Reflection 7/19: Bad Kings
Dear Beloved Community of St. John’s,
People don’t have a good track record in picking our leaders. That is not my observation on the news of the day. That insight was revealed in a conversation that God had with the prophet Samuel, as chronicled in Hebrew scripture. God didn’t think it was a good idea, but a king is what the people wanted. So, God relented and gave Israel its king. A string of disasters that were predicted came to pass. Last week’s gospel story of the beheading of John the Baptist, and this week’s account of King David’s sexual assault of Bathsheba, more than demonstrate the pitfalls of bad rulers.
The two King Herods (both of them in the New Testament—father and son) practiced kingship as bullies, thugs, spendthrifts, and generally, as jerks. They took pride in their cruelty. Whether it was beheading John on a whim, or killing all the boy-children in Bethlehem after Jesus’ birth, they were unspeakable in their evil.
Most of us learned about King David’s crime spree and lust perhaps in Sunday school. However, as children we were spared the worst details because it’s not a fit story for youngsters. David already had many wives and children. He took Bathsheba, after causing her husband to be killed, out of overweening entitlement and power. Kings don’t like to have limits placed on their whims and habits. Ancient kings (and many of today’s “strongmen”) felt supremely justified to do any and all things. After starting out as noble and good, an effective king and commander of the army in vanquishing Israel’s enemies, David let the talent and great privilege that God granted him to become license for all the worst in himself. He was justly punished by God, but as these things typically go, everyone in David’s orbit was sullied at the same time, whether they were guilty of their own wrongdoing or not.
Jesus’ birth, life, teachings, miracles, and resurrection redeemed the house of David from the dark excesses of King David. Jesus was God’s testament to God’s investment in humanity. Over the millennia, God demonstrated that God continues to create us in God’s image, as beloved and good. Jesus’ ministry on earth was a large step in the perfection of humankind. We’re still a work in progress. God is not going to give up on us. God will lead us in the path of righteousness. As in this Sunday’s gospel, Jesus with compassion can recognize and forgive the struggle in us. That is the supreme Good News.