Weekly Lectionary takes a look (sometimes brief, sometimes longer, sometimes odd) at one of the lectionary passages for the upcoming Sunday. This week we'll look at the Old Testament passage of 2 Samuel 11:1-15.
Earlier this week, my pastor Bailey sent me a message asking if I could do the children's sermon this week. I replied, "Sure. Is there a particular text or theme you would want me to use?" Her message came back pretty quickly: "I'm preaching David and Bathsheba....if you want to go there."
The two of us riffed on what it would be like for me to touch on the themes of that story in a children's sermon. Hey kids! Today we're going to talk about adultery, rape, betrayal, and murder! Needless to say, I eventually decided to go with this week's New Testament passage which is from Ephesians.
But while brainstorming, my mind briefly touched on a time someone did tell this very adult tale to children; or at least an adaptation of it. It was the VeggieTales episode "King George and the Ducky." In this re-telling, King George (played by Larry the Cucumber) is a collector of rubber duckies. He wants all of them. One day, he spots a peasant named Tomas (played by Junior Asparagus) with what George thinks is the most beautiful rubber duck in the entire world. He must have it.
So KG sends Tomas off to the Great Pie War so that he and his unwilling assistant (Bob the Tomato) can break in and steal Tomas' beloved duck. This being a children's series, the worst that happens is that the young peasant gets slammed by a boysenberry pie pretty badly. In the end, Pa Grape plays a wise, slightly odd old man named Melvin who helps George see the error of his ways. KG returns the rubber ducky to Tomas and everyone sings a jaunty song about how it's not okay to be selfish.
I'm not going to lie, I've always been kind of impressed by the episode. It was a clever riff that kept the arc of a R-Rated story but made it suitable for children. Yet thinking back to it this week, something gnawed at me. It's probably because Bailey said she was going to touch on the voicelessness of Bathsheba (and I hope I am not stepping too much on the toes of her sermon; if it helps, probably 10 people will read this post and a third will be related to me). It bothered me that Bathsheba was rendered an inanimate object; a thing.
Then I remembered that in Nathan's story that convinces David of his crime (next week's Old Testament text), Bathsheba is a sheep, a pet, a domesticated animal. In both retellings she is a piece of property that passes between the two main characters. There are some storytelling rules that make that happen, but it's unsettling. I've long thought that Bathsheba was a victim in this story, but I never quite took into view how the author of the text seems to view her: an inciting incident at best, a piece of property at worst. And I'm ashamed to admit that at 32 and with a good deal of religious education, this hadn't occurred to me before.
But she wasn't a thing. She was a human who probably had no choice but to obey the king's orders. She was a human who lost her husband and who carried a child to term who then died (and was told that God killed the child). She was a human who spent the rest of her life with the man who ordered her husband to be killed. We call this story "David and Bathsheba," but it's staggering to me how little we consider her.
It makes me consider what other people in scripture--women, children, men--might get this treatment. What people in our world get this kind of treatment? Because there is no doubt in my mind that we treat some human beings like sheep, rubber duckies, or worse. And when we do that our heart does not follow God.