Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor
Bible Background In my first year of ministry, I heard the story that had become quite the legend in the circles of Oregon Idaho United Methodist clergy. I heard it because the senior pastor that I was working with had been appointed to the church right after the legend happened. A prominent preacher in our conference was preaching on the story we are about to read together, David and Bathsheba. Many had overheard the preacher and his wife having some heated conversation just before service. As he is preaching and starts to bring up King David and the parable, his wife stood up, pointed her finger and yelled out, “YOU are the man!!!” She turned around and walked out the door. The preacher’s wife had found out just before service that her husband had been having an affair with the church’s secretary. Soon after, this preacher was pulled out of the church.
You are the man! The prophet Nathan is sent by God to David to say just these words to the king. He draws David in like a masterful storyteller. Nathan tells a parable of rich vs. poor, in vs. out, owner vs. thief, fair vs. unfair and what could be the right way to live. Nathan artfully points out that this isn’t just any sheep in the flock, this is like the owner’s daughter. This particular sheep is his only daughter. In the audience, we are meant to see the parallels to Bathsheba as that sheep and Uriah (the slain husband) as the poor farmer. The tension mounts until the King is livid with anger at the injustice of someone stealing something precious from one who has so little. Only then can Nathan call out David’s wrongful decisions and actions. You are the man! If you haven’t read the full story before this, you really should.
David is quick to see the similarities. He has stolen another’s wife. He has claimed her as his own. He has even made sure the husband will not be around. He is caught in this moment of confession and seeing what is before him. God, in God’s covenant, is quick to forgive but not to forget. David will receive punishment for this scenario besides the blatant calling out of injustice. At the same time, God does not leave King David. God remains by David’s side. God will continue to call David to do God’s work.
I wanted to tell the story of the preacher as well as King David because this is not an outdated story. We might not be so blatant in our sins against the other but we do sin against one another. Murder and adultery seem a bit extreme (even though King David needed to be shown this sin). We all break relationship with God and other. We all have moments where we have hurt one another. We all have the need to be shown where injustice resides. If we are silent against injustice, we are still sinning against the other. When we hurt one another, we must be willing to take a hard look at ourselves and repent of what we have done. We need one another to do this sometimes. We need the Nathan’s to name where we have hurt. God will not leave us even in our times of repentance. God promises to stay close and forgive. As part of who we are in community, we need to turn back to what is good in community, where we can create peace, where we can stand up for the poor and marginalized (not to steal from them), and where we can live in a more balanced way.
Quotes of the Week “Nothing erases the past. There is repentance, there is atonement, and there is forgiveness. That is all, but that is enough.” ― Ted Chiang
“But the man who is not afraid to admit everything that he sees to be wrong with himself, and yet recognizes that he may be the object of God’s love precisely because of his shortcomings, can begin to be sincere.” ― Thomas Merton
“Chronic remorse, as all the moralists are agreed, is a most undesirable sentiment. If you have behaved badly, repent, make what amends you can and address yourself to the task of behaving better next time. On no account brood over your wrongdoing. Rolling in the muck is not the best way of getting clean.” ― Aldous Huxley
“Listen. Slide the weight from your shoulders and move forward. You are afraid you might forget, but you never will. You will forgive and remember.” ― Barbara Kingsolver
“Life is grace. Sleep is forgiveness. The night absolves. Darkness wipes the slate clean, not spotless to be sure, but clean enough for another day’s chalking.” ― Frederick Buechner
“I have learned that sometimes ‘sorry’ is not enough. Sometimes you actually have to change.”
– Claire London
2 Samuel 12:1-9 (NRSV)
And the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”
Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.
Questions for the Week
Has there been a time when you had to admit that you were wrong? How did that feel?
What does repentance mean for you? Is this part of your spiritual discipline?
Where might we have to repent to one another today?