Divided Houses and the God Who is King

Third Sunday after Pentecost

1 Samuel 8:4-20
Psalm 138
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Mark 3:20-35

When I was younger, I heard many sermons about King David. Of course, David’s story and several Davidic themes form a significant strand of Old Testament thinking. These sermons usually elevated David as a “man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). Because he was king of Israel, he was God’s person for the job. Often, the focus on this central Israelite ruler was set alongside a fervent push for Christian leaders to be in positions of power and a strong sense that the United States was/is a Christian nation. Israel was God’s nation, and they had a king. Why should this version of God’s nation be any different (even if the official title of the leader is different)?

My experience is not unique. Many churches emphasize David’s story as a way to say something about our own time and setting. For example, we can easily find folks defending their chosen political figure’s indiscretions by invoking David’s story. They say, “Yes, David made mistakes, but God still backed him. Therefore, this political leader’s place is safe because we are certain that God also backs him or her.” In the end, the activity of the nation (including military action) is legitimated as part of God’s plan and purpose for the whole world. When turning to the appointed texts for this week, however, we find a different story unfolding. Read more

The Mystery of Agency

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33

In this week’s Old Testament reading, we come to the climax of Absalom’s rebellion against his father, David, and the culmination of David’s own actions as King of Israel. Here we find David’s character – his weaknesses and his strengths – summed up. The story line follows David’s displacement from Jerusalem, the espionage and strategy leading to war against Absalom, and the King’s return. The lectionary highlights David’s disposition toward his son and the seemingly inevitable course of violence.

David’s desire for his son to be spared in the imminent attack upon his forces echoes his willingness for reconciliation following Absalom’s exile upon the killing of Amnon (2 Samuel 13:28-29). There, he joined in the prayer of a woman (a proxy for Joab) that the Lord be invoked so that “the avenger of blood slay no more.” (2 Samuel 14:11) According to the woman, David’s ruling that a man—her alleged son—who killed his own brother during a fight will be protected against vengeance, implied that he should “bring his banished one (Absalom) home again.” David, desiring the reconciliation that only forgiveness can bring, seeks to forgive Absalom.

Yet the readings highlight David’s powerlessness to do as he wishes. Read more