A Reading from the Second Book of Samuel (11:1-15)
In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, “This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself after her period.) Then she returned to her house. The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.” So David sent word to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab and the people fared, and how the war was going. Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house, and wash your feet.” Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king. But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house. When they told David, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “You have just come from a journey. Why did you not go down to your house?” Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah remain in booths; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing.” Then David said to Uriah, “Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day. On the next day, David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk; and in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house. In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.”
1 The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” *
All are corrupt and commit abominable acts;
there is none who does any good.
2 The Lord looks down from heaven upon us all, *
to see if there is any who is wise,
if there is one who seeks after God.
3 Every one has proved faithless;
all alike have turned bad; *
there is none who does good; no, not one.
4 Have they no knowledge, all those evildoers *
who eat up my people like bread
and do not call upon the Lord?
5 See how they tremble with fear, *
because God is in the company of the righteous.
6 Their aim is to confound the plans of the afflicted, *
but the Lord is their refuge.
7 Oh, that Israel’s deliverance would come out of Zion! *
when the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,
Jacob will rejoice and Israel be glad.
A Reading from the Letter of Paul to the Ephesians (3:14-21)
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to John (6:1-21)
Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
In today’s readings, we encounter two kings. Although they were born about 1000 years apart, the two had much in common. They shared the same hometown: Bethlehem of Judah. They both came from ordinary backgrounds: the one had worked as a shepherd; the other, as a carpenter. Both are said by the scriptures to have been loved by God and chosen by God. Yet, with the passage of time, the way that they lived as kings, the way that they used their power, differed greatly.
David, as I mentioned last Sunday, had now reached the pinnacle of his reign and of his power. He had established himself as ruler of all of Israel, had transformed Jerusalem into both the civil capital and the religious capital of the nation, and had led Israel’s armies to major victories over their enemies. He had cemented his control over the nation and now held both wealth and power. He was, in all ways, king over Israel.
Many years earlier, before Saul had been appointed as Israel’s first king, the prophet Samuel had tried to warn the people about kings: about those who controlled the wealth and the power. He presented them with a long litany of all the things that a king would take from them: their lands, their crops, their sons and daughters, their male and female slaves. The recurring verb in Samuel’s warning was “take” because that, he assured them, is what those in power do.
When we come to today’s first reading, David has the power. He no longer leads Israel’s armies himself, but sends his general, Joab, to command them in his place. And as he waits comfortably in his palace in Jerusalem, he sees Bathsheba, the beautiful wife of Uriah the Hittite. And, having the power to do so, David takes her. As the story continues, it becomes obvious to everyone except David that the apparently pagan Uriah is the righteous and faithful one: a glaring contrast with the one who is God’s anointed. Ultimately, David will compound his guilt by having Uriah killed. In doing so, he will bring destruction to his own family and suffering to the nation.
In today’s gospel reading, we encounter a completely different kind of king. Jesus, who eventually will proclaim to Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world, is faced for the first time with the crowd’s desire to make him king: to give him power and control over the people. When that story began, Jesus had recognized that the people were hungry; and he had made use of five barley loaves and two fish to feed a crowd of about 5000. In a society in which people could never take it for granted that they would have anything at all to eat, their reaction to what he had done was understandable. This was obviously someone whom they were willing to entrust with power over them: someone who could effectively address their needs, someone who could feed them all, even from modest resources. And so, they wanted to make him king.
Jesus could easily have taken advantage of the opportunity. He could have allowed them to declare him king, with all the risks that that title carried with it. Like Herod the Great, he could probably have managed to serve as king under Roman rule; and like him, Jesus could have accumulated considerable wealth and power.
But unlike the kings about whom Samuel had warned the people, and unlike David about whom we heard in today’s first reading, Jesus’ exercise of kingship did not lead him to take. Instead, it led him to give. And, as we will be hearing in our gospel readings over the next several weeks, Jesus would be giving much more than just a meal of bread and fish. He would be giving himself for their lives and for the life of the world.
Living as we do in a time in which the divide between rich and poor, between the haves and the have-nots, in our country has increased dramatically, we have the opportunity to see, on an all-too-regular basis, the ways of the “kings” of our time: the ways of those who hold wealth and power, the ways of those who do whatever they think is necessary to hold on to what they have and to take even more. And we see the great pains that they go to in order to protect their position and to try to rationalize and supposedly justify their hold on that wealth and power, even as so many others are in genuine need.
But, being followers of Jesus Christ, we have also the opportunity to see a completely different way of kingship. We have the opportunity to see the example of one who, as the Letter to the Philippians puts it, did not deem even equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead, he gave of himself, he emptied himself. And he called on us, who would be his followers, to do the same: to give rather than to take, to give of our time, of our possessions, of our lives for the common good, and to focus our attention, not on serving our wants, but on serving others’ needs.
In today’s readings, we encounter two kings. Although they were born about 1000 years apart, they shared many things in common. Yet, with the passage of time, the way that they lived as kings, the way that they used their power, differed greatly
Which model of kingship do we embrace? By which set of values do we choose to live? By which set of values do we make decisions about the future of our community, our nation, and the world? God awaits our answer.