This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings. At present it follows one the greatest stories in the world, that of David, the king. This ancient narrative is also one of most profound theologies available to humanity. A headline from world news points to its contemporary relevance.
Egyptian Government kills protesters
New English Translation (NET)
21 Then the king said to Joab, “All right! I will do this thing! Go and bring back the young man Absalom! 22 Then Joab bowed down with his face toward the ground and thanked the king. Joab said, “Today your servant knows that I have found favor in your sight, my lord the king, because the king has granted the request of your servant!”
23 So Joab got up and went to Geshur and brought Absalom back to Jerusalem. 24 But the king said, “Let him go over to his own house. He may not see my face.” So Absalom went over to his own house; he did not see the king’s face.
25 Now in all Israel everyone acknowledged that there was no man as handsome as Absalom. From the soles of his feet to the top of his head he was perfect in appearance. 26 When he would shave his head—at the end of every year he used to shave his head, for it grew too long and he would shave it—he used to weigh the hair of his head at three pounds according to the king’s weight. 27 Absalom had three sons and one daughter, whose name was Tamar. She was a very attractive woman.
28 Absalom lived in Jerusalem for two years without seeing the king’s face. 29 Then Absalom sent a message to Joab asking him to send him to the king, but Joab was not willing to come to him. So he sent a second message to him, but he still was not willing to come. 30 So he said to his servants, “Look, Joab has a portion of field adjacent to mine and he has some barley there. Go and set it on fire.” So Absalom’s servants set Joab’s portion of the field on fire.
31 Then Joab got up and came to Absalom’s house. He said to him, “Why did your servants set my portion of field on fire?”32 Absalom said to Joab, “Look, I sent a message to you saying, ‘Come here so that I can send you to the king with this message: “Why have I come from Geshur? It would be better for me if I were still there.”’ Let me now see the face of the king. If I am at fault, let him put me to death!”
33 So Joab went to the king and informed him. The king summoned Absalom, and he came to the king. Absalom bowed down before the king with his face toward the ground and the king kissed him.
The author is gradually unveiling the story of how power passes from David to Absalom, allowing the latter eventually, to attempt a coup. Here he shows how Absalom’s easy popularity and persistence in his own interest forces Joab to be his messenger to David. To the reader, Absalom is not an attractive character but the author gives him his humanity, tells us how good-looking he was, including his long hair which turns out to be his downfall; and adds a little detail that may endear him to us: he has called his daughter after his sister Tamar, the one raped by Amnon, whom he killed.
The pleasure the author takes in all his characters may have led to his special understanding of God as one who takes delight in all his creatures, even those who do wrong. To be sure, he shows that God stands for justice and feels displeasure when people are unjust, but he delights, as the author does, in their stubborn freewill. The creative pleasure of God is a truth often lost in more judgemental theologies. It’s evident in the New Testament story of Jesus’ baptism, when he hears the divine voice saying “You are my son, the beloved; I am delighted with you.” This delight is expressed to Jesus so that it may be transmitted by him to all humanity.
Through Henri Nouwen, the theologian, many people have learned to begin each day by hearing, in the midst of busyness and responsibility, the voice that tells them, “You are my son/ daughter, the beloved,” and to live their lives in this assurance, even, or perhaps especially, when they go wrong.
Henri Nouwen, “The Life of the Beloved” available on Kindle