Last week we watched David at his worst. I really don’t think a person could go any lower than what David did to Uriah. Sleeping with Uriah’s wife, having a child with his wife, and having Uriah killed to cover up his indiscretions are about as awful as it comes. A lingering question from last week is “How does David live with himself after orchestrating Uriah’s death?” The answer to that question is that David lived with himself quite well actually. After Uriah is murdered he moves Bathsheba into his home and lives as if nothing sordid ever happened there is absolutely no shame in David’s behavior and he believes that by his craftiness he has actually gotten away with murder. David’s arrogance knows no bounds and he almost seems as if he is proud of his actions.
Today we have God’s response to David’s arrogance and God is displeased. The prophet Nathan is sent to convey God’s displeasure in David and the consequences that David must endure because of his evil actions. What really stands out in the exchange between Nathan and David is David’s inability to recognize himself in Nathan’s story. Not only does David not see parallels between the rich man who kills the poor man’s sheep David has the audacity to be indignant towards the rich man at the end of the story. I mean David just can’t believe his ears and wonders how such an awful man could live with himself. The amazing thing is that David gets this upset over a wealthy man taking a poor man’s ewe lamb. A lamb! We aren’t talking about taking someone’s wife and then having the husband murdered were talking about a lamb. It makes me wonder how David can be so blind. What is it that prevents David from taking a close look at his actions and feeling shame? How does arrogance and pride work to shield us from feeling guilty or shame?
I have been reading Les Meserables by Victor Hugo and this line jumped out at me, “Pride is the fortress of evil.” Pride is like arrogance. Last week I explained that arrogance is when a person believes they are better than others and have an exaggerated sense of self-worth and ability. Pride, in the negative sense, “is a foolish and irrational corrupt sense of one’s personal value, status, or accomplishments.” The combination of arrogance and pride creates a huge fortress for sin because an exaggerated sense of one’s abilities and power means sin can wreak havoc in your own life and the lives of those you come into contact. Furthermore, pride and arrogance shields people from being accountable for their actions. In the case of David everyone else is held to a high moral standard just not David. With David there is no accountability for his actions because his pride and arrogance prevent him from being held accountable.
What knocks down David’s fortress of pride and arrogance? Shame. Nathan allows David to become indignant and angry at the end of his parable and then points to David and explains, “You are that man.” For then Nathan gives it to David with both barrels and lays out David’s punishment. When Nathan turns the tables on David and exposes David’s hypocrisy you can almost see David deflate. We know he experiences remorse and shame for his actions when he says, “I have sinned against the Lord.” David owns his hubris and repents. David’s arrogance and pride do not make him a great king, it’s David’s ability to repent and be humbled that makes him great. His arrogance and pride caused death and destruction, but his shame and humility leads to forgiveness. Unfortunately, David’s walls will be rebuilt and he will continue to behave like an idiot, but God will continue to knock them down.
My question for all of us is if there is no shame in our culture, or in the world, what will knock down our walls of pride and arrogance? Shame is viewed as negative and something that should be avoided at all cost. However, Jesus’ primary means of exposing sin and hypocrisy was through the use of shame. Jesus used shame to expose the abuses of others. For example, the whole Sermon on the Mount is a dissertation on how to use shame to win over your enemy. To win over someone is not to beat or destroy, but to change someone’s heart and mind. Jesus used shame to expose the Scribes’, Pharisees, and Priests’ abuses of power and the law. In order for shame to work one must feel shame for their actions and I don’t know if people do today and that scares me.
Shame’s biggest hurdle is our modern understanding of the word. When I mention that Jesus shamed people to expose their sinful abuse of power I have been accused of heresy, or outright lying. Shame has been construed as abusive and dehumanizing. The truth is that Jesus uses shame to help humanize the arrogant and prideful. What Jesus strives to do is expose the abuse of those in power in a way that provokes shame so that the abuser sees how his actions not only hurts those weaker than him, but how his abuse destroys his own humanity. There are times, like David today, that you should feel shame. Until shame is viewed as a legitimate defense against those who use power and position to dehumanize others then pride and arrogance will continue to be a fortress for evil.
I look around and see so much false pride, or pride in really questionable things, such as race or gender. When we place pride in things then we are idolatrous. Don’t get me wrong pride can be a good thing when it is for the building up of others, but when it is used as a weapon over and against others it ceases to be good and does become a fortress of evil. How do we knock down the walls of false pride and begin to engage with one another as equals? It seems that every time progress is made evil evolves and manifests itself in new and disturbing ways. Pride is one way that sin has invaded our culture, but even more insidious is how evil has turned Jesus into a self-help guru rather than the means through which evil is destroyed. Jesus, when viewed as only a personal savior and means to eternal life becomes watered down. Jesus in the gospels isn’t too worried about everyone feeling good. Jesus was all about building up the Kingdom of God and challenging power, evil, and corruption. Jesus of scripture breaks boundaries, embraces outcasts, and puts those who abuse power in their place. Through his weakness and humility Jesus turned the whole world on its head. Evil that hides behind arrogance and pride does its best to mitigate the power of the gospel by limiting it to personal feelings and eternal life.
In today’s gospel lesson Jesus shows us how to response to people who belittle him or put him in a box. Jesus’ response to the religious leaders is a wonderful example of how to prevent the construction of an arrogant fortress. Jesus refuses to build himself up according to his accomplishments and abilities. Instead, Jesus attributes all that he has done and is doing to God his father. Jesus constantly deflects praise and criticism of himself and looks to God the Father for protection and direction. When the Scribes and Pharisees mock him for being Mary and Joseph’s son Jesus points to God. When the people want to make him King Jesus points to God. Jesus consistently stays humble in his relationship with God and therefore obedient to God’s will.
Paul, in Ephesians, explains that through Christ we have been called, claimed and sent. Our pride is found in the grace of Christ. When we are secure in our baptism, our calling, and our vocation we don’t need a fortress. As Disciples of Christ we are sent out to be present and vulnerable to a world hiding behind the walls of arrogance and pride. How do we knock those walls down? We don’t. Rather, Christ knocks those walls down through the humility, weakness, and the cross.
Pride and arrogance try to tell me that the world has moved beyond all hope. Behind the fortress of my sin hides the evil that would really like me to believe that all is lost. It’s easy to fall into the trap of doubt and despair because our leaders seem so far removed from what we see in David. Could you imagine any world leader today saying, “Your right I have sinned and I am wrong.” Luckily, it is not my faith and my trust that will prevail. It is Jesus’ faith and Jesus’ trust that will win the day. It is the power of the Holy Spirit that changes the course of history and not pride and arrogance. God’s kingdom will come on God’s terms not ours. Look at when God sent Nathan to speak to David. It was months after David had Uriah killed. Eventually, God intercedes and restores order by breaking down walls. If God can break down the wall of crucifixion and death God can knock down the walls of rampant pride and arrogance. Our job is to keep the faith in which we are marked and sealed. Pride may be the fortress to evil, but grace is the battering ram that knocks those walls down and love conquers all evil.