11th Sunday of Pentecost 2 Samuel 18 and John 6:35, 41-51
The raw emotion of David's lament over Absalom is human to its core. The story of this powerful tragedy is also God's revelation to us. What is God saying?
1. The story is an archetype of human politics: repeated again and again in history and literature. It is both timelessly mythic and concretely enfleshed in a particular time and space:
Once upon a time there was a man. He was valiant and mighty and gathered strong men around him. He fought battles and suffered many trials. He was a good man, brave and courageous. He defeated his enemies. He created a great kingdom. He became the great king. Finally there was rest.
It is the story of the legendary King Arthur in the Once and Future King...
It is the cycles of nations found in the historical analysis of the book The Fourth Turning, (Strauss and Howe)
It is the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire, Third Reich, (and for those who do not like history)and currently unfolding in America....
The repetitive pattern: struggle and virtue create greatness, greatness produces success, success breeds complacency, which begets moral corruption, moral corruption creates social crisis. Great Kingdoms are destroyed from within, moral decay leads to rebellion and civil war. What "they" cannot do to us, "we" do to ourselves...
In this particular historical rendition of that mythic story, David abused his power and took Bathsheba, the wife of a faithful soldier Uriah. He arranged for her husband to be killed (with 'collateral damage' of other dead soldiers). The prophet Nathan declares God's word to him: "I have given you everything! I would have given you more! How could you do this? --- You have thrown it all away! You will suffer greatly."
Death is the fruit of David's sin...
Three of his children will die. The Kingdom torn by civil war. God's Dream for Israel gives way to the sad reality of a broken covenant...
David had many wives who produced many children. There is struggle and rivalry. One brother Amnon rapes a half-sister, Tamar. Her brother Absalom kills Amnon him for it. Israel's Kings are no different from other kings. God warned them (through Samuel) this would happen. The people had rejected God because they want to be like every other nation with a human king. Now they get what they want. The want a human king. They get a human king. They are just like everyone else...
David, like many great men, fails as a father. He neither punishes nor reconciles with Absalom. He leaves the young man hanging, figuratively. It is symbolic that Absalom will die, literally hanging in a tree. Because Absalom had not made peace with his father (the terrible irony is his name means 'the father is peace') he chose to rebel. The unresolved family conflict is also a national tragedy. Hundred, perhaps thousand of men were killed and maimed. The great suffering is "The way of the World"; the mighty seek power and wealth on the backs of the poor and helpless. It is what human kings do. Again and again and again...
2. It is also a personal, a family tragedy. The pathos of the heartbroken father crying "My son, my son, I wish I had died in place of you"-- words made more tragic because they are spoken too late.
Each of us knows about relationships ruined and conflicts unending because of choices we have made. Some are worse than others, but who is immune from such suffering? In 1944 the Mills Brothers sang: "You always hurt the one you love, the one you shouldn't hurt at all"--- it resonates because it is true. We can see ourselves in Absalom. We see ourselves in David. Victim and perpetrator, heart broken and yet the cause of suffering for others, even innocent bystanders. Perhaps even worse than hostility and bitter conflict is the helpless experience we face when we simply do not know what to do, do not know what to say, do not know how to bridge the gap with someone we love, but cannot reach. The gap which breaks our hearts....
Who can heal the rift?
Who can patch it together so that love produces Shalom: Peace with harmony and abundance?
That is the hunger within us! A hunger for reconciliation and love, for trust and fellowship. The hunger is there because GOD put it there. [The Hebrew root for the word soul--nephesh-- is open mouth/hunger--God made man a living soul, a living hunger!] You were created for relationship: to love and to be loved. Perfect love and complete love. There is a something within us that longs...
God made you to trust and to be trustworthy, to be good parents and good children; to fully give and fully receive. God made us for community, to live together as one; safe and free, joyful and kind, singing, dancing, laughing...
So often we are afraid to sing, to dance, to trust, to care, to speak, to listen. To take a chance on love.
So we hunger for it. And like the third world poor we eat "dirt" to fill the void. We stuff ourselves with that 'which cannot satisfy' our deepest longings because we fear there is nothing to fill our hungry spirits and souls.
Why would God create us hungry? Because He created us for relationship, deep relationship, with Himself. He knows what we need.
Jesus can feed us. He is that Bread of Life!
Here, now already.
In the Word--the Scripture
In the Eucharist: Bread and Wine
In community, with these people, the Church!
Already we are being fed; but I daresay, incompletely. The paradox is the Bread of Life produces more hunger now. Over the top claims for inerrancy, perfection and the like are simply not true.
The Bible IS the Word of God, but it can also confuse. It can raise more questions than it answers. It can reveal much, but it hides more.
The sacraments ARE the saving presence of God at work, but they are also not magic. Baptism and ordination do not perfect us! The liturgical practices can feel empty even in their fullness.
The church IS God's holy people, the Body of Christ, the presence of Christ in the world. But it is full of mistakes and problems.
Jesus is present as the Bread of Life in Word, Sacrament and People---but it is a mediated presence, contained in earthen vessels which are limited and imperfect.
The God who made us hungry has made us for Himself. He is the food! But our eating now produces more hunger, not less. Those who know Jesus discover that the deeper they go, the greater the longing...
This is why the most important thing to remember is that He is also among us as Promise:
Promise of a better day
-when wars cease and conflicts end
-when every tear is wiped away
-when love and relationship will be pure joy
-when our hearts and souls will be satisfied....
It has not fully been accomplished yet. But it will someday. If we remember the life everlasting then the present living can be permeated in joyful anticipation.
Trust Jesus. Trust the Promise. Live abundantly in Hope.