Saint John Bosco, priest (Memorial)
In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.
It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king's house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, "This is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite." So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, "I am pregnant."
David sent word to Joab, "Send me Uriah the Hittite," and Joab sent Uriah to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab and the people fared, and how the war was going. Then David said to Uriah, "Go down to your house, and wash your feet." Uriah went out of the king's house, and there followed him a present from the king. But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king's house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house.
When they told David, "Uriah did not go down to his house," David said to Uriah, "You have just come from a journey. Why did you not go down to your house?" David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk; and in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house.
In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. In the letter he wrote, "Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die." As Joab was besieging the city, he assigned Uriah to the place where he knew there were valiant warriors. The men of the city came out and fought with Joab; and some of the servants of David among the people fell. Uriah the Hittite was killed as well.
Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.
In your compassion blot out my offence.
O wash me more and more from my guilt
and cleanse me from my sin. (R./)
My offences truly I know them;
my sin is always before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned;
what is evil in your sight I have done. (R./)
That you may be justified when you give sentence
and be without reproach when you judge,
O see; in guilt I was born,
a sinner was I conceived. (R./)
Make me hear rejoicing and gladness,
that the bones you have crushed may thrill.
From my sins turn away your face
and blot out all my guilt. (R./)
He also said, "The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come."
He also said, "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade."
With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
Today's reading from 2 Samuel tells a murky tale from David's past. Although he is a key figure in salvation history, leading up to the appearance of Jesus as Messiah, King and Saviour, one must admire the honesty with which David's sin is reported. Is there any other Old Testament leader described in such warts-and-all way? Maybe that is what makes David such a fascinating personality. It is easy to identify with him, as a weak person who improves with time.
The dark, inert "earth" where the mustard seed begins its new life is foreshadowed in the account of David's adultery. Smitten by Bathsheba's beauty, king David first tried to make his dedicated soldier, Uriah, go home and sleep with his wife, in order to conceal the real cause of her pregnancy. Later, when Uriah refuses the chance to take some rest and recreation, David has him done away with, by treacherous collusion with his commander, Joab. This treachery is just the first of a series of murders, sexual excesses and revolts among David's descendants. We may wonder why God made use of such a darkly tangled family to promise an everlasting dynasty. The very ones through whom the promises were passed on turn out to be Bathsheba and her future son Solomon.
It is just as strange how the seed which falls into the ground becomes stalks of wheat providing grain and bread. Yet just as wheat provides bread and the mustard seed grows to provide shade, so the story of David tells us that God does not give up on us or lose patience with us. We can be converted and renewed as David was, and God will fulfil his promises to us.
Sometimes our best efforts seem to bear little fruit. We can get into a gloomy frame of mind and feel that we have precious little to show for our lives so far. But on the contrary, we might be achieving more good than we realize. Jesus taught that even a little can go a long way. The little efforts we make to do some good may be fruitful after all. That seems to be the message of the two parables in today's gospel.
The mustard seed is tiny and yet it grows into a very large shrub. What looks so insignificant takes on a life of its own, out of proportion to its small beginning. The pinch of yeast that a woman mixes into a batch of dough affects the whole batch. Again, the little good we do be worthwhile in ways that would surprise us. In the providence of God, what seems small and insignificant can bring benefits beyond our expectations.