2nd Samuel 11: 26 – 12: 13, page 285
When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son.
But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord, 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 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 God’s sight? You have stuck 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. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.
Thus says the Lord: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun. For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.”
David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
Nathan said to David, “Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die.”
I was 8 or 9 years old, and for the first time my parents gave me permission to meet my friends at the neighborhood pool by myself. We would be unsupervised, for the first time, and that proved to be our parent’s mistake.
I don’t remember what it was that we were doing that was so bad, but whatever it was, our first taste of unsupervised freedom at the neighborhood pool was cut short when the lifeguard kicked all of us out. We all went back to our respective homes, and my Mom was surprised to see me back so early. I never got very good at lying to my parents, and at 8 or 9 my Mom could still read trouble just by looking at my face. The truth spilled out, and my Mom gave me a choice: “either you go back to the pool right now to apologize to the lifeguard, or you don’t go back to the pool for the rest of the summer.”
This lifeguard was probably 15 years old, but I can tell you, the last thing I was about to do was go and apologize to her, so I chose the latter option, “fine, I’ll not go back to the pool.”
“You sure about that?” my mother asked.
“Yes,” I said.
Believe it or not, this was not the most dramatic decision I ever made, and while it seems strange now to squander away something as important as the neighborhood pool during an Atlanta summer, returning to the pool where I had just embarrassed myself and been kicked-out was the last thing I was going to do. In that moment I decided that I would rather run from my shame than go back and face it.
Shame is a powerful force. It can make boys reconsider the value of a pool in the middle of the summer, it’s the reason too many children have come home saying, “I’m never going back to that school again,” and here in the book of 2nd Samuel the prophet Nathan gives David what should sound like some good news, “Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die,” but because of shame, at that moment, don’t you know David would have chosen death.
David had blocked his mind from recognizing the gravity of his sin, committing adultery with Bathsheba, taking her as though she were an object, and then sending her husband Uriah off to die before Uriah killed him. He had stopped himself from realizing how much hurt he caused, the degree to which he had abused his power, and blinded himself to his own capacity for evil.
People do that sometimes, and in the case of David’s denial, the unfortunate work of helping the King of Israel realize what he had done falls on the prophet Nathan who tricks him into seeing his actions clearly by telling a story: “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 and treated like a daughter. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he didn’t want to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, so he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that one for the guest who had come to him.”
David is shocked by this story of the abuse of power. How could any man anywhere be so bold as to take without regard for who he was taking from? So David 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 King David, “You are the man!”
In this moment of realization I can imagine what David was asking himself. Surely at the forefront of his mind were questions that went to the very heart of his being: Who have I become? How could I do such a thing? How will I ever face the people of Israel again?
These are the questions that people ask themselves as shame takes hold, and in this moment never facing the people again, starting over completely somewhere else, hiding under the covers for eternity seems much more appealing than living, still the King of Israel. But much is required of the people of God, including facing shame rather than running from it.
I began this sermon with a story about myself, and this story ends the way many childhood dramas do – eventually my father came home. My Mom and Dad had their official punishment conference meeting in the kitchen, my sister listened from the balcony, and my Dad was soon driving me to the pool where he said something like, “Joe, you’re being stupid.” He then walked me into the pool, right up to the lifeguard and said, “My son has something to say to you.”
There was nowhere to run, so I said, “I’m sorry for the way I acted before.”
“Thank you,” said the lifeguard, “please don’t act that way again.”
My Dad had to help me through my shame, and he was unwilling to let me learn that the only way to deal with mistakes is to hide from them.
That is what the world would have us believe however.
Politicians go to great links to expose the mistakes of their campaign opponents, and all politicians, knowing this to be the case, go to great links to hide their mistakes and to buy off the people whom they have wronged, assuming that you, the voter, would sooner write off than forgive.
We do the same thing to ourselves. We hide and deny and run away from, possessing little faith in our society’s capability for reconciliation.
Assuming that once a mistake has been made there’s no way to make it right again, some hope for death. It’s much simpler: To put down the flawed, to put the lame out of their misery, to move away, move on, give up on the past and any hope of mending what has been broken.
But my Dad was sure it could be done.
Nathan assured David that he would not die and would have to keep going, to stand again before his people even though they all knew the truth.
And in our first scripture lesson there was a father. This father was so kind to his son when he had had the chance to be kind, that even after his son did everything he could possibly do to ruin any chance of a relationship, the son was bold to believe that he might return and serve his father as one of the servants. The relationship would never be right again, of that the son was sure, but it might be different and even a relationship between a servant and a master would be better than the life he had made for himself.
The son returned, and maybe you know what that long and shameful walk home felt like. There’s the chance of being cast away, sent back, or completely ignored. The son prepared himself for the father’s words: “You’ve made your bed now sleep in it,” but then the son is greeted, not by anger, discipline, or death, by his father’s open arms.
This kind of thing can happen. What is wrong can be made right, what is broken can be mended. It can even happen to you.
Thanks be to God.