Sermon for 26 July 2009
2 Samuel 11: 1-15
John 6: 1-21
The story of David and Bathsheba is a sordid story in the life of a great king. David is revered in the Hebrew scriptures as the greatest King of Israel, and yet one wonders why the scriptures include this story of his adultery with Bathsheba, and his treacherous killing of her husband, Uriah. Perhaps it was necessary to explain how Bathsheba became the wife of David, and the mother of Solomon.
Over the centuries, there have been many attempts to save David’s tarnished reputation. Sometimes Bathsheba has been portrayed as a seductress, who contrived her meeting with David. Other interpretations claim that David rescued Bathsheba from an abusive husband. In the 1985 film, entitled ‘King David’, Uriah is portrayed as a brute. Other versions transform this episode in David’s life into a love story. The movie, ‘David and Bathsheba’, starring Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward, portrays their love as redeeming their unlawful relationship.
In many ways, people have wanted to somehow excuse David’s behaviour, but it is more important to face the reality of David’s vulnerability to power. As king, David believed that he could have anything he desired by any means necessary. His desire to have Bathsheba seemed more for possession than for love. His greater sin was his belief that he had the right to exploit people for his own ends. The story of David and Bathsheba is less about morality, and more about the seduction of power.
The desire for power is a very human weakness. We see that desire in many forms in our present time. Sadly it is such stories, which make headlines and grab the attention of the media. Stories of sexual exploitation by people in positions of power are numerous. Economic scandals are caused by people, who believe they have the power to exploit the trust of others. Brutal dictators, who use violence and treachery to stay in power, exist in the world today.
The temptation of power is almost irresistible. Power can be dangerous in any situation where people are subject to the authority of someone else. We are all susceptible to the temptations of power, and those temptations can be subtle or obvious. The abuse of power, authority or influence can exist in any relationship. It is something we need to recognize in ourselves, and to guard against in our society.
One way to open our eyes is to see how Jesus handled the temptations to power placed before him. In our gospel today, we read again the familiar story of Jesus creating the miracle of feeding five thousand people with five loaves of barley bread and two fish. Everyone in the crowd is amazed. Their reaction is to try to make him king. “When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.”
Jesus did not want power. He did not want to be another King David. His power was of a very different kind for a very different purpose. Often in the scriptures, we read that the Hebrew people who followed him, wanted Jesus to be king, a great warrior like David, a kingly Messiah, who would be God’s Champion to raise up the nation of Israel, but Jesus was not that kind of Messiah. To the Hebrew people, a king had unlimited power, a man beyond question, even if he was ruthless. A good king was a combination of warrior and shepherd. He would defend the people, and vanquish the enemy with courage and military skill. He also would care for the people as a shepherd, giving them security and prosperity.
David, in their eyes, was a good king, regardless of his human failings. Their image of a king was someone who had the power to raise them up out of their oppressive life. Jesus was like a shepherd because he cared for the flock of people who followed him. He gave them an abundance of food in a miraculous way. Jesus did not look like a warrior, but he had some kind of amazing power. The shepherd boy David did not look like a king, but he became a king of greatness. Perhaps the people believed that Jesus would become an even greater king.
Jesus was greater than David, but the people could not comprehend his greatness. If he was a king, his kingdom was not of land and seas, or nations and armies. His kingdom belonged to God. “Are you a king?” Pilate asked Jesus. “My kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus replied. However, the image of Jesus as a king has stayed with generations of disciples and Christian followers. Some of our most popular hymns call Jesus a king: “All glory, laud and honour to thee, Redeemer King”, “At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, every tongue confess him King of glory now”, The King of Love my Shepherd is”, “King of Love, O Christ, we crown you.” In this last hymn, Jesus is called the King of love, the King of life, the King of mercy, the King triumphant, the King victorious. Can Jesus be a victorious king and the king of love at the same time?
According to our gospel today, Jesus did not want to be a king. Jesus called himself a shepherd for the lost sheep of Israel, but he resisted any notion that he had the power of military might. The Hebrew people wanted a warrior, a shepherd and a royal king rolled into one Messiah. That image did not suit Jesus then, and it does not suit Jesus today. It may be that we too want a multi-purpose Jesus to defeat our enemies, to bring us prosperity, and to elevate us into a royal people. Like the Hebrew people, we too have several demands of what Jesus can do for us, but Jesus had only two commandments for us: to love God and to love others. It is easy to set aside his commandments in favour of our own desires, but it is his commandments, which will bring us peace and the promise of God’s kingdom. Amen.