On Rape and Belovedness — 24 September 2023

Pastor Adrianne Meier
24 September 2023
Saint Thomas Evangelical Lutheran Church, Bloomington, Indiana

On Rape and Belovedness

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2 Samuel 11:1-15
In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.

It happened, late one afternoon when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, “This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself after her period.) Then she returned to her house. 

The woman conceived, and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.” So David sent word to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab and the people fared and how the war was going. Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king. But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord and did not go down to his house. 

When they told David, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “You have just come from a journey. Why did you not go down to your house?” Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah remain in booths, and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house to eat and to drink and to lie with my wife? As you live and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing.” 

Then David said to Uriah, “Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day. On the next day, David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk, and in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house.

In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it by the hand of Uriah. In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.”

At the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. is a room filled with shoes. You walk through the shoes on a carpeted path, a bridge over a sea of footwear taken from the living and the dead. It is breathtaking and dizzying. And then there are the lists upon lists of things taken from those imprisoned and murdered by the Nazis. Human rights watchdog groups have begun to make similar lists of items taken at our borders: in mid 2022, the list included 64 turbans from Sikh people, countless family photos, even important legal documents. All taken. This is what power does to the vulnerable. It takes. 

Bathsheba, too, had so much taken from her: her spouse, her future, her child, any sense of autonomy. David took it from her, took the life of Uriah, took by his foolishness the life of their child, took—as powerful people too often do— took something that was hers alone to give. To sit with this story is to sit with something that feels unredeemable. What justice can be metered out that redeems what was taken from Bathsheba? How does one rebuild after such brutality? How does one recover the lifetimes stolen in moments? But where power takes, God holds fast. 

Whatever redemption is offered, it isn’t contained in this episode, unfortunately. And I think that is important. Try as I might this week—and believe me, I tried— I could not find anything in this story that felt like Good News. The rape of Bathsheba and murder of her husband… it can’t be prettied up or explained away. It can’t be made better simply because it makes us uncomfortable. There is no magic wand to wave to make it all better. We simply have to sit with Bathsheba in her grief and anger. But she is not alone. The chapter we began this morning ends like this: “But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.” It was, even hateful to God, the language, the indictment is stark. It seemed for a moment that David might get away with it. He takes Bathsheba into his home, and she has a child. But God sends the prophet Nathan solicit a confession from David to confess and to inform David of the consequences of his actions. If there is any comfort in this story, any gospel or good news, it probably in this condemnation. It is important. 

It is important because history has chosen to not believe Bathsheba. She is painted as a temptress, an adulterer who tricks David so she could get out of an unhappy marriage. She is accused of “asking for it” because of what she was—or wasn’t wearing— how she was bathing on the roof, so, apparently, not where she was supposed to be. She doesn’t fight, doesn’t scream, doesn’t tell the authorities, so she must have wanted it. It turns my stomach to hear in scholarship the same kinds of questions lobbed at victims of rape and sexual violence today— questions that take from victims their final shreds of dignity. This is sin: taking away from our neighbor— our vulnerable neighbor— their dignity and worth, their faith in humanity, their trust in goodness, their very lives and selves. 

We’ve gotten all mixed up in the church, in our society. Somehow, we have gotten it in our heads that it is the institutions that need to be protected, not the people. If Bathsheba is believed, then the monarchy is at risk. If Bathsheba is believed, our hero is revealed as flawed, even broken. If Bathsheba is believed, then we have to believe other women when they tell of violence and violation. Or these lists of sins we read this morning— we have come to believe that “sexual immorality” is threat to the institution of marriage and not to vulnerable partners. We’ve allowed that phrase to mean homosexuality or infidelity while leaving true threats to both the institution of marriage and to vulnerable partners, like domestic violence and human trafficking. We pretend as if Scripture has nothing to say about that! Or greed, a threat to capitalism itself and not the people in poverty at our very door steps. In the church we have protected abusers for fear of how the bad publicity and the lawsuits would bring down the institutional church. This institution doesn’t need protecting, the people do! 

Look at the cross itself— Rome nails Jesus there— and the religious institutions were complicit— because they believed him to be a threat. If the vulnerable people no longer believe the lies they’ve been fed about their worthlessness, their unimportance, their unlovableness—what will happen? What does happen when power takes from us everything? 

Madeline L’Engle suggests in poem “The Birth of Love” that that will be when we fill find ourselves wholly within love. She writes: 

To learn to love
is to be stripped of all love
until you are wholly without love
until you have gone
naked and afraid
into this cold dark place
where all love is taken from you
you will not know
that you are wholly within love.

It is from Bathsheba, from whom everything was taken, that the next King of Israel will come. David named this child “Replacement,” as if that is how child loss works, but when the prophet Nathan hears of Solomon’s birth, he nicknames him Jedidiah, which means Beloved of the Lord. This is the son Matthew will remember when he writes out the genealogy of Jesus, and with Solomon, Matthew will list, too, his mother, Bathsheba, also a Beloved of the Lord. 

And you, Beloved— and normally when I speak that word I mean each of us here, the baptized, the children of God, the body of Christ, but today, I want this word to be the one that envelopes those who have been victims of sexual violence, of domestic partner abuse. I want it to be the name of those who have been abandoned by the institutions that should have protected you. I want it to enfold you if have been told you are sinful because it was easier to condemn you than to challenge tradition, or culture, or society. Beloved, that is what you are: be-loved. You are held fast by a God who stands with you in your suffering, who does not abandon you to sin others have perpetrated against you but restores you to wholeness, and who gives to you in abundance the worth and value and dignity that you were denied. Amen.