2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33

Enough to Raise The Dead

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2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33

Enough to Raise The Dead

The Rev. Charles Hoffacker

Travel to the city of Rome
and go to the basilica named for St. Peter.
Near the main entrance you will find
one of the most celebrated sculptures in the world,
the Pieta of Michelangelo.

Mary the mother of Jesus is shown seated.
On her lap, in her arms,
she holds the lifeless body of her son
newly brought down from the cross.
You may be familiar
with this eloquent work in marble.
Perhaps you have stood before it.

Blessed Mary appears quite young.
And somehow the body of her adult son
rests on her lap without seeming awkward.
The Pieta possesses a strange beauty and grace
that engages the viewer.

We are invited to contemplate the sorrow
that floods her heart.
It is a sorrow uniquely her own.
Yet it is also universal,
the sorrow that arises in our hearts
in the face of death
when the corpse is a child,
a young person,
someone innocent.

The Pieta thus presents
with sublime eloquence
the loss Mary felt
when she cradled the dead body of her child,
the sorrow that enveloped the heart
of our Savior’s earthly parent.


Today’s selection from the Second Book of Samuel
is the last in a long series of Sunday readings
that focus on David, Israel’s greatest king.
This last selection does not recount his death in old age.
Instead, it recounts the murder of a young man,
the king’s son Absalom,
and the grief that seizes David as a result.

An unforgettable moment in biblical literature
confronts us:
David the king, deeply moved,
retreating to an upstairs chamber,
weeps as he goes and cries out repeatedly,
“O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom!
Would I had died instead of you,
O Absalom, my son, my son!”

Absalom is murdered by David’s soldiers
because he had revolted against his father,
claiming the kingdom for himself.
That rebellion must be put down,
yet King David tells his forces
that for his sake
they should deal gently
with the young man Absalom.

The royal command is ignored.
David’s general and ten of his soldiers
surround Absalom and kill him
in the forest of Ephraim.
They subject his body to a disgraceful burial,
tossing it into a hole in a field,
then covering it with a big pile of stones.

David does not celebrate this rebel’s defeat.
He remains instead a father.
We hear in his outcry
a father’s grief at the murder of his child.

Part of what it means for scripture to be inspired
is that it contains several levels of meaning.
In this portrait of David the grief-stricken father
there is something more
than what happens in history,
time and again.
We have here also a reminder
of what happens inside the Trinity.

The cross brings suffering
to the Father as well as the Son.
The Son dies a real death.
The Father suffers a real bereavement.
Together Father and Son
are one in the Spirit,
and the cross reveals the Spirit
as an abyss of sorrow.
This is what the Godhead undergoes freely–
for us.

If David, a sinful human like us,
laments loudly the killing of his rebel son,
then the death of Jesus,
who obeys the will of God,
brings grief past our ability to imagine
to the heart of his father.
The Father accepts this grief
even as the Son accepts his death.
They do so freely.
Love is the motive.

So in the Pieta of Michelangelo
we have an image of the sorrow
felt by the mother of Jesus over his death.

And in the story from Second Samuel
we have something that points to the grief
felt by the heavenly Father over that death.

It is a mistake to suggest
that while God the Son suffers for us,
God the Father does not.
The Father of our Savior
knows a unique brand of suffering
because of the death of his Son,
even as King David experiences heartbreak
because of the death of Absalom.

God the Father is not nailed to a cross.
Yet God the Father knows the pain
of witnessing his Son nailed to a cross.

God the Father suffers
due to the death of his Son.
This is an important insight.
It makes a difference
regarding practical matters.


Many people choose not to understand God
in this way.
They can perhaps abide the suffering Son
and his grieving mother,
but not the suffering Father.
Their view of reality demand a strict Father
not only at the center of the Godhead,
but also in society and personal life.

The Strict Father imposes harsh discipline,
using violence if necessary.
The Strict Father abstains from tears,
even at the death of his rebel child.
There is no room to question the Strict Father.
Control is the key.

The goal in this worldview
is for each person to become
his or her own Strict Father.
Let each be ready to do violence to others,
violence to self,
in the interest of maintaining control.

Order is abundant, of course,
in the Strict Father world.
What that world lacks
is empathy and compassion. 1

David crying out in grief
at the loss of his rebel son.
Mary cradling the corpse of Jesus
at the foot of the cross.
God the Father left grief-stricken
at the death of God the Son.
All this constitutes a standing challenge
to the sovereignty of the Strict Father.

There are Strict Father versions of Christianity,
for sure,
that they fall fatally short
of the truth of the Gospel.

The most authentic Christianity
is presented by the tears of David,
the tears of Mary, the tears of God.

The most authentic Christianity
does not surrender empathy and compassion
in order to purchase the illusion of control.

Instead, what we find
is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ
keeps challenging the Strict Father regime
in the interest of a heavenly Father
who is not afraid to weep.

This challenge takes place,
not only in sanctuaries,
but in homes and halls of government,
in public squares and in the depths of the human heart.
God wants us to surrender our control needs
and become as human as he is.
A willingness to weep
places us on the road
to personal and collective salvation.
Someone might say
that I am building a significant edifice
on a slim biblical foundation,
namely a particular reading of David’s grief.
But this theme of the Father who suffers
runs through the two testaments.

The great Jewish scholar Abraham Joshua Heschel
finds this God everywhere in the writings of the prophets. 2

Jesus announces that mourners are blessed. 3
It is possible that the chief mourner of all
is God the Father;
and that the coming of his reign on earth
as in heaven
will be the blessing
this grief-stricken Father will receive.

However, the New Testament passage
that comes to my mind first and foremost
is that story Jesus tells about a father
and his two sons. 4

Each of the sons turns out to be
a disappointment to his father.
The younger leaves and lives a dissolute life.
The elder stays back and hardens his heart.
Each boy dies
in a different way.

But when the moment of crisis arrives for each,
the father is there, stronger than grief,
welcoming home
both the prodigal party boy
and the son who had become a strict father.

Jesus concludes that story
before we know how each son responds.
Yet there’s reason to hope
that the old man’s tears
are enough to raise the dead.

That story is not just about them.
That story is about us.
Each one of us is the prodigal party boy
or a hard heartened strict father
or even something of both.

This Eucharist and every Eucharist
is the celebration that God the Father puts on
to welcome us home.

The only question that matters,
and the one that answers all the rest,
is this one:
Will you partake of the feast of faith?
Will you take for your own a heart-broken God?

We are dead people.
Dead rebels.
Dead authoritarians.
But God sees us not simply as ourselves,
but in his child Jesus.

And the tears of God the Father
as he beholds the suffering of his Son
are enough to raise the dead.


1. The University of California linguist George Lakoff explores the social and political implications of the strict Father model in many of his writings, especially Moral Politics (1996).

2.  See Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Prophets (1962).

3.  Matthew 5:4.

4. Luke 15:11-32.

Copyright 2015, Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission.