commentary – 17th Ordinary (Day 1)

2 Samuel 11:1-15

11 In the spring, when kings go off to war, David sent Joab, along with his servants and all the Israelites, and they destroyed the Ammonites, attacking the city of Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.
2 One evening, David got up from his couch and was pacing back and forth on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. 3 David sent someone and inquired about the woman. The report came back: “Isn’t this Eliam’s daughter Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” 4 So David sent messengers to get her. When she came to him, he had sex with her. (Now she had been purifying herself after her monthly period.) Then she returned home. 5 The woman conceived and sent word to David.
“I’m pregnant,” she said.
6 Then David sent a message to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” So Joab sent Uriah to David. 7 When Uriah came to him, David asked about the welfare of Joab and the army and how the battle was going. 8 Then David told Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.”
Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him. 9 However, Uriah slept at the palace entrance with all his master’s servants. He didn’t go down to his own house. 10 David was told, “Uriah didn’t go down to his own house,” so David asked Uriah, “Haven’t you just returned from a journey? Why didn’t you go home?”
11 “The chest and Israel and Judah are all living in tents,” Uriah told David. “And my master Joab and my master’s troops are camping in the open field. How could I go home and eat, drink, and have sex with my wife? I swear on your very life, I will not do that!”
12 Then David told Uriah, “Stay here one more day. Tomorrow I’ll send you back.” So Uriah stayed in Jerusalem that day. The next day 13 David called for him, and he ate and drank, and David got him drunk. In the evening Uriah went out to sleep in the same place, alongside his master’s servants, but he did not go down to his own home.
14 The next morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. 15 He wrote in the letter, “Place Uriah at the front of the fiercest battle, and then pull back from him so that he will be struck down and die.”


In the ancient Near East of David’s time spring is a propitious time for war not just because winter is over and the weather is better. More importantly for them was that spring, the reassertion of new life in nature, meant that the people’s god was reasserting himself and going forth in strength victorious against the forces of chaos which had gotten the upper hand for a time during the dying seasons of fall and winter. People went to war at the time when they believed their deity was at full strength and victorious.

Israel’s deity has chosen and sent his people in the world, a world that had turned away from its Creator in pride and rebellion, to be what I like to call a “subversive counter-revolutionary movement.” They were to be a living demonstration of what human life was designed to be, a people who attitudes and structures for living made them a distinctive and subversive presence among the dysfunctional peoples of the world.

In this sense, they were engaged in a war that included but went beyond their physical confrontations with other nations and peoples. The church today bears the mantle of this ongoing divine warfare between God and his still-not-yet-fully-redeemed-world. This warfare no longer includes the physical battle, since God’s people are no longer a geopolitical entity with boundaries to secure and political, economic, or military interests to pursue. Rather, as a people dispersed among all the nations of the globe, the church carries out its subversive counter-revolutionary work in non-violent ways.

Yet it is still warfare. The Apostle Paul thematizes warfare as the church’s mode of existence in his letter to the Ephesians. He is clear that this is NOT physical combat against other human beings (6:12) but rather a struggles against spiritual powers and principalities which agitate and exacerbate humanity’s penchant for rebelling against God.

With that caveat, we can treat this episode in David’s life as an analogy to our life in the church. What can we learn from it?

We remember that David, as king, is a representative figure not simply an individual. He is “Israel.” Thus whatever we learn here is something for all of us and for the church as a whole.

In the first place, then, we notice that at a time when Israel’s God was on a victory march against the Ammonites, David was not there. He was not in his appointed place, not pursuing his vocation and calling. Instead, he is at ease at home, cooling his heels while his generals and their troops do the dirty work on his behalf. This is another version of humanity’s primal sin – failing to attend to our dignity and calling as God’s image-bearers as did our first parents in the garden.

And when we don’t play our parts and attend to our calling and vocation, things get gummed up pretty quickly. In his self-chosen leisure David spots Bathsheba, and the rest is history. David is in deep now with no easy way out.

In the second place, when we don’t attend to our calling and vocation, we end up in denial and rationalization to justify what we are doing. And people get used and hurt in the process, as do Bathsheba, Uriah, and Joab. The whole body gets distorted and suffers when we stray from what God has called us to be and do.

Whether we are “leaders” or members of the congregation, this applies to all of us. Both “leaders” and “followers” must encourage and hold each other accountable for this basic task of discipleship – attending to the calling and vocation God has given to us!

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