Whose Perspective? Rev. Fred Kinsey
The gospel stories were almost not written! The story of Jesus was almost a footnote of history, acknowledged in the writings of Josephus, for example, a prolific Jewish historian of the 1st century, as just a passing comment, describing Jesus’ brother, James. Otherwise, Josephus, as brilliant as he was, saw history as every other historian – from the perspective of the winners.
Jesus – friend of the poor, the outcast, and sinner, who proclaimed and enacted the realm and kingdom of God – was not at first considered a winner. Rome won, as it always had, in struggles of power. And, like every other Jewish brigand who valiantly stood up to Rome, Jesus was made an example of. Executed in a most horrific and public way, to be forgotten, silenced, like all those before him.
But by the early 2nd century, four Christian communities, separately produced written accounts that began to be circulated among followers of ‘the Way,’ as Christianity was first called. And the story of God’s Messiah got the name gospel, or good news. The narrative of a crucified-loser was subverted, and transformed into a message that was deeply counter-cultural: it was told – not from the perspective of the winners – but from the view of the victims of history – a role that God had been revealing throughout Israel’s history – thru the prophets and wisdom writers – but never so boldly proclaimed until God’s anointed, Jesus, was understood by his closest followers and disciples, after his crucifixion appearances – and who began to testify: The last shall be first; the poor shall be lifted up; the imprisoned set free; and, the kings among us shall be as servants!
In Jesus the Servant, many saw shades of the great King David, whose story we have been following this summer in our semi-continuous First readings. Jesus too was a shepherd-king, like David, who came from humble roots. We heard, that at the beginning of David’s story, he was the youngest of 7 brothers, and least likely to be chosen and anointed by Samuel, as a worthy prospect to replace Saul, as king of Israel!
But soon, David was showing his leadership qualities, subverting the normal order of power! In the face of Goliath, young David used only his shepherd’s sling-shot to bring down the mighty giant, and forever enshrine the hope of the little guy triumphing over the big bully!
Afterwards, David continued to be great in battle, expanding the country’s boundaries as far as they would ever go, in Israel’s history. He was unbeaten.
But today in our First Reading, there is a crucial turning point, in the story of king David. Having achieved everything he set out to do in battle, and in securing the promise of a Temple to be built in Jerusalem -to be called the city of David- he kicks back to savor his fame and fortune, and he’s pictured as one of the ‘idle rich,’, forgetting how he had, in all things, always ‘given God the glory,’ and now commits one of his greatest sins.
It happens “in the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle,” says 2nd Samuel. “But David remained in Jerusalem.” Kings were always supposed to lead their armies in battle. And David always had, before this. But the consequences of such a seemingly small thing, are disastrous. David abuses his power, and ruins the life of Bathsheba.
Bathsheba’s story is relevant today, of course, in this time of the #METOO movement, because, all this time later, the stories of victimization are finally being believed by a critical mass of people. Even men are realizing how this could be their wives or daughters. And those today who have abused their power, like Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilley and others, have not gotten away with it, because we’re listening to the stories from the perspective of the victims (of abuse).
What if we heard the story of Bathsheba from her perspective? What would that be like – to hear it from the one who lost, who was the victim? In 2nd Samuel, she utters not one word. We still hear the story from the perspective of the winner. From David. It is pretty amazing that such a negative portrait of David was even included in the bible. But, in the end, he still gets away with it.
Bathsheba was married to Uriah the Hittite, one of David’s best officers and warriors. One day, she was following Israelite law and purifying herself after her period, when David sees her through his palace window, having no idea what’s in his heart. Bathsheba was just minding her own business, doing everything according to the law. Which is, of course, just how the story of Jesus begins, his parents doing all the religious rituals required of them, to bring Jesus up properly.
So why was she, Bathsheba, being summoned to the king’s palace? Why was she alone with him in his chambers? David was already married. How afraid must Bathsheba have been? What would she have said, if she was allowed to tell her own story?
When she finds that she is pregnant, she does what many women do, especially when they have few resources. She reaches out to her abuser. Where else can she turn? She hopes that the king can fix it. But David fixes it, for himself.
At first David tries a cover-up, by bringing Uriah home from the battlefield and urging him to go down to his house and “wash his feet,” a euphemism for making love with his wife, to obscure the paternity of Bathsheba’s child. David even provides a nice gift for Uriah, to give her! But Uriah is so diligent in his loyalty, that he is unwilling to take on the comforts of home while his fellow soldiers are still battling in the field, and sleeps outside David’s door, his commander.
So David goes to the ultimate length of treachery, and arranges to have Uriah killed in battle. And Bathsheba is doubly victimized by King David.
Bathsheba’s final indignity it to become David’s wife. How might we tell the rest of her story? What did she feel through all this trauma? What did she tell her child as it grew up?
And, how can we, the church, provide a place of safety and become a refuge for those who have been victimized?
If we learn from the gospel message, to see from a new perspective, we begin to have our eyes opened to David’s misuse of power, and our ears opened to what Bathsheba is crying out to us.
The hopeful message, is that God is working through us, even today, that we can be bearers of good news for those who have suffered at the hands of all those “David’s” who have misused their power. That, as Gennifer Benjamin Brooks says, “Bathsheba’s is also a story of courage and strength whereby she speaks for all people, both female and male who suffer abuse and have that suffering compounded as they are further victimized…”
Jesus feeding the 5,000 was a way of standing with the poor, all those who were victims of the land owners who bleed them to death with outrageous taxes and Pay Day lender type debt.
The disciples came to understand these things after Jesus died and appeared to them alive again. The story of Jesus’ death became the story of a victim, whom God vindicated, by raising him up to new life. ‘The last shall be first. The blind shall see. The mighty shall be brought low. And the meek shall inherit the earth.’
The gospel stories were almost not written, the perspective of the victim almost buried. But God lifts up the lowly, giving us bread to eat, forever. The power of ‘Rome’ is subverted and revealed as the abuse it actually is. And instead, the gospel story of Christ Jesus, has changed the world!
In the stories of the victims, we hear the perspective of the realm and kingdom of God – and reparations are being prepared!
Let us rejoice, and become bearers, of this good news!