Old Testament: 2 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.”
The Response: Psalm 14
20 I have found David my servant; *
with my holy oil have I anointed him.
21 My hand will hold him fast *
and my arm will make him strong.
22 No enemy shall deceive him, *
nor any wicked man bring him down.
23 I will crush his foes before him *
and strike down those who hate him.
24 My faithfulness and love shall be with him, *
and he shall be victorious through my Name.
25 I shall make his dominion extend *
from the Great Sea to the River.
26 He will say to me, ‘You are my Father, *
my God, and the rock of my salvation
27 I will make him my firstborn *
and higher than the kings of the earth.
28 I will keep my love for him for ever, *
and my covenant will stand firm for him.
29 I will establish his line for ever *
and his throne as the days of heaven.”
30 “If his children forsake my law *
and do not walk according to my judgments;
31 If they break my statutes *
and do not keep my commandments;
32 I will punish their transgressions with a rod *
and their iniquities with the lash;
33 But I will not take my love from him, *
nor let my faithfulness prove false.
34 I will not break my covenant, *
nor change what has gone out of my lips.
35 Once for all I have sworn by my holiness: *
‘I will not lie to David.
36 His line shall endure for ever *
and his throne as the sun before me;
37 It shall stand fast for evermore like the moon, *
the abiding witness in the sky.’”
The Epistle: 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 Gospel: 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
Two weeks ago, I spoke with you about two kings, living 1000 years apart: David, who greeted God’s presence in the Ark of the Covenant with unrestrained joy, and Herod Agrippa, who greeted God’s presence in John the Baptist and in Jesus with fear and hostility. Their reactions to the nearness of the divine were diametrically opposed to each other.
Today’s first and gospel readings again present us with two kings, separated by a millennium: David and Jesus. Only this time, it is their understanding of kingship, their approach to kingship, and their use of kingship that are radically different from each other.
At this point in the story, David had reached the pinnacle of his power. He reigned over Judah and Israel. God had given him victory over all his enemies. And, as we heard last week, God had made an unconditional promise to him and to his descendants that their dynasty would endure forever.
But with today’s reading, the entire narrative changes. From this point on, the rest of David’s rule will be characterized by jealousy, by violence within his family, by rebellion, and by a struggle merely to survive. And it all begins with David misusing his power in order to take: to take what wasn’t his.
Back on June 10, our first reading portrayed the leaders in Israel abandoning their ancient belief that God alone was their king and demanding that Samuel, the great priest and prophet, appoint for them a king “so that we can be like all the other nations.” God reluctantly gave into their demands but insisted that Samuel first spell out for them the way of kings. And Samuel made it perfectly clear what kings do: they take. He warned them that a king will take their sons for his army and for labor in his fields, and take their daughters to do his work, and take their possessions for his use and the use of those near him in power. But the people would not listen.
Now the people had the king that they demanded. But, true to Samuel’s words, even David, the supposedly ideal king, used his position and his power in order to take. First, in today’s reading, he takes Bathsheba, who, for the rest of the story, is pointedly referred to again and again only as “the wife of Uriah.” Then he takes the life of Uriah himself, a man portrayed as being far more righteous and principled than the king he served. And somehow, David apparently thought that he was so powerful that he could take whatever and whomever he wanted and that he could get away with what he had done. Next Sunday’s first reading will illustrate that that deception and that illusion could not and did not last.
In direct contrast with that king and with others kings who take, our gospel reading presents to us the example of an entirely different kind of king. Here is a king who gives. Notice that, at the beginning of our gospel reading, nobody points out to Jesus that the crowd of 5000 was hungry; nobody asks him to provide food for them. But Jesus is paying attention to them. He recognizes their needs. He knows their hunger. And so he takes the initiative in providing for them the food that they need. And not only does he provide for them what they need at the present moment, but he also looks toward and provides for their long-term need. At the end of the feeding story, there are twelve baskets left over from the five barley loaves: a perfect number in the bible’s way of thinking. And, as this passage from John chapter 6 continues over the coming Sundays, we will hear that he is going way beyond providing bread and fish. He is providing also for their lasting needs, giving himself to them to satisfy their deepest hunger.
The crowd, we are told, is focused solely on addressing their immediate, physical needs. Since Jesus has shown that he can take care of those things, they intend to come by force and make him king: their kind of king. They are completely oblivious to the far bigger picture and to the kind of king that Jesus has come to be. They fail to recognize that he has gifts much more lasting and life-giving to give them. And so he quickly goes off to a mountain by himself to avoid being made to be that kind of king.
That theme of kingship and of a different kind of kingship, a kingship that gives rather than takes, pervades Jesus’ actions throughout the gospel according to John. It reaches its culmination in the Passion Narrative. And the gospel according to John tells that story differently from Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
After Jesus has been mocked by the soldiers, unlike the versions in the other three gospels, Jesus is not given his own clothes to wear. Instead, he continues to wear the kingly, purple robe all the way to the cross. Unlike the others, there is no Simon of Cyrene to help Jesus carry his cross; as the king, he marches in triumph to mount what ironically becomes his throne. And, unlike the other versions, Jesus seems to reign in victory even on the cross; and he dies only after he has issued his final royal pronouncement: “It is accomplished.” The final victory of the “king-who-gives” is accomplished only when he has given himself freely and completely for the sake of others and for the sake of the world.
But, in a deeper sense, the work that Jesus came to do was not complete with his enthronement on the cross. Instead, he gave us his example and his teaching so that we, like him, might be people who come to give rather than just take. That is an example and a teaching and a way of life which directly contradicts the example given by some of our contemporary leaders, as well as many leaders through the ages. Their focus, like the kings about whom Samuel warned the people of Israel long ago, is on themselves, on taking: on building up their own egos and increasing their own power.
Yet the king whom we encounter in the gospels is one who is so in-tune with the people in the world around him that he knows their needs, often before they ask. And the king whom we encounter in the gospels is one who is willing to give whatever he has, even himself, to serve those needs.
To which kind of king do we give our allegiance? Which kind of king’s example will we follow in and with our lives?