26th July 2015 - Hugh Perry
2 Samuel 11:1-15
In today’s reading we are able to reflect on the unfortunate side of absolute monarchies as David not only commits adultery and conspires to cover up the crime. David is presented as a great king but also as realistic with human failings and those failings are challenged in chapter 12 which begins ‘But the thing that David had done displeased Yahweh’.
There is a hint of Wesley’s theology of Providence here because although David’s actions here are abominable God still brings ultimate good from David’s reign.
This reading also introduces Bathsheba who is shown as completely passive and compliant however it is worth remembering that she ends up as the mother of Solomon, a very powerful queen mother indeed. So her actions in ensuring Solomon’s selection ask questions about her motives for bathing on the roof in full view of the king’s palace.
This reading from John’s Gospel contains the feeding of the five thousand and the walking on water and in the absence of a ‘last supper’ scene serves as John’s communion episode.
When Jesus asks where to buy food John adds that this was to test the disciples because the divine Jesus of John’s Gospel is all knowing. The pattern is the well known communion liturgical format. Jesus took the loves and gave thanks, then distributed to those who were seated. The early church also celebrated the Lord’s Supper with fish so that was distributed also.
This action takes place on ‘the other side’ and when it is finished they cross back again. However the disciples start out without Jesus and get into trouble but they reach their goal when Jesus is in the boat with them.
I have recently focused on the value of story and our two readings contain two of the most magnificent of biblical stories, jam packed with questions, imagery and challenge.
We have followed the story of David from his initial anointing by Samuel, his conquest of Goliath and his anointing by all the tribes. We have read about his bringing the Arc into Jerusalem and his thwarted ambition to build a temple in Jerusalem. We have been assured that he is a king divinely chosen and his future dynasty is assured by God.
We have also seen David’s political cunning and willingness to execute one of his loyal soldiers for killing his deadly enemy Saul in order to gain favour from Saul’s supporters. Today’s reading also focuses on David’s human vulnerability and instinct for self-preservation.
As we tut-tut over David’s morality and ask questions about Bathsheba’s motives in bathing on the roof in full view of the palace. Our disquiet is reinforced when we read on and find that, in the family and political violence at the end of David’s life, Bathsheba manages to manipulate events so her son Solomon becomes king.
Perhaps our message is that God is able to use perfectly normal flawed humans to fulfil divine purpose. Another way of expressing that might be that to find good outcomes in the normal tangle of self-serving human fallibility is divine. Much as we might be concerned over David coveting the beautiful Bathsheba and then using his absolute authority to fulfil his fantasy it is not unheard of in our world. Furthermore in David’s world he was entitled to have as many wives and concubines as he wanted. Powerful men in our world tend to behave the same way although the only polygamy we sanction is the serial kind.
Conspiring with his general to have Bathsheba’s husband killed in battle was murder by proxy but it also may well have saved Bathsheba’s life.
In a patriarchal society adultery is a crime one man commits against another and it is the woman who is usually punished. Women are killed to preserve family honour in many cultures today and the text informs us that it was not possible for Uriah to have impregnated Bathsheba. Therefore we could assume that when he discovered that Bathsheba was pregnant her life was in danger.
The other thing to remember is that even in our enlightened world powerful men like to entertain and be seen with beautiful young women. Young women also seek out the company of wealthy, powerful men. Starlets will also sunbathe in view of the Paparazzi to gain career boosting publicity.
They didn’t have courts that retrospectively awarded damages for sexual exploitation in David’s time. But if you read through to the end of David’s life you will discover that Bathsheba had well and truly mastered the art of the deadly game of thrones. David’s sons fight amongst themselves and Bathsheba manipulated events so her son Solomon becomes king.
Reading the whole saga it is difficult to decide who has the power at any particular time and I am reminded of Rod Stewart saying that when he visited New Zealand he had to get used to being Mr Rachel Hunter.
In the saga of King David we witness the biblical narrative being totally realistic with stories of real fallible human beings exhibiting behaviour we can recognise from the behaviour of people in our own time.
The biblical characters are not superstars but ordinary people and the story opens our mind to the Spirit’s action amongst the dubious motives of everyday struggles. Where David was a warrior king Solomon strengthened the kingdom through alliances, cementing those alliances through marriage and greatly improved the economy. Solomon’s reign was probably the high point of the Israelite kingdom so through all the unsavoury activities the hindsight of history can trace the divine plan coming together.
The biblical story has the power to open our imagination to reflect on the danger the pregnant Bathsheba could have faced. In so doing we are reminded of another unmarried mother called Mary who’s perplexed, but merciful fiancée and descendant of David listened to the voice of angels. Mary’s boy child, so the Bible says, changed the world though love, inclusion, and shared hospitality
Jesus’ promotion of what he called ‘the kingdom of God’ is totally different to the power plays we find in the David saga or even in the corruption of democracy we see in political campaigns, FIFFA or the World Bank.
As we cross over the Sea of Galilee with Jesus we find that a large crowd has gathered. Jesus goes up into the mountains to be with the disciples and there is a reference to the Passover that links us to Moses feeding the people of God in the wilderness. This is an allusion used in the other gospels and makes the point that, just as Moses formed the people of God in the wilderness, Jesus’ wilderness journey is calling out a new people of God. John does not include Jesus’ last Passover meal with the disciples in his Gospel but he includes this reference to Passover her at the feeding of the five thousand.
This episode alludes to disquiet with the Roman economy which also appears in the coded messages of the apocalyptic writing of Revelation. The same community that created John’s Gospel is also credited with producing Revelation. The concern of the early Christians was the same concern many of us have about our economy. The economy increased the wealth of the rich and powerful and marginalised the poor.
Jesus asks Philip ‘where are we to buy bread for these people to eat? (John 6:5) Philip gives the same answer most church treasurers would give, we can’t afford it! It is the answer our government gives to the challenge of providing school lunches, benefit’s to the unemployable, state housing and pretty much anything that doesn’t prosper in the market economy. It’s a very similar answer that the South Waikato District Council gave to Julie King’s Love Soup kitchen. Their issue was that using the old bowling club to feed the homeless distracted from the atmosphere they were trying to create at the Tokoroa Sports Centre. Perhaps we could picture the Galilean Regional Council telling Jesus that sharing loaves and fishes contravened their lakeside beautification programme.
Jesus was demonstrating that opting out of the disempowering economy through the power of sharing and caring for others had the potential to welcome ‘the Kingdom of God’.
John focuses both on potential of the economic challenge and the fact that this was a deliberate action by Jesus by noting that his question to Philip was to test him. Throughout the Gospel John’s Jesus is all-knowing and John reinforces that point with his purchasing question. But the question about cost is also important in contrasting the cash economy with the caring and sharing economy of the Kingdom of God.
There wasn’t enough money to go and purchase food for all the people but if everyone, starting with the small boy with five barley loves and two fish, were encouraged to share with each other there would be twelve baskets left over. There was a surplus of one basket for each of the twelve tribes of Israel or, I suspect, plenty to feed the new people of God on their two thousand year journey towards us.
Understanding this story as a miracle of sharing takes away the magic of the miracle and may seem a challenge to our faith. However it fits the realism we find in the 2nd Samuel reading and encourages us to consider, and be challenged as the new people of God, to both expect and create the miracles. We are called to expect miracles that disregard the market economy and bring people to live within the divine realm.
Since appearing on Seven Sharp Julie King has shared her dilemma with others and estimated that the cost of land and the relocation of the old bowling club will cast $82,000. The South Waikato District Council has given her until the 30th of September to raise that money. Her comment is that miracles happen and they will raise the money. All economic logic suggests that is imposable. But when you think about the giggly young woman who defeated her own depression by feeding homeless people you can sense the Spirit moving and truly understand that the ‘Kingdom of God’ is at hand.
But wait there’s more! In John’s account of the feeding miracle there is more than the miracle of sharing and the allusion to Moses that also appears in the other Gospels.
The last Pentecost last supper that tradition links to the communion service is a meal shared with the disciples so church tradition has created the Eucharist as a sacrament for the faithful. However John replaces the ritual Passover sharing with his disciples with a long farewell speech. Therefore John associates the initial communion celebration with the feeding of the five thousand. John opens the table of the risen Christ to all who will share. John’s Jesus still performs the traditional liturgy. ‘Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated.’ (John 6:11) That is the communion ritual, take, give thanks, break and distribute. John does not mention breaking but to distribute loaves you have to break them. The key point is that it is a sharing to all who are willing to come. Even to those curious bystanders who just happen to be there.
In both of today’s episode the Biblical text that is realistic and allows us to find God in the mundane, the violence and everyday human fallibility challenges the way we do Church.
John’s feeding miracle and the brief history of the Davidic monarchy are challenges to us and to the church.
A challenge to bring Christ back into the boat by being open to all who will share, to celebrate Christ in a meal shared, and find miracles in everyday activities.
 Maurice Andrew The Old Testament in Aotearoa New Zealand (Wellington: DEFT 1999), p.226.