Last week we had wonderful sermons from the El Hogar travelers. But a couple folks said to me after the service, “how about that Old Testament reading!” It was Bathsheba and David -- steamy stuff, that sounds just like a modern soap opera.
In case you missed last week, our story thus far is: David is sunning himself on his rooftop deck, instead of leading his troops into battle like he should be, and sees the beautiful Bathsheba, wife of Uriah, one of his army commanders. He seduces her, and then a few months later she utters those immortal words, “ I’m pregnant.”
David calls Uriah home to visit his wife, in the hopes that Uriah will think the child is his. But Uriah, being an upright person, says, “how can I possibly go to the comfort of my own home when my soldiers are still in the field! I’ll just sleep in my tent.” David responds, “you really really should go visit your wife.” But Uriah still won’t, so David sends him back with a note to his loyal general Joab saying, “Put Uriah in the front line, and once he’s engaged with the enemy, draw everyone else back so he’ll be surrounded and killed.” Wow. That’s cold. David, God’s anointed and chosen, is making King Herod who we had beheading John a few weeks back, look like a decent guy.
But God, who sees and knows all, is not happy with David’s actions. God sends the prophet Nathan to tell a parable, a tricky story, to get David to see where he’s gone wrong. One side note I need to make is that Nathan’s comparison of stealing a sheep to stealing another man’s wife is clearly couched in the culture of that time, when women were chattel. Theft of services is not how we really think of adultery today, today the issue is breaking vows and wounding those who love us. Nathan is not saying, “your wife Michal – and your other 150 concubines – are going to be so hurt and upset.” Their feelings are not important in this story. Likewise, Bathsheba doesn’t have any choice here, she has to do as the king commands. To read the story in its own context, David’s sin was callously disregarding the trust and faith put in him by his commander Uriah, and cold-heartedly sending him to his death to cover up his own treachery, and most of all, abusing his power to take something from someone who has less than him.
What Nathan says to David is, “You are rich, God has given you so much. Isn’t it enough for you? You have to go take from someone who has so much less, just because you have the power to do it?”
What a sense of entitlement, right? That seems like a 21st century sin. One of my personal pet peeves of modern-day entitledment is drivers in downtown Lexington. You know how we have so many pedestrian crosswalks, and it often seems to happen that a car will be stopped at a crosswalk, waiting for a pedestrian to cross, and another car will come up and go right around them, in the wrong lane, and almost hit or sometimes actually hit the pedestrian. Because someone seems to think they own the road. A sense of entitlement is what we often talk about wanting our children not to get, because we want them to have compassion for others, to realize how their actions affect those around them.
What’s the opposite of a sense of entitlement? What can we cultivate to counteract it? How about sense of gratitude, giving thanks to God for what we have, not taking anything for granted. Nathan is hinting that if David had spent some more time in gratitude for all that God gave him, which was quite a lot, perhaps he wouldn’t have gotten himself in to this disastrous, tragic mess. Maybe another thing to cultivate is a sense of generosity and sharing. How do we know when we’ve had enough of something, we don’t need more, we can share with others. This example of David killing Uriah to add a 151st concubine may seem extreme, but there are extremes in the world today, too. I read recently that the US, which has 5% of world’s population, uses 25% of available fossil fuels. The first thing I did when I got to church this morning was switch on the air condition in my office. I often do that without even thinking how lucky I am to be able to do that, how many people can’t.
I was at a workshop this spring where the leader was encouraging us to cultivate a sense of generosity by giving away until you have less, just a little less, than others. He made us do an exercise to demonstrate this, where he had about 600 bookmarks with his website on them, and gave two people a huge bunch. They gave half to someone sitting near them and so on and so on until everyone in the room had a couple bookmarks. OK, it was a pretty hokey way to get his bookmark distributed. But let’s admit, giving away until you have less than the other not our usual way of doing things. We’re more comfortable having just a little more than the Joneses. Not much, just a little. But think of how that becomes a race, since the Joneses are also always trying to have just a little more than us. If everyone, in a whole community, is willing have a little less than the other, then there is enough. If everyone is trying to have just a little more, then there’s never enough.
How can this be more than just philosophical exercise? How can we use a little less than our neighbors maybe we can start a new trend. Because, the point of the ancient scribe who wrote down this story of David was it’s God’s grace, not David’s hard work or fitness for rule, that make him king. He didn’t get there by his own merits. He’s not actually entitled to anything. It’s all God’s gift. God gave it because God loves David.
And the good news is that even in this really bad mess, God still loves David. And that’s something to be grateful for. Counting our blessings, sharing them with others, will in the end bring us far more happiness than any king ever got from all his riches.