Recently I spoke with someone who expressed concern about the tone of negativity in some of our recent lectionary readings. For example, the beheading of John the Baptist a few weeks back. Powerful men ogling a dancing teenage girl. Trampling the poor and needy, widow and orphans. Retribution and judgment. What kind of uplifting message can we get from this? Don’t we see enough violence on TV, in ads and in entertainment that we have to come on Sunday and hear even more?
I understand this point of view and can sympathize with it. But over the years I have also come to understand that the bible does not sugarcoat reality. The Bible is like a mirror revealing the worst and the best of us. More important, the Bible is the story of salvation history– the fall of humankind through sin and rebellion. Further, despite this, of a God who never forsakes us, whether we are at our worst or best. A God working through our wrongdoing, calling us to repent, to engage our better selves, offering us redemption through Jesus Christ. I mention this because today we again have two polar opposite readings: our Hebrew lesson exposing the dark, sinful nature of humanity and our uplifting epistle lesson proclaiming the power of the indwelling of Christ in our hearts to embrace the depth, breadth, length and height of the fullness of the love of God in our lives together.
With all this in mind, we start today with perhaps the most well-known case of infidelity in the Bible, King David’s fling with Bathsheba. We engage this difficult story because it is a reminder to us of the slippery slope of sin that we all face at some time or another in our lives.
David’s slide into sin begins before he even sets eyes on Bathsheba.
Our text informs us that it is spring, the time when kings go to war (11:1). Kings in David’s time were the top warriors of the people. They earned their crowns by defeating neighbors and enemies and protecting borders. That was their main job. David earned the kingship through a series of successful battles. At this point in the story, Israel is still at war with a neighboring people called the Ammonites. The army assembles, under the command of General Joab and his officers. For the first time, King David makes the mistake of staying in Jerusalem rather than leading his army and fighting it out like a proper king. He does not stay home to meditate on the Law of Moses or to write psalm or two; he passes the time lounging around on his couch. Recall it was Benjamin Franklin who reminds us that “idle hands are the devil’s playthings.”
King David has grown accustomed to having the finest of everything. His palace is the finest. His furnishings, his food, his help, are all the finest. Now, from the viewpoint of his roof, he looks and sees a woman whom he regards as “fine.” And this king intends to have her.
In ancient times, the King was not only a renowned warrior, but he was also the absolute authority. If Bathsheba was summoned to the King’s palace, then she came to the palace or risked execution for defying the King. She had no choice in the matter.
David didn’t set out to commit an insidious sin. People seldom do. He should have been on the battlefield but he ignores his duty. Next his eyes wanders. He inquiries about this woman instead of just having a look and moving on. By the time he learned that she was married, David had already let desire get its nasty little hooks into his heart, and his desires outweighed his good sense and integrity.
David, it seems just wanted a one-night sexual romp. But sin has its consequences: Bathsheba gets pregnant. Oops. David hadn’t planned on that possibility. Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, was a faithful warrior out on the battlefield — where David should have been. How was David going to cover this up?
David called Uriah in from the battle, and instructs Uriah to go down to his house, assuming of course that Uriah would have marital relations with Bathsheba while he was home, which would allow him to think that the baby was his -- effectively covering up the incident.
However, David did not consider Uriah’s sense of honor and loyalty, in contrast to David’s lack of honor and loyalty. Warriors, in active combat, did not engage in marital relations. So Uriah slept outside in the doorway. Uriah would not go and enjoy the pleasures of home when his fellow-soldiers were camping in the battlefield. David even tried getting him drunk, but Uriah’s sense of duty and honor was strong enough to overcome all of David’s tactics. Uriah is the symbol of a man of integrity while David falls further down that slippery slope into degradation.
David gets desperate. He does something devious. David sent word back to General Joab to put Uriah in a place where he was sure to be killed. Cover-ups are often like that — innocent people become expedient and get hurt when we try to hide the truth.
What makes the story so poignant, is before David became king, and was a fugitive in the wilderness being hunted down by Saul -- a group of friends voluntarily defended him and risked their lives to save David’s life -- and one of them was Uriah the Hittite. David owes his life to Uriah. And now he covets Uriah’s wife, he commits adultery with her, he has Uriah murdered, and then he lies to cover it up. Nearly half the Ten commandments…broken in one awful enterprise.
David would pay dearly for his sin. The baby born of this tryst dies. We will learn later that the sword of contention would never leave his house – the kingdom he worked so hard to maintain would be divided soon after the end of his son Solomon’s reign – a family dynasty lasting only two generations. A slippery slope going down deeper, and deeper into sin.
On the contrary, in our epistle lesson Paul, writing from prison to the church at Ephesus, calls us out of our depths to new heights, to rise to greater heights, by being rooted and grounded in love. Unlike David, we are called to be loyal and true to our calling. We are called to act selflessly, not selfishly like David. We are reminded that being rooted and grounded in love is to be grafted into the body of Jesus Christ which makes us care for each other, instead of just caring for ourselves, like David did. God fills us with the love and power of Christ so we upbuild each other. We go out of our way to help each other, instead of indulging our own desires like David did.
David’s problem was that he grew so powerful and successful, he thought he did think he was accountable to anyone. He thought he was above the law. He didn’t have to fulfill his duties of being king, he could assign others to do his dirty work. He didn’t seem to care about the impact of his actions on others.
God, however, calls us to live differently. If we want to know the fullness of God’s love – and of human love -- our lives must be rooted and grounded in Christ. The apostle Paul wrote about the depth and breadth and length and height of Jesus’ love – a love which brings the fullness of God’s grace in our hearts and in our living with each other. And that’s what we are called to. If we want to be truly successful, we must always remember our connectedness to each other. We must share our lives with each other. We must be accountable to each other. We make a difference in each other lives. Imagine how much grief David would have shared those around him had he only remembered the moral compass of God’s love and mercy—if only he remembered his accountability to his friend, Uriah, the Hittite.
It is said that Cyrus, the founder of the Persian Empire, once had captured a prince and his family. When they came before him, the monarch asked the prisoner, "What will you give me if I release you?" "The half of my wealth," was his reply. "And if I release your children?" "Everything I possess." "And if I release your wife?" "Your Majesty, I will give myself." Cyrus was so moved by his devotion that he freed them all. As they returned home, the prince said to his wife, "Wasn’t Cyrus a handsome man!" With a look of deep love for her husband, she said to him, "I didn’t notice. I could only keep my eyes on you--the one who was willing to give himself for me."
This is what Christ has done for us. He calls us out of the snares of sin to find our best selves. He gives himself for us. That’s the good news the Bible wants to impress on us. His eyes are on us – he has given himself for us. And this is how we are to live – sacrificially for each other. Is anyone hurt? Let us tend to their needs. Is anyone worried or anxious? Let us be reassuring. Is anyone sad? Let us offer comfort? Let us stay connected – to God and to each other do something good for someone else, a kindness, an act of loyalty and honor– and let accomplish great things together, inspired by our better selves, bound by love. Amen.