The lectionary omits portions of today’s passage from 2 Samuel to make the reading shorter. The first time I read it in its entirety, it seriously cracked me up: Did I ask you to build me a house?
David thought he had the right idea. He thought he knew what the LORD would want, and he wanted to do the LORD honor. But he also felt guilty: here am I living in a house of cedar, while the ark of the LORD rests in a tent!
This passage speaks a word to white people speaking and working in solidarity with black Americans in the struggle for justice. Like David, we are sincere in our desire to help; like David, we may feel guilty that we have privilege that our black sisters and brothers don’t share. Like David, we may think that it’s clear what we should do.
And like David, we need to stop, listen up, and realize we are not in charge here. (Isn’t that the whole point of the anti-racist work we’re trying to do?) We need to hang back, de-center ourselves (take ourselves off the “throne” of white privilege, to run with the Davidic analogy), and defer to the judgment, voices, and actions of the people we’re trying to support. And that may mean we do not get to do the thing that we want to do, that oh just incidentally would also give us some attention and glory. (It’s Solomon’s Temple that went down in history, isn’t it, not David’s.)
After telling David to whoa, there, and laying out the plan that it would be somebody else whose name would be on that Temple, the LORD made a point of reassuring David that he was still loved: maybe because it takes a certain degree of self-assurance in who we are in ourselves, or who we are in our relationship with God, in order to step back and let other people step up.
The gospel reading is the familiar story of the Annunciation: the angel hails Mary, reassures her, answers her question, and offers Elizabeth’s pregnancy as evidence that all things are possible with God. We don’t get it in today’s reading, but the previous passage in Luke tells the story of the same angel appearing to Zechariah, a priest, in the Temple, to announce the good news that he and his wife, long unable to have children, would have a son. When Zechariah questioned the angel, though, he didn’t get an answer; he got silenced because of his lack of faith. Same angel, same kind of question: so how come the difference in treatment?
Whose voice did God silence? A priest, serving in the Temple. An authority figure, a man who had privilege within his community, because of his sex and because of his priestly lineage.
Whose voice did God permit to speak? An unmarried young woman, a teenager really, living in Hicksville. Nobody important.
This difference is worth contemplating, especially given the various narratives around this weekend’s shooting of Shaneka Thompson in Maryland, and subsequent killing of two NYPD officers in Brooklyn by the same gunman, who later killed himself. Some ask, with rancor, where are the protests to support the police officers, after two of theme were killed? These people, police officers and their supporters, want to see an equal response from the community: disregarding the many differences, both in the details of the individual cases (shooter dead vs shooter unpenalized), and in the structural differences of power and privilege.
Perhaps when they see the outpouring of support for the black community, the demands for an end to police brutality and for its perpetrators to be brought to justice, they fear that police officers are no longer valued, not justly appreciated by society. Perhaps they, and others who are uncomfortable with the assertion that Black Lives Matter, are afraid because they think people are saying that only black lives matter.
Perhaps this is why the angel Gabriel greeted Mary with words of reassurance: Hail, favored one, the Lord is with you. Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God. Perhaps this reassurance, like the LORD’s reassurance to David, was necessary for her to be able to embrace change, to take a risk, to put her body and her life in service to a greater cause.
Because Mary didn’t only consent to be the mother of Jesus; she consented in a way that decentered herself.
I am the maidservant of the Lord, she said.
Let it be done to me according to your word.