In the bible you will be hard pressed to find good examples of parenting. From the beginning of documented family life in the bible parenting has been questionable. Adam and Eve’s son Cain kills their other son Able and they deal with the fallout of fratricide by having a third son, Seth. Abraham throws his son Ishmael and his mother out of the camp to appease Sarah. Not only does Abraham abandon his first born son, he attempts to sacrifice his second son, Isaac. Don’t even get me started on the damage Isaac inflicts on his twin boys, Esau and Jacob, and how Rebecca their mother chose favorites. Throughout the whole old testament you would be hard pressed to find a parent that you would want as a role model and David is not the exception.
From the beginning of First Samuel the writer has been brutally honest about the lack of parental supervision of the main characters. The first prophet, Eli, is told to reign in his sons. His sons were stealing the meat that was to be sacrificed to God and abusing their power. Eli sons were also stealing the virtue of a number of young maidens. Eli did nothing to curb his sons’ character defects so God allowed all three to be killed in battle.
Samuel, who replaced Eli as the main prophet, had been informed by God why Eli and his sons were eliminated. You would think that watching your protector and mentor fall because of his inability to parent would have a significant impact on Samuel, but it didn’t. Samuel also allowed his sons to wreak havoc in the community and did nothing to change their behavior. The consequence for not disciplining his children was that Israel asked for a king.
Over and over the same pattern plays out and today’s lesson is no exception. Unfortunately, our first lesson jumps the gun and we enter into the middle of the story. At first the young man Absalom appears to just be a man who has tried to overthrow David’s throne. It isn’t until the end of the reading that we are made aware that the young man Absalom is actually David’s son. If you don’t know the whole story you may be wondering how in the world did we get to today’s reading. Well we got there through the actions of a really dysfunctional family. David’s sons are out of control doing things that outside the palace would have led to their death.
Ammon, one of David’s sons, commits such an evil and heinous act that his brother Absalom murders him. Absalom lives in exile because of his actions and only returns when his father forgives him. Absalom repays David’s forgiveness by attempting a coup and chasing David out of the kingdom. Today’s lesson reveals the end result of Absalom’s coup and David’s reaction to his son’s death. David, whose son tried to have him killed, weeps over that same son’s death. David did everything he possibly could to prevent Absalom from being killed. How he was going to handle his son, we don’t know, but we do know he didn’t want him killed.
What is going on with all these parents? Why do these heroes of the bible raise such wayward children? I don’t think their intention was to raise spoiled brats. I think their intention was to give their children every opportunity they could provide, especially David. David wasn’t raised with the belief that everything would be handed to him. David worked. As a boy David was a shepherd. As a young man David was a warrior. As he grew up he confronted persecution and hardship. For years David fled from one country to another just so he could live another day. Like most parents, David wanted more for his children. In giving them all that they ever wanted or needed they never had to work for anything. As their sense of entitlement grew so did their disobedience.
This scenario doesn’t just play out in the stories of the bible. This scenario plays out daily in all of our lives. We all feel caught between wanting to provide our children with every advantage and allowing them to fail. We would like to shield them from the consequences of their actions and prevent them from experiencing any pain. In doing so we don’t allow them to fail and without failure there can’t be growth.
Most of us here today had to have summer jobs. Personally, I began working at the cannery when I was sixteen and before that I babysat my younger brother and sisters. We had to purchase our own school clothes, and pay for all our own extracurricular activities. For my generation the goal has been that our children won’t have to go through the same things as we did which is unfortunate. This desire to give our kids a better life has been misconstrued as giving our kids everything with no expectations in return. We have a generation of Davids making the exact same mistakes. How do we change this pattern? What is the key element needed to turn hearts and minds? With out sounding too obvious the answer is Jesus.
The relationship between God the Father and Jesus the Son is a perfect prototype for how to parent. God was always clear with Jesus what his expectations were. Jesus was faithful in fulfilling those expectations. Jesus’ main responsibility was to proclaim the kingdom of God to all and sundry. Jesus did this beautifully. Most importantly Jesus was commissioned to take up his cross and die for all of us. Jesus’ sacrifice was with complete awareness of God’s ultimate plan. God didn’t wrap Jesus up in cotton wool and protect him, rather God sent Jesus into the thick of things expecting the best out of His Son. God had Jesus’ back the whole time and it pained God to watch His Son die, but it was the only way.
Our job as parents is to raise independent, responsible, loving, caring adults. We do this by putting their needs first and not their wants. Their needs include being loved and supported unconditionally. Their other need is to be empowered to face the world head on with all the skills they can possibly acquire. Kids want a lot and we want to give them a lot, but what they want isn’t always what they need. They need us to guide them into adulthood and to understand that actions have consequences. When we coddle and protect we inhibit growth. We also promote really awful behavior because their actions have no real consequences.
These parental realities won’t be found in the bible. What you find in the bible is a lot of hypocrisy. Proverbs and wisdom tell us how to parent and the stories reveal the worst parenting skills imaginable. In Christ and through Christ we are empowered to turn that corner and parent faithfully. We are enabled to love our children and assist in their growth. True love isn’t about giving your child every material possession he desires. True love is empowering you child to be kind, loving, forgiving, and authentic. The only way they will achieve this stature is by trusting in God’s guidance and protection.
David loved his son Absalom dearly. Absalom overthrew the palace, acquired all of David’s concubines, and was in the process of making himself king. David was on the run and completely vulnerable to attack. Even after all that his son did to him he still wanted to protect him. When Absalom dies David wails with grief and despair. He loved his Son to death. Because David didn’t nip Absalom’s behavior in the bud consequences played out the way that they did.
Jesus’ fate wasn’t much different than Absalom’s. Both faced down the consequences of the actions and both died. The biggest difference between the two is their relationships to their fathers. Absalom was trying to destroy his father, where as Jesus wanted to fulfill his Father’s commands. One died in vain and the other in hope.
The difference in the two is subtle. Both had father’s who wept when they died. Both were used as political pawns. Absalom died as a just consequence to his decisions, and Jesus handed himself over to death. Absalom’s death affirmed the sinful nature of this world and Jesus’ death turned this world on its head.
If you are looking for family guidance this is not the place to look. However, if you are willing to be brutally honest with yourself and how to be faithful then Jesus has you covered.