Sunday, August 9, 2015

David and Absalom

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, ‘O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would that I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!’

Everyone, I imagine, is familiar with the story of David and Goliath, and the story of David and Bathsheba; less familiar perhaps is that of the story of  David and Absalom, the end of which we have today for our Old Testament reading. The sorry tale begins when Amnon, David's eldest son and the heir-apparent, develops on un-wholesome obsession with his beautiful half-sister Tamar. He tricks the young woman into being alone with him and assaults her. The king is furious, but Amnon is not punished. Perhaps it is because he is the heir; perhaps because after his own actions with Bathsheba David feels in no position to judge another; perhaps because there are no witnesses to the deed as would be required for guilt to be proven under Jewish law.

Her full-sibling Absalom is angry; and two years later he has his brother assassinated. Is it truly to avenge his sister; or is this a pretext for clearing the way to the throne for himself? We can not be sure, but the fact that he waited so long and employed others to do the deed for him is certainly suggestive.

Having murdered the first-born, Absalom must flee; but not too far and for not too long. Representations are made on his behalf and he is allowed back to Jerusalem. He is refused access to the royal court at first, but after threats and blackmail persuades an influential courtier to speak to the king on his behalf and he is allowed back into the king's presence. None of this is too difficult to arrange, because David is genuinely fond of Absalom, whom it seems is a handsome and charming young man – perhaps he reminds his father of himself as a youth?

But, alas, the love the king has for his son is not returned. As soon as he is back, Absalsom begins to conspire against him and soon is ready to launch a rebellion against his father and seize the throne. David is warned of the plot and barely escapes from Jerusalem in time with those who remain loyal to him. Absalom enters the city in triumph and then deliberately commits a particularly heinous crime designed to show his utter hatred for his father and his determination that there be no possibility of their making peace of any kind: he enters the royal harem and violates the concubines David has left behind to look after the palace.

But Absalom has badly underestimated the cunning and skill of the old warrior who is his father. David musters an army strong enough to defeat that under his son's command. But even as he sends it into battle, he orders that his son be spared. And when he learns that Absalom has been killed, his grief is worse than had the day ended in defeat for his forces rather than a great victory.

Is it any wonder that in the great love that David has for his wayward son, and his willingness to forgive him no matter what evil that he does, no matter how wicked he has been, that the Church Fathers have seen a parallel of God's love for us? No matter how wicked humanity has been, no matter what sins have been committed, no matter what lengths we go to to reject him, God continues to love us, continues to reach out to us, continues of offer forgiveness. God's love reached its fullness in the sending of his Son into the world to suffer and die for our sins that we might be saved. And like David, how great his sorrow when his love is rejected, how great his grief. But just like Absalom could not be forced to return as a loving son to the father who loved him, neither does God force us to love him and accept the love he offers us. He has given us free will and so it is for us to freely love him and return and freely accept the eternity he offers us in heaven.

I pray that all here will learn from the story of Absalom; learn that there is ultimately no point in rebellion against the Father who loves us, because nothing we can do can defeat him; and even though he loves us always and will forgive us anything, we must return to him before it is too late, or else our fate will to our own despair and the Father's grief. Amen

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