Lectionary Passage: 2 Samuel 11: 26-12: 13a
To read this passage online, go to http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=2+Samuel+11:26+-+12:15&vnum=yes&version=nrsv
Do you remember the story of Snow White? The fantasy begins with a magic mirror. And every morning, the hopelessly vain evil queen rises, dresses, coifs her hair, applies her make-up, and then admires herself in the mirror. But as we know, it’s not an ordinary mirror. This mirror can carry on a conversation. Better than that, this mirror tells her exactly what she wants to hear. Every morning the evil queen looks into the mirror and says, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” And the dutiful mirror, perfectly rehearsed, answers, “You, my queen, you are the fairest of them all.”
But even brainwashed mirrors can go rogue now and then and one morning when the queen looked into the mirror with the familiar question, “Mirror , mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”, the mirror replied, “Snow White, my queen, Snow White is the fairest of them all.” You know, the truth hurts, doesn’t it? Sometimes we would rather just live our lives with a magic mirror affirming that everything we do is the right thing, one that would somehow allow us to hide in a fairy tale. But life is not a fairy tale.
Our Old Testament passage is the continuing story from last week. Remember that David, home alone while his armies were out fighting battles, had spied the fair Bathsheeba and, in what can only be described as a colossal failure of leadership and an implausible abuse of power and authority, had sent for her, slept with her, impregnated her, and then in an attempt to cover up the deed, lied, schemed, and finally murdered her husband Uriah the Hittite. So, Uriah is now dead and Bathsheeba mourns. With Uriah dead, David then is free to take Bathsheeba as his wife, bringing legitimacy to their son. Well, as you know, there are a variety of ways that this story is told. Some will shift the blame to Bathsheeba, depicting her as some sort of harlot or something that wooed David into the affair. But that, of course, ignores the fact that it was David that had all the power here. Others will somehow characterize it as God’s work, as if God would call David to cheat, lie, scheme, and murder to further the building of the Kingdom of God. Sorry, I don’t really think that’s quite what God had in mind.
So today we have the story of Nathan. I love Nathan. He confronts the problem head-on. And he does it in quite a remarkable way. He tells a parable. (Where have we heard that style of teaching before?) He tells the story of a rich man who possessed many flocks and herds—so many, in fact, that he didn’t even really know them all–and a poor man who possessed one lowly little lamb who the poor man actually had grown to love. Yet when a traveler appeared, the rich man, replete with livestock, actually took the one lamb from the poor man to feed his guest. Well, David was incensed. After all, what a horrible man! Someone should do something! That is not justice! That man should be punished! That man doesn’t deserve to live!
You know, John Westerhoff once said that “if a parable doesn’t make you a bit uncomfortable, [doesn’t make you squirm a little in your seat], you probably have not gotten it.” So, obviously, David didn’t get it. Obviously, it was much easier to hand out judgment for someone else’s acts than to recognize his own failures and shortcomings. So Nathan, courageously speaking the truth in love, essentially, holds up the mirror. “David,” he said, “You are the man!”
He then explains in detail what David has done, all the time holding a mirror, forcing David to look at himself, to look at his own actions, to realize that his actions have consequences, that they cannot be hidden from God. And, maybe even more painful, they cannot be hidden from himself. David has to face what he has done, look at the consequences, look at the pain and the suffering that he has caused. And David finally admits his wrong. He confesses. It’s a hard thing. It’s a hard thing to admit when you’ve done something wrong. It’s a hard thing to be forced to take a good hard look in that mirror and see the reflection not of that image of God in which you were created but rather someone that you’d rather not be around.
Yeah, sin is a hard thing to talk about. It’s a hard thing to look at, particularly, when that mirror is showing us someone that we don’t really want to be. Where did we go wrong? And what will everyone else think? And, after all, we’re good Methodists. We don’t need to talk about sin. We have grace. Really? I think Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor has possibly written the most incredible book on sin that I have ever read. I highly recommend it. In her book entitled “Speaking of Sin: The Lost Language of Salvation,” she depicts sin as our only hope. Well that’s a new spin on it! After all, aren’t we trying to avoid it? She says that “sin is our only hope, because the recognition that something is wrong is the first step toward setting it right again.” (pg. 59) In other words, no longer can we just sweep something under the rug hoping that it will go away, hoping that our good Methodist upbringing will shower us with grace and keep our sins closeted away where they need to be. It’s a phenomenal way to think about it, to realize that in some way, holding the mirror up for ourselves or, if we can’t do that, hoping that someone in our life will be grace-filled enough to do it for us, can actually bring us closer to God, actually put us on the road to beginning again.
We often talk about sin as that which separates us from God. Traditional Christianity loves to take it all the way back to Adam and Eve, as if the first couple’s transgression somehow changed the path for us all. Do you think that’s a way of trying to cover it up? (OK, I must admit, I’m not really an “Original Sin” type of person!) Do you think that’s our way of trying to shift the blame from us a bit, a way to somehow transfer over to someone else’s mirror? Well, I think we may need some sort of holy spurt of Windex or something. Because tucking it away or covering it up or shifting blame does us no good at all. It’s still there, still separating us, still standing in the way of the grace-filled relationship that God offers each of us.
Truth is, the opposite of sin is not innocence. I don’t even think it’s righteousness. The opposite of sin is choosing God, choosing to look ourselves in the mirror and finally see that image of God in each of us. We don’t live in a fairy tale. God did not create a bunch of robotic, perfect creatures and claim them as children. God created us—sometimes cheating, sometimes lying, sometimes sinful, always wanting to do better, always wanting to find our way, always searching and wondering what it is God desires for us. I don’t think God wants or expects us to remain innocent. If God had wanted that, we wouldn’t be here at all. We would have no reason to be. Faith would be non-existent. Innocence has no reason to choose God. Innocence does not need faith. Maybe we need a Nathan in our life unless we can somehow learn to look into the mirrors that God provides for us along the way, to truly see ourselves, where we fall short, where we choose darkness over light, where we choose or just acquiesce to those systemic sins that we see (hunger and homelessness over shared resources, prejudice over acceptance, classism over equality, nationalism over patriotism ) and, most of all, to see that image of God that is always part of us somehow slip through and reveals itself in the most miraculous ways.
We are not innocent; we are forgiven. But that’s not an eraser on the giant chalkboard of life. God’s forgiveness comes when we don’t deserve it, when we haven’t earned it. It comes in the darkness; it comes at our lowest point; it comes when sin is our only hope. It is grace. “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest one of all?” It is that you that is staring back—doubtful and assured, sinful and forgiven, speaking the truth in love with a tiny piece of God in you—only an image, a faint glimmer that holds your whole life in its hands. That’s all that God needs to create beauty, to create wonder, to create life. You see, God has done this before—many, many times. It is the very mirror that shows us the image of God, that shows us who we are really called to be.
Grace and Peace,