by Melody Meeter
There are advantages to preaching from the lectionary. Think of millions of Christians, Protestant and Catholic, hearing the same texts on the same Sunday around the world—a powerful image of unity. Think of preachers struggling with the texts that are given and not ones chosen by the preacher because they match the message he/she already has in mind. Eat what’s on your plate! Think of hearing four readings in conversation in worship rather than just one.
But the Lectionary choices sometime baffle me. Now and almost through August we are reading, lectio continua, through 1st and 2nd Samuel. To preach through a book is powerful; it helped launch the revolution we call the reformation. But the Lectionary leaves out large parts of the narrative. For instance, the reading for July 1 was 2 Samuel 1: 1, 17-27, leaving out verses 2-16. It is in this omitted part of the story that King David kills the messenger. A young man runs to give David the message that Saul and Jonathon are dead. He further reports that he had killed the gravely wounded Saul at Saul’s request: “’Come, stand over me and kill me; for convulsions have seized me, and yet my life still lingers.’ So I stood over him and killed him, for I knew he could not live after he had fallen.” The young man has brought the crown and armlet of Saul to David, probably hoping for reward or mercy. But David asks the young man where he comes from and he answers, “I am the son of a resident alien, an Amalekite.” David responds by condemning him for “daring to destroy the Lord’s anointed” and orders one of his men to “‘[c]ome here and strike him down.’ So he struck him down and he died.”
Is the Lectionary revisionist history, to reference the conversation about U.S. history and patriotism that’s been happening here in The Twelve Blog? As violent as the given readings appear, they leave out lots of the everyday violence that David perpetuates and which the full text includes. For instance, this week’s reading (II Samuel 5:1-5; 9, 10) gives the account of “all the tribes of Israel” coming to David and asking him to be their king. The Lectionary invites us to celebrate the expansion of David’s power, but leaves out the violence it took to get there, included in the omitted verses 6-8. These verses tell of driving out the Jebusites from “David’s city” and also reference a policy that “[the] blind and the lame shall not come into the house.” Does the Lectionary give us the Facebook version of David’s life and reign? If the film industry were tasked with devising a new Lectionary the darkest bits would surely be highlighted.
On the other hand, do I really want to hear the whole dark history of Israel? Honestly, it’s not the dark history that’s a problem. In literature and in film I prefer tragedy to comedy. This violence would not be an issue if David were merely another Macbeth. As a literary figure David’s quite compelling. The violence would not be an issue for us if this were not scripture, if not for all the stories in the Hebrew Bible that say God condones violence, or even orders it. Most of the violence seems to be under God’s notice. (I think I have to reread Brueggemann. Any other suggestions?)
These stories about God ordering genocide, or ignoring it, will trouble me always, I expect, as they have troubled millions. The theology of the cross, the story of the cross, answers it: the violence that is in the world is borne by God in Jesus Christ. Even from the beginning God has suffered us and suffered in us. Still…
Some years ago, in another hospital where I was chaplain, I met a German woman in her 90’s who had been young mother with children during World War II. She told me about her present situation, the story of her illness, what her suffering was. She also told me that her town in Germany was just a few miles from Auschwitz. Did my face betray judgement? Because she looked me in the eye and said, “Don’t you judge me! You do not know what it’s like to choose between life and death for your children!”
She is right. I do not. So I pray to remain open to the stories people tell me. In receiving the stories I receive the people. I pray to remain open to the Bible stories, too, and to God’s story as it unfolds in us and through us. For a minute there, with that woman, I heard God saying, “Don’t you judge me!”