Saturday, 11 June 2016

The power of confession

Lectionary passages for June 12, 2016 2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15; Psalm 32; Galatians 2:15-21; Luke 7:36-8:3

Sexual scandal, abuse of power, manipulation of public perception, lies, theft, cover-ups, arranged murder. King David did it all. I have trouble believing such horrible acts can be forgiven. 

The story in 2 Samuel 11-12 is awful. Bathsheba is completely at the mercy of the men around her. David makes his demand that she be brought to him while her husband is away and serving with David's army. The Hebrew verb used is:"he took her." This is rape. It could also be theft-as she is Uriah's (her husband's) property under the law. When she knows she is pregnant, she sends a message to David. This is troubling information for him, because with Uriah away, David could be exposed. 

I can't help it, I think David was a grasping and awful man, drunk with his own power. He had many wives and concubines of his own, including many beautiful women. Why did he do this thing to his faithful soldier Uriah and his vulnerable wife Bathsheba? Why does he so abuse the people he is supposed to care for?

When his indiscretion threatens to become public, David multiplies it with attempts at cover up. Uriah, however, in a stunning contrast to David, is the "quintessence of fidelity" (Walter Brueggeman. Interpretation Commentary on First and Second Samuel.) He obeys David by coming to him, twice, yet he "disobeys" by not going home to Bathsheba. David engages in the bawdy talk between men;

 "He sends Uriah to his house, to Bathsheba, with a euphemistic suggestion that Uriah have sexual intercourse: 'Wash your feet." (v. 8) What must have appeared to Uriah to be familiar talk between joshing military men is in fact a crucial part of David's strategy." (Brueggeman)  A second attempt by David, has him making Uriah drunk, but Uriah still refuses to go home. (The 'joshing' and goading here is quite repulsive. Something that objectifies Bathsheba-never mentioning her by name or feelings, or rights. This is all about David trying to manipulate his reputation.)

This "disobedience" is righteous. Uriah is a team player, he refuses to eat, drink, and be with his wife when the rest of the troops are suffering in the field. (I have to also wonder if Bathsheba had sent a message to her husband as well as David. Did Uriah know what had happened? Is he worried about her or his own reputation or both? It doesn't really matter to the point of the story, that David was unfaithful while Uriah was faithful...but I still wonder what all is going on here.)

Frustrated, David plots murder. He has underlings, like his hatchet man commander, Joab, who carry out his sinful plans. Likely they feel they had no choice. Like Bathsheba, they are at the mercy of the king....unless they choose death instead. This illustrates the idea that no one powerful person acts in a vacuum. David's horrendous acts are supported by a corrupt system, by a collusion of power that is willing to do anything to keep itself intact. It isn't only Uriah that dies, the troops sent with him, stupidly, to the wall, are killed too. All of these lives lost because David acted selfishly and cruelly in taking Bathsheba.

I don't understand how David can be forgiven. He does the "right thing" by marrying Bathsheba. (Taking care of her and not leaving her destitute. That probably looked good to the public, so I am cynical.)

I would write David off, but God does not. God sends the prophet Nathan who helps David to see himself clearly, to understand that he is dead wrong. Nathan, unlike Joab, is willing to say the things that might get him killed. He stands outside of the corruption and condemns it. The shocking thing is that David listens. He repents. And God forgives. 

Reading Psalm 32 now, in light of this horrible story of a man who is humanly unforgiveable, is amazing. David writes that; "While I kept silence, my body wasted away...then I acknowledged my sin to you ....and you forgave..."

Incredible. I can't understand how God does this. This psalm is the power of confession!

In Luke, Jesus forgives a woman with whom the upright and respectable would not associate. Jesus challenges them to see her the way God does. To see her as truly repentant, and fully aware of what she has been forgiven.She is the one who experiences great love, joy, and salvation. She has heard, accepted, confessed, and is free.

There is an incredible challenge for us in these stories of God's forgiveness. I do not think any of us humans can manage what God does in being able to forgive, but perhaps we can manage the true confession that both David and this woman come to. If an awful and powerful man like David, and a lost and low sinner like this unnamed woman, can truly confess and be forgiven and be loved by God, what an amazing and freeing message it is when we confess!

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