The Adventurous Lectionary – Tenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 2, 2015
2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a
This Sunday’s readings focus on the realities of sin and grace. Our recognition of our fallibility opens us to grace beyond our efforts; the transformative energy emerging from a grace and power greater than our own. We may not feel we deserve grace, but God’s grace can give us a new life and new-orientation in the midst of our brokenness.
The encounter of Nathan and David describes the consequences of intentional royal impropriety. The issue is not always the sin but the cover up and David was guilty on both accounts. His sexual impropriety led to Bathsheba’s pregnancy and then he ordered the “murder” of Uriah to cover up his misdeed. Bathsheba may have “consented,” but it is clear that the option of saying “no” to the king would come with severe negative consequences. The prophet convicts the king of his misdeed and tells him that there will be hell to pay. David’s hidden and intentional sin has consequences. There will be conflict and war till the end of his reign. What was hidden will be revealed in political strife.
Of course, we need to note that David’s “biblical marriage” involved many wives and lovers. Polygamy was the norm, especially among the powerful whose power and wealth apparently required a retinue of spouses, arranged, desired, and compelled. While this may not be a main point of today’s scripture, it is important to note that the conservative desire to institute “biblical marriage” is, in fact, an illusory quest. There is no one norm of biblical marriage and like so many other politically charged issues – abortion, physician assisted suicide, suicide, and homosexuality – there is little or no biblical guidance for contemporary behaviors.
Still, this passage convicts us all, even if our “sins” are minor, unintentional, and motivated by love. Thomas Merton speaks of the “guilty bystander” and all of us, whether in terms of our investments, support of national policies, indifference, or omissions, leave indirectly a trail of tears. None of us is innocent, though some of our “sins” remain hidden or leave little damage in their wake. Nevertheless all of us need healing grace to begin again with new and transformed lives.
Psalm 51 realistically describes the anguish we feel when our brokenness is revealed to us. Unable to hide from ourselves, we experience our own guilt and, perhaps, shame at deeds done and not done. We all need to confess our complicity in the evils of the time; even “good people” may be complicit in the pain of others. Our inner life may be filled with temptation and we may be tossed about our own prejudices and negativity. As the Psalmist asserts, we need a new and clean heart. Even the best of us, acting innocently, need to experience inner transformation, a healing of the spirit, reflected in our outer actions.
As progressives, we may rightly object to the notion of being born in sin, as the Psalm suggests. There is no need to hold a literal doctrine of original sin to understand this passage. In fact, sin is not inherent in our natures any more than goodness. However, we know that we are the imperfect children of imperfect parents born into an imperfect world. While I believe that we are born as God’s beloved children, worthy of love, it is also true none of us can escape the brokenness of the world and our families. The Psalmist seeks wholeness in all the ambiguity of life. Fallible and imperfect, the Psalmist pleads for an abundant blessing that will allow him to be faithful to God from this day forth.
As Luther asserted, we are always simultaneously sinners and righteous. We need mercy, a new heart, and a healed spirit. We are all standing in the need of grace. Even the righteous among us need forgiveness and grace. This is the interdependence of grace that both reveals and heals, and enables us to escape the illusions that our goodness and righteousness is somehow self-made.
Grace inspires us to live a life worthy of our calling as Christ’s companions and followers. Following Jesus requires us to be agents of unity and reconciliation, lived out with our unique and particular gifts. Our calling is to embody the full stature of Christ, taking our roles within the body of Christ.
God’s vision is to fill all things in Christ and to fill each of us with divine wisdom and power that we may fully incarnate God’s love in our lives. God’s grace abounds. God’s call inspires us to respond by devoting our lives in their entirety to fulfilling God’s vision, bringing health and wholeness to the world and the body of Christ.
John’s Gospel describes God’s abundant provision. Christ is the bread of life. Connected to him, our lives are full and we fulfill our destinies as God’s beloved. Inspired by Jesus’ miraculous feeding of a multitude, Jesus’ followers ask “What must we do to perform the works of God?” In response, Jesus doesn’t give us a formula, but affirms that faith expands our power to do God’s good works. Our faith opens us to God’s vision of wholeness, awakening new possibilities for divine activity in our lives. Awakened to God’s grace, our spiritual hungers and thirsts will be satisfied in the midst of challenge and uncertainty.