Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Lesson from King David: What Happens When a Father “Spurns the Lord”?

King David confronted by the prophet Nathan.

(Eleventh Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on June 16, 2013 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read 2 Samuel 12: 7-10, 13.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Eleventh Sunday 2013]


What are the consequences of a father “spurning the Lord”?  In other words, what happens when a father turns away from God?

We find out in today’s first reading, and in the events of King David’s life that occurred before and after his famous conversation with the prophet Nathan, part of which we heard in this text from 2 Samuel 12.

This seems like a very appropriate topic for Father’s Day.

First of all, it would be good to review briefly the events that took place just prior to those recorded for us in 2 Samuel 12:

One evening after he had been anointed King of Israel in place of Saul, David was taking a stroll on the roof of his palace.  As he was walking along, he happened to catch sight of a beautiful young woman bathing in the distance.  The woman’s name was Bathsheba. 

Well, unfortunately lust got the better of him at that moment, and David decided to invite the young woman over to his place to “see his etchings” (as Bishop Sheen used to put it).

Bathsheba came to the palace and she and David committed the sin of adultery.  Not long afterward she found herself pregnant with David’s child.  She knew it had to be David’s because her husband, Uriah, had been away for some time fighting for Israel in a war.

Well once the king found out about the pregnancy, he immediately called Uriah away from the fighting and he told him to go home to see his wife.  Obviously David was hoping that Uriah would sleep with Bathsheba and end up thinking that he was the father of the child.  And since there wasn’t any DNA testing at the time, David’s devious plan had a very good chance of succeeding. 

But Uriah was a good soldier who happened to be at war.  And good Israelite soldiers at war were not supposed to go home to see their wives and families.  So Uriah didn’t.  Instead, he slept in the courtyard of David’s palace.

The next day, David got Uriah drunk and told him a second time to go home, but once again Uriah slept in the palace courtyard.

At that point, David had had enough.  He immediately wrote a letter to his general, Joab, and he told him to put Uriah on the front lines in the next big battle.  Then he said to Joab, “When the fighting gets really fierce, pull the rest of your troops back, so that Uriah will be killed.”

Unfortunately, David’s plan worked this time.  That made him guilty of two capital sins: adultery and murder.

And he felt no guilt about either of them, until the prophet Nathan presented him with a problem that supposedly involved someone else.  Nathan said, “David, what do you think about a very rich and powerful man who had flocks and herds in great numbers, but who went out and stole a ewe lamb from a poor man—the only lamb the poor man owned—in order to feed his hungry friend when his friend came for a visit?”

David became livid and said, “The man who did such a thing deserves to die!”

Nathan replied, “Well, it’s interesting that you should say that, David, because that man IS YOU!!!”

Then Nathan uttered the words we heard a few moments ago in our first reading.  Listen to them again, now, in their proper context:

Nathan said to David: “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.’” 

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

Nathan answered David: “The Lord on his part has forgiven your sin: you shall not die.”

So what happens when a father “spurns the Lord”?  What happens when a father turns away from God in his life?  The answer is: the same kinds of things that happened to David and to the people around him.

(Now before I tell you what some of those things are, let me add the point that what I’m about to say applies to spiritual fathers (i.e., priests) as well as to physical fathers.)

First of all, when a father turns away from God he finds it very easy to lie—first to himself, and then to the people with whom he shares his life (many of whom he claims to love!).

Once David had lied to himself by rationalizing what he had done with Bathsheba, and how he had plotted the death of her husband, he had no trouble living the lie!  As I said earlier, he felt no guilt whatsoever until Nathan challenged him directly on the matter.

When a father turns away from God he also tends to focus on everyone else’s faults and not his own—like David was focused on the rich man and his evil actions in Nathan’s story.  The King should have been focused on his own bad behavior, but, unfortunately, that was the last thing on his mind!

When a father spurns the Lord he also causes strife in his family—which affects not only his present family members, but also, indirectly, future generations of his family (as David’s sin affected future generations of his).  In the case of a priest, by the way, this truth applies to his parish family.  The fact is, a bad priest can have a negative impact on a parish for many, many years, even long after he’s retired, or been transferred—or died.

When a father spurns the Lord he also kills his conscience—which leads him to multiply his sins.  That was certainly the way it was for David: once the King had silenced his conscience concerning his adultery with Bathsheba, he didn’t feel any hesitation whatsoever about having Uriah, her husband, killed!

One serious sin led very quickly to another.

A father who turns away from God also typically leads others into sin—even members of his own family.  Notice how David tried to get Uriah to commit the sin of drunkenness, and to violate the Law by going home to be with his wife while the nation was at war.

That’s not surprising, given where David was at spiritually.

And finally a father who spurns the Lord does tend to kill.  Here we need to remember that there are different ways to kill people.  There’s the kind of killing that David engaged in (which, thankfully, is relatively rare); but there’s also an emotional and spiritual kind of killing that can occur, especially in a home.  A father, for example—if he turns away from God and the things of God—can “kill” the loving atmosphere in his home by his words and actions.  He can “kill” his relationship with his wife; and he can “kill” the spirits of his children.  That’s why Colossians 3:21 says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”

Now I know that most of what I’ve shared with you in this homily today would have to qualify as “bad news.”  However, I’m ordained to preach to you the “good news”—so that’s the kind I’ll leave you with.

If all of what I’ve just said to you is true—if a father who spurns the Lord can cause all these problems and difficulties for himself and for his family, then the opposite must also be true: a father who honors the Lord (or who returns to the Lord after spurning him, as David repented and returned to God in his life)—can be a light and an irreplaceable blessing to his wife and children!  That means he’ll be, for the most part, the exact opposite of what David was during his days of sin.  He’ll be honest—with himself and others.  He’ll be humble and repentant (especially when he hurts the members of his family).  And he’ll be a moral and spiritual leader in his home—a leader who brings love into his family, and who builds up the spirits of his children.

My prayer for all of you dads on this Father’s Day is that you will always honor the Lord in your lives, and that each of you will be this kind of father to your sons and daughters.  And so that you won’t forget this message we have a little gift for you today, which we’ll give out after the blessing in a few minutes.  It’s a key ring with a little flashlight on it (gifts for dads always have to be practical and useful!).  But what’s really important is what’s written on the side of the flashlight.  It reads, “Blessed is the father who lets God light the way.”

May all the fathers here this morning be so blessed, so that their families will be blessed.