Would you rather be the one who messes up, lacks self-awareness, then needs to be confronted? Or would you rather be the one who realizes SOMEONE ELSE messed up and needs to be confronted and the short stick falls to you? Is there a third option or would you like to have one of those door hangers that states: DO NOT DISTURB!
Sometimes in scripture I try to figure out which character I identify with the most. In this story, I don’t like either of the choices. There’s King David: shepherd boy, singer of psalms, the beloved and favored one of God, anointed king, but then the rest of his resume reads: abuser of power, rapist, predatory king, conniver, and murderer.
Then there is Nathan, the prophet God calls upon to confront the powerful king.
If I had to choose between these two, I would say “No thank you.”
I don’t want to be lumped in with David and his moral failures, as much as I realize that we all mess up in one way or another and are in need of grace and forgiveness. Whether intentionally or inadvertently, not many of us can get by in life without hurting someone in some way.
I don’t much like the role of Nathan either, even as I desire and sometimes demand of someone more official than me, that these kinds of injustices be exposed and brought to an end. I rarely want to raise my hand and say “Pick me! I’ll sign on for that job. Send me out there to confront the powerful.” It’s messy, it’s awkward, it’s scary, it’s dangerous, even life-threatening. Often we feel powerless to effect any kind of change. Or we’re just plain apathetic. So the injustice often goes ignored as we turn away and expect someone else to step up to the plate. That’s where the story of Anybody, Somebody, Nobody, and Everybody comes into play. Anybody could have done it, Everybody thought Somebody would do it, but in the end…Nobody.
There are probably many names for people who confront injustice. One of them is whistle blower. People who bring an injustice into the light. Often whistle blowers win little more than increased self-respect. Many times over, they lose friends, and economic well-being and social status. Would they do it again?
Time magazine did an article in 2002 for their “Person of the Year” award. They honored three people who had been whistle blowers in the past year. One of them was Sherron Watkins who blew the whistle on Enron. Sherron was criticized by some of her former Enron colleagues; if she hadn’t ratted on Enron, they could have saved the company in time, along with their jobs. The article states: “This is where three women of ordinary demeanor but exceptional guts and sense come into the picture. Sherron Watkins was the Enron vice president who wrote a letter to chairman Kenneth Lay in the summer of 2001 warning him that the company’s methods of accounting were improper. In January, when a congressional subcommittee investigating Enron’s collapse released that letter, Watkins became a reluctant public figure, and the Year of the Whistle‐Blower began.
Coleen Rowley was the FBI staff attorney who sent a memo to the FBI Director about how the FBI brushed off pleas from her field office in MN that Zacarias Moussaoui, who was later indicted as a September 11 co‐conspirator, was a man who must be investigated. In May of 2002 she brought some of the pre 9-11 lapses to light and testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee about some of the endemic problems facing the FBI and the intelligence community.
One month later Cynthia Cooper exploded the bubble that was WorldCom when she informed its board that the company had covered up $3.8 billion in losses through phony bookkeeping.”
Two of these women were the providers for their family and they put their jobs and livelihood at risk. They also took a lot of heat from their colleagues. Given the chance to do it over again, would they have done the same thing or just walk away and not say anything. Many people turn a blind eye, and pretend they don’t see what is happening right in front of them. Or, they live in denial, or try to rationalize or justify bad behavior. Most of us prefer to not get involved. It’s usually safer that way.
The result: Too often, the crimes and moral and ethical failures of politics and corporate business are the subject of cover-ups, spin, and excuses, not justice. But confronting the powerful and principalities and systems and structures requires courage. Everything is at stake – our reputation, friendships, economic viability, social standing. I imagine for the prophet Nathan, his very life was at stake. It wasn’t below David to send Uriah out to the front lines of battle to die. He would have few qualms about taking Nathan’s life either.
But Nathan is brilliant in his attempt to bring King David’s moral failure to light, and help the unaware, self-absorbed King David see his own guilt and hypocrisy. The natural expectation is for Nathan to lay the holy judgment of God on David’s head, which he does… but in an unexpected way. What we get is a story about sheep. And yet, that story drives Nathan’s point home more effectively than any confrontation ever could. Nathan employed a brilliant strategy using the wisdom of one of Emily Dickinson’s poems:
Tell all the truth but tell it slant – Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight – The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased- With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually Or every man be blind –
Do you remember the line from the movie, A Few Good Men: YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH! Truth head-on is often more than people can take. We are often not strong enough to confront the direct truth. So Nathan devises an analogy, a parable: What if a rich man with more lambs than he could count takes the one treasured lamb of a poor man to feed a guest? David reacts to this report with anger, failing to recognize his own hypocrisy. He concludes that such a criminal is worthy of death and should reimburse the poor man four times over. David was blind to the damage he had already done. To which the courageous and clever prophet pronounces:
“YOU ARE THE MAN!!!” Amazingly, David recognizes his bad behavior as the epitome of injustice and abuse of power. He repents and faces the consequences of his actions.
Nathan was utilizing the Apostle Paul’s words from Ephesians:
Begging David to lead a life worthy of the calling to which he was called.
So how do we do this? How do we become truth-tellers and call out injustice?
It starts first with our own self. Having the self-awarenesss to know what our motives are. Does our intention come from a place of love, not vindication? We use terms such as a viper tongue to indicate quick, biting, and venomous speech or a comment might be too blunt like a blunt knife which has a more damaging effect than if it is sharpened in preparation for the delicate process of making an incision. Truth-telling can be incisive, and there is an art to it.
We are called every day, to to lead a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called; and then to help others grow in their faith: with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
So how do we live up to and become worthy of our highest calling? Let’s look at the two characters from this story again: We need to identify with Nathan by being courageous and prophetic to speak the truth in love. And we need to identify with David also, to hear the truth when we have hurt others and begin the necessary self-examination, and reflective spiritual work. We need to recognize the Nathans in our lives – those people who will be honest with us when we are out of line, those friends who know us well enough to see when we are making a mistake, people who can put things into perspective when we need it most.
This conversation between Nathan and David reminds me of a movie from 30 years ago – Places in the Heart. The movie ends as it began, on a Sunday. The church choir sings “Blessed Assurance.” The minister reads 1 Corinthians 13. As the elements of communion move from person to person, we see that people in conflict have reconciled, and are together again. Those living and dead and departed for other places are worshiping together. It is an image in which the lambs and the wolves, the wronged and the wrongdoers, the betrayers and the betrayed, are all together as one. This is my sense of heaven, where we find grace, forgiveness reconciliation, and hope. And as we pray so frequently, may we have that experience of heaven here and now: Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
So let us become worthy of the calling to which we have all been called.
2 Samuel 11:26-12
26When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. 27When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord, and 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. 2The rich man had very many flocks and herds; 3but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. 4Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock 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.” 5Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; 6he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” 7Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; 8I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. 9Why 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. 10Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. 11Thus says the Lord: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun. 12For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.” 13David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan said to David, “Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die. 14Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die.”
15Then Nathan went to his house. The Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it became very ill.
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,
2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. 7But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
11The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.