Many of us have comfortable lives, presumably made possible through sacrifice and hard work. We applaud young David, seeing him deserving of the King's throne because he faced Goliath bravely and worked hard as a shepherd. And like David, it's possible that the comfort of power and possession once positioned, blinds us to our own destructive force of entitlement. King David failed to recognize that with more power comes more responsibility. Fortunately for us, we have the opportunity to learn from King David's mistakes. Fr. Dustin Lyon encourages us to repent and with thanksgiving, remember all that the Lord provides that we are called only to steward.
Read the full episode transcript here.
Hollie Benton 0:04
You're listening to Doulos, a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos offers a scriptural daily bread for God's household and explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director of the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. Fr. Dustin Lyon is joining me again today. Fr. Dustin is the priest of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in DeKalb, Illinois. And he's host and producer of the way podcast also on the Ephesus School Network. Welcome back. Fr. Dustin! Thanks for joining me.
Fr. Dustin Lyon 0:36
Thanks for having me again.
Hollie Benton 0:37
We're all familiar with the notion of the American Dream associated with upward mobility, economic security, a comfortable life made possible through hard work. And because we make sacrifices and take risks, it's easy to feel that we deserve what we own or produce or manage. Because we worked hard to own property or build a business, it's easy to assume that we have a right to do with it as we please. It's not unlike King David, who took a risk to face the giant Goliath, and was later crowned the King of Israel, as though he deserved the position through his bravery and leadership. But that's not the end of the story. And it wasn't necessarily happily ever after. Once in power, King David failed to remember that it is the Lord who provides, and he failed to recognize that with more power comes more responsibility. And fortunately for us, we have the opportunity to learn from King David's mistakes.
Fr. Dustin Lyon 1:36
And that's the beauty of Scripture, it often tells life lessons in the form of a story, something that we can grasp on to to remember, this example of David is no different. And as we'll see, he's called as King to be a steward of everything that God has given him, and to use that responsibly. And when he doesn't, there's consequences. Those consequences, as we'll see here in a minute that we may struggle with, as 21st century Americans. But the point is, this becomes a teaching for us, a teaching to do as God asks and remind us of what God's law is all about. And we'll see more about that as you get into the story here.
Hollie Benton 2:16
Yeah, so our reading today comes from 2 Samuel 12. We'll be focusing on verses 7-14. "Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, I anointed you king over Israel, and I had delivered you out of the hand of Saul, and I gave you your master's house, and your master's wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord to do what is evil in his sight? You have smitten Uriah the Hittite with a sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have slain him with a sword of the Ammonites. Now, therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite, to be your wife. Thus says the Lord, behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house, and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of the sun, for you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun. David said to Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord. And Nathan said to David, The Lord also has put away your sin, you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed, you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die." I think the passage here is really powerful. On the one hand, it demonstrates the Lord's provision through that long list of all that David received, which is even more pronounced with that little phrase, "that if this were all too little, the Lord would have added even more." And on the other hand, it demonstrates David's utter scorn for the Lord by his wicked deed. David had more than he needed yet, somehow this wasn't enough and he took what did not belong to Him. It harkens back to that first sin recounted in Genesis where the Lord provided a beautiful garden to sustain Adam and Eve for a comfortable life. Yet they didn't restrain themselves from the fruit of just one forbidden tree and all of the garden. I think it's a trap we easily fall into when we forget what the Lord provides. And then we're allured by delusions of entitlement. Fr. Dustin, in what ways do you see this sin repeated in today's setting?
Fr. Dustin Lyon 4:41
Well, I think we often become David. And you have to remember, David is a king, not because it was what God wanted. David is a king because that's what the people wanted. If you go all the way back to 1 Samuel, the people wanted a king over themselves, like other nations wanted a king. At that time. Samuel said, No, you don't want a king, the king is bad, he will enslave you. He'll take your property, use your sons to be in his army. He has this whole list of wrongdoings and they still insist on a king. And so God finally says, Fine, give them a king. And that's when the first King Saul is anointed. And then now we have David. The reason that God didn't want a king is because precisely what happens here. God warns the people. Well, Samuel warns the people that the king is going to replace God in a way. Instead of the people belonging to God, and being his children, the king is going to think that he is god, and that the people belong to him, in other words, enslave the people and do as he wishes. And that's exactly what we see here. It's interesting, in Hebrew, the word for temple and the word for palace is exactly the same. And we know this from the archaeological record, there's the temple in Jerusalem. And then right next to it is the palace for the king. In other words, if you use the same word, it's even more impressive. But the palace for the king is bigger than the temple, which is supposedly the house for God. Right? Where how God dwells among his people in Old Testament times. And so you see this idea, this ego inflating of importance, that the king is usurping the role of God. And that's exactly what happens here, is David overstepped his bounds. The problem is that instead of being a steward of what God has given him, he thinks he's the owner. That's the real problem here. It's a reminder that we should be stewards of what God has given us, because God is truly the real owner, not us. And as stewards we expected them to pass it on to the next generation, or to care for those who are under our care. That's the other meaning of stewardship. To your question of how has this been repeated in today's setting? Well, I can see a lot of people thinking, well, we're not kings, I'm not a king, I don't have a kingdom. How can this speak to me? Well, first off, we have to realize that just like a king, we've also been entrusted with gifts by God. And so we too, are simply stewards, looking after something to pass on to the next generation, or to look after what we've been given to help those around us to help the needy or neighbors, we find in today's world. This can apply to a lot of different people in a lot of different situations. I'm thinking of like the small business owner, who has been entrusted with employees to look after them. He provides a paycheck so they can educate their children, put a roof over their heads, the small business owner has become a steward in that sense and has to remember that. As a priest, I have to remember, I'm only a steward of the parishes entrusted to me by the bishop. People aren't my servants, that it's me who's here to serve the people and the parishioners. To pull a headline out of the news recently, our listeners may recall that Jeff Bezos went to space, the owner and founder of Amazon, and when he returned and held a press conference, one of the things he said, I'd like to thank all the Amazon employees for making this possible. And there was a huge backlash, because they don't like the working conditions. You could question it. Is Bezos acting like a new David, in this case, instead of caring for those entrusted to his care as a good steward? Is he using them for his own gain? Now, those are questions that the readers have to decide for themselves. I'm just using this as an example. But in each of our lives, even as parents with children, we're entrusted to educate them, to raise them in the fear of God. So what's happening here in this story is applicable to all of us in our lives in many different ways.
Hollie Benton 8:41
Yeah, and I find that the story is demonstrating not only the problem of behaving as though you're entitled to everything within your domain, but just how easy it is to miss it or ignore that internal sense of entitlement.
Fr. Dustin Lyon 8:54
I'm always in awe of Nathan here, because Nathan has the job of confronting the king with his sin. And in this time, if the King gets angry, he could have you killed. There's no appeal process. So he's got to be very sly about the way he approaches David. He's got to do this very carefully. And he does it in the form of a story. In the same way. We're hearing this as a story, a story of instruction, Nathan creates this parable. And he says, there were these two men. There was a man who had a huge herd or flock, and there was a man who had one sheep and he cared for the sheep as if it was his own daughter. One day a traveler comes and visits the rich man, the man with the large flock, and the rich man wants to have a feast to honor the traveler, the guest. But instead of taking a sheep from his own flock, he takes the sheep from his neighbor, from the poor man, the man who has only one sheep. He slaughters that sheep and feeds it to the traveler.
Hollie Benton 9:51
When the prophet Nathan provided the parable, David was quick to anger and he judged the rich man because the rich man had had no pity on the poor man. And similarly, I think we're quick to judge others. We become incensed with Facebook posts and at the injustices we hear reported in the news. I'm outraged by this speck of dust in my neighbor's eye, yet I have a log in my own eye, right?
Fr. Dustin Lyon 10:15
Look at everything that God has given you. You are the rich man here, you're the one with the large flock. But when it came to Bathsheba, you've taken the wife of a man who only has one wife, compared to all the wives you have. David's caught. What can he do at this point?
Hollie Benton 10:31
If I'm honest, I think I have to be open to the critique of Nathan's prophecy and recognize, like Nathan said, You are that man, you are that rich man, David. And myself, I am that man, I am that woman. I'm the one who despises and scorns the word of the Lord, by carrying out injustices on others. And on top of that, I feel entitled to do so.
Fr. Dustin Lyon 10:54
It's interesting, the hope, or the way out of this is what we would call repentance. It doesn't sound like repentance to us in our 21st century American ears. But David confesses, he says, I have sinned against the Lord. Now, as Americans, we want to hear, And I'm very sorry for this. And I'll make it right. And you know, this sort of apologetic. But in this time, in this case, acknowledging the facts, and admitting to the guilt is repentance. And that's exactly what David does here. And so that becomes an instruction for us that gives us hope, that when we hear these stories, and we recognize our own sin in these stories, that we are David, that we have failed to care for what's been entrusted to us, The way out is to recognize what's happening on the ground to recognize that sin in our lives, and face it. And the next part is especially uncomfortable for us. Now, in the Old Testament law, the consequence for committing adultery was death. And David deserves to die here by the law. And he doesn't, he's able to continue to live. And we consider that grace or mercy. And that's a part of that good news. That gospel that we hear that we are all dependent on God, God is the ultimate judge. And we're thankful that God does not judge us by what we deserve. And he doesn't judge David by what he deserves, because he deserves death, and he doesn't get it. But at the same time, there are consequences. And this is what makes us shudder. Because the consequence in this case, is that child that is born between David and Bathsheba dies. The second child is Solomon who becomes the next king. But this child, his first child, between David and Bathsheba dies. And I know a lot of people say, Where's the justice in that? And people could even ask questions about pro life and all those sorts of things. But we have to stick with what the text is actually saying here. David has transgressed a boundary that has to do with life and death that only belongs to God. And so in this case, it's fitting that that first child dies as uncomfortable as that makes us. And it's the same with stewardship. When we misuse the gifts that have been given to us, whatever we've been entrusted to care for by God, there's consequences. We may be repentant, and we may be forgiven. But we still have to live with what's happened. I think a perfect example of this, and I don't want to get too political, but I think this is an applicable example, is the environmental example. How we live our lives and how we treat the environment will have consequences for generations. And I know my Patriarch, which is Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch, has talked about environmentalism quite a bit and is known as the Green Patriarch. And he's pointing out we as people have been entrusted with the care of God's creation. And what we do has consequences for the next generation. We have to live our lives in a way that's worthy of what we've been given and entrusted. But it's not ours to keep to do with as we wish, but ours to cultivate and to bring in God's rule in God's kingdom, according to what he's decreed. And it's the same here and that's also the reminder. Even though we may have repentance and hope, and even though God deals with us gently, not giving us what we deserve, there still may be consequences that we have to deal with. And that's the case here with David,
Hollie Benton 14:14
it seems that this sense of entitlement, in a way has a two step progression. I think, first I'm no longer mindful of all that the Lord provides. I lack gratitude and the security in what's enough for today. And then secondly, when I no longer am mindful of all that the Lord provides, I delude myself into thinking that what I have today is not enough and that I can take whatever is within reach, that I can extract from the environment, all the resources that are plentiful today, simply because it's within my reach, and I deserve to do so. So if there's any hope to avoid this trap of delusion, it's by turning to Scripture which constantly reminds us of all that the Lord provides and illuminates the path of righteousness by caring for those within reach rather than extracting from those within our reach, rather than exploiting my neighbors. What recommendation do you have, Fr. Destined for those who have responsibility over others to serve rather than to exploit?
Fr. Dustin Lyon 15:17
Well, I think it starts with thanksgiving. As Americans, we just celebrated Thanksgiving as a national holiday. But rather I'm thinking also the thanksgiving we do every Sunday, the Divine Liturgy. And in the liturgy, the way it's structured, it's very ingenious, that we take bread and wine, and we offer it to God. And it's got to be bread and wine. Because those things don't appear in nature. These are things that humans have to create. Things of the earth that have been entrusted to us. And we creatively make them into the bread and the wine, but we don't keep them. They don't belong to us, and we offer them to God. And this is also very symbolic. It's us offering our lives, our gifts, everything we've been given. And we offer it back to God in thanksgiving. Within the context of the liturgy, God accepts our gifts, transforms them, the bread and wine becomes the body and blood of Christ, and He offers them back to us to give us life. It's only when God blesses it, that it becomes life giving for us. And so I think it starts with thanksgiving, when we remember that we are only stewards. And then we offer everything we have back in thanksgiving, that then becomes a way of life. We no longer become like David here trying to possess anything, or trying to make anything our own. But we are constantly offering stuff back to God in Thanksgiving. And we realize that what we have to offer is given to us as a blessing. And when it's given back to us, we're also reminded to go out into the world, when the bread and wine come back as the body and blood of Christ, we consume it to go out into the world. And that's the care for the neighbor, the being the church rather than making the church or club. And so I think the first step is that thanksgiving, and that thanksgiving reminds us of our stewardship, reminds us of our calling by God, reminds us of God's instruction and his law. And that becomes a way of life or as I would say in my podcast, that becomes the Way that we have to walk as Christians, making this parable alive in our lives and making it become a teaching so that we don't become David ourselves and start exploiting those around us.
Hollie Benton 17:22
Thank you Father Dustin, this has been a wonderful, insightful conversation. There's so much to unpack here in this story about David and Nathan and Uriah the Hittite and Bathsheba. I encourage our listeners to go back and read it. There's a lot of lessons there to be gained, a lot to edify, and a lot to be challenged by, so thank you very much with that, Fr. Dustin.
Fr. Dustin Lyon 17:43
Transcribed by https://otter.ai