Narrative Lectionary Text: 2 Samuel 12:1-9; Psalm 51:1-9
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“Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”
When the Queen spoke those words in the tale of Snow White, I don’t think she was really asking a question. Did she really want to know the truth, or did she want the mirror to tell her what she wanted to hear?
Mirrors are interesting things. They serve one purpose. They reflect. It seems that they simply tell us the unfiltered truth. However, when we look into a mirror a strange process takes place.
The image that we see before us is both accurate and distorted.
It is accurate because the mirror shows us what we actually look like. It doesn’t have any Photoshop filters to take away our blemishes, or trim twenty pounds, or give us a super-hero figure. It is painfully accurate.
Yet, it is also distorted because the image is backwards. When we look at ourselves in a mirror it is not the image that others see when they look at us. Have you ever noticed that when you look at a photograph of yourself it seems odd. You might think, “Hey, my hair doesn’t part that way!” That’s because every time we look into the mirror to brush our teeth or fix our hair, we see a backward image.
This is an important point, because it helps us realize that there are two ways that we can see ourselves, and these two ways are in constant battle.
The first way is the raw truth about who we really are,
and the second way is the distorted image that we believe about ourselves.
I’ve got mirrors on my mind because this weekend our text from the Narrative Lectionary is 2 Samuel 12:1-9. This story is about King David and how he had a painful mirror experience.
Before we dive into David’s story, we need to fill in some big gaps between last week and this week.
You’ll remember that God made a promise to Abraham.
God said to him, “I will make you a great nation, and you are blessed so that you will be a blessing to others.”
Two weeks ago we looked at the Ten Commandments and saw that these Ten Promises give us a framework to know what it means to be a great nation and what it looks like to be a blessing.
A great nation is a priestly nation that realizes that greatness, in God’s eyes, is to be a servant to others. The first three commandments talk about putting God first, because God is the king.
The rest of commandments give a concrete picture of what it looks like to be a blessing.
Then last week we saw that God delivered on the promise and Abraham’s family got to occupy the land of Canaan.
It was given to them. Then Joshua stood up and said, “Choose this day whom you will serve.”
Here’s how things were supposed to go.
Everyone in the country was equal. There was no king. There was only the Law. Everyone was supposed to follow the Law, and, by doing so, the rest of the world would see what peace looks like.
What did the people do? They looked around at all the other countries and saw how they did things. The Canaanites had two things:
- gods who made sense – these gods were concrete and it was simple. Give the god what it wants and the god gives you what you need.
- kings who gave order – people can rally around a person, it is much harder to rally around an ideal.
So the people chased after those gods and got themselves into a mess with the other countries. Eventually the other country would conquer them and enslave them. The Israelites would cry out to God to save them. God would raise up a judge to deliver them. The people would say, “oh, we’re so sorry, we’ll never do that again.” Then they’d do it again.
They did this over and over for 300 years. Eventually, the country got so out of control that they came to the judge, named Samuel,
and said, “We want a king!”
“You want a king. really? OK.” This is what God said to the people about a king.
In 1 Samuel 8:11-18 He said,
These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you:
- he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest,
- He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.
- He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers.
- He will take one-tenth of your flocks,
- and you shall be his slaves.
In other words, when you make someone a king, then you give the king all the power. Then the King thinks that he deserves that power and he will use it to hurt you.
You’ve heard the expression
“power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely?”
I think that’s what God is trying to tell them.
But, the people insisted, so God gave them a king.
The first King was named Saul, and he was trouble from the beginning.
But then, a young boy named David came on the scene.
David was a shepherd boy who had huge faith in God. He defeated lions and bears in the field. He defeated the giant Goliath on the battle field. He became the King of Israel and the people loved him.
The Bible says that he was a man after God’s own heart, and God made him a promise that his house would be great.
David seemed to be the perfect balance between a humble man who trusted and served God and a King.
And then it happened.
David gave in to the greatest temptation. He believed that his power and authority was his and gave him special privileges.
He believed he had the right to stay home from the battlefield and let others do his fighting.
When he saw a beautiful woman named Bathsheba, he believed he had the power to take her. It didn’t matter that she was married. We don’t know if Bathsheba wanted to have an affair with David or not. The scripture says that he took her. It is very likely that he used his power to force her to come into his bedroom.
He got her pregnant, and to cover it up, he had her husband sent to the front lines of the battle field and he ordered the men to pull back from battle to ensure that her husband would be killed.
Do you see how David broke all the laws for blessing others?
He coveted his neighbor’s wife.
He stole her.
He murdered him.
He bore false witness to cover it up.
He dishonored his father and mother by doing such things.
And, by abusing his power in this way, he wrongfully used the name of the Lord and placed his own desires, power, and privilege as his god.
Here’s something for us to think about today.
We are people of power in this room. The simple fact that we live in this suburban area in this country automatically makes us among the most powerful people in the world. How do we use that power?
How often do we cheat on our spouses, whether in overt acts, or in affairs of the mind?
How often do we fudge the truth and cut corners, and lie and cheat and steal, and then justify it in our minds…because we can get away with it?
David thought he had everyone fooled until his mirror showed up.
It wasn’t a reflective piece of glass. It was a man named Nathan.
This bold prophet told David a story about how a rich and powerful man took the one precious thing in a poor man’s life–his little lamb that was like a daughter to him–and killed it because the rich man wasn’t willing to use up his own livestock to feed a guest.
David was outraged by the injustice of this story and the abuse of power and authority that the rich man used against this poor man. David named the man’s sin and the proper punishment for it.
Then Nathan stood before David, like a mirror, and said, “YOU ARE THAT MAN!”
The naked truth stared David in the face. There is one word for this moment.
David was faced with an important decision in that moment.
Which reflection would he see in the mirror?
Would he see himself as the entitled King, deflect this accusation, kill Nathan to suppress the truth, and continue to believe his distorted image of himself?
Or, would he accept the truth, confess his wrongs, and accept whatever consequences would come from his actions?
What would you have done in that moment?
David is called a “man after God’s own heart.”
Do you know why? It wasn’t because he was perfect. That’s obvious.
It is because he chose the second path.
He owned up to his mistakes.
He realized that he had completely misused his power and authority and had become the abuser of others. It broke his heart.
We see the depths of his repentance in Psalm 51. He cried out to God to forgive him and create a clean heart within him. God did.
David was forgiven, but David still suffered the terrible consequences for his sins. The baby died and David’s other children suffered the terrible fallout of betrayal and a broken family.
There are many lessons from this story of Nathan the mirror and David the sinner.
Here’s one that I leave you to ponder.
The letter of James, in the New Testament, says that God’s Word is like a mirror that shows us the truth about ourselves. James 1:22-25 reminds us that anyone who hears the Word, but doesn’t actually do it, is like a person who looks in the mirror and sees that she needs to wash her face and brush her hair, but then doesn’t fix anything and walks away.
We need people like Nathan in our lives that are willing to tell us the truth about who and how we are; about how we are treating, or mistreating others. Then, we need to have the courage to be like David and own up to our mistakes, make amends, and be willing to accept the consequences with humility and honor.
Each one of us faces this choice each day.
What does the mirror of God’s Word say to you today?
More importantly, which reflection will you choose to see?
May we be people who love generously, and use our power to bless others.[/level-free]