11 Pentecost, August 5
Speaking truth to power in terms explicit and direct is not only dangerous but also frequently pointless. Using the words adultery, deceit, and murder will do nothing to pierce the conscience of the king if he has already fortified himself against moral restraint and the demands of justice. The king secretly pardons himself, admits nothing, and goes on in a royal display of staged innocence. The only way to reach him is through a story about someone else.
“The Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, ‘There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor’” (2 Sam. 12:1). The prophet appeals to the king’s judicial role, his absolute right to render judgment over his people, and the reference to the rich man and the poor man almost certainly calls to mind a special obligation to the poor. The king immediately feels and anticipates the unfolding story.
Nathan continues: “The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one ewe lamb, which he had bought” (2 Sam 12:2-3). “Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flocks or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him” (2 Sam. 12:4). David’s moral ballast is immediately restored as he considers the rich man and the great crime he has committed against a poor man. “Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man” (2 Sam. 12:5). The king, having been trapped by his moral outrage, finally hears the unvarnished truth: “You are the man!” The veil is lifted and the accusation severe. “Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites” (2 Sam. 12:9).
According to tradition, Psalm 51 is David’s great lament over his crime against Bathsheba and Uriah, and his sin against Almighty God. “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (Ps. 51:2-3). The king, however, wants more than mere absolution; he longs for a happiness he had once known. “Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice” (Ps. 51:8). “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit” (Ps. 51:12).
Jesus is the truth that illumines the truth in our lives. He casts his light on divine gifts we have received and calls them out of us; he shines too in places of shame and guilt and makes repentancea good word. Jesus calls us to “humility and gentleness,” to “patience and forbearance,” as we try “to lead a life worthy of the calling to which [we] have been called” (Eph. 4:1-2). This requires a deeply personal and honest self-examination. In love, Jesus says, “You are that person against whom your moral outrage is unleashed. You are that person, and your sin is ever before me.” Jesus is the truth we seek and the absolute truth about our lives.
He is judgment and mercy. He is the bread of tears and the bread of life. He is a truth-teller and the truth that sets free. He purges and washes, and gives joy and salvation. Let him speak the truth, and let him be your deepest self.
Look It Up
Read Psalm 51.
Think About It
Lamentation leads to hope and joy.