We Are All Called To Be Servants, And That Includes Kings
Do you remember the moment that you transitioned from being a little kid to being a teenager? Most of us remember when we transitioned from being a teenager to an adult. Adulthood brought added responsibilities; such as employment, jobs, bills, and rent. The transition from childhood to teenage wasteland is a little more subtle. There are growth spurts, and physical changes, but when did you quit playing with toys (openly) and no longer enjoy PBS Kids? At what moment did your parents transition from being the greatest people in the world to being the biggest embarrassment in your life? There is a moment when these changes all happen and once it does there is no going back. Both parents and child are in for a wild crazy ride of adolescence that hopefully comes to a stop in their twenties.
Today we experience David’s transition from being God’s faithful servant to the inevitable arrogant King. Today we see David change from being the guy who so joyously danced before the ark of the covenant and celebrated God’s presence in his life to arrogantly believing that he would tell God what to do and how to do it. Its subtle David’s transition and on the surface of things David appears just as faithful and just as loyal as he did last week when he was dancing for joy. However, there is a change and even though the prophet Nathan doesn’t initially see the change God does.
At the beginning of the story we are told that God has given David rest from his enemies. Unfortunately, David believes rest from his enemies has arrived because he is such a great warrior and King. While reveling in his success David has built a beautiful house of cedar for himself and enjoying the fruits of his success. While relaxing in the rest that God has given him David decides that God needs to quit living in the Tabernacle and move into a permanent dwelling and that David would be the man to make this happen.
Do you see the subtle change? David went from following God and God’s will to telling God what God needs. It’s kind of like that moment when your teenager tells you how you should live your life and you go “Really?” But, this is so subtle that the Prophet Nathan doesn’t pick up on it and if we are honest with ourselves we don’t either. I mean what’s so wrong with David wanting to build a beautiful home for God to dwell? God lets us know what’s wrong with David’s idea.
After Nathan tells David, “Yeah, go ahead and build God a house that sounds like a great idea” he receives a visit from God. God gives Nathan an earful that night and if you look closely at the language that God uses it tells us all we need to know about how God feels about David’s plan. While speaking to Nathan God never calls David king. David is referred to as servant a number of times, reminded that he was and is a shepherd, and in God’s eyes David is a prince – not a King. David is a King to the people, but in God’s sight David is his prince. What God is doing through Nathan is reminding David that there is one King in the relationship between God and David and that King is God and God alone. The message God is sending to David is one that applies to all people, but especially political, military and religious leaders, which is don’t get too full of yourself and remember who put you in power.
In the end God turns the table on David and promises to build up a house through David and that through David’s descendants God’s kingdom will be established. Not David’s kingdom, but God’s kingdom, and ultimately David’s descendant will be called God’s Son and God will be his Father. This exchange between God and David through Nathan is a beautiful example of how Law and Gospel work. God lays down the Law and reminds David of his position in God’s eyes and how God expects him to fulfill his position and ultimately blesses David with the promise of fulfilling God’s plans for the kingdom through David’s family. God corrects David and blesses David all at the same time, which is just how God rolls.
The sad aspect of today’s Old Testament lesson is that David soon forgets that he is to be a servant of the people and his position and power takes over and he is incapable of keeping his ego in check. It is not an easy task to be King, to have people waiting on you, and catering to your every need, combined with the ability to control the destiny of people’s lives and stay humble. Keeping God at the center, taking direction from God and remembering to be a servant is utterly impossible and David pays for his arrogance. God knows David’s shortcomings and character defects and still blesses him and his descendants. Why? Grace. Grace doesn’t need a reason why because it’s just grace and God chose to work through David not because David was perfect, but because God loved him and chose to make him King over Israel and his prince on earth.
God never lowered the standards or His expectations for His King and Jesus checks all the boxes. Jesus is a shepherd and a servant of God’s people until the very end. Jesus, who is God’s Son, the Prince of Peace, Mighty Counselor, and Everlasting God, emptied himself of ego and lived a life of service. Jesus never presumed to tell God, his Father, what to do, but took direction from God at all times. Furthermore, Jesus didn’t do all of these things in a vacuum, but worked with the disciples, and empowered the disciples to follow his lead.
Today’s gospel lesson is a beautiful example of how David’s descendant, Jesus, the Son of God, is a perfect servant and shepherd. The people are hungry and there is no food. One option was for Jesus to take stock of their assets, send the people away, and enjoy a meal with just their small group of friends. Instead, Jesus takes stock of the situation, and their assets, and shows how a little when placed in God’s hands, is more than enough. Jesus demonstrates maturity to the disciples and shows that there is always more than enough to go around when you trust God. When you feed yourself first and worry about your own needs first there will never be enough. However, when you share your resources with those around, and risk your own security, God will always provide.
The difference between David and Jesus is that Jesus would never have built a house for himself first and then wondered what he could do for God. Jesus realized that proclaiming the Kingdom of God and the gospel provided more than enough shelter for him and his followers. You may be thinking, “Yeah, but Jesus was Jesus! He could walk on water, multiply the loaves and fish, and provide for the multitudes. I am not Jesus.”
Well, Jesus’ disciples weren’t Jesus either, but they followed his lead. Paul tells us to trust God, and that through our trust and faith God makes miracles happen through the Spirit. Where David was incapable of keeping God at the center of his reign, we have been empowered by the Holy Spirit to do just that. We can be the change in the world we are so longing for. Through our baptism we are the descendants of David through Jesus and God by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is through our ministry and our outreach that God’s word is active in the world. How is this possible? It is possible because it is how God decided to work in the world. It is exactly the same grace that chose David as God’s servant even though he was a knuckle head. We are God’s chosen knuckle heads that God has chosen to work through. It all boils down to grace.
Do we mess up? Yes. Do we deserve God’s grace? No, because if we deserved it wouldn’t be grace. What’s really amazing is that there is a world out there that is dying to hear how loved and accepted they are and we are the ones chosen to share that good news. Granted, we act juvenile and place ourselves in the center of our lives, and we get off track. The good news is that at the end of the day we are forgiven, called and sent. We are God’s chosen servants and shepherds and we are sent as God’s disciples into the world to share the greatest news of all – That God is love and all are loved. Who could ask for a better calling? It takes maturity to trust God in all things and remove self from the center of our universe. God has given us the tools we need to be mature and the grace to forgive us when we fall short. Ultimately, God has empowered us to be disciples and live in his grace. The change from adolescent faith to maturity takes time, but most of all it takes trust. God trusts that we can grow in faith, hope, and love because he knows us better than we know ourselves. Ultimately, God knows how this whole thing plays out not only trusts that we play a role in His plans, and gives us all we need to fulfill His role.