“The Good From the Bad”
Year B, Proper 12, 2 Sam 11:1-15
All Saints Parish, Brookline MA
July 25, 2021
The Rev. Tammy Hobbs Miracky
Sermon preached by The Rev. Tammy Hobbs Miracky
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Boy, what a mess! David is not looking good today. By my quick count, in just this one passage from Samuel, David has violated at least half of the ten commandments. From the roof of his palace in Jerusalem, he sees a woman bathing. Very similar to the gospel passage we read a couple of weeks ago – you’ll remember the scene in which Salome demands John the Baptist’s head on a platter as the reward for her dancing – this is another one of those passages that has commanded artistic and literary attention through the ages. As our All Saints high schoolers discovered this spring in one of their monthly conversations of Where the Bible Shows Up: this one shows up a lot!
Perhaps the most evocative appearance, for me, sprang from the pen of Leonard Cohen in the lyrics of “Alleluia”: “Your faith was strong, but you needed proof. You saw her bathing on the roof. Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you.” And from this point on, things start to spiral out of control for David. Seeing Bathsheba, he acts on desire and impulse. He corruptly abuses his power and position in pursuit of his desire, apparently with no regard for the impact of his actions on Bathsheba and Uriah. When David tries to cover his tracks, things just get worse. In a final desperate effort to avoid being discovered in his treachery, David ends up committing murder.
Although some later sources try to rehabilitate David, absolving him of wrongdoing, the text actually accentuates David’s guilt, even moreso by contrasting it with the pious behavior of Uriah (Jewish Study Bible, p. 622). Beckoned home from the battle front at David’s command, Uriah refuses to break his observance of the rituals that govern soldiers when they are fighting a holy war. They are to live in tents. Intimacy with women is forbidden. As Deuteronomy explains: “Because the Lord your God travels along with your camp, to save you and to hand over your enemies to you, therefore your camp must be holy” (See Deut. 23:9-14). So Uriah remains steadfast, and in doing so, Uriah denies David the easy resolution he seeks. In his continuing desperation to cover his tracks, David resolves that the only answer is murder. Adultery, abuse of power, treachery, murder. David offers up a menu of appalling behaviors.
This always catches my attention, this incredibly unflattering depiction of the great king of Israel. As the Jewish Study Bible points out, “It is highly unusual for ancient literature to criticize powerful and successful kings.” The commentator continues, “The way David’s behavior is depicted and condemned…shows the overriding importance [the Bible] assigns to moral values…” (Jewish Study Bible, p. 622). This is not a thing to be whitewashed or brushed aside.
Yet, as the story continues in the verses following today’s selection, even David’s behavior can be redeemed. Through the prophet Nathan, David is brought to repentance and is forgiven by God. The behavior isn’t without consequence for David – and even more for Bathsheba and Uriah – but God is able to redeem even this behavior. From David and Bathsheba, God gives rise to the continuation of the Jewish nation under their son, Solomon.
There is a theologian at Boston College, Thomas Groome, who is known to say, “God does not bring about bad circumstances, but God can bring good things out of the bad.” Following this logic, we could say that God did not cause David to behave in the ways described here. Yet even through his contemptible actions, God worked to bring about the good: in this case, the continuation of the Jewish nation.
We know this. We know that through the difficult times we can grow, we can deepen, we can become more reflective, we can shift our habits, we can learn, we can notice that, though we often forget, ultimately we are in the hands of God. And we can learn to rest into that, to trust it. As with David, God is with us and can redeem our life experiences to the good.
I was thinking about Thomas Groome, and David and Bathsheba and Uriah, as I went through this week. I was also sensing what, at least in my life, seems to be a…let’s call it an enlivening of the world around us. It seems like there’s been a post-COVID acceleration. It’s exciting! There seem to be more events. The pace is picking up. There are more invitations for how we might spend our time. And this is all to the good. But I also find myself forgetting some of the things I realized during our pandemic time of isolation. I risk falling back into pre-pandemic habits of busyness, a hectic calendar, responding to invitations without fully acknowledging the trade-off in rest, and reflection, and being grounded.
So, odd as it may seem, today’s story of God redeeming even horrible human behavior has me thinking about our own time. God did not bring about the pandemic, but how might God be working to redeem good from this time? What invitation might God be extending to us? How might we move forward differently as we emerge from this devastating experience? Perhaps you’ve taken on a renewed appreciation for the important relationships in your life. Perhaps you’ve rediscovered the pleasures of being out in nature. Perhaps you’ve recognized the importance of rest and down time to your well-being. Perhaps, through its absence, you’ve realized just how nourishing our shared faith life is and you’re prioritizing your participation even more. Each of us has experienced this time of isolation and hardship in our own way, and each of us will have a different way of moving into what’s next. I wonder: how might God be redeeming the good from this time? What is God’s invitation to you?