Sunday, August 09, 2015

Home to Roost

David's vengeance is his own punishment, from roof to roof to roof.... but Christ shows us a better way.

Proper 14b 2015 • SJF • Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another… Live in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

There is an old saying that the wrongs you do are like chickens; they always come home to roost. Over the last two weeks we’ve heard the sad story of King David’s great sin — his adultery with Uriah’s wife Bathsheba, his plot to murder that good man by putting him in harm’s way and then withdrawing all support, and his cover-up of the whole nasty business. But what men may hide, God exposes, and last week we heard how the prophet Nathan confronted David for his terrible crime, and pronounced a terrible judgment: that just as David had stolen another man’s wife, when he spied her from the rooftop and lusted after her, so too David’s own harem of wives will be taken from before his eyes, and given to his neighbor to lie with them in the open daylight, for all to see; and the sword will never depart from his house. David pronounces that the judgment is just, but I don’t think he realized how bad it would be when these particular chickens would come home to roost.

For the neighbor who will commit these crimes against David, who will lead an armed rebellion against him, who will try to steal the throne from him, in fact will be the closest kind of neighbor, one from within his own house. It will be none other than his own son Absalom. Our excerpts skip over the incident, but Absalom starts a palace rebellion, and gets most of Israel on his side against his father David, getting a great deal of military support in what we now would call “a coup.” David has to flee his beautiful palace, leaving behind only some of his harem to keep an eye on the house. At this point you would think David would have remembered Nathan’s prophecy concerning the penalty, the price, he would pay for his sin: for at the urging of one of Absalom’s advisors, the rebellious son Absalom pitches a tent on the roof of the house and throws an orgy on that roof with his own father’s harem - in the sight of the sun, as Nathan had prophesied, and in the sight of all Israel. Truly these chickens have come home to roost — and with a vengeance, right up on the top of the roof, in the sight of all the world.

And this roof on which Absalom now has his way with his father’s mistresses is the same roof from which David had spied Uriah’s wife down in her bath. Call it poetic justice or just plain justice — but there it is, and the prophecy is fulfilled.

+ + +

Today we hear the final aftermath of this tragedy, and it too involves a roof — this time the roof of the city gate. The tide turns against the rebellious Absalom and his supporters, and while he is on the run, riding his mule, he has the misfortune to get himself caught in the branches of a tree. He’s caught by his lavish hairdo — Scripture tells us that he only cut his hair once a year, and when he did it weighed twelve and a half pounds! Vanity, in this case, is its own reward, as the rebellious son is caught with his own hair, his own hair of which he was so proud, caught by the tresses in the branches of an oak, as the mule rides on, slaughtered by Joab’s armor bearers, against the orders of David, who had told them to deal gently with his son when they captured him.

Word finally comes of all of this — and David, who set the tragedy in motion when he spied Bathsheba from the roof of his palace, is now at the depths sitting at the base of the city gate, looking up to hear the news from the sentinel who is posted on the roof above, when the word comes from the battle. And the word that comes pierces David like a spear: Absalom his son is dead. Vengeance, like the chickens, is home to roost, but it does not give David any satisfaction. On the contrary, it brings him great, great pain. For his vengeance is also his punishment.

And perhaps the most surprising thing is that David still has enough love in his heart for this rebellious son of his — this son who tried to steal his kingdom, who had his way with his mistresses — David still has enough compassion to mourn his death, and he laments with weeping as deep and as lavish as his lament over Saul and Jonathan. This is surprising, but at least it also shows us what kind of person David is; for all his faults he is not, after all, a completely heartless villain. He was ready to forgive his rebellious son, even after everything he had done; as he had forgiven him many times in the past — because Absalom was no saint, believe me — and of course the problem is, that the more his father forgave him the more he encouraged him to greater and greater rebellion. So David is responsible, in many ways, for his son’s bad behavior.

But David is also true to his own name; David, in Hebrew, means “Beloved.” He is a lover, not a hater. He is able to feel the pain of losing this rebellious son, this good for nothing son, because he loved him, even though he turned against him, even though he rebelled against him, even though he committed the scandalous assault upon David’s own mistresses.

+ + +

We are, of course, called to forgive our enemies, to do good to those who harm us. But I can’t in good conscience put forth David as an example for us to follow. But we can learn from his tragedy that there is power in forgiveness. I can’t commend David as a good example in part because of what continues to happen in the rest of this Court History, which isn’t part of our Sunday readings. But if you look into the later chapters of Second Samuel and the start of First Kings, you will see that David’s ability to forgive and forget runs dry by the end, and even on his deathbed he is giving orders for payback against all who had offended him, like the Godfather he is, instructing his made men to see to it that “all who disrespected me get what’s coming to them.” So I can’t really commend David as a great saint; he forgave his son, to his own detriment, but at the end he wanted payback against everyone who had done him wrong.

+ + +

So let me turn from this imperfect model of David to the better counsel of the Apostle: who reminds us of the power of forgiveness in that passage we heard from Ephesians. It is an appeal about anger and sin, about speaking the truth to one another because we are part of one another — in Christ and through Christ. Absalom never learned the lesson of love — for each time his father forgave him he was back doing the same thing or worse the next time, until his final rebellion literally caught him up short. Yet even then, David was ready to forgive him.

That is the one thing in David’s sad story we can emulate: to forgive even when the wrong done to us is serious; to turn away from bitterness and anger, and wrath; from wrangling, and slander and malice — and to be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as Christ has forgiven us. We are not called to be imitators of David, but imitators of God in Christ: to live in love as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

What this teaches us is that forgiveness isn’t easy; forgiveness is costly — it isn’t easy to return a word of love when a word of hatred has been given. But this is God’s way of dealing with us; God who came to us in Christ Jesus “while we were yet sinners” while we were in rebellion against him, a rebellion as real and as dangerous as the rebellion of Absalom against his father. But in spite of our sins, in spite of our rebellion, God reached out to us in forgiveness; the ultimate and costly forgiveness bought with the price of Christ’s own blood, upon the cross, for our salvation.

Christ offers himself to us, as a perfect sacrifice and fragrant offering: he gives himself to us as the bread of life, so that whoever eats of it may have life, and whoever believes in him may never be thirsty. This is the bread of forgiveness, to which we are led by the Father — for no one can come to this feast unless the Father calls them. And the Son has given us a promise — that he will raise us up on the last day.

Chickens will come home to roost — and we will reap what we sow! If we sow dissension and anger, we will reap the grapes of wrath; if, however, we sow the good seed to make the bread that nourishes to life at the great harvest — if we forgive and love one another as Christ has loved us, we will harvest the bounty of blessing that the Lord has promised to us, in his holy word.+

No comments: