It was a scandal. One of Israel’s juiciest. King David was out on the roof of the palace one day and noticed this naked woman taking a bath on a near by roof top. He was struck with her beauty and invited her to the palace. She just happened to be the wife of one of his top army officers.
Bathsheba came by the palace all right and it wasn’t long until she sent word to King David that she was pregnant. And it was going to be hard to cover things up since her husband had been gone for some time fighting one of David’s battles.
So David sent word to the front that it was time for Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, to come home for a little rest and relaxation, not to mention some conjugal delight that might mask the fact that someone else was the father of Bathsheba’s baby.
It was rather unusual for the King to order one of his top officers home during battle, but Uriah did come home. But he was too guilt stricken about leaving his unit behind on the battle field to indulge in the pleasures of the flesh while they were still risking their lives. So instead of climbing into Bathsheba’s bed, he went back to the battle.
David, growing ever more panicky about the possibility of being found out as an adulterer, went to plan B. And it was awful. He sent word to one of the generals that at the height of one of their skirmishes, Uriah should be sent to the front of the battle and the rest of the troops pulled back. David’s hope was that Uriah would be killed, and he could quickly marry the grieving widow and thus not get caught. And it almost worked. Uriah was killed, along with 18 other soldiers who were with him. Bathsheba became David’s wife. Or she became one of the sister wives since David already had several wives and more concubines.
Somehow Nathan the prophet found out what had happened. My suspicion is that someone in the army tipped him off, possibly the general who was asked by David to send Uriah up to the front of the battle, or perhaps someone who knew about the orders the general had received. It wouldn’t have taken much to put two and two together on that one.
It’s interesting that many Christian commentators on this story try to divert attention from David on this to Bathsheba. They speculate that she wanted to be seen by David on that roof top and all that happened was because of her desire to be the king’s wife.
That’s not, however, the way the text deals with the story. Though David is the most significant figure in Jewish tradition, there is no effort to cover up this scandal in that tradition. They don’t try to push it off to Bathsheba like in Genesis, when Adam puts all the blame on Eve. David’s scandalous behavior lives today in the Bible as it did in first century Israel.
They loved David in first century Israel and were more than willing to look past a scandal or two. They were looking for a Messiah who would be in the line of King David, a Messiah who would restore Israel to even greater prominence than it had when David was king.
It didn’t take long for people to start wondering about Jesus. Was he claiming to be that Anointed One, the one from David’s line? Would he have the audacity to proclaim himself Israel’s new King who, like David, would destroy her enemies and rule as the successor to King David for eternity?
It was a wonderful thought. And we see how that thought, that hope, influenced the people in the story we read from John 6. The people have followed Jesus into the wilderness wondering about him. There’s no food out there and somehow he miraculously feeds them all. This is the king they are looking for. Surely he is of the House of David. Things are about to get dramatically better for the people of Israel and a whole lot worse for her Roman occupiers. There is such a thing as a free lunch, and Jesus, King Jesus, no King David II will punch their meal ticket every day. It doesn’t get any better than this. The milk and honey are about the flow and all they have to do is gather it up. It would be like manna in the wilderness just waiting for them every day. But it would be better food. It was time this guy became King emptying the Roman garrisons and filling their stomachs.
They would have proclaimed Jesus as King David II that day. Jesus had them on his side. But he couldn’t keep his mouth shut. He looked at them and said all you are looking for out of me is to keep your stomachs filled, but that’s not why I came. I am here to offer you something that is much more filling than bread, something that will feed your very souls. I’m not here to deliver a couple of loaves of bread every day, but to give you the bread of life.
Here’s where Jesus and King David’s story collide. What Jesus was asking of them was more scandalous to them than anything King David ever did. They could live with David’s adultery and murder. They could ignore it. What Jesus was asking of them was much worse and they abhorred it. And it demanded their total attention and commitment.
All they wanted was Rome off their backs and their stomachs filled. He was asking them to give up on the dream of a militant new Israel that would slaughter her enemies and become the new imperial power in the world. He was saying they had to give up their belief that all it took to get what you wanted in this world was more weapons than the other guy.
He didn’t offer them the fulfillment of their nationalist dreams. He didn’t endorse their idea of cultural and religious superiority. He refused to let their prejudices go unchallenged. He confronted them at the deepest levels of their understanding, of what they had been taught, about how we live in this world and what God calls us to do and be. It was scandalous. And so instead of gathering an army of thousands and thousands along the way as they went to Jerusalem to proclaim him King David II, they walked away in disgust. They weren’t looking for the Bread of Life, they just wanted the buffet line to be well stocked every day.
Even though they walked away, Jesus did not walk away from his mission or his scandalous behavior. Our response has too often been, at best, to ignore that scandalous behavior by not talking about it and pretending none of it ever happened. At our worst, we try to cover it up. So we deal with Jesus’ call to make peace and give up on violence by turning him into a warrior. His scandalous message of love and inclusion becomes hate and exclusion in the name of God. We ignore the scandal of his concern for the poor by turning our backs on them to make sure the haves, as our President likes to say, have more.
We cover up Jesus’ scandalous outrage over the carnage being inflicted on Baghdad and Beirut by claiming it is all the will of God and a part of God’s plan.
When all those folk who wanted to make Jesus King David the Second began to walk away from him in disgust, Jesus turned to that little group of men and women who had been following him and asked if they were so scandalized by him that they were going to leave too. It was Peter who responded for the group by saying even if they wanted to they couldn’t leave because they had found life in him. All Peter could say was “even if we don’t understand all of this, even if it associates us with your scandalous behavior, we know it’s life and that, somehow, you really are the bread of life.”
And that claim may be the greatest scandal of all. Somehow Jesus really is the bread of life. How many people do we know who are scandalized by our belief that there is something totally unique about Jesus? How many people are scandalized by the confession that there was something about his cross that saved us, and that his resurrection brought us life?
Following Jesus always has been, and always should be, a scandalous thing. It is offensive to those non religious folk who think it’s crazy to really believe in Jesus. It offends them that we would take seriously Jesus’s claim to be the Bread of Life. But it also offends the religious folk who think it is scandalous to take Jesus so seriously that we refuse to endorse our nation’s wars, to support the oppression of the poor, and to close our churches to gay and lesbian people and all the others we are supposed to exclude.
People may regard it as scandalous, but Jesus is the Bread of Life who brings hope and healing and forgiveness. Jesus is the Bread of Life who loves us even when we can’t love ourselves, who knows us at our worst and loves us anyway. Jesus is the Bread of Life who leads us from war to peace, from the rich to the poor, from the insiders to the outcasts. Jesus is the one who, without wavering, calls us to follow him and find life in him. It is all so scandalous.
The writers of the Hebrew Bible didn’t try to cover up King David’s scandalous behavior. The writers of the Gospels didn’t try to cover up the scandalous behavior of Jesus whether he was calling for peace or claiming to be the Bread of Life. It’s all the rest of us who have tried to make the cover up work.
You can’t keep the cover up forever, though. Things happen. We go to church. We look to Jesus for help and find ourselves deepening our commitment to him, trusting more and more that he will reveal God’s ways. We do things like share together at the Lord’s Table and proclaim that our allegiance to Jesus is beyond all other allegiances whether they are to nation, family, race, or class. It’s all so scandalous and we are found out as Jesus followers and confronted like David was. Do we try to keep the cover up in tact? Or do we admit to our scandalous behavior and let the chips fall where they may?
Are we ready for a good scandal?