Guest Lectionary Reflection by the Rev. Andrew Buchanan
Proper 13, Year B
August 1, 2021
2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a
In the ancient near east, there was no separation of powers. The king was executive, legislative and judicial power all rolled into one. He was the Supreme Court. And part of his job was to hear his peoples' legal problems. Then, as king, he would mete out justice. So when Nathan says: Your honor, I have a legal situation I’d like to discuss with you. David sits up and listens.
How does David respond to Nathan's story? Partly from the law. The Mosaic Law says that if you rob or defraud somebody and you are caught—you have to make restitution four times over. But the other thing David says… is not from the law. David burns with anger and says to Nathan: As surely as the Lord lives… the man who did this thing deserves to die.
There’s nothing in the Mosaic Law about capital punishment for lamb theft. This is excessive anger. David wants the man killed. It’s a disproportionate penalty. Why?
David’s guilt is surfacing… he doesn’t yet recognize himself in Nathan’s story—but something in the story has touched a nerve. So David says: Does this rich man think there is no justice in my kingdom? Who is this man?
And… in the most direct sermon application in all of preaching history, Nathan says: You. You are that man.
This is practical. First, at some point you’ll need to be 'Nathan' to a friend. Sometimes the direct approach is the right thing… but Nathan takes an indirect approach--it's firm, yet gentle. Second, even though you may need to be a Nathan from time to time, you and I also need Nathans. Why? Because most of the time we don’t recognize our own sin. This is one reason (of many) why Christian community is essential to spiritual growth. Be a Nathan. Get a Nathan.
This psalm accompanies our Old Testament reading, because it's what David wrote after Nathan confronted him. It’s a beautiful psalm of repentance and a desire to be right with God. We read through it every Ash Wednesday: Create in me a clean heart O God—and renew a right spirit within me. That’s what David needed, and that’s what God does. When we confess our sin, He not only forgives, but restores—He makes you new. Never come to the Lord only for forgiveness—come for wholeness. We need both. And the promise for those who repent is Romans 8.1: There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
In Ephesians 1-3 Paul has told us that in Jesus God has done something new: Not just new life for individuals--but a fractured humanity being united. As John Stott has said: It is a magnificent vision. Today's reading is worthy of multiple sermons, but here we will comment only on the theme of unity. Paul tells us to 'make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace'--the Greek is emphatic--the word means we are to "spare no effort" (NEB), all the time. Only you know whether this is true of you--and, if not, then why not ask the Lord to give you this eagerness?
Last week Jesus fed 5,000 people in a miraculous sign. Impressed and wanting more, the crowd follows him to Capernaum.
Why are they so eager to find Jesus? Because the day before they saw a miracle and got their empty bellies filled. They saw a miracle, but they missed the sign. There’s a difference between miracles and signs. A miracle is just what you’d think it would be: A suspension of the laws of nature. A sign is also a miracle, but one that reveals more of who Jesus is.
So Jesus says: Look. What I did by feeding 5,000 wasn’t a mere miracle, it was sign—and you missed it. I didn’t just suspend the laws of nature—I showed you something about who I am. You were supposed to learn that if I can take insignificant barley loaves and feed thousands, I can take your insignificance and make you significant—I can take insurmountable problems in your life and overcome them. But… you’re not looking for me today because you saw a sign; you followed me because you had a good lunch.
You see? Jesus wants to share himself—but they don’t want him. They want what he can provide. Think of it in terms of a restaurant and you’re not far off. When you’re in a restaurant, you might appreciate your waiter—you might like him and even learn his name over the course of the meal and you might tip him nicely—but you’re not there to have a relationship with your waiter, the maître d’, the busboy or the chef. You came to eat, for the food, maybe for the atmosphere. But the waiter, the cook, the restaurant are all a means to an end.
This crowd chased after Jesus not because they want a relationship—they don’t want to know him; they just like what he can do for them. The call of Scripture today is relationship: Jesus wants you.