First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Rev. Kent H. Little
August 5, 2018
Scripture: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a
Sermon: “Let Her Speak”
One after God’s own heart… What does that mean? It is a reference from the Book of Acts in the thirteenth chapter… “I found David, the son of Jesse, one after my own heart.”
In reading commentaries and writings about David I discovered numerous thoughts about why David was considered a great king and why he is understood as a favored one of God and why he was understood as “One after God’s own heart.” Here are a few thoughts I ran across…
He was humble, reverent, trusting, loving, devoted, faithful, obedient, repentant… with each of these there was a scripture cited to support, from the Psalms many of which it is believed David himself wrote.
The passage we read this morning from 2 Samuel is the culmination of David and Bathsheba’s initial encounter and relationship. Let me take just a moment to fill in what preceded this story of Nathan’s condemnation of David’s actions.
David had sent Joab and the armies of Israel to besiege the Amonites and Rabbah. David had decided to stay behind in Jerusalem as opposed to leading the armies into battle. While he was home he witnessed from his roof a beautiful woman bathing. He was obviously so taken with her, David sent an inquiry and discovered it was Bathsheba the wife of Uriah the Hittite. David then sent a messenger to get her, he “lay” with her and she was sent back to her home. She later informed the king she was pregnant.
David sent for Uriah and imposed upon him to go down to his house and spend the night. Uriah refused, numerous times citing his soldiers were battling in the field and it would not be right for him to take such leisure. Finally, David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it back to the battle with Uriah telling him to move Uriah to the front lines and when the battle began to draw back away from Uriah. Which, would of course result in his death.
Here is where we encounter the story read this morning. Bathsheba learns of her husband’s death. Mourns, is brought to the house of the King and becomes his wife and births a son.
Herein comes the Prophet Nathan with the parable of a rich man who takes a poor man’s single lamb for a feast. David rages at the story and proclaims the rich man in the wrong and that he should resort all four times what he took. Nathan of course famous words.. “You are the Man!” David proclaims, “I have sinned against the Lord!” to which Nathan responds… “Now the LORD has put away your sin; you shall not die.”
And the rest is what we know of the story.
One after God’s own heart…they say. David is still referred to in the tradition as one of the greatest kings… chosen of God… after God’s own heart. The end…well, actually things do not go exactly smoothly for David after this… but that is for a few other sermons… but I want to say…
Wait a minute!
As I often do… I have some questions of the story… I have some questions of the text. What about Bathsheba? What about Uriah? David has slept with another man’s wife, attempted a coverup, had Uriah killed, married his widow… and, he proclaims he has “Sinned against the Lord” and all is well again? I want to know how Bathsheba feels about that? I want to know how Uriah might speak to this “putting away of David’s sin!” It is curious, though not surprising, how scholars and commentators over the years have tried to redeem this awful story of patriarchy, perhaps even rape, adultery, and murder.
There are those who have tried to blame and shame Bathsheba by saying she seduced David, that somehow, she would know he was watching her bath… that she shouldn’t have been on the roof in plain view in the first place… she knew exactly what she was doing. First of all, she was doing nothing wrong. She was bathing. Secondly, if we read the text carefully… SHE wasn’t on the roof! David was on his roof, he saw her from his roof. The text never indicates she is on the roof. The text does not say Bathsheba was “on the roof bathing,” it says David was on the roof and “saw” Bathsheba bathing… King David was a window peeker.
It is typical of a patriarchal society to shame the victim rather than accuse the perpetrator. Sometimes, I wonder, if too many try to wrest good and hopeful meaning out of every letter, every crossed t, every dotted I, every comma, period, and semicolon of the bible when some stories are simply awful…unjust, misogynistic, cruel, and a distorted theological image of god. Perhaps the truth of the story is, the lesson of the story, this is a human perception of how God works and what the faith is supposed to be, or this is perhaps how the ancients understood the Divine…but, it is wrong.
Some scholars have suggested this is actually the story of a rape. While that is certainly a possibility, most commentators I have read have written there is little linguistic evidence of that being the case. However, it is certainly an example of the understanding of women’s place in this patriarchal society where women were viewed as property. David took what was not his… she belonged to Uriah. Such an understanding, while still prevalent in our day today on one level or another, is offensive to our twenty-first century understandings of women and relationships.
These issues and others are what trouble me about these kinds of stories in our scriptures. But, not only these issues… but just the silencing of the oppressed and marginalized, the silencing of Bathsheba. I want to know her story. Granted, the story does not paint David in a good light and certainly reveals who he was as a king and leader, and later he reaps what he has sown in the consequences of his arrogance and leadership style… but I say let Bathsheba Speak!
She holds no blame here…at least Nathan does not hold her responsible in any way… it’s all on David! What is it like to be considered property as opposed to a human being, a partner, a spouse, what is it like to be considered weak and without voice and influence? What is it like to be summoned and expected to come without reservation, conversation, recourse? What is it like to be shamed and blamed for something over which you have or had no control? I would say, for many, even today still in a patriarchal society… it’s like being a woman.
Miguel A. De La Torre writes in his book, Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins, The residue of [the] ancient honor-shame value system can be seen throughout the development of Christianity. Eve’s association with the fall makes her the counterpoint to Mary, the mother of Jesus and the perpetual virgin. Eve represents the ultimate temptress who leads men, and by extension all of humanity, astray. Mary, on the other hand, signifies the ideal model for all Christian women to emulate. Christian women have historically been given a choice between the purity that comes with motherhood or the wantonness that comes with independence from benevolent male authority – in short, between the virgin and the whore, and thus between the pivotal values of the ancient world: honor and shame.1
Consider our society and culture… church today… how much has really changed? In a society hearing horrible words of sexual predators laughed off as jokes and locker room talk, rather than taken seriously. Radio and media outlets shaming and diminishing sexually harassed and abused women who dare to claim #MeToo, rather than helping them find justice. Court systems blaming rape victims for the crimes committed against them because of the clothes they wear, or they shouldn’t have been at that party, or in that place, or in that situation, rather than charging the perpetrator with the crime.
“In the graduating U.S. high school class of 2013, 28 percent of the students have survived some sort of sexual assault, 10 percent are survivors of dating violence in the past year, and 10 percent are survivors of rape. And yet according to the U.S. Department of Justice, only three out of every one hundred rapists ever serve prison time. Violence is the means by which control is maintained over the conduct, thoughts, beliefs, and actions of the ‘other,’ specifically women.” ~ Miguel A. De La Torre – Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins
And in the church as well, churches who still refuse to ordain women as clergy, refuse to let them teach men or boys, relegate them to the kitchen and the overseeing of potlucks. And dare I say, even in the United Methodist Church we are not immune to the patriarchal influence of our scriptures.
There are many dates along the timeline of ordinations and rejections of women in our UM history… I will just cite this one… 1956 The Methodist Church grants full clergy rights to women. Maud Keister Jensen is the first to receive such rights. 1956!… Just 62 years ago!
There are still UM churches who balk at a woman being appointed as clergy. There are still UM churches who do not pay an ordained elder who is female the same compensation package as they do a male with the same experience and tenure.
All this to say, patriarchy and the unjust treatment of women in the world, society, culture has a long and horrid history in the world and in our country. Patriarchy and the unjust treatment of women has a long and horrid history in the church.
But it is not all patriarchy in our scriptures, though sometimes it takes some digging and interpretation and reading between the lines to find otherwise. The story of Esther and her saving of the Hebrew people. The women who bankrolled Jesus ministry from their own resources. And of course, I would be remiss if I did not mention the first preacher of the gospel of the resurrected Christ… Mary. The are in there, sometimes it takes a shovel and a pickaxe to find them… but they are in there, not because those who came before us.. or are still among us… haven’t tried to erase them from the story, they have.
I believe what it means to be one after God’s own heart is to treat all of God’s children with equity, justice, compassion, and love. I am eternally grateful for the women who have shaped and molded my journey, my theology, my practice, and my life. I am grateful for the theologians and preachers I have read and listened to; Barbara Brown Taylor, Diana Butler Bass, Elsie Crickard, Bishop Minerva Carcaño, Bishop Karen Oliveto, Rev. Dr. Emilie Townes… there are too many to name. The strides to the faith they have made are innumerable.
I believe, what it means to be one after God’s own heart is to use one’s privilege for the empowerment and edification of those who society continues to shame, blame, and oppress. And yes, as a white, heterosexual, Christian male I have privilege in a patriarchal society that many do not have. And if I…you…are not using that privilege for the betterment of humankind… ALL of them… it is being wasted.
Stand Up. Speak Up. Walk Alongside. Listen to the Voices of the Bathsheba’s of the world! Make Room For Her! Give her space and place to tell her story! Let Her Speak!
May it Be So! May it Be Now!
Salaam, Shalom, Peace Be With You!
1 De La Torre, Miguel A. Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins. Maryknoll, New York. Orbis Books