On the one hand, this week offers up one of my absolute favourite gospel stories. I LOVE this one. Andrew is my favourite disciple – and this is a moment where he shines. “I have some loaves, and some fish. Surely Jesus can make something of that.” Brilliant!
On the other hand – I am utterly distracted from my fondness for Andrew by a whole other emotional response to the Old Testament.
This whole story, from beginning to end, leaves me hurt, and sad, and more than a little angry. My heart breaks for Bathsheba. Because of a King’s sense of entitlement (Samuel warned you! A King is going to take whatever he wants, your daughters, your sons…) she is violated, and widowed. I want JUSTICE! I want God to smite down her oppressor, and bring down the mighty from their seat, and raise up the lowly, and fill the hungry with good things and send the rich empty away.
But that’s not the kind of justice we find in this story. Nathan the prophet will come and accuse the King of a terrible crime: theft.
When the prophet comes to accuse David, there will be only one victim in this story – Uriah. Who is, granted, the one who ends up murdered at the hands of his king, along with all the sons of Israel in his command. Samuel warned them.
And that crime is punished – by the death of the infant child.
Which, really doesn’t work out all that well for Bathsheba – since the infant child killed to punish David is hers.
And I have read lots of commentary about how God redeems this whole messy situation- how despite David’s sin, God reaches into this deeply broken relationship and brings some good out of it- in the eventual birth of Solomon, placing Bathsheba in the ancestry of Jesus, giving her the opportunity to be a royal wife, and honoured mother of a good and wise King. In other years, I’ve preached that sermon.
Yet, somehow, this Divine Justice seems a day late, and a dollar short.
Bathsheba is nothing more than a cipher in this story- not a human being with her own needs, or dreams, or rights… just an object for David’s desire, and the means of providing an heir.
And because this is Scripture, it starts seeming like God is complicit in reducing her to a 2-dimensional plot device.
And that’s just not ok. Bathsheba deserved better. From her King. From her God. And from the generations of the faithful who have read her story.
More than one commentary calls her a seductress. She was asking for it, they say. David sinned, only because he was powerless in the face of her temptation, they say. Bathing like that. Being all desirable. How dare she.
She deserved better.
I have a hard time seeing the Good News in this story.
Maybe it’s a good thing that this story is one of the stories of our faith. Or what else would we tell to those of our friends and neighbours, what else would we tell ourselves, when Divine Justice comes up a day late, and a dollar short?
Because it does, come up short. All the time.
Perhaps the most difficult thing we ever do is stand there, helpless, next to people in need, in pain, in confusion— with nothing to give them. It isn’t fair. It isn’t right. They are angry at God, I’m angry, too.
Sure, there are small joys to be found, in the face of great sorrows. There is kindness, and compassion. There are small acts of love and forgiveness. There are steps towards reconciliation. There are true and authentic acts of love.
But It isn’t enough. It’s never enough.
It’s just five little loaves, and two fish.