Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Challenge Continues, Day 109: II Samuel 1-3; Psalm 90; Acts 5

Your Favorite Biblical Villain
Last night, a group representing our parish attended the last of a series of "walkabouts" in our diocese that had been designed to allow us as a Diocese to get to know the candidates for the impending election of our next Diocesan Bishop. They are called walkabouts because the candidates are moving from place to place in the diocese during their visit, getting to know a bit more of the geography and culture of the community even as they meet with, present to and greet the people of God in this place. It is a decent system, in that somehow we have to figure out a way to introduce 9 people (our candidates) to something around 45,000 of the faithful.

During the presentations, the candidates were given questions to answer in front of the people. Arranged in a panel, the moderator would draw a name from a cup and that person would go first, followed in succession by the others. The first question was an "ice breaker:" a question intended to be light, relatively easy to answer and somewhat revealing of the person offering the response. Last night, the candidates got this question: "Who is your favorite Biblical villain?"

The answers ranged from "the serpent, because without the serpent there is no story" to "Peter, because he denied the Lord; we are all Peter at some point." My favorite response, and timely with regard to today's readings, was one candidate's answer: "David, because he was a thug."

David mourns for a man killed for his advantage
We are so accustomed to seeing David as a noble soul, a king to be admired for his heroism and his upright steadfastness to God and to his people...and then we come across readings like today's. As I was reading about David reading about Saul's death (and then ordering the execution of the Amalekite who brought him the news because the man had dared to harm the Lord's Anointed by delivering the coup de grace for Saul in his suicide), and then the tangled mess of the death of Abner and the dismantling of Joab's rising star...I was reminded more of Michael Corleone's character in the Godfather movies than of a romantic monarch of Shakespearean nobility. No blood attaches to David, because others neatly arrange for the dirty work to be done out of his presence. David is able to defend "right" by then declaring a period of mourning for the people who presented the most threat to him being able to consolidate his base of power as King over Judah and Israel. David is a thug...a skilled, smart thug who knows what God asks of him and is able to work within the bounds (at least at this point) of the Law while at the same time making sure that feuds are defused and civil wars are resolved before the conflagration devours his reign and harms the nation.

Ananias and Sapphira: Ananias drops dead from deceit
I confess that this day's reading from the Hebrew scriptures leaves a bit of a bitter aftertaste in my mouth. The reading from the Acts of the Apostles doesn't do much more to ameliorate it, though: be it the deceit of a disciple and his wife over holding back a portion of the sale of a piece of land and, accused, winding up dropping dead from the guilt to the Temple Council deciding under the direction of one Gamliel to refrain from further involvement with Peter and the disciples in the hope that their movement-like other fads and rebellions of the recent past-would fade as it lost its novelty appeal with the crowd.

It's hard not to take a cynic's point of view of how poorly humanity responds to the call of God to live our lives out, worthy of repentance; but that is the very point. I am not seeing the narrative of scripture to this point in the Bible Challenge as revealing anything less than the full mercy and love of God, and our human ability to make things VERY complicated with the politicization or appropriation of same. Even though David's thuggery will continue to reveal itself, God will also continue to be present to intend correction, repentance and restoration. Even as the religious authorities and internal conflicts continue to threaten the fragile balance of life for the newborn Church, God continues to move it along-nurturing it with the Holy Spirit and guiding it along into fullness with each stumbling, grace-filled step it takes.

My hope and prayer is that as our Diocese wends its way through an inevitably political (as well as pastoral) electing process that God's hand will be upon us in the same way as we see revealed in Scripture.

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