The great French paleontologist, Jesuit priest, philosopher, and mystic, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin(1) declared, as a statement of his perception of our ontology, our beingness, that we are not so much human beings in search of spirit experience, but rather spiritual beings immersed in human experience. I believe that. For God, our Creator, is spirit,(2) and the incarnation of God taking flesh in Jesus is the heart of the Christian story without which there is no “rest of the story” – no ministry of teaching and preaching, healing and miracle-working, no crucifixion, no resurrection, no coming of the Holy Spirit, therefore, no church, no Christians, no us!
Yet, though we essentially are spiritual beings, as we are immersed in flesh we are sensate creatures. Much of our perception of reality comes through our physical senses. And, in this, I recall one of the many aphorisms of my saintly, staunch Baptist grandmother, Audia Hoard Roberts, who said: “Everything that looks good, sounds good, smells good, tastes good, and feels good is not good for you!”
King David espies the beautiful Bathsheba, wife of Uriah, as she bathes. He, by right as king, commands that she be brought to his house where he takes her as his own. She becomes pregnant. What began with the lust of his eyes for her flesh continues with his determination to conceal his paternity. He recalls Uriah from the battlefield, an uncommon thing to do, urging him to “go down to your house, and wash your feet”, that is, have sex. Uriah, a pious soldier, refuses to have pleasure whilst his comrades remain in combat. David, now desperate to eliminate Uriah, hands the unwitting doomed man his own death warrant, a letter to Joab, David’s army commander, to leave Uriah unaided in the field of the fiercest fighting.
Private misbehavior leads to public murder.
The lesson is as contemporary as it is ancient that the pleasures promised by the physical senses can lead to personal misconduct whether in the high places of royal palaces, halls of government, business boardrooms, sanctuaries of religion, or in the daily courses of our living. But if all this episode in the life of David teaches or re-teaches us is that our physical senses are subject to error and can lead us astray and that we are complicated and conflicted creatures, cosmic admixtures of angelic and demonic desirings and that we are given to act on each, then where does that leave us other than where we already are with what we already know?
Here, the Jesus-story helps me.
Initially, I saw little connection between David’s duplicity and Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000. The most I could conceive was a tale of two kings; one who aggressively, abusively feasts on others, serving only himself and one who serves and feeds others. Rather simplistic and shallow. And you deserve better than that! So, the more I considered it, David and Jesus remain a tale of two kings and two conceptions of power.
A large, hungry crowd came to Jesus. He asked Philip, inquiring only to test his disciple, “Where shall we buy enough bread for the people?”
How did Jesus feed the people? Was it a literal miracle of multiplication? Or were the people, amazed by Jesus’ generosity in giving away what little he had, and that by virtue of a young boy with five loaves and two fish, moved to share what they had until all were fed?
I don’t know. And I don’t think it matters. For a point is simply this: each of us has power, the capacity to do something. Question. What is the primary desire of our hearts that compels our exercise of the power we possess?
Is it like that of David? To reach out with an open hand only to grasp and close his fingers around what he desires to take for himself and, indeed, in the case of Bathsheba, to treat a person, a woman as an object?
(And, in this, I will confess that, yes, there are moments when my elemental human self-interest crosses that boundary into selfishness!)
Or is it like that of Jesus? A king who refuses to be made a worldly king. A king whose kingship is a kinship for he is the lover of all. A king whose justice is merciful forgiveness. A king whose power is his submission in service and sacrifice. Therefore, a king who reaches out with open hands scarred by the nails of his crucifixion through which he offers to us, to all life abundant.
Which king do you, do I, do we follow and obey?
(1) Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955).
(2) Jesus, speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well, declared, “God is spirit” (John 4.24)
David sees Bathsheba bathing, James Tissot (1836-1902)
The miracle of the loaves and fishes, James Tissot. Note: Tissot depicts the crowd gathered in groups and rows along and down the hillside being served the bread and fish as Jesus (upper right, just below the hilltop), dressed in a white hooded shawl, looks on.