The Courage to Speak Out
11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Doug McManaman
Reproduced with Permission

I’d like to begin by commenting on the first reading. It is such a great reading when it is read in its full context. I’d like to give you a bit of that context. One evening King David took a stroll on the palace roof and caught site of a woman bathing. Instead of turning away, he watched her. That was his big mistake. Then he makes inquiries about her. They told him who she was, that she had a husband, but he sent for her anyways, slept with her and she conceived a child from that encounter.

That is why custody of the eyes is so important. What happens next is that the prophet Nathan is sent to David and he tells him a parable. He says to David: “Judge this case for me! In a certain town there were two men, one rich, the other poor. The rich man had flocks and herds in great numbers. But the poor man had nothing at all except one little ewe lamb that he had bought. He nourished her, and she grew up with him and his children. She shared the little food he had and drank from his cup and slept in his bosom. She was like a daughter to him. Now, the rich man received a visitor, but he would not take from his own flocks and herds to prepare a meal for the wayfarer who had come to him. Instead he took the poor man’s lamb and made a meal of it for his visitor.”

David grew very angry with that man and said to Nathan: “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this merits death! He shall restore the ewe lamb fourfold because he has done this and has had no pity.”

Then Nathan said to David: “You are the man! Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘I anointed you king of Israel. I rescued you from the hand of Saul. I gave you your lord’s house and your lord’s wives for your own. I gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were not enough, I could count up for you still more. Why have you spurned the LORD and done evil in his sight? You have cut down Uriah the Hittite with the sword; you took his wife as your own, and him you killed with the sword of the Ammonites.

Now, therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah to be your wife.’

Thus says the LORD: ‘I will bring evil upon you out of your own house. I will take your wives while you live to see it, and will give them to your neighbor. He shall lie with your wives in broad daylight.

You have done this deed in secret, but I will bring it about in the presence of all Israel, and with the sun looking down.’”

Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.”

There are a number of things that I find striking about this reading. The first thing is the incredible courage of the prophet Nathan. Where do we find courage like that today? Certainly not in me. Nathan must have been afraid for his life. But the Lord commanded him to speak the truth to David, to shine the light on his vices. What a difficult thing to do, but what a loving thing to do. Because had Nathan allowed himself to be overcome by his fear, had he loved his own life more than he loved David’s soul, he wouldn’t have said a thing. He would have shut right up and fabricated some nonsense about tolerance, patience and the principle of gradualism, and the result would have been that David would not have repented, and he would have died in his sin. But Nathan loved the Lord and loved truth and loved justice more than he loved himself.

There are not many people today in the world who love like that, which is why there are not many prophets. The kind of prophets we have today are safe prophets, those who speak out on issues that are politically correct, so there’s no chance they’ll face persecution.

This is why I love Archbishop Oscar Romero so much. He was the voice of the poor in his country, and he spoke out against the injustices all around him, and when you read his homilies, you see so clearly that he is a bishop of the Church, first and foremost. His words are not inspired by Marxist ideology or socialism. They are rooted in the gospel as interpreted by the Church.

But he has become a caricature of the Left in North America, and that’s unfortunate, because Romero always said that preaching must bear upon the sins of the nation in which one finds oneself, and the sins today in this country are not poor minimum wage and poor working conditions and murderous death squads hired to kill street kids, etc. The sins of today in this country are more on the personal level: infidelity in marriage, internet pornography, theft, pirating DVDs, abortion, contraception, a general indifference to injustice, and surrendering to individualism and a kind of hedonism that sees human existence as primarily about enjoyment and pleasure, rather than living first and foremost for the kingdom of God. To emulate Romero is to preach on these things, which is just what many here refuse to do.

And this brings me to my next point about the first reading. How did David get to that point? He was a person of such tremendous character. Saul was out to kill him, and he had a chance to kill Saul, but he refused to do so and the reason was this: “No one who lifts a hand against the Lord’s anointed will go unpunished”. What reverence he shows for Saul’s kingship.

So how did he get to this point of great depravity? He commits adultery and murder. I think the answer is this: Prosperity breeds the worst in us. We are at our worst in times of prosperity, and we are at our best in times of suffering.

I remember studying the history of the 20th century and being struck by just this point. During times of great prosperity in the 20th century, we were at our moral worst. Prosperity breeds a desire for more, and avarice breeds fear of loss, which in turn generate tremendous bigotry and racism, and then you have World War I, followed by a period of prosperity, which breeds moral depravity, then that is followed by the Great Depression and that brings out the best in some people. Then there is a period of prosperity, which if I remember correctly breeds more depravity. But that is followed by WWII, and then prosperity after that, which is eventually followed by the invention of the birth control pill, which is followed by the sexual revolution and the swinging 70s, the decline in marriage, the legalization of abortion, and so on.

The history of Israel is like that as well. During times of prosperity, the kings of Israel compromise with the world and Israel begins to worship other gods, false gods. That is soon followed by tragedy and suffering, which leads them to repentance. Then prosperity follows that, and the kings begin to worship false gods, all for the sake of getting along with other nations. You could say they are becoming “inclusive” and selling their principles in the process, forgetting the covenant. And then divine hand comes upon them, the Kingdom of Israel falls to the Babylonians, and they repent.

It seems that David was enjoying great prosperity, and was not careful about that propensity to sin that we inherit from the first parents of the human race. But that’s why Jesus says that it is difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. They live in prosperity, and it is very difficult not to make one’s own enjoyment, one’s own self, the center of one’s life. Suffering makes us cry out to God, to reach out to him. It puts us in touch with our own frailty, our own radical need for God. And that’s why the first Beatitude is blessed are those who are poor in spirit, the kingdom of heaven is theirs. To be poor in spirit is to be aware of your radical need for God.

But the third point I’d like to make about David is his whole hearted repentance. He saw his depravity, thanks to Nathan’s tremendous courage and his brilliance in relating it to him using a parable. He saw his depravity and repented whole heartedly, which is why the Lord forgave him. He experienced tremendous sorrow for his sin and acknowledges his sin. He does not kill Nathan. He doesn’t even think of killing Nathan. There is not a word about any kind of anger towards Nathan. And that’s a sign of great character. He is a humble and repentant king.

The Lord is merciful and forgives him. But, one thing to notice here is that God’s mercy does not violate his justice. That’s the problem with our mercy and our justice. Our justice is often without mercy, and our mercy is often unjust, in other words, it is leniency, which is not a virtue.

What is so marvelous about our God is that His justice is never without mercy, and his mercy is never unjust. David is forgiven, but he will have to pay for his sin. Justice is not revenge, as many of us like to think it is. Justice is a great good, and if God is Goodness Itself, God is Justice. His mercy will never violate His justice.

I’ve notice that so often in my work as a Deacon, that God’s mercy is infinite, it is marvelous, but people still have to live with the consequences of their sin. God does not undo the brain damage that resulted from drug use or reverse the emotional retardation that was the result of using marijuana. They still live with that, but the Lord is there to help them through it. In fact, the Lord joined a human nature in order to suffer with us, so that we may find him in the midst of our suffering and be strengthened by his presence in the depths of our darkness.

Let us pray for the grace to emulate David’s courage and character in repenting wholeheartedly from whatever sins we are aware of, and Nathan’s courage in boldly proclaiming the truth that the world does not want to hear. Amen.