A Tale of Two Kings

Today’s scriptures are a tale of two kings, both born in the city of Bethlehem.

One would lend his name to his birth city; it became known for ever after as the City of David.

One would bring a star to his birth city; people followed it there to worship him in the manger that was his cradle.

David was the great king of the Hebrew Scriptures, the archetype for all who came after him and originator of God’s favor on the throne of Israel.

Jesus was the great king of the New Testament, the king who cared nothing for political power and turned the definition of kingship inside out.

But this is not a simple story of compare and contrast.

David is far too complex a figure for us to simply dismiss him with the old interpretation of, “Well, the old kings of Israel tried but they were no good so it’s a good thing Jesus came along.”

David is one of the most deeply human figures in the whole Bible.

He reaches sublime heights of worship and leadership, and commits monstrous sins that result in almost destroying not only his life, but his family for generations afterwards.

Perhaps what fascinates us the most about David is the unique designation that he alone bears in the entirety of scripture: he was a man after God’s own heart.

We first see the description in 1 Samuel 13, when Saul has proved once again that he has failed to remain faithful to God’s commandments.

Samuel says to Saul, “The Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel for ever,but now your kingdom will not continue; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart; and the Lord has appointed him to be ruler over his people.”

This designation was noticed and deemed important by the Hebrew people. We see it again in the book of Acts when Paul testifies to the synagogue in Antioch.

As he provides a summary of Jewish history, Paul says, “God made David their king. In his testimony about him he said, ‘I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart, who will carry out all my wishes.’”

What does it take to be a man after God’s own heart?

It’s certainly not to be without sin, if David is any model to judge by.

What jumps out from every single line of scripture about David is his rare passion for God.

David is driven to seek the presence of God no matter what is going on in his life.

When he is a young boy following his brothers to the battlefront, he throws caution to the winds and goes out to fight Goliath, so secure and so confident of God’s presence with him.

When they bring up the Ark of the Covenant, the scripture says that “David danced before the Lord with all of his might.”

Think of the words of the psalms he wrote, where he describes meditating on the Lord day and night, thirsting for God like a deer panting after cool water, waiting for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning.

Perhaps the most important lesson we can learn from David in terms of what makes him a man after God’s own heart, is that even in the midst of his sin, he never fears that God will turn him away or stop loving him.

David stumbles, and stumbles badly, but when the prophet Nathan opens his eyes to the true nature of what he has done, David faces the truth and faces God honestly.

We read in 2 Samuel, “David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ Nathan said to David, ‘Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die.’”

In Psalm 51, he writes of his faith that God can cleanse him from his sin: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean, wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

David is a prodigal son, but instead of approaching his father with fear and wondering if God still loves him, David goes home with confidence, knowing that God’s power is greater than the power of his own sin.

Which is a good thing, because David’s sins were tremendous, as we see in our story today of Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah.

When David takes his gift of passion and lets it drift away from being directed at God and God’s will, it turns terribly destructive.

And this is where we see the starkest contrast between David, who was a man after God’s own heart, and Jesus, who was God’s own heart.

Consider where we find Jesus in our Gospel today.

David and Jesus were both destined to be kings, but Jesus went about it in a very different way.

In fact, our Gospel says today that “when Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.”

One of the most important differences between David and Jesus is how they directed their passion.

David’s passions were all focused on himself—he wanted more power, more women, more wars, more experiences of God, all inwardly directed.

Jesus’ passion was for his people, directed outward, and the symbolism of his feeding of the five thousand today is a perfect example of it.

For as many times as I’ve heard this story, I found something new in it this time, new to me anyway.

Think about what this feeding of the five thousand means symbolically. The five thousand could have been fed with grapes and cheese or olives or something, but it was specifically bread and fish, and this is important.

The bread represents Jesus himself.

Consider how these five small loaves multiplied out to feed five thousand people.

In the same way, Jesus calls himself the bread of heaven, and his small and limited human body saves the entire world.

It’s also important that the disciples are the ones distributing the bread. They are symbols of us as servants feeding the hungry who come to this altar and who are out in the world.

Jesus’ body keeps breaking over and over again as the world is trapped in sin and pain, hungering for his presence, but as it breaks it keeps multiplying, over and over again until there are twelve baskets left over.

In addition to the bread, the disciples feed the five thousand with fish.

The disciples were fishermen, and Jesus said he would call them to be fishers of people. The fish represent first of all, the moment that they met Jesus.

As they in turn offer fish to the people, they are offering back the gift that was given to them—an encounter with Jesus and the invitation to come and follow him.

And the fish are also a symbol of harvest. The nets have been full to breaking—five thousand caught and brought ashore—and now the people are being fed so they can be sent out themselves to spread the Gospel.

Bread for the sacrifice of the Cross and fish for the telling of the Good News.

The loaves and fishes remain potent symbols of the tools we have as disciples to feed the hungry who come to our door, the hungry in body and the hungry in spirit.

And this is the kind of king Jesus is, one whose primary urge is of generous giving.

He didn’t just provide for the people, he fed them and kept giving and giving until there were twelve baskets of leftover goodness, of leftover love.

Maybe the people were able to take those baskets away with them back to their villages to feed others who were hungry.

David spent his whole life seeking for the presence of God, and his quest earned him the title of the man after God’s own heart. He kept reaching for God even through his darkest and most sinful hours.

But if someone as great as David struggled so hard to attain God’s presence and often found himself trapped and isolated by his own darkest desires, what hope do we have of staying in contact with God and God’s will?

God in God’s generosity was so overcome with love that God could no longer hold back and had to come to us in human form.

The passion and longing for God that inflamed David and many of God’s people through the generations was answered by God’s own heart coming to Earth in the person of Jesus Christ.

Now we have an anchor for that longing. We can reach out both in our sin and in our righteousness and find that Jesus’ answer to us is yes, there is always more of me, more of me to experience and more of me to share.

Let him be broken for you.

And then let him nourish you.

And then turn and offer the bread of heaven to someone as hungry as you are—there will always be more than enough to go around.

 

 

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