Thursday, August 04, 2011

David's great sin...or, How beautiful is Susan Hayward in the movie, really?

This morning, with three people and two dogs assembled in the presence of our Lord for prayer, it felt like we had a solid balance and a diverse group. Comments (by human or canine parties) on the scripture readings are really quite rare during our morning prayer sessions in my office.


At this point in the readings from the Hebrew scriptures, we are in the midst of the saga of David and his rise to power as the king of Judah and Israel in the wake of Saul's dramatic, Shakepearean breakdown and death. It is now the spring of the year, in a time after David's rule has been consolidated and his throne is relatively secure. Of course, when it comes to a dramatic story-biblical or otherwise-the calm is always the calm that comes before the storm.

During the spring military campaigns, when his soldiers are out of town, David is taking a midday walk on his roof. At a time when most people are talking a siesta, he is wandering...and he gets an eyeful. A woman, Bathsheba, is bathing on her rooftop. That's all it takes. A king seeing the beautiful wife of one of his soldiers in a compromising position...and the curtain rises on a tragedy.

You may have seen the movie, starring Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward. Not to mention Raymond Massey as the prophet Nathan and Kieron Moore as Uriah the Hittite. Classic Hollywood casting.

Of course, I am familiar with the story on several levels. I remember it from my childhood Sunday School classes. At that age, the sexual innuendos were, of course, left out...what mattered was the object lessons around desire, deceit, murder and that even kinds are subject to judgement and justice. (It's important to note that this experience came when we were going through the Nixon years in the USA...so we saw this fall from grace at all levels). Later, as a classic film buff, I saw the old biblical epic and appreciated the operatic qualities of the story. Then, as a seminary student, we were given the chance to digest the text from multiple, academic and pastoral perspectives.

Now, though, this morning, I am seeing a new wrinkle. This story is not just about a love triangle ending in tragedy. It is not just about a king being caught out in using his power to not only indulge himself as well as to harm his unaware adversaries.

It is also about the collateral damage that sin can create in the lives of our community.

David, when Uriah refuses to go to his wife after the king's adultery in order to disperse the king's responsibility in the act, orders his general to place the hapless "hero" at the forefront of an attack. All this is laid out in 2 Samuel, the 11th chapter. The plan is to send Uriah out, and then draw back support from his unit, leaving him (them) to fall.

Today, I am thinking about the (them) in this story. What of the soldiers on both sides of this skirmish who died, as well as Uriah, in order to "cover" the sin of the king? For a night of passion with a woman, David arranges not only the death of an innocent man (men), but also puts blood on the hands of his commanders, even his enemies.

We sat in the short silence that follows each reading, and then one person noted aloud how incredibly awful David's behavior was...and how unutterably sad that so many innocent people should suffer and die for the sins of a powerful man charged with protecting their well being.

In a prayerful response, I asked us to recite "A Song of Penitence," Canticle 14-an excerpt from the Prayer of Manasseh.

In reflection after the fact, I continue to struggle with the harsh reality that this passage tenders to us for our consideration. How many times, throughout human history, have the "small" people suffered so that the "great" can indulge themselves in acts of passion, ambition or pride? On this morning's news, the current issues around the funding of the FAA has caused thousands of layoffs and work stoppages. Hundreds of families will not be able to make September's mortgage payments. A significant sector of the national economy is suffering. All this while our political leadership argues uses the moment in an attempt to gain leverage over their opponents over questions of whether or not unions can be organized in a certain sector or how public dollars are used to subsidize local institutions.

Yes, I am drawing a parallel between David's act of adultery and our current leadership's willingness to use working class people as pawns in the much-needed, but ill-timed debates over the general fiscal policies of the nation.

After seeing with new eyes David's poor, lethal choices to cover his desires, I am finding in myself a new awareness of our common need to repent of the decisions that create collateral damage and suffering. Lord knows we have a lot to atone for when it comes to extractive and oppressive economic systems that grind the hungry and poor up again and again....so let's not forget David, nor ever forget the Uriahs of this world. God is continually calling us to those second chances which continually allow us to balance the scales of justice. May there be a time when not only the cannons fall silent, but also a time when the cannon fodder ceases to fall at all.....

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