St Stephen Lewisham

17th June 2007

11th Sunday, Year C

David, Uriah and Nathan

In case you’ve forgotten the story of David, Uriah and Nathan, here’s a quick reminder.

David, a young shepherd-boy found himself suddenly swept to fame when the Prophet Samuel anointed him king of God’s People in place of King Saul, who had disgraced himself by disobeying the Lord.

But David’s sudden rise to fame soon ‘went to his head’ (as they say) and turned him from a shy, youngest one of eight brothers into a Royal Bully whose twin-mottos were ‘must-have’ and ‘right now’.

Soon he took a fancy to somebody else’s wife. Her name was Bathsheba and her husband was a faithful soldier in David’s service called Uriah the Hittite. Like many another soldier’s wife, she fancied ‘having a bit on the side’. As a result she became pregnant by King David.

David wanted to cover up his guilt, First of all he got Uriah drunk and tried to persuade him to go home to his wife in the hope that Uriah would impregnate Bathsheba and therefore suppose that her newly-conceived child was in fact his own. But no such luck! Uriah insisted upon remaining on duty outside David’s bedroom door.

So David, in desperation, had another even more wicked idea. He arranged with Joab his commanding officer to put Uriah in the front line in the next battle and, when the fighting was most intense, order rest of his forces to retreat, leaving Uriah isolated. Well, this plan actually worked. Uriah was killed. David set up house with his widow – and thought he had got away with his treachery and adultery against his most loyal soldier and servant.

Yes. David thought he’d ‘got away with it’. But his optimism was mistaken: because God, who sees and judges everything, sent his prophet Nathan to denounce David’s wickedness to his face; the child of his adulterous relationship became ill and died; and David realized that in God’s eyes ‘all hearts are open, all desires known, and from Him no secrets are hidden’ and he’d ‘got away with precisely nothing.

This small piece of history is worth looking at closely – because you and I, at various times in our lives, have given way to some temptation and behaved like David did afterwards. We may not have committed adultery, we may not have arranged for someone to be killed; but we’ve told lies, made excuses, betrayed confidences and broken promises to name but four ways in which we sin and fall short of the glory of God. Worst of all, like David, we imagine that we have ‘got away with it’ if nobody finds out.

Sin begins with a temptation. Some appetite or instinct inside us demands to be satisfied. It may be a sexual desire, but it is just as likely to be a desire for wealth, fame, success, satisfaction, happiness or pleasure.

We should note that every desire within us has its root in a good instinct. There’s nothing wrong in themselves with wealth, fame, success, sex, popularity, satisfaction or pleasure – we sin by gratifying these desires in ways, or to extents, that God has forbidden.. Temptation and sin are two entirely separate things.

However, if we learn to recognize temptation whenever it hits, we shall not to give way to it so readily. Self-knowledge, getting to know ourselves, is all part of the process of becoming mature. ‘Self-knowledge’ means not only realising that we have sinned; it means recognize temptations the moment they strike us.

That’s why those sins which are rooted in our pride – like self-importance, arrogance, failure to admit and apologise for our mistakes, contempt for others and self-righteousness – are so much more deadly than the more common-or-garden ones like being bad-tempered or lazy. Of course they are sinful as well, but they are sins we instantly recognize.

By contrast, the pride-sins as one might call them, especially if they become habitual, we hardly notice. Worse than that we may even mistake them for virtues. Which of us hasn’t, at one time or another, delighted in humiliating someone else – a child or a parent maybe – simply because we thought they ‘needed taking down a peg or two’? And as for blaming others for their mistakes and misdeeds, don’t we all relish the feeling we get when we do so?

Let’s now look at to-day’s Gospel. A worthy, clean-living man called Simon had asked Jesus to come and have dinner with him. Suddenly a woman burst into his dining-room who had a terrible reputation locally. She fell at Jesus’ feet, washed them with her tears, and anointed them with precious ointment from an alabaster box

Can’t you imagine how Simon felt? The easy flow dinner-table conversation was interrupted by someone who, for whatever reason, was ‘no better than she ought to be’. But Jesus, the very person whom everyone, Simon included, admired for his moral uprightness, instead of distancing himself from her was treating her with respect!

Well, Jesus tried to set the record straight by telling the story of two debtors, one who owed a little and the other who owed an enormous amount, and the love which the respective forgiveness by their creditor aroused in each of them. ‘It’s the man who is forgiven little who shows little love’, he said. He contrasted the righteous Pharisee’s little love for God and his fellow-men with that of the woman whose forgiveness he had just pronounced.

But how did Simon get like that? Well, like David, fame, success, and popularity had probably ‘gone to his head’. David, remember, started life as a shepherd-boy. Through no merit of his, but through the ‘deliberate counsel and foreknowledge of God’ he became a King, and, by all accounts a successful and popular one by contrast with his predecessor Saul.

However, David soon forgot his humble origin and began to think that the normal rules of behaviour didn’t apply to him. Uriah stood in his way. ‘Bad luck, Uriah! You’re for the high-jump. I’m the King and you’re only one of my subjects. So just get out of my way!’ And little by little the sin of pride began to take David over until it led to disaster. His child died and his reign became one long tale of civil war and betrayals.

And then Simon. There was perhaps a moment when, quite unawares, he started giving in to the habit of blaming and judging others. He became an habitual despiser of his fellow-men and women, especially those he judged to be less righteous than himself. The trouble with both David and Simon is that they simply don’t realise the sort of people they are turning into – unloving, unlovely and (except by God in His mercy) unlovable.

So beware of pride! The temptations to it are a thousand-fold. But recognizing that we, too, are ‘no better than we ought to be’ and learning to recognize instantly the moment we are being tempted is a powerful and effective safeguard against falling into the ever-present sin of self-righteousness.

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