Scripture for this Sunday: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a (the prophet Nathan challenges David’s sin over Bathsheba with a story/parable); Psalm 51:1-13; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35 (the aftermath of the feeding of the 5000; people follow Jesus but are not sure what he’s going to feed them).
First, a little parable, as told by the prophet Facebook to David, king of righteous indignation:
Once upon a time there was a poor man who cared for a lion. It grew up with him and his children.
There was a rich man who wanted the lion. So he offered the poor man a fortune in the poor man’s eyes to let him have the lion. But the rich man didn’t want to keep the lion alive, he just wanted to kill it, and cut off its head, and put it on his wall.
The poor man wasn’t sure about the deal, but it was a fortune, and so … the lion died. And not a good death.
When FaceBook the prophet had finished telling the story, David, the king of self-righteousness was indignant and cried out against the rich man, that he should be ostracised, that he should be vilified, that stuffed lions should be placed as a memorial on his doorstep, that his dental practice should be extinguished, that he should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law and beyond if possible, even that he should be beheaded as he had beheaded the lion. Oh yes, there was a veritable outpouring of indignation and outrage.
But FaceBook the prophet said nothing. For a while. And then, in a still, small voice, like the whisper and murmuring of a few, hesitant voices, the prophet spoke and said:
“This is your story, O David. You are this rich man. You have allowed yourself to spread your wealth all over the place and buy whatever you think you want, regardless of the cost to others, verily, even at the cost of their lives. The lion that has been wounded, hunted down, beheaded and taken home as a trophy represents all that you have damaged, exterminated and taken home as a trophy to your wealth.”
And David the king of self-righteousness said: “You must be joking!”
And the prophet withdrew quietly to a cave and posted pictures of kittens playing, for he did not want to be vilified through the internet as the dentist had been.
Telling a story, a parable, to get our attention, is one way to force us to look at ourselves with an objective eye.
Nathan, the prophet, drew David into a retelling of David’s own transgression with Bathsheba and Uriah the Hittite, and forced him to confront his sinfulness. Even then, David could have done what many today would do: find an excuse, or deny responsibility – even God could get the blame. But David was sufficiently honest to admit his sin.
Putting ourselves in the story, would we have been as honest as David? Would we have had the prophetic courage of Nathan? Would truth have been revealed?
Truth can be a hard diet to administer and to swallow. Yet truth is the bread that Jesus offered to those who were more interested in repeating the miracle of feeding a multitude. They wanted a repeat of Exodus, with Jesus as Moses, and the same freedom from feeding worries. However, the Exodus Jesus proclaimed and instituted was a journey of freedom from slavery to earthly things, and a diet for hearts, minds and souls.
Nevertheless, we must remember that Jesus did feed bodies with bread (and fish); in him, earth and heaven meet; incarnation has an important meaning, which is that the material world and humanity, God’s creation, has value, but in the context of the spiritual relationship with God.
Sadly, people still follow Jesus for reasons well removed from his purpose and teaching, and they fall away. When the bread that Jesus offers is not to our taste or what we feel we deserve, we wander off in disappointment, like those early followers, unwilling to hear the message of Christ about what is important.
We can be guided by Psalm 51: ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast (or right) spirit within me.’ Such a clean heart and right spirit will help us to look at ourselves, without pretence, and to be guided in humility to understand where God wishes to lead us; where truth must be told, and where justice and peace need to be established.