Psalm 32 or 32:1-8
“Your sins are forgiven... Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Luke 7: 49-50
In our reading from 2nd Samuel, we hear of a confrontation between Nathan, a prophet, and King David, THE King David, the greatly venerated ruler over
Now, before we get to that confrontation, one from which David himself can draw no other conclusion but the fact that he truly man who had sinned greatly and that he has acted against God, we ought to know what David is guilty of. And we find this answer in the passages immediately preceding the lectionary reading for this morning.
As the story goes, David saw, from his rooftop, a beautiful woman whose name was Bathsheba, Her husband, Uriah, was a soldier in David’s deployed army. Despite the fact that she was married, King David sent for this woman and lay with her. He, in fact, impregnated her on that occasion. He then attempted to cover for his adultery, for he was the one who coveted his neighbors wife, and took her for his own pleasure. He called Uriah back from the battlefront and attempted to create an atmosphere that would entice Uriah to lay with his own wife.
Uriah was a strict and pious man, and despite the king’s attempt to sway his thinking with food, drink, and the comforts of home, Uriah refused to step out of solidarity with his fellow soldiers and returned the battlefield. David, knowing that Bathsheba would soon begin to show her pregnancy not made by the marriage-bed then made arrangements so that on the battlefield, Uriah would be put in a position of certain death. This would allow the king to hide his transgressions, take Uriah’s wife as his own, and legitimize the birth of his own child with her. Hearing this, it sounds like something you might see on Jerry Springer, or maybe even Dr. Phil, if the couple at some point decided to seek counseling.
This is why I love the Bible. These stories that we see splashed in tabloids and on television talk-shows, and gossiped about in our own local grocery stores are as real and true today as they were then. People sin. At one time or another we have all fallen into the trap of putting our agenda, our desires, our expectations before God and the needs of others, separating ourselves from one another and harming ourselves, our community and our God.
People make bad choices. People make mistakes – sometimes we make HUGE mistakes. Sometimes we try to run away from those mistakes, or try to sweep them under the rug, attempting with all our might to pretend that nothing happened, or that we don’t have to deal with our own blunders, and lapses in judgment... But the reality is – we all make them – our most beloved (and detested) leaders make them, sometimes our community makes them, and we as individual certainly make them.
In the case of David, Bathsheba and Uriah, we have the story of a man who has blatantly sinned, and sinned grossly! He didn’t just make a little mistake – he made choices – very bad choices that hurt many people. David sinned, not only against the soldier Uriah, the wife Bathsheba, the institution of their marriage, but against the Lord God himself. And in the Bible, one does not often sin against God without hearing about it – thus resulting in his visitation from Nathan!
Nathan’s story of the stingy land-owner, who would not give out of his own abundance, but took from the meager means of his servant catches the attention of King David. In the story David recognizes the obvious sin of the man, but Nathan must point out to him that it is his own wrongdoings of the same nature that has brought them together, and brought the condemnation of God!
Realizing that he was guilty of ignoring his own abundance, so that he might take for himself what was the center of Uriah’s household David repents. His punishment is not as severe, as it might have been, but he experiences the loss of a child in the wake of his own inappropriate behavior. I do not read the scripture in such a way that affirms that God took that child from him in response to his sin, but what a torment and painful experience to have following the realization that David’s own actions led to the disruption of his own life, and the destruction of the life that Uriah and Bathsheba had begun together.
Again, we can see this in our own reality, as we are shown that even a most beloved and upheld citizens are guilty of sin, guilty of trespassing against God and their neighbor. We have seen this time and again as televangelists, are caught stealing money from their own contributing supporters, as sports heroes are caught using illegal drugs to assist in their performance, as teachers are accused of sexual misconduct with young people, as honor students are caught plagiarizing… The reality that people make mistakes and thus the individual and the community are both harmed – this has not disappeared from the human experience.
But who needs to be reminded of the fact that we are sinners, the fact that we are all broken in one way or another. We know that we are not perfect beings that are bound to make mistakes, and that forgiveness is real and available to us in our time of need…
I wonder, how many of us are willing and able to be that honest with ourselves…
I wonder, how many of us do the work of taking account of our own transgressions, our own sins against one another, and against God… Sure we do this corporately when we say a confession as a community in preparation for our shared meal together in Holy Communion. And perhaps in preparation for church, or immediately after a service that includes a thought provoking sermon we are moved to consider what and how we might need change, healing, and forgiveness in our lives…
Or perhaps we have more things in common with David, for whom a visitation from one of God’s prophets is necessary to bring about self-awareness of the need for confession and forgiveness of his sins. Or Simon, the Pharisee who invited Jesus to his home for dinner one night.
A dinner that was unexpectedly interrupted by the actions of a woman whose reputation preceded her – a woman who was known to be a sinner, thus letting us know that her sin was public enough that it was likely one of promiscuity or prostitution. Her presence was an interruption because of the overwhelming display of tenderness, and acknowledgement of the unique presence of Jesus in that place that it drew tears to her eyes. Tears that washed the feet of this man. Tears that were wiped away by the woman’s own unbound hair.
What a display! What a distraction! What an obscene public display of affection – by a woman – one whose sins against the community clearly marked her as unclean, and thus her touch and her expression of intimacy with this man made him unclean as well.
Simon, like any of us who has seen, even a brief clip of a television talk show can and does easily point out the fact that this behavior is unacceptable –that this touching and crying and allowing of a woman of this kind to even have access to Jesus in this way is grossly out of order…
But Jesus is quick to correct Simon’s way of thinking – just as Nathan told a parable to David, Jesus tells the parable of one who forgives equally the debts of two debtors – without question, and without comparison. And yet, which of the two receives the greater experience of forgiveness? Obviously the one for whom the greater debt has been forgiven?
The woman who weeps at the feet of Jesus, who cleans them with her tears, dries them with her hair, and anoints them with the contents of an alabaster jar, she knows the sins from which she needs forgiveness. She knows the great chasm that exists between her broken self, and her desire to be in the presence and holiness of the Lord Jesus, and of the God whose forgiveness she seeks.
It is Simon, so caught up in the act of pointing out her sins that he does not see his own need for forgiveness. It is Simon who is not able to reflect on the places and times in his life, in his heart, in his relationship with God and his community where that chasm exists as well. And it is Simon who is made aware that his sins too are to be forgiven, equally and without comparison.
But the depth of the experience of forgiveness and the acknowledgement of it in the tears of this woman, that is something that is not Jesus’ to give. For that experience of the depth of forgiveness, comes from the one seeking the healing forgiveness of God. With Jesus’ words, “You are forgiven,” the chasm of her self-knowledge of having sinned was filled to overflowing with healing.
On this day when we participate in the confession of sin together, let us remember that we are called to bring our whole selves to the Lord God, our whole selves to worship.
We are broken. We have all sinned. And we are all invited to let the God who puts away our sin call us to the Holy Table. So that, like the woman with the alabaster jar, we too might know and accept the depth of God’s great forgiveness, and live free from the bondage of sin, allowing each of us to go in peace. Amen.
Delivered by the Rev. Mary Catherine Enockson
The Episcopal Church of Our Saviour, Rock Hill, SC. June 17, 2007