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Two Kings Contrasted 2 Samue1 1:1-15; John 6:1-21

In the latest Harry Potter film, episode 6 of 7, Harry continues to grow up and be prepared for his destiny. In one of the more light-hearted scenes Hermione says to him that although she admires his courage and bravery, sometimes he can be really thick. One of the things that makes Harry so attractive to those of us who enjoy his story, is that he is in many ways an ordinary young man. He is very human – a mixture of good and not-so-good.

David, a very human king
Are you embarrassed reading today’s story about David and Bathsheba? Perhaps you know of the story but to have it read in church feels a little like bringing a gossip magazine into a sacred place – it doesn’t feel quite right, somehow. One of the things we tend to forget about the Bible is that it doesn’t pull any punches about being human – whether it is our bodily functions or the shameful ways in which we sometimes treat each other. It is significant that the scandal of David committing adultery and then trying to cover it up is preserved in all the stories about him. Most histories of great kings or leaders would try to minimize their failings. So why is this damaging story included in the book of Samuel? Well, one possibility is that the writer has never been convinced about God’s people being ruled by kings. He feels that God’s people, Israel, should be ruled by God – should be a theocracy, not a monarchy. The people demanded kings so that they could be like the other nations around them. God gave in, but their kings were all as human as the next man. David was a great king, a model king in many ways, but he was also fallible, and this story is included to remind people who read the books of Samuel, that David wasn’t the saint that you might think he was.

Those who rule us
The by-election this week in Norwich North has highlighted the ways in which the tides of democracy can turn very quickly. Who rules us and what they do with the power we give them is very much a part of our news. A Conservative victory has been no surprise. The voters of Norwich turned their backs on the Labour Party for a number of reasons, but one element was a protest against the parliamentary expenses scandals that have hit the headlines over the last few months. We have to run human society in stable and peaceful ways, and, as Winston Churchill put it, ‘democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.’ In the best of democracies we are able to hold our leaders to account, and it has been no bad thing for the misuse of power in the expenses scandals to be exposed. As Christians we live in two realms – the earthly and the heavenly. When Christians are persecuted, it is sometimes because they have been misunderstood. It is thought by the persecutors that Christians do not accept the human realm because of their belonging to the heavenly. The opposite should be true: because we belong to the heavenly realm, the values by which we live make us into good earthly citizens. We may accept the right of earthly rulers to govern us, but we expect them to rule in just and fair ways. We can do this because we can compare earthly rulers with our heavenly ruler. Today’s Bible readings illustrate this in clear ways. I would like to draw a few comparisons between King David and King Jesus.

Leading God’s people
We can look at the contrasts between David and Jesus because of their similarities. We know from the gospel that Jesus was a descendent of David. As the hymn-writer James Montgomery put it in Hail to the Lord’s anointed: “Great David’s greater Son.” Both men led God’s people in the footsteps of Moses. We saw two weeks ago how David brought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. The ark had been Moses’ symbol of God’s presence with his people and David was keen to preserve that symbol. The way that John tells the story of the feeding of the 5,000 is important. He mentions that the time was near the Passover. John mentions this because the Passover was a special festival for the Jewish people. It celebrated the time when Moses led the children of Israel out to a desert-land and they had manna from heaven. John paints a picture of Jesus being like Moses when he gives the crowds bread to eat in a miraculous way. They had followed him out to a deserted place where there was nothing to eat. Like the manna, everyone had more than enough to eat.

Different attitudes to sacrifice
Now we can look at some of the differences between David and Jesus. We can see this in their different attitudes to sacrifice. David took Uriah’s wife and when it was reported that she was pregnant, David tried to cover it up by getting her husband to come back and sleep with her. If she had a child it would look like it was Uriah’s. But Uriah didn’t do what David hoped, preferring to keep faith with his comrades on the battle field. So David arranged for Uriah to be killed in the battle field and in this way sacrificed him in order to cover up his adultery.

In the feeding of the 5,000 Jesus took the boys’ packed lunch and made it go round far more than it was intended to feed! David took Bathsheba for his own pleasure. Jesus took the boy’s 5 loaves and 2 fish and made sure that it benefitted everyone. The first sacrifice was forced and ended in death; the second sacrifice was freely given and gave life to all the people.

Different attitudes to power
A second difference lay in David and Jesus’ different attitudes to power. Power over people is something that is either given or taken. In a democracy, the ideal is that our rulers are put there by us to rule all of us. David was given power to be king by his anointing and by the people coming to him to invite him to take power. So far so good. Later in life David took the power he was given but misused it for his own pleasure.

When the crowd of 5,000 enjoyed being fed by a miracle, they decided that it would be quite good to have a leader like Jesus. If they got him to be their king, they would have free food for life! Jesus turned down the offer of power to be an earthly king when it became clear that the people misunderstood him. He wasn’t simply a new version of Moses. He had come, not to be an earthly king, and give people physical food all the time. He had come to show people what it meant to be in the kingdom of heaven. He had come to lead people into a fresh relationship with God. They would still be citizens of earth, and need to live ordinary, everyday lives: working for a living and obeying whatever political power was in place. But they could also lead fulfilling spiritual lives, knowing what it was to live on earth by the values of heaven. So Jesus withdrew from the crowds and went away on his own until it all died down.

In the thick of it
A third difference lay in David and Jesus’ attitude to the people they led. David had stopped going out to be with his soldiers when they had to face the enemy. He had grown lazy and selfish staying behind at home. Instead David put Uriah in the thick of the battle in order to get him killed.

Jesus fed the 5000 who were surrounding him. They had followed him out to a deserted place and had listened to his teaching and the sick had been healed. Now they were hungry and Jesus had compassion on their physical needs. In some ways he was responsible for them all being there, and responded to the need that was surrounding him. Later Jesus came to the disciples in the middle of the storm and brought them peace. At the right times Jesus was found in the thick of things. At the right times he withdrew to be on his own.

A half-blood in the Harry Potter stories, is someone who has both wizarding and muggle blood in them: someone who belongs to both worlds. Just as Harry discovers his true nature and calling, we can grow in discovering what it means to be citizens of earthly and heavenly kingdoms and fulfil whatever our calling might be.

Copyright © Rev Paul Smith



Lord God,
your Son left the riches of heaven
and became poor for our sake:
when we prosper save us from pride,
when we are needy save us from despair,
that we may trust in you alone;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.