2 Samuel 12:1-7a: The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, 3 but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him. “Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.” Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!...(NIV)
On July 19th, President Barack Obama shared with the nation a historical speech focused around the death of Trayvon Martin, and the aftermath of the George Zimmerman verdict. There has been a range of responses to what was said, but many were positive. What was most important, in my opinion, was the focus of what was said. It gave a perspective of a people long dismissed in a good portion of the public's discourse, and in its presentation caused the nation to look in a collective mirror. This is a view that it often resists.
Listening to the President caused me to reflect on a Biblical incidence of needed conversation and confrontation found in 2 Samuel 12:1-7. Here we find the prophet Nathan sent by God to tell the most powerful man in Israel an important message. David needed to know that he had shed innocent blood in order to indulge in illicit pleasures. How do you tell a king who can have you killed that he is wrong? You tell a story that resonates with human decency and fairness. And on that fate-filled Friday, the nation's first African American President told a portion of his story. You may argue that the President is functionally and logistically exclusive from one of a prophet. Yet, the unexpected first African American President makes commentary about an unexpected tragedy in which he has some personal experience.
In the above text, Nathan, the prophet, finds that the best way to challenge one who's wrong is to tell a story, in which a poor family has a small, young, lamb that instead of being raised for dinner, became a prized pet. The rich man, in this story, overlooks his vast resources, and takes this personal possession from the poor family. This is the story shared with King David, who because of his background and innate sense of right versus wrong, immediately became upset and wanted a harsh sentence placed on this insensitive rich man.
We don't always want to see what's wrong with us. We especially don't want to see it when it comes from a source that we should, but don't respect. Yet, in the Biblical story and in the comments by the President, we hear from someone who has the mandate through his position to 'say a word'. The Lord sent Nathan, and the people sent President Obama. The message is the same--you are the man. America, in many ways, through 3/5 of a person, through lynchings, Jim Crow, unjust drug laws and sentencing, along with racial profiling, through Emmett Till, Oscar Grant III, Willie Turks, James Byrd, Yusef Hawkins, and Amadou Diallo--you are the man. You couldn't hear it when countless others told you, when empirical evidence told you, but now you might hear the message for the first time.
America, now that you know that 'you are the man', what are you going to do about it? The key is in the response. It seems that our response remains stuck in the land of 'I'll do what I want because I can." The poor man who owned the ewe lamb is not considered, and his plight doesn't count. Yet God sent the prophet for the purposes of self awareness and repentance. The Bible, in the beginning of Romans 8:28, tells us that all things work together for good, to those who love God. Maybe if we truly love God, we will use this unfortunate death and prophetical confrontation from an unlikely source, to repent and start the process of right living. True healing requires it, and those who share the plight of the poor man in our text cannot merely be content with being quiet, but must persevere with a purpose.
Rev. Dr. Noel G. Hutchinson, Jr. is pastor of First Baptist Church, Lauderdal in Memphis, Tennessee.
The views expressed are those of the author.