Pope Francis has been on his South American tour this past week. One of the reasons he is a crowd favorite is that he constantly breaks pope protocol. He ignores the security detail and breaks rank to be among the people, hugging them, touching them, and blessing them. Francis is the Holy Father of the 1 billion Catholics world wide, but doesn’t seem interested in the dignity that befits his position. He is more interested in loving God and loving people.
Francis’ shenanigans remind me of King David in this morning’s passage from 2 Samuel. David leads the procession for the Ark of God into Jerusalem. The Ark contained the 2 tablets of the Law given to Moses. It was stolen by the Philistines, but its presence among them wreaked havoc: people broke out in boils, and illnesses and other kinds of woe. So powerful, so awful was the Ark that 2 poor fellows who tried to stabilize it when it was careening over, fell down dead as soon as they put their hands on it!
So you would think that David would lead the Ark into Jerusalem with a hushed decorum, but instead he cavorts and capers and leaps about in front of it wearing a linen priestly garment and nothing much else. The text says he “danced before the Lord with all his might.” David’s antics presumably thrilled the regular folk, but David’s wife, Michal, had a different reaction. Looking out a window, she saw her husband dancing and she “despised him in her heart.”
A little relational background is necessary here to put Michal’s reaction in context. In this case, the story itself provides the interesting illustration. The most sordid soap opera has nothing on the Old Testament.
Michal is King Saul’s daughter. She fell madly in love with young David. But Saul was terribly jealous of David, the prophet picked heir to the throne. In an effort to get rid of him, Saul told David that he could marry Michal if he brought home the foreskins of 100 Philistines. As you might expect, the Philistines were reluctant to part with their foreskins, but David accepted the challenge and brought back 200 Philistine foreskins! David married the king’s daughter.
Saul began to go insane, literally, with jealousy, so then he decided to kill David himself. He went to David’s and Michal’s home to kill David. Michal deceived her mad father and helped David escape. David went on the run and stayed away for months. The months turned into years. Michal, presumably, was lonely. Her loneliness turned into heartbreak when she heard that David married 2 other women.
David’s remarriages prompted Michal to assume that her marriage to David was void. Even though the text says that Michal was in love with David, there is not mention of David’s feelings for Michal. Maybe she was just a pawn in his quest for power? Michal then marries a man who is deeply in love with her, and they live happily together for many years. But only until Saul finally dies and David assumes of the kingship the southern kingdom of Israel. One of Saul’s sons is named the king of the northern kingdom. A power struggle ensues. David wins and demands that Michal to be returned to him as his wife. There is a heart-wrenching scene of Michal’s husband, shattered by grief, trailing Michal as she leaves him to return to David.
So you might imagine that when Michal looks out the window and sees her husband dancing and leaping, the incident gives rise to a history of hurts harbored in her heart. She accuses him of sexual impropriety in his dress and gyration and of intentionally titillating the servant girls. David defends himself, saying, “I will celebrate before the Lord. I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in your eyes. But by the female servants of whom you have spoken, by them I shall be held in honor.” The story of a love gone sour ends badly. Scriptures final comment is” Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.”
Michal’s motives notwithstanding, I want to focus on the incident in question: David’s dancing before the Lord. Michal sees the King’s behavior as a humiliating display, saying sarcastically, “How the King of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself before the eyes of his female servants!”
Here is the homiletical turn I want to take – David’s breaking rank with kingly dignity foreshadows a future king who would come to his people in humility and vulnerability. David’s humiliation before the Ark of God is a harbinger of the one who would come not with pomp, but as a pauper. David’s identification with the servants is a sign of the one who would come not to be served, but to serve. David’s dancing points to one who would come as the friend of sinners, one accused by the religious hierarchy of being a drunkard and a glutton.
Jesus Christ came to the world to show us the face of God. And the face of God is a smiling face, a dancing face, a merciful face. Jesus came to show us that God does not stand on ceremony, but welcomes the sinner, the unrighteous, the sick, and the needy. In other words, God breaks rank to be with you.
Since we’re talking about the Ark of God, we might as well talk about Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. In one scene, Jones and many others, including some Nazis, are in a cave searching for the Holy Grail. There are many different chalices to choose from. A Nazi chooses first. He picks a beautiful, ornate, chalice, clearly meant for a king. Suddenly, he melts away. An ancient knight, in classic understatement says, “He choose…poorly.”
Indiana Jones is the next to choose. He gives his choice a lot of thought, for obvious reasons. He picks the most earthen, common cup that he could find. Jones picks wisely. God is in the common cup.
Not only does God break rank to be with us, humiliating Himself for our sake, He also endures our mockery and abuse. Collectively, we are Michal, despising Him in our hearts. When David says, “I will yet make myself more contemptible than this,” he is foreshadowing the cross of Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ body is uncovered on the cross, wearing only a loincloth. He is ensconced in shame between to contemptible thieves hanging on his left and his right. Our voice is the thief’s voice, saying, “If you were a true king, you would save yourself and us.” No real Messiah ought to act like you do. No real Son of God would allow Himself to be nailed to a cross. And yet, He does. And from His anguished face come his final words, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
There is a moving scene in Peter De Vries novel called The Blood of the Lamb. The narrator, Don, grows up in a strict religious family. As he gets older he struggles with doubt. He needs a God who is bigger than the moralistic entity of his childhood. As an adult, he encounters deep suffering. His wife is mentally ill and finally commits suicide. He is left alone with his young daughter, Carol, who is the joy and love of his life.
Don and Carol share the wonder of life together. They love old, slapstick movies and comment on the scripted way characters get pies thrown in their faces. Carol remarks, “Have you ever noticed, Daddy, that after the one guy throws his pie and it’s the other guy’s turn, the first guy doesn’t resist or make any effort to defend himself? He just stands there and takes it. He even waits for it, his face sort of ready? Then when he gets it, he still waits a second before wiping it out of his eyes….”
Tragically, Carol contracts leukemia. She and Don go to a hospital in New York City for treatment. She is in and out of hospital, experiencing remission and sickness for few years. Don brings a birthday cake for Carol’s 14th birthday, thinking he is going to pick his daughter up from the hospital and take her home. The night before, the doctor gave her a good report. But in the night, an infection took over Carol’s body. Don is by her bedside as she dies.
Blind with grief, he stops by a nearby church to try to pray. Enraged, he takes the cake and hurls it at the face of Jesus in the crucifix hanging over the church’s doorway.
“Then my arm drew back and let fly with all the strength within me…. It was a miracle that the pastry should reach its target at all…the more so that it should land squarely, just beneath the crown of thorns.
Then through scalded eyes, I seemed to see the hands free themselves of the nails and move slowly toward the soiled face. Very slowly, deliberately, the icing was wiped from the eyes and flung away from the one whose voice could be heard saying, ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me….for of such is the Kingdom of heaven.’” Don collapses on the stone stairs beneath Jesus. He concludes, “thus (I) was found… at the foot of the cross.”
- 2 Samuel 6:1 - 23