By The Rev. Sam Portaro
Newly consecrated king, David establishes the ritual relationship between Israel and God in worship [Ch 16], appointing (i.e., ordaining) the Levites to priestly service. David’s practice of ritual sacrifice, blessing the people, and distributing bread and other food to “every person” foreshadows Eucharist and the two-fold dimension of thanksgiving to God in worship of God and generosity to God’s people in tangible service rendered equitably [Ch 17]. David’s comparison of his own material blessing (a house of cedar) with God’s “homelessness” reveals a depth of conscience and relationship; God’s generous blessing of David inspires the king offer more than ritual gratitude in the vision of a temple and intent to erect it. But through Nathan, David learns that his priorities are misplaced [Ch 18]. David’s role is to build God a different kind of residence, in the strength of God’s people. Victory after victory increases Israel’s material wealth and welfare, blessings David attributes to God’s loving care.
In Psalm 119:33-72, paired well with the reading from I Chronicles, we read a heartfelt prayer, one that may well have been prayed by and certainly reflects the devotion of David, whose actions attest that he has indeed learned the ways of God’s statutes and heeded God’s ways.
Chapter 7 of Paul’s letter to the community in Rome is complex, in part because it struggles to express the dilemma of human motive. Just as David’s desire to build a house (temple) for God seems a generous act, it’s a misplaced gesture, at least in part because it springs from David’s personal appreciation for his own material well-being—a quid pro quo. David is dissuaded by Nathan and re-directs his gratitude to God in a pledge to pursue God’s will instead of his own.
The essential point of Paul’s tumbling, stumbling message is that through his own experience he has discerned that human will is incapable of self-direction, much less self-correction. A faithful life begins in acknowledging that simply assenting to God’s will is inadequate; human motives are often mixed and never pure. This is not a condemnation of humanity, but a useful warning against reliance upon one’s own convictions.
Can you cite an example from contemporary news or events of mixed motive and misplaced priority?
Recall an instance from your own experience of mixed motive and misplaced priority. Who was your Nathan, who dared to bring you clarity of purpose?
God of pure wisdom, grant me humility to question even my deepest and most sincere convictions, and grace to submit my own judgment to your scrutiny and the risks of greater clarity in your guidance. Amen.
The Rev. Sam Portaro is former Episcopal Chaplain at the University of Chicago and a noted author and retreat leader.