12 Jun 2016
“Then Nathan said to David: ‘You are the man!’” (2 Sam. 12:7) In the name …
Mohammed Ali died two weeks ago and his funeral was just a couple of days ago. Famous people from the world of sports, broadcasting and Hollywood gathered to pay him tribute. Maryanna Foster shared with me a quote of his about religious tolerance, that there is good to be found in all faiths and among their faithful, but we have to go looking for it. He evaded the draft during Vietnam as a conscientious objector. I realize that this is a controversial action and that it may bring up rather unpleasant emotions, especially among those who did answer the call to serve. But let’s try to step back from particulars and look at this from a broader angel. Here was a man who said that he could not walk into a restaurant in Louisville and get a sandwich because he was black, and yet the same government wanted him to go and fight in South East Asia for freedom. His conscience wouldn’t let him do this even though the government said he had to, and this is the definition of a conscientious objector.
Again, I know his particular example may be upsetting, but to be a conscientious objector is allowed in our country and really has to be. Let’s try and step even further back. King David was a man with a lot of flaws. One of his worst offenses was against a soldier by the name of Uriah the Hittite. David’s palace was above all the other dwellings on the hill on which Jerusalem was constructed. One day he looked down and he spotted a beautiful woman by the name of Bathsheba. He basically raped the woman. Last week a young man who was a student at Stanford University was given only a short probation sentence for raping a woman. The judge justified his light sentence based on the man’s athleticism and academic achievements. People are seeking that judge’s removal from the bench because they see in his courtroom logic a get-out-of-jail free card for almost any man at an elite college to get away with rape. Well, King David was the king. No one was supposed to challenge the king.
Bathsheba became pregnant after David’s rape. To hide his offense from becoming public, David ordered her husband Urriah to be killed. David was the commander in chief; Urriah was expendable. David thought he had no one to answer to – he was the king. But there was Nathan, a prophet of God. Nathan marches into the king’s palace. He tells a white-lie of a story about a rich man who had guests at his house. Next door was a poor man who owned but one sheep, one sheep that was treated more as a pet than as food. The rich man stole that poor man’s pet, slaughtered it instead of taking from his own vast flocks, he served it to his guests. David was enraged at this injustice, and then Nathan turned the tables on him saying, “You are the man!” David had taken the only think beloved of Urriah. David had wives and concubines galore, but he took Urriah’s only love.
This was 3,000 years ago, but it remains a tradition of our faith. Church and church-people are called upon to stand-up to the abuses of power and stand-for the right and the true no matter who is the offender. That’s our prophetic voice. Nathan’s story was included in the Bible by people who lived around the time of David. They didn’t sweep this embarrassment under the carpet. They added this story to Holy Scripture. What a testimony this is to how important is our calling to call-out the injustices of even the powerful. This is the basis of conscientious objection. As people of faith we have to stand-up to even the government when we see what is wrong. Being a person of faith is not limited to houses of faith. We come to Mass to be reminded of the faith and to be strengthened by the closeness of God in Communion and community, but the kingdom of God is the entire world. We have to try and make a difference out beyond the walls of church.
Today we will close the academic year of our Christian education program. We will thank our teachers and the students at the end of Mass, but remember what we call this effort. Ever since it was started in the 1950’s our Christian ed program has been called the School of Christian Living. It’s not limited to what we’re supposed to think about God and church. A lot of that will come from catechism and Mass. It’s about how to live the Christian life. So many fights and divisions emerge because of what people think about God and church, but there is so much common ground to build upon when we choose to emphasize how we’re supposed to live as people of God. As Mohammed Ali said in that quote shared with me by Maryanna, there’s a lot of good in all kinds of religions and religious people. How we live is where we find that commonality of moral goodness. And when even the powerful live in a blatantly immoral, callous and self-serving way, when they may even feel protected by their position, there is the weight of our voice that yells, “You are the man!” Today, maybe more than in a long time, we as people of faith need to find our voice and to stand up to the abuses of wealth and power, to stand up for our consciences, to stand up for the expendables and to speak for God. And may this be our prayer in the name of the Saviour who never backed down before the powerful and who always stood up instead for the right, in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randy Calvo