Frederick Buechner Sermon Illustrations: Nathan

In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic.

Next Sunday, we will celebrate The Tenth Sunday After Pentecost. Here is this week’s reading from the book of 2 Samuel:

2 Samuel 11:26 - 12:13a

When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD, and the LORD sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, "There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man's lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him." Then David's anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, "As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity." Nathan said to David, "You are the man! Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master's house, and your master's wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. Thus says the LORD: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun. For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun." David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD."

Here are Buechner’s thoughts on this incident, first published in Peculiar Treasures and later in Beyond Words:

JUST ABOUT EVERY KING seems to have had a prophet to help keep him honest. Saul had Samuel, Ahab had Elijah, Hezekiah had Isaiah, Jehoiakim and Zedekiah seem to have shared Jeremiah, and so on. King David was the one who had Nathan. There is nothing of Nathan's in writing so it's impossible to grade him on literary skill, but when it comes to the ability to be a thorn in the king's flesh, he gets a straight A. The best example is, of course, the most famous.

David had successfully gotten rid of Uriah the Hittite by assigning him to frontline duty, where he was soon picked off by enemy snipers. After a suitable period of mourning, David then proceeded to marry Uriah's gorgeous young widow, Bathsheba. The honeymoon had hardly started rolling before Nathan came around to describe a hardship case he thought David might want to do something about.
There were these two men, Nathan said, one of them a big-time rancher with flocks and herds of just about everything that has four legs and a tail and the other the owner of just one lamb he was too soft-hearted even to think about in terms of chops and mint jelly. He had it living at home with himself and the family, and he got to the point where he even let it lap milk out of his own bowl and sleep at the foot of his bed. Then one day the rancher had a friend drop in unexpectedly for a meal and, instead of taking something out of his own overstuffed freezer, he got somebody to go over and commandeer the poor man's lamb, which he and his friend consumed with a garnish of roast potatoes and new peas.

When Nathan finished, David hit the roof. He said anybody who'd pull a stunt like that ought to be taken out and shot. At the very least he ought to be made to give back four times what the lamb was worth. And who was the greedy, thieving slob anyway, he wanted to know.