Human life has always been complicated, but Paul begs us "... to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called." (Ephesians 4.1-16)
A short film circulated about a year ago [i] about the role of all religions to protect women. The film starts out with a young woman, walking along a dirt road with books in her arms. We presume she is walking to school to further her education. She walks past two young men who covetously watch her pass by. The viewer can surmise what is going to happen next. The two men get up from the wall and start to follow her. The young woman glances over her shoulder and sees the men following. She speeds up, but they start running, managing to pass her, and block her way. She comes up short and starts to back up, calculating how she is going to get away from these two men to safety.
The anxiety and dread of the young woman in that film has reminded me of Bathsheba these past two weeks. Most of us are familiar with the David and Bathsheba story. When we started hearing David’s story this summer, we knew this part was coming. The story starts out in a totally different place. When we first meet David, he is an unsuspecting, seemingly innocent, wholesome boy. We watch David bravely take on the giant Goliath with just a bag of stones. He is the loving friend of Jonathan and Michal, despite the fact that their father Saul tries repeatedly to kill him out of jealousy. And when David finally becomes king, he joyously dances before God. David has been towing the “blessed” line for most of the summer.
But these last two weeks, the story changes. You see, David has gotten complacent and a bit self-important. When all the other kings are going out to battle, David stays behind, letting others do his fighting. When the rest of the kingdom is busy working or tending to life, David is lounging around the palace. That’s where he first spies Bathsheba. David should not have been there, and he certainly should not have let his eyes linger on a bathing married woman. And then something awful takes over David. He sends his men to take Bathsheba, and he sleeps with her. Though the text never says so, we know the act must be against Bathsheba’s will, given the “enormous power differential between the violator and the violated, the intuitional background in which the crime [is] committed, and the cunning with which it [is] executed.”[ii] Later, when Bathsheba becomes pregnant, David deepens his shame by trying to trick Bathsheba’s husband to sleep with her so that he will think the baby is his. When that doesn’t work, David sends him to battle, having him killed in the line of fire.
I know most of us know this story. Many of us think of this story as David’s little indiscretion. But for some reason, reading this story this year has enraged me. I don’t know if I am angered because I have been hearing too many stories lately about the way we treat women. Or maybe I am angered because I expect more from David – this king who is the ancestor of our Messiah. Or maybe I am just outraged by one more example of the powerful overpowering the powerless – taking whatever they want, ruining lives along the way. This story is about more than an indiscretion. This story is about a violation of the created order – a violation of the body of God.
Today, as Paul is teaching the Ephesians, he holds them to a higher standard. Paul says, “I…beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” Paul says we are one body. This calling that we are to live worthily is not the vocation we have.[iii] The calling Paul is talking about is the calling we have as Christians to be one body in Christ – of being a loving, caring, humble body in the Lord. Nothing David does today reflects the dignity of every human being or the one body in the Lord. In fact, David does not even seem to see the humanity in Bathsheba or her husband, Uriah.
I think why I am so angry at David is because I am angry with myself. As much as I want to chastise and critique David, I know that my judgment of him comes out of deep sense of my own brokenness. David makes me acutely aware of my own failings to see the dignity of every person, to honor the ways in which we are all a part of the body of Christ. I have become aware of my own complicity with sin as the campaign “Black Lives Matter,” has arisen over the past few years. As more and more cases of the oppression black men and women have arisen in our country, and as more and more stories have been told about the separate reality these men and women experience from white men and women, I have been feeling more and more convicted. If we are all one body, when black lives are denigrated, all of our lives are denigrated. When parts of our body are shamed, abused, or live in the shadow of fear, the rest of our body is not whole. When I participate in that abuse, whether consciously or unconsciously, I am a part of that sinful denigration of our collective body.
The same was true for Bathsheba. When Bathsheba is taken by David, the whole body of God is denigrated. When David sins, everyone loses favor. And the only way to correct for sin is repentance. The initiator of repentance today is not David, but Nathan. Now Nathan is a smart prophet.[iv] He does not storm into the palace, wagging his finger at David. No, he tells a story. Nathan tells a story of a poor man and his beloved sheep. Of course, David is drawn in by the story. As a former shepherd himself, he knows the beloved relationships that can happen with animals for which you care. And so when David hears of a rich man taking that sole, beloved animal, David is outraged, and proclaims that justice must prevail. Without hesitation, Nathan now is able to quietly, but pointedly say to David, “You are the man!” You see, Nathan remembers his calling. He remembers the way that God taught us to live as a community of faith – that when one of our members sins, we are all denigrated by that sin. What David would hide, and cover, Nathan exposes and corrects.
In that short film of the two men pursuing the young woman, a turn happens. As the woman starts to slowly back up, another man is passing by. He sees what is happening and he quickly runs over to stand between the young woman and the two men. The two men threaten him, but he stands firm. A Sikh man in a turban also sees what is happening and joins the protesting man, grabbing his hand and joining him in front of the woman. A Muslim man comes along and joins hands with the men too. Then a Christian man joins the other men. Slowly, eight men join hands together, forming a circle of protection around the woman. The two pursuing men back away and retreat. A smile crosses the young woman’s face, and she lifts her head a little higher.
What this short film captures is the power of the body acting as the body. When Nathan pronounces judgment on David, Nathan is participating in holding up the health of the whole body. The story at this point could have gone a different way. Nathan could have been tossed aside, and David could have kept up his deception. But David’s last words are simple and profound. “I have sinned against the Lord.” Truthfully, David sinned against Bathsheba and Uriah. But what David understands even more profoundly is that when David sins against members of the body, David sins indirectly against the Lord.[v] We hear his fuller confession in the words of the Psalm we read today.[vi] But what David’s words teach us is that healing and wholeness are possible. David does not just say “I am sorry,” but David repents – or as the Hebrew word connotes, David changes his way, and returns to the Lord. David moves back toward health and wholeness.
The redemption in David’s story for me comes not through David, but through Nathan. Like those men in that video, Nathan stands up for those without power. When that action happens, the body is able to move toward wholeness. When Paul tells us to remember our calling today, Paul is talking about all the parts of us. For those times when we are Davids, those times when we are pushed to be Nathans, and for those times when we are the Bathshebas and Uriahs, Paul’s words are simple. “I … beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called …. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” There is one body. I beg you: lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called. Amen.
[i] “Every Religion Protects Women, Protecting Women Is Religion,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D51_GQqVfSk, July 21, 2014, as found on July 30, 2015.
[ii] Eleazar S. Fernandez, “Theological Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Supplemental Essays, Yr. B (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 9.
[iii] N. T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 43.
[iv] Lloyd H. Steffan, “On Honesty and Self-Deception: ‘You Are the Man’,” Christian Century, vol. 104, no. 14, April 29, 1987, 405.
[v] Carol J. Dempsey, OP, “Exegetical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Supplemental Essays, Yr. B (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 10.
[vi] Kathleen A. Robertson Farmer, “Exegetical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Supplemental Essays, Yr. B (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 6.