Proper 6, Year C (Part I)
This is going to be at least a two-parter; reflections on the Epistle and Gospel readings will be up in a bit.
2 Samuel 11:26-12:10,13-15 - link to NRSV text
Decisions, decisions ...
I'm preaching this Sunday, and my congregation does the Hebrew Bible OR the Epistle reading, but not both. Which to do?
Both readings have great drama. Can you imagine being Nathan?
I think my knees would have been knocking on the way to the throne room. In the nations, kings were supposed to be lords of everything in their territory. It wasn't possible for a king to steal something from one of his subjects; if he took something from his subjects, he was just taking what was his. Telling him otherwise was a very dangerous job.
But the people of the God of Israel were supposed to do things differently. As far as God's people were concerned, "The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof" (Psalm 24:1). Yahweh was Israel's king; no further applications for the "king of Israel" position were to be taken. Even after the Israelites demanded and got an earthly king, deep ambivalence about the wisdom of that decision remained in the tradition. Small wonder, given how often Israel's kings were tempted to act like their royal counterparts in other nations, to act as though the land and its fullness belonged to the king, to act as though the people and the land both existed to increase and demonstrate the wealth and power of the rich and powerful.
And that's how David is acting when Nathan confronts him. What David has done is much worse even than what the man in Nathan's story does. The rich man takes a lamb from a poor man; David kills in order to steal, and in the process treats a woman like livestock.
True, there was a lot of that going around in cultures of the ancient Near East -- much as there were a lot of kings who thought all they surveyed was rightly theirs. But God's people are supposed to use power as God does, not to further their own privilege, but to serve the poor. God's people are supposed to remember that the only one who deserves to be called "lord" is God. Nathan's job is to remind King David that he has a Lord to whom he is subject -- and that Lord can't sanction treating Uriah and Bathsheba as objects.
No, I'm not trying to make Nathan into a proto-feminist -- that just wouldn't be possible in that cultural and historical context. But Nathan uses his access to the corridors of power to speak truth to power, and that call is still the call of God's people.