Perhaps you’ve seen this happen. Somebody does well, succeeds in a profession, climbs a ladder to a high rung, and then decides, as the phrase goes, “to give back to the community.”
This “giving back” may take the form of volunteer service, a seat on the board of a non-profit corporation, the establishment of a charitable foundation. Perhaps you’ve seen this happen.
Something like this happens with King David. Things have quieted down for him. No enemies are threatening his country. Life is going well. One afternoon over cocktails, he starts talking with Nathan the prophet about his next big project.
David knows he has a great place to live. His house, as he calls it, is really a palace. The God of Israel has nothing to compare with it. The ark, sacrament of God’s presence among his people, is kept in a tent. A temple worthy of the God of Israel would be a great legacy for David to leave.
Before David can start sketching on a napkin, Nathan says “Go for it!” And why not? It seems like the decent thing to do. And Nathan, though a prophet, has not received anything from on high that would forbid the construction project.
That night, however, Nathan has a dream. The sort of dream that even a prophet does not have often, but maybe once or twice in a lifetime. A big dream. The Lord himself speaks, and gives Nathan a message for David.
The upshot of the message is this: “So who’s asking for a house? And who do you think you are anyway, volunteering to build it? The tent’s just fine for me. I’m turning the tables on you, David. You wanted to build me a house, a building of wood and stone. That won’t ever happen. Instead, I’ll build you a house––not a building, but a dynasty. I will establish the reign of your offspring. He will build a house for me, and his kingdom will prevail forever.”
This promise comes true, and in more than one way. David builds no house for the Lord; it is his son Solomon who constructs the temple. Descendants of David reign over Israel and Judah for centuries, but finally those kingdoms come to their end. The promise of an everlasting kingdom finds its fulfillment in a later descendant of David, namely Jesus, who through his cross and resurrection and ascension comes to reign over a kingdom that is in this world but not of it.
A SUBSCRIBER SAYS: “Thank you, thank you, thank you! I trust your work and bless you for being so reliable and faithful!”
A thousand sparks to spark your imagination!
If we pay careful attention to our lives, we may discover that what happens to David happens to us. The same story line can be traced beneath our outward circumstances.
We decide one day to give back to the community, to do something beautiful for God, to repay the debt we owe to life. We get an idea. Maybe we draft a plan. Our project seems like the decent thing to do.
But then something more important starts to happen. It turns out that we are not alone in having intentions for our future. What we have concocted is not objectionable. What we have foreseen is motivated by a bit of human love mingled with portions of fear and pride and short-sightedness. What starts disclosing itself instead is driven by the same pure invincible love that keeps galaxies on course.
• We want a building. The other proposal is to launch a kingdom.
• We want a legacy. The other proposal allows death no dominion.
• We want to do good. The other proposal brings a new, continuing creation.
Slow down and dare to look for where pure invincible love is at work in your life, beckoning you on to a future better than you can imagine.
It’s not that your best projects are bad, but a far better proposal is unfolding itself through even ordinary circumstances. You cannot control this. Dare to welcome it.
Trust that this unfolding involves others also, among them our children, whom we bring to the font for Baptism out of the belief that God’s intentions for them are bigger and better than even their parents’ finest plans.
Some friend of ours, our own prophet Nathan, may be the messenger who reveals to us something of this great unfolding. Listen to that friend.
We may perceive it also when tears of a certain sort well up inside us. For we fall in love, not only with people and places, but also with our plans, and it can be hard to let them go, even to receive some greater gift.
Mary Oliver closes her poem “In Blackwater Woods” with lines that apply to various loves, including attachment to praiseworthy projects. Here is what she tells us:
To live in this world
you must be able to do three things:
love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
Against the unavoidable death of whatever dream we hold as though it were life itself, listen again to the resurrection promise spoken to David––and to us: “Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I declare to you that I will make you a house.”
Copyright 2010, Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission. Fr. Hoffacker is the author of A Matter of Life and Death: Preaching at Funerals (Cowley Publications), a book devoted to helping clergy prepare funeral homilies that are faithful, pastoral, and personal.