This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
TRIAL OF KILLERS OF ANNA POLITKOVSKAYA RESTARTS IN MOSCOW
2 Samuel 12:1-14
New English Translation (NET)
Nathan the Prophet Confronts David
12 So the Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to David, Nathan said, “There were two men in a certain city, one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had a great many flocks and herds. 3 But the poor man had nothing except for a little lamb he had acquired. He raised it, and it grew up alongside him and his children. It used to eat his food, drink from his cup, and sleep in his arms. It was just like a daughter to him.
4 “When a traveler arrived at the rich man’s home, he did not want to use one of his own sheep or cattle to feed the traveler who had come to visit him. Instead, he took the poor man’s lamb and cooked it for the man who had come to visit him.”
5 Then David became very angry at this man. He said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die! 6 Because he committed this cold-hearted crime, he must pay for the lamb four times over!”
7 Nathan said to David, “You are that man! This is what the Lord God of Israel says: ‘I chose you to be king over Israel and I rescued you from the hand of Saul. 8 I gave you your master’s house, and put your master’s wives into your arms. I also gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if all that somehow seems insignificant, I would have given you so much more as well! 9 Why have you shown contempt for the word of the Lord by doing evil in my sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and you have taken his wife as your own! You have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 So now the sword will never depart from your house. For you have despised me by taking the wife of Uriah the Hittite as your own!’ 11 This is what the Lord says: ‘I am about to bring disaster on you from inside your own household! Right before your eyes I will take your wives and hand them over to your companion. He will have sexual relations with your wives in broad daylight! 12 Although you have acted in secret, I will do this thing before all Israel, and in broad daylight.’”
13 Then David exclaimed to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord!” Nathan replied to David, “Yes, and the Lord has forgiven your sin. You are not going to die. 14 Nonetheless, because you have treated the Lord with such contempt in this matter, the son who has been born to you will certainly die.
Of course, the writer who knew the whole story of David has worked what he knew into the prophecy of Nathan. Indeed he may have invented the whole episode. But what he expresses is a) his insight that David’s generous heart is revolted by the very sort of ruthlessness he has shown to Uriah; and b) that his self-indulgent weakness is the root of disaster in his family.
As regards a) many of us will have caught ourselves denouncing the sort of wrongdoing we have ourselves committed. Then we say to ourselves in shame, you are that man, you are that woman. Nathan knows that David is decent enough to condemn the rich man in his story, so we can think that our self-condemnation comes from our better selves and try to gain an understanding of why we’ve gone wrong, and how we can go right.
As regards b) many of us also know how our our besetting sins affect our dearest; and how sometimes how a particular wrong action or attitude has caused lasting damage to them. This sort of discovery is always bitter but is still to be preferred to the blindness that permits us to deny responsibility.
The God revealed in this story loves his servant David and forgives him; but he will not change the consequences of his actions: the child born of murder will die (this is seen as a consequence rather than a punishment) and his family life will be disfigured by violence. There is a kind of justice that works in this world, the kind called karma in Buddhism, that cannot be evaded.
Nathan himself is depicted as a man not scared to speak the truth to power. “You are that man!” is one of the great examples of forcing tyranny to acknowledge its own wickedness. This courage is one of the most valuable qualities in politics. I was reminded of this by the news that the re-trial of the supposed murderers of Anna Politkovskaya is starting in Moscow. She was a truth-telling journalist who told the facts about events in Chechnya and Russia much to the displeasure of the Putin regime. She was brutally murdered by a hit squad. Who ordered the hit? Doubtless that truth will not be allowed to emerge. The memory of a brave and prophetic woman should be cherished by all people and especially by those who hold the Bible dear.