Absalom, Absalom! The Original

I wish I were a more literary person.  To my regret and my enduring hope for the future, I have not read the classics, the great works of Shakespeare, or much of the great literature of the 20th century.  I suspect that if I did I could make all kinds of comparisons with the stories of David.  It is an epic tale of the rise and fall of the powerful, of mistakes big and small, of strategic regret and hollow redemption.  In short, it is a very human story.

Google is not being helpful right now, but I distinctly remember an interview with a Jewish writer of TV westerns, maybe Gunsmoke.  The interview was conducted in light of some achievement, so they asked where his ideas came from.  He confessed that he stole everything from the Hebrew Bible.  Everyone else at the show was nominally Christian and hadn’t ever really read their Old Testament.  So this author would just pick a story from his Scriptures, change the names, eliminate some messiness, and present an epic tale with a neat moral at the end.  They thought he was a genius with a vivid imagination.

As Christians, we don’t pay a lot of attention to our Old Testament.  The names are hard to pronounce.  The geography is unfamiliar.  And it’s sooooo looooong.  Besides, we all know the answer, regardless of the question, is “Jesus.”  Why read this stuff?

It is hard to understand the story of Jesus without understanding the story of David.  To the people of Israel in Jesus’ time, the Davidic Kingdom represented the last time they enjoyed autonomy and prosperity.  We tend to spiritualize the story of Jesus, placing every hope in an eschatological future, either our own death or the end of the world.  But the Eschaton is only a vision that tells us the future we might live into.  Historically, Christians have said that the Jews missed the boat because they sought material good rather than spiritual reward.  (That view quickly veers into racism.)  Maybe we missed the boat, forgetting how much of Jesus ministry consisted of changing the material reality of the people around him.

Even as the story of David gives us some insight into the story of Jesus, we must view that story – both of those stories, really – critically.  Perhaps the people of Jesus’ day spoke of David the way that some speak of Ronald Reagan or the Founding Fathers today, as idealized figures rather than actual human beings.  Many of the Founding Fathers held slaves even as they spoke of equality.  Reagan’s hope for America was infectious and inspiring, but he did some shady stuff on the way to living into that hope.  David, as we have seen, was terribly flawed.  Those flaws reveal something about the very dangers of romanticizing these figures.  This week, in the story of Absalom, the chickens come home to roost.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Church in the Cliff, as we bring the story of David to a close.

Grace & Peace,

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