Confessions: Psalm 51:17
(Kate Rae Davis, MDiv. Kate is a writer and speaker and is currently in the ordination process with the Episcopal Church. Her interests include literature, gardening, cooking, and sailing. Originally from West Michigan, Kate lives with her husband Keller and dog Oliver in West Seattle. Read more of her work at kateraedavis.com. She is speaking on Sunday about the sacrifice and brokenness of Psalm 51:17.)
Before he was King of Israel, David was a shepherd boy. He was the youngest of eight sons; when he wasn’t doing the very unroyal work of tending sheep, I imagine he was picked on by his older brothers. And then, one day, an old man shows up and names him King. He was just an ordinary guy, more or less content with his position in life — then suddenly holds the responsibility of a Kingdom. David rises to the challenge in relationship, in military strength, in religious commitment — he is not only a good leader, he’s a good person, described as “a man after God’s own heart.”
Until one afternoon when David saw her bathing on the roof and her beauty overthrew him. Now, David knew how to keep his head about him. When confronted with the well-shielded, well-armed giant Goliath, he remained cool enough to lethally aim a pebble. We wouldn’t expect this man to commit a sin of fiery passion — yet he does.
Afterwards, in his guilt, he tries to cover his sin by sending Bathsheba’s husband to the front line of battle. All his life, David had worked consistently to bring about the Kingdom of God — conquering Jerusalem, naming it his capital, vowing to build a temple there. He’s the last person we would expect to order the slaying of one of his own men, the last person we would expect to commit a sin of cold calculation — yet he does.
We have, in our cultural collective, a certain types. We say things like “He’s thetype of person who would give you the shirt off his back” or “She’s the type of person who would sell her own mother to make a buck.” We have similar typesof people for the kind of person who commits adultery, or the kind of person who commits murder. David, we might say, doesn’t fit the type — yet he sins.
Which is why I sometimes hear this description of David: “He was one of Israel’s greatest Kings, except for that Bathsheba business.” But I take some comfort in “that Bathsheba business,” find solace in the fact that David fell into such terrible and — let’s just say it — such obvious sin.
I take comfort because David seems, on the surface, to be the exemplary person who has his life together. Scripture tells us that he’s handsome. He’s an intelligent strategist. A strong warrior. He’s King of the Chosen People of God. He has absolutely everything by which we would mark success — the title, the house, the body, the wealth, the respect. The strong prayer life, commitment to God. And yet his sins here reveal that he doesn’t have it all together — they show that he’s as human as I am.
David is a person committed to God. David exploits his power in order to fulfill desire; David exploits his power in order to conspire a murder. In all of this, David shares our humanity.
The King and I seem to have little in common. We’re certainly separated by three thousand years of time and half a globe of distance. We’re separated by culture, social status, power, authority, privilege, and gender. And yet, to fail to read David’s humanity as intimately linked to mine denies the ways in which, on my best days, I am just like him — beautifully and brokenly human. Caught up in sins of passion, conspiring in sins of calculation. Exploiting the power and privilege I do hold.
For although I am not royalty, but I do have power and agency in my own small domains, as we all do in our jobs, our friendships, and our family systems. I have the power to treat others with dignity and respect. Power to exploit or manipulate others for my own ends. Power to ignore others as though they don’t carry the image of God.