You are the man!


David and Nathan, Jacob Backer

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 84; 148, 2 Samuel 12:1-14, Acts 19:21-41, Mark 9:14-29

After David arranged for the death of his loyal soldier Uriah to steal Uriah’s wife, the prophet Nathan dropped by for a visit and told the story of a rich many with many flocks and herds, and a poor man with a single, dearly treasured ewe. The rich man does not want to slaughter any of his own sheep to feed an unexpected guest, so he takes the poor man’s ewe. An infuriated David, interpreting this story literally, declares, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die!”

Nathan responds, “You are the man!”

Now Nathan’s story isn’t long, but we aren’t far in before wondering at what point David is going to realize it’s a parable about himself. Yet somehow he needs to be bludgeoned with the obvious.

This event illustrates the folk wisdom that traits we dislike in other people are actually traits we dislike about ourselves. David doesn’t seem conscious of this, but wouldn’t a man after God’s heart have to know on some level how badly he’d messed up? Powerful stories hold a mirror up to our own experiences, so our reactions to them teach us a lot about ourselves.

In modern parlance “You are the man!” often has a more positive connotation. We say it when someone helps us out or impresses us. Is it possible that, just as we may subconsciously see our weaknesses in others and in stories, we may also unwittingly recognize some of our better qualities? Maybe the kick-butt sci-fi heroine fans the tiny spark of holy rebel inside us. Or perhaps we admire our friend who spends her Saturdays at the food bank because it reminds us of the generosity we are capable of.

Only a minuscule fraction of what happens in the world is actually about us, but it all has something to teach us. When we learn to recognize our commonalities, we are less likely to do things like … say … murder a friend to bed his wife. Or ignore those in need.

If someone tells you, “You are the man!” … which will it mean?

Additional Reading:
For thoughts on today’s reading from Acts, see Threats Both Foreign and Domestic.

Comfort: None of us are perfect; God loves and uses us anyway.

Challenge: Meditate on what your favorite books or movies might teach you about yourself.

Prayer: Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me. (Psalm 25:4-5)

Discussion: If the phrase was “You are the woman!” would you find that more, less, or equally relatable? Why?

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