David Falls Down

January 28, 2022
Memorial of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Priest and Doctor of the Church

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we clearly are being taught. The first lesson comes from a gripping iconic story in Samuel – the treacherous murder of Uriah; the second from the Markan Parables – the miraculous mustard seed.

In our first reading, the noble, kingly David takes a mighty fall. He has tripped over his own power and descended into a chasm of indifference, lust, manipulation, deceit, and murder. Walter Brueggemann captures the immensity of the story here:

II Samuel 11:1–27 
We are now at the pivotal turning point in the narrative plot of the books of Samuel. We are also invited into the presence of delicate, subtle art. We are at the threshold of deep, aching psychology, and at the same time we are about to witness a most ruthless political performance. In this narrative we are in the presence of greatness. For David and for Israel, we are at a moment of no return. Innocence is never to be retrieved. From now on the life of David is marked, and all Israel must live with that mark.

David handing over a letter to Uriah, 1619 – Pieter Lastman

Unfortunately, David’s moral depravity is reshaped and retold in thousands of other biographies throughout history as “strongmen” (and women) grasp power. Too bad David, and those like him, could not have benefitted from some later-age wisdom such as these two quotables:

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
~ John Dalberg-Acton, letter to Bishop Mandela Creighton, (April 1887)

One uncontrolled character flaw can ruin your greatest accomplishment.
~ Wayde Goodall, Why Great Men Fall: 15 Winning Strategies to Rise Above It All (2005)

While David’s sinfulness had corrupted the concept of “kingdom”, in Mark, Jesus teaches us a divinely refreshed understanding of the term.

When asked what the kingdom of heaven is like, Jesus describes generous, inclusive reality sprung from humble, hopeful investment:

To what shall we compare the Kingdom of God,
or what parable can we use for it?
It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground,
is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth.
But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants
and puts forth large branches,
so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.

Mark 4: 30-32

Perhaps our prayer today is best reflected in the Alleluia Verse – a plea to retain, in our choices, the deep innocence of faith:

Blessed are you, Creator, Lord of heaven and earth;
you have revealed to little ones the mysteries of the Kingdom.

Matthew 11:25

Praying with that this morning, I offer you the innocent drawing of my 6 year-old grand-nephew Robert, an interpretation of what it means to fall down.

Something Falling Down, as titled by the Artist

Poetry: When the Great Trees Fall – Maya Angelou

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.
When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.
When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
gnaws on kind words
promised walks
never taken.
Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold
And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.

Music: All the King’s Horses – Aretha Franklin
Although the song is not biblical, the lyrics carry similar emotions to the ones we find in the reading from Samuel.

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