When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son.
But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD, and the LORD sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”
Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. Thus says the LORD: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun. For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.” David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a
Imagine this–a prophet goes before a rich and powerful nation and tells them this parable: “There were once two men; a wealthy one and a poor one. The wealthy one had everything money could buy–any food or drink he could want, a nice house, a nice car, money to travel the world. The poor one often had to struggle even to have clean water or food or a roof over his head. But the poor one had one pleasure in his life–a lion that he used to love to watch out on the savannah, that he identified with, that made him feel connected to nature and to the nobility of his land and his people. But the rich man had a hobby of killing large animals, so he traveled to the poor man’s country and killed the lion, making it suffer with his injuries for two days before finally cutting off his head and hide, and leaving his body for the poor man to find.”
When the prophet finished telling the story, the people in the rich country were outraged. They said, “the man who has done this deserves to die for what he has done and because he had no pity.” And the prophet said to them, “You are the man!”
It feels so good to be outraged. It’s such a relief to feel righteous anger at someone else’s actions, especially when they are unequivocally wrong. When you heard the story of the killing of Cecil, the beloved lion from a national park in Zimbabwe, you probably felt outraged, horrified, and saddened yourself. But it’s almost disturbing to see how easy it is to generate outrage over the senseless killing of an animal, yet how little outrage we can seem to muster over the senseless killings of humans that have peppered the news over the past year, one after another, whether it’s this month’s mass shooting or this week’s police killing of an unarmed citizen. It’s easier to condemn the lion’s killing because it’s so cut and dried, there’s no complicated law-and-order questions, you don’t have to risk looking like you’re anti-cop or pro-gun control by expressing outrage over the killing of an innocent animal. But the reaction over Cecil’s killing says more about us as a society than it does about the killer, Dr. Walter Palmer. Because it’s so easy for us to express outrage, yet much more difficult to actually do anything about it, to actually change our lives or our societal values.
This incident, just like the above parable the prophet Nathan tells King David, seems to be a story about someone else, but really it holds a mirror up to ourselves. We live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Most of us don’t have to worry about what we’ll eat or what we’ll drink. But how many of us turn a blind eye to problems in countries like Zimbabwe, many of those problems in fact caused by our own rampant drive for wealth, our own unwillingness to curb global warming, or to commit our own money and resources to stop wars and diseases that plague other people far away, over there? And how many of us encourage or even engage in, if we can afford it, the kind of decadent luxury that inspires someone to think it’s a good idea to spend $50,000 just to kill another living being? I have no desire to defend Palmer, I think he deserves every punishment he’s getting; but at the same time, I can’t help but feel that our worship of wealth shares part of the blame. It’s only because of our worship of wealth that someone like Palmer, until this incident, was an honored and respected citizen. It’s only because of our worship of wealth that someone like Donald Trump can be taken seriously as a presidential candidate. We not only condone and even encourage the national orgy of wealth and consumption, most of us, in fact, crave it and desire it for ourselves. It’s this aspect of human nature–this sinful craving–that politicians exploit by time and time again getting us to agree to tax cuts that benefit the wealthy and hurt us ourselves–because we have this fantasy that someday, we’ll be wealthy, and we don’t want to pay taxes either! Cecil’s death is heartbreaking, but his story is one of the thousands of logical consequences that happen when the priorities of our hearts go awry.
When King David was confronted with what he’d done, his reaction was, “I have sinned against the Lord.” He immediately saw his own reflection of taking what was not his in the story of the man who killed another man’s beloved pet lamb. Would that Palmer had read his scripture and reacted the same way, perhaps then he wouldn’t have lost his business and be facing extradition back to Zimbabwe. Instead, Palmer’s reaction was, “It wasn’t my fault. It was someone else’s fault.” Just like the reaction of the police officer who shot and killed Samuel DuBose in Cincinatti, just like the reaction of the trooper who arrested Sandra Bland for not signaling a lane change, resulting in her death in a jail cell. Along with our national worship of wealth, we seem to have a national love of passing the buck, explaining away, never taking the blame. It’s always someone else’s fault, someone else’s responsibility.
When we are moved to outrage just as King David was when he heard about the poor lamb, it’s a good impulse, it’s born of a place of compassion and empathy. But even though indulging in it feels good, as Christians we are called to a higher moral standard than making ourselves feel better by condemning someone else, and we should ask ourselves what’s our own role in this? What are we doing to create more equity in the world so that people in Zimbabwe, for example, have more opportunities in life than poaching endangered animals? In fact, two years ago at the same park where Cecil lived, over 100 endangered elephants were poisoned by cyanide in their watering hole so that poachers could cut off and sell their tusks. What are we doing to create a world where people can find meaning and value in who they are rather than in the wealth they can accumulate? How tragic that Palmer and others like him feel that’s the way to find meaning, by making a lot of money so that you can then spend it on destructive things like killing another living being. Thanks be to God, that is not the life that Jesus calls us to. Jesus says to us, “I am the bread of life; [John 6:35] I am the solution to that horrible craving you have within you that drives you to seek wealth and power over other people. You don’t need to do that. God has provided for you everything you need within your own communities and within your own hearts.”
You have heard the expression, the lion shall lie down with the lamb, a paraphrase of the prophet Isaiah. This prophecy has already come to pass: In a different African nation, Kenya, in a different animal park, about ten years ago, another lion named Larsens began adopting baby antelopes, a species lions usually hunt and eat. But this lion would protect them and cuddle with them and treat them as her own. When they would grow up, she would let them go and later adopt another baby antelope, and she ended up doing this with five babies. Like Cecil, she was beloved by the people who lived near the park, who were moved by her tenderness and compassion and mothering of those she could easily have killed, and in honor of her example, they gave her a new name from their own language: Kamunyak, “The Blessed One,” reminiscent of our Blessed Mother, Mary.
So if the lion can lie down with the lamb, surely someday, the meek and the poor and the weaponless and defenseless will have nothing to fear from the rich, from the powerful, from those in authority. God is constantly sending us glimpses of Eden, of the world as he created it. Let’s use our outrage over innocent deaths, whether it’s animals or people, and channel that into re-creating the world God originally gave us, a world without violence, without innocent deaths, where people don’t have to be afraid driving their cars or walking down the street that they will be randomly killed. Outrage may feel good in the moment, but it is not outrage that will change the world. It is the root of that outrage: compassion, what David called, “pity.” It is love–love for the beauty of creation God gave us, love for our fellow brothers and sisters. We do not need to be slaves to our hunger and thirst after things that bring only destruction. As Jesus has promised, when we know who and what is truly the bread of life, when we have that love inside us, we will never hunger and we will never thirst. Jesus, we beg you, give us this bread always.