2 Samuel 18: 5-9, 15, 31-33
John 6:35, 41-51
Choose your bread wisely.
Jesus said, “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Well, I’ve got news for you: I am hungry and I am thirsty.
I thirst for justice that rolls down like water, and righteousness like an never-failing stream. Yet, my observation is that justice fails over and over.
In the belly of my life, I hunger for love and faithfulness to meet, for righteousness and peace to kiss and to rule the world as king and queen in a never-ending reign of God. Yet, just this morning I read another report about families being separated at the southern border of the USA, I read that China has turned its northern province into a police state and has arrested almost all the Muslims, another peace process is foundering in Burma. Our planet is literally quaking, erupting, and burning. I am hungry for change.
So, I don’t believe Jesus. I don’t believe him because I am hungry and I am thirsty.
I am not alone. In this morning’s reading from 2 Samuel we read about King David’s son, Prince Absalom. Absalom is often presented as a wild man. As the son of a woman David had taken in war, he was almost destined to be a sower of discord and strife, so that is how he is portrayed. But, there’s more to Absalom than all that. He was also a justice seeker.
Here’s the back-story to today’s reading: Absalom had a sister named Tamar. He loved Tamar so much that he named his own daughter after her. But, Tamar had been the victim of a cruel rape by their half-brother Ammon. Absalom had taken her to live in his house, like a good brother would, and he wanted justice for her. Absalom was not a hot-head, though. He advised his sister to wait to see what their father would say. “Keep quiet about it,” he advised. And they both waited to see what justice King David would give on behalf of Tamar. But, David didn’t do anything at all. There was no justice.
Knowing that their father would not act, Absalom took matters into his own hands and had his servants kill the rapist Ammon. He knew that he was right in this action and so he had the murder committed at a dinner party. Everyone saw it. He did what his father had failed to do. He exacted revenge for his sister. But, revenge is not justice. If Absalom had eaten of the bread of love, there might have been some justice for Tamar. But, he ate of the bread of fear and of violence, of silent, seething, longing for justice that never came. As a result, Tamar’s story is almost lost in the cross-violence of her brothers. He should have chosen better bread.
David loved Ammon and grieved for him, and I suspect he grieved about his failures as a father and a king too. His grief turned to anger which he directed at Absalom and the two of them didn’t speak for five years. Absalom resented the fact that his father had grieved for Ammon, but had given him the cold shoulder for all those years. Resentment grew until, at last, Absalom went to war against his father. Absalom was killed in battle and that is the end of his story.
Absalom wanted justice, and he did what he thought was just. But, look how it ended. That is why in the collect this morning we will ask the Holy Spirit to guide us in thinking and doing what is right. It’s because we don’t always know. Sometimes we eat the wrong kind of bread.
Absalom was right to seek justice for his sister. In the same way, many people today are seeking justice. We hunger and we thirst for it. The anger is real, it is justified, maybe even holy. But, what we do with our anger determines whether the outcome will be just or just more violence.
And, what do we do with our anger? Well, judging by me and my own friends, we love to talk about it. We’ve read the news, we’re so literate. We repost on social media, we’re so clever. We congratulate ourselves for being so right. But, look, if being right and talking about it were enough, the USA would be the most just country on the planet, our churches would be full of love and light, and unicorns would fly by announcing peace and prosperity. We are a people who love to talk. But, even the very clever rhetoric that some of us post on Facebook, leaves us hungry.
It is important to note that Jesus does not ignore this hunger. He doesn’t tell us to be dispassionate, to eschew the need for bread. Jesus is all-in with our hunger. He gives us bread, but a different kind. Instead of the bread of revenge, the heavy burden of forcing a justice that is not our responsibility in the first place, he feeds us with the bread of his own life.
In the story of Absalom we see that at any point the bread of love might have made for a much different story. And today we have to take a long, hard look at our own story. The big question for us, in light of all we’ve learned from Absalom, is not how to defeat those who perpetrate injustice, but how to love them.
We have to choose better bread.
Look, I am not saying we should look the other way. We are here to usher in the reign of love, and that is real work; and real tyrants will really fall. Just watch the TV news shows. What I am saying is that as people who eat the bread of love and drink the cup of divine friendship we are bound by love’s obligation.
And what is our obligation? You know it… To do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God. Like Absalom, we sometimes get too revved up in the justice part and forget about kindness and humility. It’s hard to be humble when you’re right, after all. There was another path that Absalom could have taken, the path of love. We can’t know where that path might have led for Absalom, but we can choose to follow it for ourselves.
When you have your time with God, ask her to give you a heart of kindness and humility in dealing with injustice, and for compassion for those who — truth be told — need it most, and see what happens. Gorge on the bread of love.
The real work of justice begins and ends in the bread of love.
Linda McMillan is writing from Chiang Mai, Thailand where it is hot all the time.
Image: Pixabay from jackmac34
Some Notes of Possible Interest
Amos 5:24… But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream (NIV)
Psalm 85:10… Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other (NIV)
I spoke with a friend who has just returned from northern China and reports his first-hand observation that there is a police check-point every 500 yards or so, travel between towns requires a complete car and body search along with the regular documents, there are cameras on every corner, and there are almost no Muslims to be seen. They’ve been taken to camps for “re-education.” So, the reports are true.
Not to imply that there can ever be any real justice for rape.
Interestingly, no one in scripture or the tradition ever called for justice for Ammon. It’s as if Absalom was right all along.
The parable about the two wolves is sometimes attributed to the Cherokee or Lenape people, sometimes simply to native (North American) people in general. Basically, it is of unknown origin.
Micah 6:8… He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God? (NASB)