It is fascinating how much the God of Scripture makes us uncomfortable.
This thought came to me as I was working up my summer preaching plans based on the Revised Common Lectionary. I will be preaching through the Old Testament lectionary selections that highlight some of the major points in the story of David.
What I noticed as I was listing the texts was how often they left gaps in the readings. The lectionary often suggests we skip over several verses in the middle of a long passage. I’ve learned in my brief preaching career that such gaps often indicate “difficult” passages — things that might be tough for a preacher to work with or for a congregation to process. (I generally find the passages much more interesting when the excised portions are put back.)
For instance, on July 8 the lectionary offers us 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10. This is about David’s taking the throne of Jerusalem. What the reading leaves out, however, is his conquest of the city. Here are the excised verses:
6 The king and his men marched to Jerusalem to attack the Jebusites, who lived there. The Jebusites said to David, “You will not get in here; even the blind and the lame can ward you off.” They thought, “David cannot get in here.” 7 Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion —which is the City of David.
8 On that day David had said, “Anyone who conquers the Jebusites will have to use the water shaft to reach those ‘lame and blind’ who are David’s enemies.[a]” That is why they say, “The ‘blind and lame’ will not enter the palace.”
I do not deny these verses present some challenges to the preacher, but I do not see why they should be skipped over in the pulpit.
Nor do I understand why the reading for July 15 leaves out these verses:
6 When they came to the threshing floor of Nakon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. 7 The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down, and he died there beside the ark of God.
8 Then David was angry because the Lord’s wrath had broken out against Uzzah, and to this day that place is called Perez Uzzah.[e]
9 David was afraid of the Lord that day and said, “How can the ark of the Lord ever come to me?” 10 He was not willing to take the ark of the Lord to be with him in the City of David. Instead, he took it to the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. 11 The ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite for three months, and the Lord blessed him and his entire household.
Or finally, why does the reading for August 12 hide Joab’s complicity in the death of Absalom?
My theory is that these readings make the life of the preacher hard. They are difficult texts because they demand attention. In the case of the death of Uzzah they challenge our comfortable notions about who God is and what God is capable of doing at any moment. We want to keep God in a box, and when he breaks out of that box, we protest.
But these are not just messy texts about God. They are messy texts about us as well. The cut out portions show us places that our human life gets ugly or conflicted. They show us “men of God” doing things we don’t consider all that holy, only this time no prophet comes stomping into the throne room to call them on it.
Many Christians would defend the editing of the lectionary readings by taking account of biblical scholarship that says the Scriptures come to us as human products. They give us an edited God who has been created to advance certain theological and ideological agendas.
I’m sure the arguments are persuasive, but I find them uninspired and uninspiring. Being a people of one book means affirming that the God revealed in Scripture — even the hard texts — is God. He confronts, challenges, and tests us precisely because he is not the God we would choose. Instead, we are the people God chooses and calls.