A sermon about David, Bathsheba, Brock Turner, a nameless woman and Jesus
There are some weeks where the lectionary speaks so clearly to the events we read in the news that’s impossible to ignore, even when it would be easier to do so. So on a week when Brock Turner and his dad have been all over the news for his assault of a nameless young woman, where we have now read the story of David’s sins against Bathsheba, and where another nameless woman is shunned and ridiculed for doing exactly what she should be doing in the presence of Jesus, I can’t not make the connection. I can’t be silent, even though it would be so much easier to just preach these stories in a general way and leave the news alone.
Okay. Deep breath. Let’s start with the Old Testament story, David and Bathsheba. You remember this one, right? David, the shepherd boy whose heart belongs to God, screws up. Big time. Not only does he see a woman who is someone else’s wife and demand that she become his mistress, but then he tries to cover up his sin by killing her husband Uriah. And let me make sure you notice that none of this is consensual with Bathsheba. When the king of your country “requests your company” to put it politely, “no” is not an acceptable answer. Same deal when he “brought her to his house, and she became his wife”. She marries the man who killed her husband, and is literally the death of her son? Can you imagine?
But our reading for today is the second part of the story, the part where God sends the prophet Nathan to tell the story that traps David into admitting his sin. He tells the story of a man who abuses his power and takes from a poor man what is most precious to him. In someone else’s sin, David clearly sees what is right and wrong. He condemns the man for his lack of compassion, and insists on punishment. “You are the man!” Nathan says to David, and all David’s lies unravel into a mess of sin he can no longer justify. David is sorry, truly sorry, which is more than we can say for Brock Turner, and this helps David to redeem himself in the biblical story.
However, the point of this story is not just that David is sorry and gets right with God. An equally important part of the story is God’s initiative in calling David to account for his sin. While everyone else might keep their mouths shut because he’s the king, God sees his transgression against Bathsheba and will not let it go unspoken or unrepented. God is unwilling to let anyone cover their sinfulness with the privilege of wealth, gender or position, a trait we also see in Jesus, especially in today’s gospel reading.
Jesus is eating in the house of Simon the Pharisee when something scandalous happens. Well, honestly, a serious of scandalous things happen. A woman who everyone in the city knows is a sinner just waltzes in among them (scandal!). Then she interrupts the meal with an embarrassing display of affection for Jesus (scandal!) by touching his feet (scandal!) and bathing them with her tears, drying them with her hair.
And Simon is disgusted! “Doesn’t he know what kind of woman that is?! She’s a sinner!” Now Luke doesn’t tell us what precisely her sin is, but plenty of people over the centuries have assumed what always gets assumed about a woman, that the sin is sexual, that’s she’s a prostitute. That could be a whole other sermon, about assumptions we make about women like this one and Bathsheba! But, that’s not the point.
The point is that Simon is judging her for doing what Jesus praises, while exempting himself from any kind of sinfulness. And Jesus, like the good prophet he is, tells a story that tricks Simon into seeing his wrong. You will notice this Pharisee does not repent when the story reveals his sin, so Jesus drives the point home.
“Do you see this woman?” Jesus asks Simon, “I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”
Do you see this woman? Jesus asks, and you can almost see Simon roll his eyes. “Yes, of course I see her, how could you miss her with that ridiculously inappropriate display in the middle of dinner?!”
No, Jesus says, you do not see her. You see only what you have already decided she is, what you have already judged her to be. What you fail to see, Jesus says, is that if we judge between the two of you in this moment, it is she who comes out pharisaically righteous and you who gets labelled sinful. While Simon only sees a woman interrupting the feast he has laid for Jesus to bolster his own reputation, Jesus sees a faithful believer who understands that the only proper response for a sinner to the presence of Jesus is humility and service.
Simon judges her, Jesus has compassion for her. Simon labels her, Jesus loves her. Simon casts her out of his society, Jesus welcomes her devotion and gives her peace.
Just as David and Jesus did, we live in a society where nameless women are taken advantage of by men of privilege just as Bathsheba and this woman labelled sinner were. How little we see and value those women is proven by how many inane questions are asked of rape victims when they report their assaults, and how many people I saw on the internet this week saying the real story of the Stanford rape case is that the woman was so drunk she couldn’t function.
If Jesus had walked into the courtroom with that woman and Brock Turner last week, it’s not hard to imagine him asking Mr. Turner that same question: “Do you see this woman?” Do you really see her, her pain, her trauma, her brokenness? It’s not hard to imagine Jesus proclaiming to Brock in the words of the prophet Nathan, “you are the man!” “You are the one who did this terrible thing.”
The similarities are eerie and disturbing. Clearly, in the two thousand years since Jesus, and the three thousand years since David, we have not gotten any less sinful. We still look at each other and see what is convenient and comfortable. We still use people for our own purposes, not always knowing and not always caring who is affected in the process.
And Jesus still points us to a different way, offering forgiveness and peace to all who turn to him. God still sees those who are victimized and cares about our pain. And it is possible for us forgiven, humbled sinners to be part of that Way, because of Jesus. We can learn to see each precious human as Jesus does. We can hear their stories and affirm that God hears them too. We can remember our own sin before we judge others’ for their. We can practice compassion and forgiveness and justice in the name of Christ.
These bible stories and the news from Stanford this week can be mirrors for us if we let them, wherein we will see ourselves as we truly are. Then turning away from the painfulness of that sinful reflection in repentance, we too can weep at Jesus’ feet and know his life-changing mercy. Thanks be to God!