A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church Year A
Proper 25: 1 Kings 1:1–5, 11–18, 29–31; Psalm 61; James 5:1–6; Matthew 6:19–27
Sermon begins at 46 minutes
Let us pray:
My prayer is Miriam’s prayer,
Mother Mary’s prayer – Let it be.
Let it be with your woman-servant
according to your word.
With these words
the word of God was formed
in the woman of God.
On this day, as on that day,
let the daughter of God
bring forth the Word of God again. Amen.
The King Is Dead. All Hail the Queen. All that most people seem to remember about Bathsheba is the worst day of her life, maybe the worst few days: the day David raped her, the day David killed her husband, the day she realized she would have to marry her rapist, the day the baby David raped into her died as his punishment for his sin against her husband and against God. That it was rape and not adultery as the victim blamers say is clear from the fact that David sent men to abduct her and she could not say no to the king’s men or the king and, when the prophet Nathan rebuked David, God speaking through him, there was no accompanying rebuke for or punishment of Bathsheba and the Scriptures have never failed to convict and condemn a woman for sexual sin.
There is a beloved Psalm where David confesses his sin against God and God alone. Psalm 51 begins with the words: To the leader. A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba. But long-standing Christian practice has been to excise the first verse and treat it as a title, apart from the rest of the song. Many churches pray Psalm 51 on Ash Wednesday and throughout the period of Lent without the recognition that they are praying the confession of a rapist who does not acknowledge his sin was as much against the woman he raped as it was against her husband, whose honor he violated and, God whose law and trust he broke. No cultural or contextual consideration excuses decentering and disembodying Bathsheba in the world of the text or, in ours.
No one in the text acknowledges David’s sin against her. He uses her body and the text and Christian and Jewish tradition use the story of her rape and then they discard her, as David did, until he could not. I don’t know how she did it, how she survived her assault, her widowhood and with the turning of her world upside down, her lack of good options and the choice — if it was a choice at all – to go publicly to the palace and beg attendant after official after attendant for access to see the man who raped her and destroyed her family in hopes that he would provide for her financially and keep a roof over her head. I do not judge her choices; I do not judge the choices of any survivor. It seems to me she made up her mind to have the best life she could under the circumstances. In my sanctified imagination, I hear her saying to David, “You are not going to shut me away like you did your first wife Michal. You stole the life I had with my husband. You stole our future and you stole our children. I can’t get that back but I can have your children and the security that comes with them. It’s good to be king and I will be the mother of kings.”
I don’t know if she really said that, but I have to imagine something because she keeps living and sleeping with David, having his babies – four of them – in spite of everything that he has done to her and her husband. She stayed in that marriage like so many women married to a monster with no place to go. Now, I’m not saying that women who are being abused or even raped by their husbands should stay with them. In this Domestic Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, I am simply acknowledging that she like so many other women in our world, had no other choice. Like so very many women, some of whom we may know intimately, Bathsheba made the best life she could out of the situation.
In so doing she changed the course of history. Bathsheba and the prophet Nathan decide between them, with an old, then-impotent David at the end of his life, that her son Solomon and not David’s oldest son Amnon or even his favorite son, Absalom, will be king. Her boy, Solomon would be king. Bathsheba put her son on the throne. And after David died, Solomon put her on a throne. The King Is Dead. All Hail the Queen!
For the most part ancient Israel didn’t have queens. They had queen mothers but, only in Judah. Thus the woman with the queenly title was never the wife of the king on the throne and she only rose to that status when and if her son became king. Sometimes when the death of a king left a young child as the new king the queen mother was not just the power behind the throne, she was the power of the throne. The King Is Dead. All Hail the Queen!
In 2 Kings 2, Solomon enthrones his long-suffering mother who has survived her rape, her rapist and their forced marriage. Bathsheba became the right-hand woman in the kingdom. And when Solomon got up off of his throne and bowed at her feet, everyone else in the throne room did too.
We have no idea how old Solomon is when he becomes king. The rabbinic fathers Rashi and Radak make a strong argument for him being twelve. He would have been seen as old enough to take the throne but still in need of guidance. And Bathsheba the Queen Mother was there, right at his side, at his right hand, as his right hand woman, serving as his queen mother – it was an actual job and later the Assyrians and Babylonians would look to take the queen mother hostage because of her high value.
A final word about David that often gets neglected. God’s love and forgiveness did not erase the consequences of his actions. He passed his objectification of women on to his son Solomon who collected women like trophies. He passed his lack of respect for women and our bodies and our right to consent to what happens to our bodies to his son Amnon who raped his sister Tamar. David passes his bloodlust and hunger for power to his son Adonijah who tried to murder his own father for the throne and, in spite of having killed his brother to avenge his sister’s rape, he raped David’s wives to show he was more man than his daddy. This too is David’s legacy. Game of Thrones has nothing on David’s Dynasty.
The world will tell you, “It’s good to be King; it’s good to have bling.” The stories of the kings of Israel and Judah and their queen mothers tell the same story, monarchy is a ravenous bloodthirsty paradigm. It is no fit model for the church or God’s heaven. Jesus tried to tell us. They tried to make him king and he ran away. They asked him to restore the monarchy of Israel last ruled independently by Queen Salome Alexandria called Shalom Zion, the Peace of Zion, and Jesus told them his majesty was so different from the kingdoms of the world that it would be unrecognizable to them even when it was among them. The only thing his majesty would have in common with the kingdoms of the world was that his crown too would be drenched in blood and death.
It is good to be king. But Jesus didn’t want to be king. He knew that there was nothing romantic about being king. Many monarchs, kings, some queens and pharaohs – female and male – were bloodthirsty, power-hungry, egomaniacal and rapists. David and Solomon represented the golden age of Israelite monarchy and Jesus didn’t want to be anything like them. David and Solomon collected women for their own personal use. Jesus collected and respected women as disciples like Mary Magdalene, the Apostle to the Apostles, Salome, Johanna and so many women named after the prophet Miriam that no one can tell all of the Marys apart.
Kings take. But Jesus gives. A king will take your sister, wife or daughter and desecrate her. But Jesus gives women dignity. A king will take and tax your crops. But Jesus gives the Bread of Heaven and food to the hungry. A king will take your life if you get in his way, but Jesus gives eternal life.
They called him Jesus. They called him a threat to Herod’s throne. They called him fatherless; this is what means in Mark (6:3) when they call him the son of Mary – that was the same as saying you ain’t got no daddy and neither you or your mama even know who your daddy is. They called him the one the devil couldn’t deceive or seduce. They called him master and teacher and rabbi. They called him a healer and a miracle worker. They called him Messiah, the Christ of God, the King of Israel and the Son of the living God. They called him a threat to the empire and to Caesar’s claim of godhood.
They called him soft on crime like adultery. They called him a socialist calling for the redistribution of wealth – fishes and loaves, coats and cloaks. They called him a womanizer with lowbrow taste in even lower women. They called him a glutton and a drunk, and not just guilty by association. They called him a thug who ran with thugs, some of his boys were quick to cut you and have you leaving with fewer parts than you came with, but he could fix that up too. They called him ignorant – six days a week you can heal folk but since you obviously don’t know how sabbath works let me tell you why can’t do any healing up in here on today. They called him everything but a child of God. They called him out his name. But they also called him by David’s name, Jesus, the Son of David. If Jesus is the son of David, then he is every bit as much of the son of Bathsheba.
David is the one who breaks women. Jesus is the one who restores broken women. They called him the Son of David. I call him the Son of Bathsheba. I just don’t see Jesus walking in the ways of dirty David. David was a man who sinned like they vote in Chicago, early and often. Yet Jesus was without sin. I don’t see any David in him at all. But I do see his great great great GiGi Bathsheba all over him.
There was more than a little Bathsheba in Jesus because there was more than a little Bathsheba in his mama. Like Bathsheba, Mother Mary was pregnant outside of the bounds of convention. I have no doubt Jesus grew up hearing his mama’s name in folk’s mouth and I’m sure Solomon did too. And if folk in Jesus’s day were like folk today, somebody traced his whole family tree pointing out all the scandalous women in it: Tamar Perez’s mama? Chile, I heard she dressed up like a streetwalker and has sex with her father-in-law. Girl, naw. They say it was ok back in those days, but ionno. And then there was Rahab. Hmph. They say she was an innkeeper. Girl, you know that’s code. She was sellin’ it. And Ruth? A foreigner. How you gon’ have someone with foreign blood sitting up on the throne? Girl, that whole family tree a hot mess. And his mama tal’mbout a miraculous pregnancy. Girl, just say you got you some.
Jesus is set up to love everybody and anybody. Jesus knows who you are and where you came from, because he came from some trash too. They called him the Son of David. I call him the Son of Bathsheba.
I see Bathsheba when I look at Jesus. I see her in his love for scandalous and scandalized women, abused women, hurt women, broken women, abandoned women. I see her in his love for no count men too. I won’t say Bathsheba loved David or even forgave him, but she lived as his wife and birthed his babies, bestowing a grace on him that he did not merit. Ain’t that just like God? She took the broken pieces of her life and her own body and raised herself to new life with her head lifted high. Even though the text doesn’t use the word, I’m going to take the liberty to say Bathsheba loved their son Solomon, and wisdom prayer or not, he was out there chasing tail just like his daddy, burning through money like it was paper and leaving such anger in his wake that the kingdom wouldn’t survive him. Bathsheba sat on his right-hand side as his chief advisor after he had her enthroned, reigning with him and counseling him. That sounds like Jesus to me and like any good Black mama, or I should say, in Bathsheba’s world, any good Afro-Asiatic mother, standing by you no matter what you do, no matter how far from their teaching and example you stray.
I see Bathsheba in Jesus. Like Jesus, Bathsheba was sinned against. Her body was broken open and made the occasion of David’s sin. Jesus’s broken body that knew no sin was made sin that we might be made the righteousness of God. But don’t get it twisted, the fact that the world got Solomon and even Jesus out of David’s sexual violence doesn’t make it all right. Let me say right now that the ends do not justify the means in God’s sight. God can redeem and transform any situation and take someone’s evil and use it for good but, God doesn’t need our filthy iniquitous contributions to bring her plans to fruition. This is the same God who inhaled nothingness and exhaled creation with a word on her tongue. God didn’t need David’s nastiness. But she took it and him and made something out of nothing.
This God is the real God. This God who did not forsake Bathsheba though the half of her story has never been told. This God who will never forsake you no matter what has been done to you or your body, or even what you have done. This God who loved and forgave David and took him back when I would have gone another way. If God could save David from himself, God can save anybody.
This God is the God that Mary of Nazareth, the Theotokas, the God-Bearer, of the line of Bathsheba births into the earth in Jesus. This God incarnate who loves in word and in deed. This God who saves, heals, delivers, and redeems. This God enfleshed in a virgin’s womb. This God, born between spit and shit. This God in human flesh who lived and loved and cried and died. This God who was both fatally human and immortal, invisible, the only wise God. This God who is mother and father, the shepherd who searches for lost sheep and the mama-sista homeowner sweeping the corners for lost souls more precious than money. This God put on human flesh, manflesh, and never took advantage of a sister’s hurt and brokenness. They called him the Son of David. I call him the Son of Bathsheba.
My ancestors called him the bright and morning star. They called him heart fixer and mind regulator. They called him a lawyer in a courtroom and a doctor in a sickroom. They called him a burden bearer and heavy load sharer. Jesus is bread to the hungry, water to the thirsty; a friend to the friendless. They called him food in the desert and a rock in a weary land. They even called him a mother to the motherless and father to the fatherless. They called him the Lion of the tribe of Judah. They called him the Son of David. I call him the Son of Bathsheba. He’s my joy in sorrow, my hope for tomorrow. My fire by night and my cloud by day.
Folk called called him an insurrectionist; I call him a guerilla theologian. They called him incarcerated; I call him the Incarnation. They called him a felon; I call him beloved of his Father. They called him a crucified criminal; I call him the Christ of God. They called him dead and buried. I called to check on him and he was still dead the next day. But I called to check on him one more time. They still called him dead and buried, over and done and soon to be forgotten; but I called to check on him once more and again. And now I call him the quake that shook the earth. I called early in the morning, just before the break of dawn. I called and he answered. They called him dead and buried; but I call him the death of death. They called him a broken promise and wasted hope. But I call him a promise keeper and the hope of the resurrection. They called him the Son of David. I call him the Son of Bathsheba. This is a God worth knowing. Who wouldn’t serve a God like this?
May God the Mother and Father
of Avraham, Yitza’ak and Ya’acov,
Sarah, Hagar, Rivqah, Rachel, Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah,
Who took the tangled threads of their lives
And wove a tapestry of Redemption
In the Body and Blood of Miryam l’Natzeret
Continue to weave the strands of your life
In the Divine design. Amen.