When I was in sixth grade, I took a pottery class at the Queen Anne Recreation Center on Thursday afternoons. One Thursday, my friend Sue invited me over to her house. Knowing full well that I was supposed to go to pottery, I decided to skip the class and go to Sue’s house instead. This seemed particularly bold for timid me. Sue’s mother asked me to call my mother to let her know where I was. I dialed the number but pushed the button down before the call could go through, and I faked a conversation telling my mom where I was. So now the sin of skipping the class was compounded by the lie to cover it up.
Sue’s mom made all of her children’s friends go home at 4:30. So Sue and I played for a bit, and then I was sent home. But my pottery class didn’t get over until 5:30. I was going to be way early. I didn’t have a watch, but I sat in the park for what seemed like forever to make the time pass. So now I had skipped the class, faked a phone call, lied to my friend and her mother, and attempted to time my homecoming to look as though I had been at class. One bad decision had turned into five.
The park was cold, the sky was growing dark, and time passed very slowly. Eventually I got tired of sitting there and headed home. When I walked in the front door of my house, my mother said, “Hi! You’re home early. How was pottery?”
And I blurted out everything I had just done. In the end, I couldn’t keep up the pretense and the lies. So much for my career in crime. But I felt a whole lot better.
Mark Twain said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” I have enough trouble remembering all the things I did do, never mind the things I was supposed to have done but didn’t.
In our reading today, David gets himself tangled in a much more deadly web of deceit. He started out with such promise. Sweet little shepherd boy, killer of Goliath the enemy, leader of many men in great battles, chosen by God to be the new king of God’s people. It was all going so well.
We can hear in the narrator’s tone that David is making some less than honorable choices right from the start of this reading. “In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.” What’s up with that? The kings are supposed to be out leading their soldiers.
And then we see David rising from an afternoon nap in his king-house. An afternoon nap, while his men are out there fighting and dying for him. He rises, he strolls, he sees another man’s wife . . . and he has her brought to his house, where he sleeps with her.
What is he doing? These are not the actions of an honorable man. He’s breaking two of the Ten Commandments: Thou shalt not covet another man’s wife. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Bathsheba and her husband Uriah are the moral contrast to David in this story. Bathsheba is doing what faithful Jewish women are supposed to do: she’s having a mikvah, a ritual purifying bath, after her period. This is the signal that her husband is now allowed to touch her again and to sleep with her. This is also a signal to us, the readers, that there is no way she could have been pregnant before her encounter with David. She was clean and innocent, faithful to her God and to her husband.
Even more so, Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite, is the conscience in this story. David has everything he could want, and that’s the point when he goes astray. Uriah is the one reminding him of what he’s supposed to be doing (or not doing). Uriah inadvertently holds a mirror up to David when he says, “The ark and Israel and Judah remain in booths; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing.” Oh, but this is exactly what David has been doing: staying home while his people did all the fighting for him, taking afternoon naps, eating and drinking, and sleeping with Uriah’s wife.
David tries to lure Uriah into a plot to pass this baby off as his own. But Uriah refuses to be corrupted or coopted by David’s cover-up scheme. So David has him killed.
What started out as breaking one or two commandments is now up to five or six. Let’s see:
Thou shalt not covet another man’s wife.
Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Thou shalt not steal.
Thou shalt not murder.
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
David has provided a textbook case of how to commit all five of the “Thou shalt nots” in the Ten Commandments. [Exodus 20:13-17] He is also not honoring God, as God points out to him a little further on.
We never hear Bathsheba’s side of this story. Hmm, what a surprise: the Bible doesn’t tell the woman’s point of view. At least in this story she gets a name. How did she feel about the situation in which she found herself? Did she love Uriah? Did she love David? Was she merely a pawn, a rape victim of a powerful man? If she lived today, would she post her own story with the #MeToo movement? Or would she be one of the many who keep quiet in fear for their own safety?
But she lived several thousand years ago, in a time when women had no voice and little say about their bodies or their futures. David sent for her, and she had to come. David lay with her, and she probably had no voice or right to say no. And when she found herself pregnant, she was really in a tight spot. You can only cover up that state for so long.
Some things never change. Powerful men take advantage of powerless women today just as David did then. But some things do change. For the past year or more we’ve seen women stepping forward in unprecedented numbers to name their assaulters. And at last they are being heard and believed. The #MeToo movement has toppled plenty of people from powerful places, the latest coming just this week at CBS.
What do we do with this? With people making poor choices and then compounding them? This story provides two suggestions for us to contemplate today.
For all his flaws, David is still lauded as a great leader and the founder of the House of David. Jesus traces his family tree through David. The writer of the gospel of Matthew even notes, “David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah,” in case we were tempted to think that Jesus’ family line was pure as the driven snow. [Matthew 1:6]
And that’s the first clue to how we move forward. We acknowledge the bad things that happen, the mistakes that we all make, the ways in which we abuse our power, or are abused by those in power. We take the bad with the good. We don’t excuse bad behavior—and if you read farther in 2 Samuel, you’ll see that David pays a huge price that plays out through the generations of his family.
Nobody is exempt from making mistakes, including us. We hold the mirror up to ourselves, as Uriah did to David. Are we honoring God and loving each other? Where are we falling short? When do we stifle the voice of conscience, as David silenced Uriah? When do we say, “I know what the right thing to do is, and I’m moving in this other direction instead?” Maybe when we pick up that cookie or cigarette or bottle or have that affair or whatever the temptation is that sends its siren call our way. Maybe when we skip pottery class and then lie to cover it up.
The thing is, there is no cover-up that can fool God. But there is confession. There is making amends to those whom we have harmed. And there is grace and a new beginning. And when we acknowledge our shortcomings, they cease to hold power over us. Years ago, when people were asking George W. Bush about some of the questionable things he had done in his youth, he said, “When I was young and stupid, I was young and stupid.” He didn’t deny things, and they ceased to have power to hurt him.
We cover things up even from ourselves. How many people deny that they have a problem with alcohol or drugs or, as in David’s case, lusting after someone he isn’t supposed to have? Denial and covering up is a stuck place. There’s no healing from a place of denial. The honest and thorough look in the mirror is what starts us on the road to wholeness. As painful as it may be, it gets us unstuck.
This is the purpose of confession in our faith tradition. Because once we have confessed, as I confessed skipping pottery class to my mother, then we can get out from under the oppressive weight of that misdeed. It stops compounding. The cover-up is done. Once we have seen and admitted and named the issue or the problem, then we have choices. Okay, so you have a drinking problem. Now what? How do you move toward healing and wholeness from this space?
We get to bring our whole selves to God. David is held up as a revered ancestor not because he had all these flaws and made mistakes but because he did do a lot of things right. His is a complex character with many flaws, which makes him all the more human. We make mistakes. We hurt people and are hurt by people. There are consequences. But we try not to get stuck in that hurting place forever.
Because, as in David’s case, God still calls us to serve—with our whole selves. When we get stuck, we’re not happy, and we’re not living into the fullness of God’s call to be our best and most joyful selves.
So here’s the second suggestion from this text. When we see abuse and harm, we say something. Uriah shows David a model of good behavior, of what an honorable man is supposed to be doing. Later in 2 Samuel, David’s prophet Nathan also holds up a mirror to David in the form of a parable about a rich man with many sheep who steals the one and only sheep of a poor man. David, who knows a few things about sheep, is outraged at the behavior of that rich man. But Nathan says, “You are the man!” [2 Samuel 12:7]
We speak up for justice, for and with the voiceless, for and with the oppressed. We walk alongside those who suffer and offer what help we can. We go to the rallies, write the letters to legislators and the newspaper editor, reach out a hand wherever and whenever. And sometimes, because we’ve looked in that mirror ourselves, we know what the other person is going through. Sometimes that wounded and healing place in our own souls is exactly where the light shines in to help us serve others in that same situation.
So I invite us to look tenderly and honestly at our own mirror, to do our own healing work, to stop with the cover-ups that compound our mistakes, and to bring our whole selves to God. And then see where God calls us to serve in this flawed world that yearns for justice and peace. Amen.