Sex in Public

2 Samuel 11:1-15 (Eighth Sunday After Pentecost)

So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her.

For the next two Sundays, churches that follow the Revised Common Lectionary will hear the familiar story of David and Bathsheba—a cautionary tale often invoked to warn against the dangers of sexual temptation in our own time and/or to demonstrate the humanness of the oft-idealized King David in his.

It’s interesting to note the military context of David’s sexual conquest. It is the time of year, we are told, when “kings go out to battle.” But David, after dispatching his general, Joab, and all his officers and regiments to the front lines, “remained at Jerusalem.” While his troops are ravaging the Ammonites and besieging the city of Rabbah, King David—bored and gazing about the neighborhood—sets out to ravage and besiege the married Bathsheba, a woman of the Bible like so many others: silent and helplessly complicit in her own victimization. Read more

Wisdom and Folly

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Matthew 25:1-13 (32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time)

At first glance the gospel lesson this week seems to encourage the kind of smug dualism that has characterized this long electoral season. (Can it really be coming to an end this week?): Some people are wise and some are foolish and thank God I’m among the wise ones.

Such readings (of political campaigns, of scriptural texts) do more to entrench our worst tendencies toward self-righteousness (and disdain for others) than to illuminate the larger complexities of life in a polis or the Gospel’s good news for all people. Read more

Leadership by Imitation

1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 (24th Sunday after Pentecost)

It seems that wherever you turn these days the buzz word on the street is “leadership.” The failure of the financial market, when not being blamed on minorities or the poor, is blamed on a failure of leadership in government and industry. For too long the standard of worth for CEOs and economic strategists has been a cut-throat measure of greed and self-interest. In the religious world, too, the decline in attendance and influence of mainline congregations and denominations has been attributed to a lack of effective pastoral leadership. Books filled with strategies and tactics (Is there really a difference?) on the subject of effective leadership fill the shelves of bookstores, both sacred and secular, with the promise that the right organization and charisma can lead even a failed organization or congregation strongly into the future. Read more

No Small Change

I Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22 (23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time)

One of the grim realities of the financial markets meltdown is the loss in trillions of dollars in retirement accounts like 401(k)s. It’s no small matter that many people close to retirement may be in quite a fix. And it seems reasonable to ask, if such a vast sum is indeed lost, can’t someone figure out how and where we might find it? Where the heck did all that money go? Read more

Raging and Rejoicing

Exodus 32:1-14; Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23; Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14 (The 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time)

The lessons this week have us thinking about anger: God’s and, more obliquely, our own. In the Exodus passage, Moses has to talk down an irrational Yehweh, lest divine rage obliterate the wayward Israelites. In Matthew’s parable of the wedding banquet, an equally unreasonable host-king (God) responds in wildly disproportionate ways to what amounts to a social snubbing and an ill-dressed party guest.

Sandwiched between these troubling texts is Psalm 106, which functions as something of a midrash on both of them. (More on that in a minute). And then there’s the Epistle lesson from Philippians which, when we read it, makes us realize how angry we are—at Wall Street, at the lunacy of electoral politics, at a spouse, a co-worker, ourselves—pick your favorite target(s). Paul’s cheery command to “Rejoice in the Lord always!” seems a little trite and naïve—greeting-card wisdom in this age of high anxiety. Read more