David and Solomon’s Crime Family Was No Better than Trump’s

Readings for the 4th Sunday of Advent: 2 Samuel 7: 1-5, 8B-12, 14A, 16; Psalms 89: 2-5, 27, 29; Romans 16: 25-27; Luke 1: 38

In terms of teaching theology and elucidating the Bible, I’m happy for our nation’s experience of Donald Trump. Otherwise, not so much.

The reason for my contentment is Mr. Trump’s blatant exploitation of religion and his ability to persuade so many people of faith that he is a man of God. Think of his now infamous Bible posing in front of DC’s St. John’s Church after having police clear the area of Black Lives Matter protesters.  

The event clearly illustrated a perennial religious dynamic that is essential for critical thinkers to understand. I’m referring to what Chilean scripture scholar, Pablo Richard, calls the “battle of the gods.”

The Battle of the Gods

The combat in question pits the God of the rich against the God of the poor. Specific to our readings on this fourth Sunday of Advent, it sets the God of Moses against the God of King David’s crime family. Yes, his crime family.

To begin with, the God of the poor set free a motley group of slaves from Egypt and instituted Moses’ order that favored them rather than their Egyptian slavers. Its “preferential option” prioritized the interests of widows, orphans, and resident non-Hebrews living in Israel. Covenant law eventually forgave the debts of impoverished Hebrews every fifty years. In the process, it disadvantaged landlords and bankers. It made no provision for reestablishing the royal class that had made the lives of slaves so miserable in Egyptian captivity.

Then about a thousand years before the birth of Yeshua, all of that changed. Israel’s upper classes decided to reinstitute an order reminiscent of Egypt. It had the rich lording power over the poor, taxing them heavily, instituting forced labor, and sending Israel’s young men to fight and die in gratuitous wars of conquest as conscripts in a standing army.

Saul was Israel’s first king. He was succeeded by King David and then by his son, Solomon. Both father and son were ruthless womanizers committed to increasing their own wealth and power at the expense of the poor. Theirs was truly a crime family masquerading as God’s beloved appointees.

Family dysfunctions included internecine murders and wars, incestuous rape (2nd Samuel 13) and lasting vendettas. David’s deathbed will and testament was worthy of any Mafia don (I Kings 2: 2-12). However, to achieve the power for which they thirsted, both David and Solomon had to convince their subjects that they were indeed men of God.

That called for fabricated visions and assurances from the divine. Both David and Solomon assisted by their court prophets and scribes enthusiastically obliged. And so, David made sure it was recorded that he was a man “after God’s own heart” (I Samuel 13:14). Meanwhile, Solomon’s own court historians portrayed him as the wisest man who ever lived (I Kings 3: 11-15).

Central to the ruse was a reframing of Moses’ Sinai Covenant to favor the newly emergent royalty and their hangers-on rather than the poor. That’s what we find in this Sunday’s first reading from 2nd Samuel. There, David and his court prophet, Nathan, conspire to change the beneficiaries of the Mosaic Covenant from the poor and oppressed to the royals. In this way, the covenant becomes not a divine promise to protect widows and orphans, but to assure a lasting dynasty for David’s crime family. Put otherwise, the Covenant of Moses was replaced by the Covenant of David.

The great prophets of Judah and Israel rebelled against such palace distortions of faith.

Some tried to work within the new system holding kings’ feet to the fire, reminding them of their obligations towards the weak and vulnerable. Others gave up on the royals and called them out for their self-serving cruelty and corruption.

The great prophets celebrated during this advent season, John the Baptist and his disciple Yeshua of Nazareth, fell into the latter category. They had no use for the royals, the temple priests, their lawyers and apologists. They reserved special abhorrence for their country’s Roman occupiers.

Evidently, Yeshua inherited all of that from his mother, Miryam. She and her husband, Yosef, gave all of their children revolutionary names (Matthew 13: 55-56). Yeshua was named after the great liberator Joshua. The evangelist called “Luke” recorded Miryam as singing a fierce revolutionary song calling for the dethronement of the rich and mighty everywhere (Luke 1: 46-55).

All of that is reflected in today’s readings. What follows are my “translations.” You can find them here to see if I got them right.

Readings for 4th Sunday of Advent   

2 Samuel 7: 1-5, 8B-12, 14A, 16: The wily King David conspired with his court prophet, Nathan to persuade their people that God was on his side. The strategy was to build a magnificent temple (actually about the size of a middling parish church today) and then to claim a well-publicized “vision.” There, according to Nathan’s testimony, David’s battlefield accomplishments would be celebrated by God himself. But even more importantly, his country’s constitution (called “The Covenant”) would be subtly changed from centering on the welfare of widows, orphans, and immigrants, to assuring that David’s crime family would stay in power forever. 

Psalms 89: 2-5, 27, 29: The arrangement was then celebrated in song (Psalm 89) praising the goodness of God for establishing David’s throne “for all generations.”

Romans 16: 25-27: Paul’s allegiance, however, was not to any earthly king, but to what Yeshua proclaimed as the Kingdom of God. It embraced the welfare of “all nations.” Following Yeshua, Paul’s understanding re-established the pre-Davidic Covenant (favoring those widows, orphans, and immigrants) which David’s Covenant (in its hijacked form) had attempted to replace.

Luke 1: 38: Vaguely following the example of David, Luke’s early church made up a visionary tale about Yeshua’s very conception. There, the angel Gabriel secures Mary’s permission to have the Holy Spirit impregnate her. The resulting child will be great, the angel said, and (like David) initiate a kingdom to which “there will be no end.” However, Yeshua’s New Covenant would once again centralize not the royal class, but Yahweh’s beloved widows, orphans, and immigrants. As Mary would say beginning eight verses later (LK 1: 46-55), it would “take down the mighty from their thrones and exalt the humble.” So much for palace crime family conspiracies.

Conclusion

So, portraying the Trumps, or Bushes, or Clintons or Kennedys or Obamas as “crime families” is not at all far-fetched or somehow unchristian. On the contrary, insofar as any of them neglect the poor – the widows, orphans, immigrants, asylum seekers, or victims of their wars – they are just that. They’re like the criminal family of David and Solomon.

Yes, they go to church, invoke God’s blessings on America at the end of every formal speech, and even attend “prayer breakfasts.” But like David and Solomon (and most of the kings portrayed in the Bible), they are really in bed with the rich and powerful, with the bankers and corporate heads, and with compliant pastors, priests and court prophet equivalents. At best, they are completely disinterested in the spiritual descendants of Egypt’s slaves. At worst, they are actual enemies of workers, widows, orphans, immigrants as well as of those who side with the unemployed, houseless, and those without medical care.

In summary, this fourth Sunday of Advent provides a stark reminder to critical thinking people of faith. It tells us not to be seduced by Bible-waving presidents or by pastors who endorse them and their God of the rich.

Neither Yeshua whose birthday we are about to celebrate nor his cousin John nor his revolutionary mother had anything to do with that God. Before him, they were all complete atheists. So should we be.

Their God was the God of Moses, not of David. Their God was precisely the one rejected by the rich and the powerful – the One who Miryam said “puts down the mighty from their thrones and exalts the humble,” who “fills the hungry with good things, while the rich he sends empty away” (Luke 1: 53). 

A Biblical Warning about Stable Geniuses Like Solomon (&DJT)

Readings for 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time: I Kings 3:5, 7-12; Psalms 119: 57, 72-77, 127-130; Romans 8: 28-30; Matthew 13: 44-52  

Do you ever wonder how those claiming to be Christian can support rich billionaires like Donald Trump and those with whom he’s surrounded himself? How can they vote for those who would deprive them of health care, and give tax breaks to the already super-rich, especially when such policies end up being funded by cut-backs in programs that benefit non-billionaires like themselves — programs like Medicare, Medicaid and environmental protection?

Today’s liturgy of the word suggests an answer. It presents us with what Chilean scripture scholar, Pablo Richard, calls the “Battle of the Gods.” The conflict embodies contrasting ideas about the nature of God and God’s order as found within the Bible itself – as well as in today’s “America.”

One concept of God belonged to the rich such as Israel’s Kings, David and Solomon – ancient analogues of Donald Trump and his friends. The other belonged to the poor who surrounded Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth. They were working people like you and me, along with n’er-do-wells: the unemployed, poorly paid, sick, disabled, and underemployed. Many were houseless street people and working girls. To them Jesus embodied and spoke of a God unrecognizable to David, Solomon, or today’s right wing.

The contrast emerges as today’s readings juxtapose the dream of Solomon, the representative par excellence of Israel’s 1% in our first reading, over against Jesus’ own words about the contrasting nature of God’s Kingdom in today’s Gospel selection.

Here are my “translations” of this Sunday’s selections. Check them out here to see if I’ve got them right.

I Kings 3:5, 7-12: So, the wily king David’s son, Solomon, had a convenient “dream” which proved him every bit as clever as his old man. In it, (as he told his fawning court historian) the new king successfully requested from God not riches or triumph over his enemies but understanding and judgment that would distinguish him as the wisest man ever. (Sounds very like a “stable genius,” wouldn’t you say?)

Psalms 119: 57, 72-77, 127-130: Would that we could believe such testimony on the part of self-serving politicians like king Solomon. It would mean that they actually preferred God’s wisdom to their own – God’s law over money. They would be compassionate rather than cruel, value truth over propaganda, and honor wisdom from below rather than the court ideologies of sycophants on the make.

Romans 8: 28-30: How different from the prophet Jesus. As a poor man himself, he was genuinely good, loved God and actually manifested true divine wisdom. We are all called to be like him – not like the always self-congratulatory royals.

Matthew 13: 44-52: However, accepting Jesus’ message calls for complete buy-in – for total commitment. It’s a pearl of great price. It demands wise discernment in choosing between the good and the bad, the old and the new. Making the wrong choice can be disastrous – though (pace, St. Matthew) never finally so.

Notice in that final reading how Jesus calls his would-be followers to a profound paradigm shift – away from one that lionized the imperial order to a divine kingdom in in which the poor prosper. The former was embodied not only in the Roman empire of Jesus’s day, but in Israel itself. Its leaders a thousand years earlier had hijacked the Mosaic Covenant that contradicted their New Imperial World Order.

In today’s first reading Solomon’s court historians mask the hijacking by predictably identifying their employer as “the wisest man ever,” just as before him they had identified Solomon’s cruel and womanizing father, David, as “a man after God’s own heart.” In this royally stolen form, the Covenant connected God and the royal family. It assured a royal dynasty that would last “forever.” It guaranteed God’s blessings on Solomon’s expansionistic policies.

The covenantal truth was much different. In its original Mosaic form (as opposed to the Davidic bastardization), the Covenant joined Yahweh (Israel’s only King) and escaped slaves – poor people all – threatened by royalty and their rich cronies.

The Covenant’s laws celebrated in today’s responsorial psalm protected the poor from those perennial antagonists.  For instance, “Thou shalt not steal,” was originally addressed to large land-owners intent on appropriating the garden plots belonging to subsistence agriculturalists.

Despite such prohibitions, those who established Israel’s basic laws knew the power of money. The rich would inevitably absorb the holdings of the poor as did David and Solomon. So, Israel’s pre-monarchical leaders established the world’s oldest “confiscatory tax.” It was called the “Jubilee Year” which mandated that every 50 years all debts would be forgiven and land would be returned to its original (poor) owners.

The advent of a Jubilee Year represented the substance of Jesus’ basic proclamation. No wonder the poor loved him. No wonder the refrain we sang together this morning repeated again and again, “Lord I love your commands.” That’s the refrain of the 99% locked in life-and-death struggle with the rich 1% represented by Solomon and his court.

In today’s Gospel selection, Jesus indicates the radical swerve necessary for establishing God’s kingdom understood in Jubilee terms. It involves “selling all you have” and buying into the Kingdom concept as if it were buried treasure or a pearl of great price.

That’s the kingdom – the world order we’re asked to believe in, champion, and work to introduce. It’s what the world would be like if God – not David or Solomon – were king.

In our own country, it’s what “America” would be like if our politics were shaped by God’s “preferential option for the poor,” instead of Mr. Trump’s preferential option for his dear 1%.