Lust, Power and Bread

by Rev. Scott Summerville

II Samuel 11:26- 12:10, John 6:1-14

When our son was a little guy, maybe four or five years old, and his sister was seven or eight, he would sometimes notice when she was going into the shower, and he would just happen to lie down on his back outside the bathroom door. He would say, “I think I’ll just lie here a little while.” His sister was on to him from the start. He was not going to get any peeks under her towel! After one of these episodes she came to the dinner table and said with a sigh, “Boys! They want to look at girls with their clothes off. It starts when they are about four and ends when they are nine.” She declared this with calm assurance, as though she had researched this subject thoroughly.

“It ends when they are about nine…” I don’t think so!
Little boys love to look.
Little girls too.
Men look.
Women look.

There is a built in connection between sexuality and sight – the innocence of a child – who wants to see – the naturalness of the fascination humans have for bodies. Without that fascination there would be no love songs, and there would be no sweet little babies to baptize. Sexuality is a gift of God.

Today we are continuing with the story of David and Bathsheba which we began last Sunday, and we are continuing the story of Jesus feeding the hungry in the Gospel of John.

I spoke last Sunday about the contrast between King David in the Second Book of Samuel, where he uses his subjects for his own gratification, and Jesus in the sixth chapter of John, where he uses his power to feed those who are hungry and to quiet the souls of those who are fearful. The story of David and Bathsheba, a story of sexual desire and the abuse of power, begins on a roof top in Jerusalem:

One day King David in his palace in Jerusalem – his troops were off at war – according to scripture it happened late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof that he saw a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful.

David at this point had some choices. He could have enjoyed the moment. He could have turned his eyes and gone inside. He had done no wrong to this woman. But the seeing was not enough, and when he did turn away, it was to plot a great evil. King David devoured Bathsheba, first with his eyes, then he devoured her in his bed.

Some biblical commentators refer to the “romance” between David and Bathsheba. One calls it “an evening romance.” As I said last week when we began this story, this was no romance. David committed royal rape. She was his subject; her husband off in battle, fighting David’s battle. She had no voice or choice. She was summoned and she came. He said lie down and she lay down. And then when her husband Uriah became inconvenient, David had him killed, not in a fit of passion, but in a calm deliberately laid out conspiracy to murder and deceive.

And he shed no tears – David shed no tears for Uriah – it was Bathsheba who wept when Uriah was killed, and when her tears were barely dry, David called for her again and took her as his wife. The scriptures do not call this an evening romance, especially since, after all, it happened one afternoon.

When kings abuse their power who is there to stand up to them? Usually there is no one, but in this case the story takes place in the land of Israel, and in the land of Israel there were prophets who spoke the truth of God, even to kings. Soon after David took the wife of Uriah whom he had murdered to be his wife, the Lord sent the prophet Nathan to pay the King a visit. He greeted the king with the story of a man, a rich man who the stole the lamb, the beloved pet lamb of a poor man, the poor man’s only lamb, and cooked it and fed it to his guests, because he did not wish to take a lamb from his own large flock.

Hearing Nathan’s story King David became enraged and declared that such a person deserved to die! Then Nathan looked the king in the eye and said, “You are that man! Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel …. Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him ….. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me…”

God took this very personally. In the bible God is not impartial. God takes sides. God takes the side of the poor when they are abused by the wealthy. God takes the side powerless when they are abused by the powerful. So David had to reckon with God for his crimes.

There is a woman who was once a member of this congregation. She had been abused in her childhood. When she was in her 20’s she rented a little off-off-Broadway theater space, where she put on a one-woman show she had written, and she told her story to the small audiences who came to watch her. A few years later she had moved away, and her talents earned her a place on a national television reality show. On national television she told her story. Once she had been a little girl abused and tormented, hopelessly vulnerable to what was done to her by someone who should have protected her. Out of the torments of abuse and betrayal, she emerged as a talented fiery brave young woman, and the truth was told. It was quite a thing to see her face on the television screen telling the world what she had once spoken only in private. There was justice in that. And it was powerful. Maybe seeing her face and hearing her story gave hope to a lot of people who never got a chance to do that.

In Jesus we have a shepherd who protects and feeds the sheep. We have one who came as a servant, not to use those who follow him for his own gratification, but to serve them and to give himself for them. Today we hear Jesus speak the words:

“I am the bread of life.
Those who come to me shall not hunger.
Those who come to me shall not thirst.”

Jesus did not just talk about hunger, and he did not offer people spiritual bread alone. In the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John he offers himself as spiritual bread for the spiritually hungry, but when the people in front of him have empty stomachs, he first feeds them and fills their stomachs.

Our congregation sends volunteers to the Sharing Community soup kitchen in downtown Yonkers. Yesterday a group of volunteers was there and served beef stew to about one hundred and fifty people: women and men, children and elderly, the homeless and the working poor. One hundred and fifty souls. That is just one soup kitchen on one street corner on one day. The scene is multiplied thousands upon thousands of times all over this nation. How can this be, in the USA? In this land that is the breadbasket of the world?

The Scripture today presents the ancient challenge of the Hebrew prophets, Nathan’s challenge to king David, the challenge to those who have power to use their power for the benefit of the people, not to use their power to gratify their own desires and greed.

The gospel today presents us with the challenge of Jesus. It is a challenge to us as a nation – it is a challenge to us as a church: the challenge to remember that people are hungry. People are spiritually hungry and empty and longing for their lives to mean something. And a large chunk of humanity is hungry in the belly – too many people don’t have enough to eat.

Jesus is the bread of life – that means hope for empty hearts.

It also means justice for poor and hungry people.

So be it.

Grace and peace to you.

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