10/21/18 – JV – Abuse of Power

ABUSE OF POWER

October 21, 2018
Jazz Vespers Homily
Samuel 11:1-5; 14-17, 26-27; 12:1-9; Ps.51:1-9
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones

 

It is not hard to imagine Bathsheba as the poster girl for the #MeToo Movement or David as the archetype for men of power who use and abuse women. We do not hear Bathsheba’s voice, only the voices of the men in the story. Much is made of Uriah as the innocent victim without addressing Bathsheba’s pain and suffering. Throughout the history of biblical interpretation, Bathsheba has even been portrayed as a seductress who flaunts her sex appeal until poor David is mad with lust. It is the classic tale of the powerless victim becoming the accused. There is, however, nothing to support that interpretation in the text. There is also nothing in the text to support the mythical interpretation that David and Bathsheba had a great romance. It was all about David getting what he wanted as soon as he decided he wanted it – a privilege the powerful and wealthy see as their due.

According to the account in 2 Samuel, Bathsheba was bathing. This text tells us this was the ritual bathing required of Jewish woman after their monthly period. Women were not allowed back into the temple for worship until this was done. Bathsheba was where she was supposed to be, doing what she was supposed to do.

David, however, was not where he was supposed to be. While his army was on the battlefield, the commander-in-chief was enjoying the springtime when a young man’s fancy turns to love. In other words, while his brothers in arms were fulfilling their military obligation, David was partying and chasing women.

There is no evidence in the text that the sexual act was consensual. How much freedom to consent would a woman have had when a man of such power wanted her? She would have paid a high price, perhaps even her life, if it was discovered she had become pregnant while her husband was away. If there were videotapes at that time, David could have starred in his own “Access Hollywood” tape. He moved in on a married woman and his power gave him a license for sexual assault.

Bathsheba came to David in a panic when she discovered she is pregnant. He said nothing about the consequences for Bathsheba. His only concern was how his misdeed would affect him. Hush money wouldn’t work in this situation. Jewish law was quite clear – not coveting one’s neighbor’s wife was one of the Ten Commandments. David had presented himself as the paragon of faithfulness to God. This would be a PR nightmare.

So, David did what powerful people do, he devised a cover-up to protect himself. Once again Bathsheba was victimized along with her husband. David broke another of the Ten Commandments by having Uriah killed. Again, Bathsheba proves to be a faithful Jew by keeping a period of mourning for her husband. But David, just as soon as the required mourning was over, sent for Bathsheba to come to him. In her situation, Bathsheba had no choice but to comply.

Unfortunately, this is the plight of many women around the world, even in such a wealthy and supposedly democratic nation as ours. In recent years we have seen the abuse of power to commit and cover-up sexual assault in government, the media, and in the church. But the same occurs in far less loft heights. Poor women, and children, with no power or voice, suffer every day.

We read in the text that God was very displeased with David. So much so, God sent Nathan, David’s closest advisor, his prophet-in-waiting, to corner David with a parable. David is forced to look honestly at the wrongs he had committed. Finally, David confesses and repents. But, Uriah is still dead; Bathsheba is still a widow, remarried by no choice of her own; and, David and Bathsheba’s newborn son dies. Not a happy ending, but a realistic one. I can think of two lessons gleaned from this story: 1) when we sin against others, there are consequences and innocent victims. 2) we have a moral obligation to speak truth to power to protect others.

The abuse of power is not, of course, restricted to sexual assault.

Anytime power is used to exploit others for personal gain there are victims – Bathsheba’s and Uriah’s.  We know the high-profile David’s. Politicians who abuse their positions of power by mocking, abusing and exploiting women, minorities, people with disabilities, immigrants, the poor, the educated, journalists, and anyone that stands in the way of their continued power and privilege.

We know about the sexual assaults and alleged sexual assaults by politicians, media celebrities, and Catholic priests. We know about the attempted cover-ups. We know about the CEO’s who make 400 times the salary of their average employee, who claim they can’t afford wages that keep up with inflation or even provide a living wage; or, healthcare benefits and who threaten to or do take the jobs to impoverished countries in which they can pay workers far less than the law here allows. We know about the CEO’s who threaten whole communities with massive job losses if their companies are not given big tax breaks.

But, what about us? Do we also share David’s sin described in Nathan’s parable of the rich man who took the poor man’s only lamb?

The United States, with less than 5 % of the global population, uses about a quarter of the world’s fossil fuel resources—burning up nearly 25 % of the coal, 26 % of the oil, and 27 % of the world’s natural gas. In an article in Scientific American, it was reported that:

“Our per capita use of energy, metals, minerals, forest products, fish, grains, meat, and even fresh water dwarfs that of people living in the developing world.” Americans account for only five percent of the world’s population but create half of the globe’s solid waste.”

We don’t want to lose our gas-guzzling big cars and trucks. We spurn mass transportation because we don’t want to wait. We don’t want to walk or ride a bicycle to go short distances as many opt to do in first world countries and must do in developing countries. We want to have fruits and vegetables shipped from across the globe, so we can have them any season. We want to have cheap goods, even though it means buying goods made in sweatshops or produced by child-labor in impoverished countries.

We don’t want to listen to our prophet Nathan’s who tell us we are using up the world’s resources and damaging the earth. We want what we want now with little thought to the rest of the world or future generations.

David’s, Bathsheba’s and Uriah’s abound in this world and there are far too few Nathan’s. For the sake of peace, justice, mercy and the preservation of this earth, we must not be complicit in this unjust drama that plays out on the world stage. Like David, we can do better, and it is our responsibility to do so. Like the poor man with only one lamb, this is the only earth we have. Like the rich man, it is wrong to hoard our abundance and take from others. It is wrong to use our power in such a way that others are made powerless. The bible is very clear about this. Listen to the prophets and speak out prophetically. This is what God expects of us.

 

Amen.

 

 

© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2018, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church
1420 W. Moss Avenue – Peoria Illinois 61606
WestminsterPeoria.org   |   309.673.8501