5 August 2018
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 13B (RCL)
2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a
This week, we continue the story of David and Bathsheba with Nathan’s parable of judgment. Speaking judgment directly to the king could be a risky business, so Nathan has to find a way to get David to pronounce the judgment himself. The parable of the rich man and the poor man and their sheep is the perfect device. It subtly reminds the king that his vocation is to guard the poor, rather than side with the rich, and calls David out for his specific crime at the same time.
When Samuel had warned the nation of kings would do, he might well have had David in sight. David has fulfilled Samuel’s prophecy, “He will take your sons for his warriors and your daughters for his perfumers.” David acknowledges his guilt, but the results of his sin remain with his house. Because he used the sword to cover his crime, the sword will never depart from his house. If the deuteronomistic historians are writing this history in hindsight, it is easy to predict what turned out in fact to be the case. But the insight here is more important that the accuracy of Nathan’s prophecy. Because the people wanted a king so that they could be like other nations, and have success in war, then war will be a constant state of affairs. The whole incident of Bathsheba begins with the phrase, “At the turn of the year (spring) when kings go out to battle. . .” War is spring-time diversion for kings. When acquisition is the goal, violence will be endemic.
No wonder Jesus slipped away when the crowd tried to come and make him king by force after the feeding of the 5000. They, like the people of Israel in Samuel’s time, wanted their problems solved, and Jesus was just the guy to do it, if he could keep them fed. So, Jesus slipped away, and the crowd followed him. He scolded them, “You are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” We already know that believing in Jesus on the basis of signs is a mistake, so they’re doubly mistaken. They want more.
This passage has echoes of many things that have gone before. The crowd says, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” The first two disciples to follow Jesus said to him, “Rabbi, where do you remain?” Jesus tells the crowd to work for the food that remains to the life of the ages. The woman at the well says to Jesus, “Sir, give me this water always.” As with everything in John’s Gospel, this exchange is about a lot more than bread. John’s community sees itself as the new community on the desert way. “Moses did not give manna in the wilderness; my father is giving you the true bread from heaven — even now.” Jesus ends this paragraph by saying, “Whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever trusts in me will never thirst.”
If we go about our lives like kings, we will never have enough, trying always to acquire more. If we come to Jesus, we will have enough. It means a shift of focus from stuff to relationship. Whoever comes to me. When Jesus asked the woman at the well for water, she immediately jumped to the relational question: How is it that you, a Jew, are asking a drink of me, a Samaritan woman?” Of course, all the patriarchs met their wives at a well by asking for a drink. It is in the face-to-face relationships that we have enough.