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Scriptures: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15 Psalm 32 Galatians 2:15-21 Luke 7:36-8:3
Nathan was not happy. Nathan was called by God to be a prophet. Being a prophet is a dangerous, depressing position. Prophets were and are the liaison between God and people, especially leaders of importance. Liaison here does not mean sending communications by e-mail or texting or whatever the latest conveyance is. Liaison as a prophet means getting into the face of someone who is displeasing God. It means becoming an enemy of the leader, even to the point of fearing for one’s life. The depression sets in when happiness is absent, when success is absent, when being accepted is absent, when making no progress is the status quo, when needing to challenge and accuse the focus of God’s displeasure.
Nathan had a huge challenge in our lesson today from 2 Samuel 11. Nathan lived in the time of David as King. God loved David. God had chosen David to follow Saul; to be the second king of the Israelites. Saul was the first king. You may remember that the prophet Samuel was instrumental in finding David, the shepherd boy, son of Jesse, and anointing him to be the next king after Saul. This Samuel, the prophet, died.
Scripture does not seem to report a significant new prophet to replace Samuel until in 2 Samuel 7 where Nathan is first mentioned. Nathan arrives on the scene in time to be God’s messenger to accuse David of his sin in taking Bathsheba in an affair when her husband was serving in the military forces out of town. You may remember that David arranged the death of the husband, Uriah, when Uriah refused to spend time with Bathsheba so David’s sin would not be noticed.
So sin, upon sin, just as happens to us. It is a snow-balling effect. Layer upon layer of sin – some thin layers, some very thick layers. Which one of us can declare no such layers? Maybe a few of you have had truly selfless lives where sin was not big. We can never say that any person is without sin. That is a factor in separating Jesus from ourselves. It happens that this was a time of very thick layers of sin for David. He had built a wall between himself and God. God could be shouting at David and David would have covered his ears and heart with layers of sound-proof foam.
Enter Nathan out of the blue as far as we know. He seems to be no stranger to David however. Nathan, being charged with this undeniably unpleasant task, becomes a storyteller. A poor man raised a lamb carefully, kindly, his only lamb. This female lamb became as a daughter in this family. Nearby was a rich man with many sheep and cattle. In those days when travelers appeared on the horizon, it was the custom to provide a meal. Nathan’s story states that the rich man was selfish to the point of not wanting to kill any of his many animals to feed this traveler. Listen to this! The rich man took the family lamb of the poor man and killed it to prepare for the traveler.
This is the story that Nathan told to David who listened naively, not alert to the purpose of this telling. David, thinking that he was hearing this story to be a judge, became enraged that the rich man would do this. David says, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”
Can you picture Nathan about to disclose whom the rich man really represents? God gives Nathan courage for the task. So Nathan says, “You are the man!” Nathan’s speech to David continues as a message from the Lord. The Lord is reminding David of his status as one of Jesse’s sons and his status now. Rich indeed! David is the rich man who took the poor man’s wife when David had more than enough wives! The Lord’s words, through Nathan, accused David specifically and in detail of his great sin. The Lord went so far as to say that the sword would never depart from David’s house.
Nathan relayed the news to David that he would not die because of this sin but David’s baby to be born to Bathsheba would die. The baby did die. But as husband and wife, Bathsheba later had a baby named Solomon. This is the Solomon who became king after David.
This King David is the author of many of our Psalms. Psalm 32 (NRSV) is one such Psalm. It reads:
“Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sin is put away!
Happy are they to whom the Lord imputes no guilt, and in whose spirit there is no guile!
While I held my tongue, my bones withered away, because of my groaning all day long.
For your hand was heavy upon me day and night;
my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and did not conceal my guilt.
I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’
Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.
Therefore all the faithful will make their prayers to you in time of trouble;
when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach them.
You are my hiding-place; you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with shouts of deliverance.
‘I will instruct you and teach you in the way that you should go; I will guide you with my eye.
Do not be like horse or mule, which have no understanding;
who must be fitted with bit and bridle, or else they will not stay near you.’
Great are the tribulations of the wicked; but mercy embraces those who trust in the Lord.
Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the Lord; shout for joy, all who are true of heart.”
God’s grace made manifest toward David. Just for David? By no means. For us also. Paul writes, after the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, that we are made right through Christ Jesus alone and not by any works that we may do. God’s mercy on David was given in love, even though punishment came in sideways. David’s relationship with God was restored. So why does Paul, and why do we, give Christ Jesus the credit for being our Savior and Mediator? Jesus had not appeared on earth in David’s time. But our faith has exciting mystery. Remember that David said, “My Lord said to my Lord …” meaning that the Messiah was always part of God and therefore was David’s Lord – and yet, the Messiah, the earthly Jesus, is a descendant of David. The Messiah came from the seed of David.
Paul reminds us that in Christ’s death, we died. In Christ’s resurrection, we are made alive, our sin forgiven. Paul states, “It is not I who live but it is Christ who lives in me.”
This whole mercy thing is key to our lives. There is law because we need boundaries. There is mercy because we are unable to resist pushing the boundaries. God’s mercy is beyond understanding. God’s mercy is the base ingredient of love. God loves us so much that he renews his commitment to us time after time after time. Are we to be sponges to accept this forgiveness as a way of life? Don’t you think there is more expectation of we who are God’s children in every sense?
We are to be open channels of this love. We are not to hold this love to protect it from loss. If we call the holding place a vessel it better be a vessel with holes around it so the love is not trapped but shared. A vessel without holes could only hold so much. A vessel with holes can pass unmeasured amounts of love into the atmosphere, into the soil, into the hearts of the people who breathe the air and who find nourishment from the soil.
We are alive in Jesus as we allow this love and mercy to flow into and from our beings. We are trapped in the death of Jesus if we try to contain the mercy and love for ourselves. It does not compute. It is the upside-downness of God. It is the inside-outness of God.
The story in Luke 7:36 through 8:3 today has Jesus showing mercy and love to a woman who had apparently taken the path of ill-repute to maintain her existence in a rather cruel world. Jesus is being criticized by a person who is living in the world of law and righteousness. Jesus shows mercy toward this Pharisee by using a story to make it clear that using law has its limits. Remember that Nathan used a story to make David’s sin clear to David.
The story goes that two people sought mercy from a certain creditor. Both persons received this mercy – the one with a large debt and the one with a lesser debt. Jesus asks the Pharisee which debtor would be most grateful. The Pharisee answered as expected that it would probably be the one who owed the most debt.
Jesus is saying to this Pharisee that the woman kneeling at his feet may very well have done some awful and many sins compared to the Pharisee. Therefore, she is expressing great thanksgiving to Jesus, her creditor. Jesus is making it clear that mercy should not be withheld from people with great debts of sin. Instead, they are due extreme mercy, extreme forgiveness.
Then David’s Psalm 32 applies to all of us. Who is to measure the depth and width of our sin? Jesus who died for everyone – absolutely everyone – offers mercy to those of us who feel as though we are carrying boulders of sin in our hearts and minds. Let the boulders dissolve. Mercy has come to town! Happiness is riding on the tail of mercy! Claim the happiness. It does not need to be a loud, clamorous happiness. Happy are the meek. Happy are the sinners whose tears wash and anoint the feet of our fellow sinners, the ones who are homeless and live by the river. We need to go find them and shed those tears. Be sure to be ready to lead the forgiven to a house of safety, a home of pure mercy. How do we do this! Be a prophet! Let us assume the burden of being prophets. Be in the face of someone who has the power and/or money to make a difference; someone who may need some mercy before the love can flow. Mercy embraces those who trust in the Lord! Let us begin our mission! Amen