Sunday, 9 June 2013

Power, Manipulation, Forbidden Relationships, It's all There!

Lectionary Passages for June 16. 2 Sam. 11|26-12:10, 13-15, Ps 32, Gal. 2:15-21, Luke 7:36-8:3
Donita Wiebe-Neufeld

Here is a story that could be torn directly from some smutty popular ebook. It is dark desire, forbidden pleasure, corrosive power, and manipulation. The hero becomes the villain when his weakness creates a crisis that spreads out and drowns others in concentric waves. As readers, we want the hero to experience a redemption, but is this possible at all?

The Bible certainly doesn't shy away delving into human darkness. It warns that even the very best of us, like David, can be monumentally short sighted and cruel. Our selfish actions can, and do, destroy others. In the Bible, unlike a trashy novel, David cannot dwell unnoticed in guilty pleasure. Just like the Bible doesn't skirt the nasty bits of human nature, it is also blunt about the horror of consequences. (Whoever assigns the lectionary verses, however, certainly tries to ignore the horror-verses 11 and 12 are hideous, but they need to be read! The severity of David's actions should not be glossed over or hidden. Vulnerable people, innocent people, get hurt when power is abused, and they need to be seen and remembered instead of hidden. David has destroyed many lives. How can this ever be forgiven?)

To David's credit, he confesses. In verses 13-14, God forgives David, but David still has to live with consequences. He has made enemies. His son dies. Who knows what sorts of difficulties plagued his family life after all of this.The forgiveness God offers here is unfathomable. I think, when I hear of horrible violent crimes today, that it is only God who can forgive and redeem. Humanly, it is impossible.

Psalm 32 is attributed to David, and in it he expressed incredulity in the knowledge that he is forgiven. He knows he doesn't deserve it, he knows people cannot forgive him, he knows he will live with consequences. But he knows he is forgiven. Reading this Psalm right after the story in 2 Samuel gives it weight and substance. I can't get my head around this kind of forgiveness, but being human and having my share of weaknesses, I am so thankful that God can do it.

In Galatians, another hero of the faith, Peter, is shown as fallible too. Paul chides him for being duplicitous, backing off on his support of the mission to the Gentiles when he is surrounded by his Jewish supporters. Maybe we aren't quite on the level of darkness that David was, but here is another example of fallibility. David confessed, did Peter?

Finally, in Luke 7, Jesus is ministered to by a woman thought of as sinful and corrupt. He accepts her attentions and forgives her sins. This is a remarkable moment! Jesus treats this lowly, despised woman as an independent moral agent, someone worthy to make her own decisions. In that society, and especially for a woman such as this, extending this respect was rather shocking! (Unlike David and Peter, this is not a person who has sinned from a position of power and privilege! Those in power, the pharisees and their guests here, have questions! Would they have questioned David or Peter's deserving? This makes us think about how we assign blame and acceptance in our lives too!)

I find it interesting that Luke 8:1-3 is included in this reading. I wonder why? Maybe to show that Jesus is different from the usual powers that be. He widens the boundaries of the gospel and extends good news to those who were always on the outside. And they respond! These women support his ministry out of their own means.

These passages are an interesting combination. From the high and mighty (and horrible) David, to the powerless low-down sinful woman, there is forgiveness available. How did they respond? How do we respond?

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