Of all the people in the Bible, there are a lot of people who are mentioned over and over. Names that come to mind are Abraham/Abram (294), Moses (803), and Paul (228). Of course, Jesus got 1,281 mentions, but the second-place winner (first in the Hebrew Bible) is David--shepherd, king, hero, God's choice, and tragically flawed human being.
David first came to our notice as a slayer of Goliath and a humble shepherd boy chosen by God to replace Saul as King of Israel. He was a hero, a giant of a man in a less-than-gigantic body. He was a leader, a more or less successful army general, and a man with great capacity for patience and forgiveness. He was so many things, but when he messed up, he did it pretty thoroughly.
It's an old story: David sees a woman and gets a serious case of lust. He gets her pregnant. To cover his tracks, David summons the husband, Uriah, back from the battlefield where he had been stationed with the hope that he would sleep with his wife and then the child could be passed off as his. It didn't work; Uriah refused, so David had him return to the front with a letter to his commander, asking that Uriah be put in the most dangerous position on the battlefield. It worked. Uriah died, David married Bathsheba, and the child was considered legitimate.
Here's where the plot thickens. Enter Nathan the prophet who poses a hypothetical question to David about a rich man stealing a poor man's only lamb out of pure selfishness. David was incensed and ready to go out and tear the rich man limb from limb until Nathan revealed that it was David himself who was at fault. Suddenly the whole picture turned around completely.
We all have times when we are thoroughly convinced we are right and that everybody else is wrong. We will go to extraordinary lengths to prove or defend our beliefs and convince the world that this is the true path, idea, or objective. Then what happens when a Nathan appears and suddenly we are faced the fact that we were the ones in the wrong. It can be humiliating, but it can also produce one of those bright flashes of insight we call an epiphany, a flash of understanding or clarity that can be a total life-changer. It feels literally like a slap of the hand to the forehead and a wondering how we could have been so blind--or a blinding light that figuratively knocks us off our horse and into the roadway such as our friend Saul the persecutor experienced on the road to Damascus.
We don't like to recognize our faults. It makes us uncomfortable and smears the mirror of the persona we want the world to see in us. It is contrary to a world that expects everyone to put on a controlled demeanor, an "I can conquer the world" sort of face. We like to be seen as compassionate, strong, never putting a foot wrong, and someone everybody would like to be. Inside, though, we hide the flaws, the mistakes, the hurts, and the griefs that are part of our personality and indeed, our very humanity. Sometimes an innocent comment by a friend can suddenly bring us up short and make us feel naked and exposed to the world. And that friend doesn't even have to be a prophet like Nathan.
It is often at the height of someone's greatness or public perception of it that something comes to light that completely changes the image of that person in the eyes of those who admired and/or supported them. It is hardly enough to say that the former star or hero was revealed as a human with flaws because we seem to glory in their fall. We can't wait for the next revelation of depravity or misdoing. We seem to build people up just so we can tear them down some time later. It took Paul a while to gain the trust of the disciples at Jerusalem even after spending some years rebuilding his image to one who was as pro-Jesus as he had been anti-Christian. We know people snicker and talk behind our own backs when something negative has been revealed about us.
David went on to have another son by Bathsheba, a son almost as great as David himself. Solomon too had his flaws, proving that human frailty runs through royalty as surely as through the ordinary Joe/Jane on the streets. We are all human with flaws but it is how we deal with them that imprints our characters and moves us in certain directions. Weakness in admitting fault and not seeking to put things right, or as right as possible, leads to shame and guilt that increase our weakness even further. Strength comes from admission and repentance, followed by a change of attitude and behavior, not just to those we have wronged but to God as well.
When David was faced with Nathan's story of the man and the lamb, David's anger was apparent, yet four words stopped him in his tracks: "You are the man." That was the mirror that made David see himself in a different way. What if someone held a mirror up in front of us and said "You are the man" or "You are the woman." What would that mean? Where would we find weakness? Where would we find strength? Where would we see God?
What if God handed us a microfiber cloth and told us to wipe the mirror clean, without streaks or bits of fluff left behind? Would that encourage us to take a different path and follow God more closely?
Would that help us change from "You are the person" to "You are the person!"?
Funny how a single keystroke can change an accusation to a verbal high five, and God loves to give high fives.
Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, January 30, 2016.