I'd rather be a sparrow than a snail

Published on 19 Jul 2014

It’s that time of year. Distant voices call for your attention.  Recently it was Glastonbury, but my tent stayed in the cupboard and I stayed home.   Last weekend it was Scotland’s own T in the park, and the adventurous crowds are heading off to Kinross. Two years ago the surprise was that Nicola Benedetti was playing. This year the main story seems to be that the sun was shining (at least part of the time), and there was some advice from Martin Doherty of Chvrches ( a band), that you should mark your tent with a flag to make sure you find your way back. My own tent doesn’t have a flag, in fact I should be honest and say that I don’t have a tent and have never quite seen what others see in having to carry your house on your back. I‘d rather be a sparrow than a snail. Perhaps the biggest news is that there will be a new venue next year where tents will co-exist with the castle at Strathallan.

For me it is that time of year to make sure that I am prepared for the Edinburgh Living Theology Summer School which is only a few days away. In some years, I have done most of the preparation well in advance but this year I am dealing with material I haven’t taught before, the Biblical accounts of David and Solomon which we find in the books of Samuel and Kings, and their re-telling in Chronicles. I can’t remember when I last read Chronicles with any care. Sometimes passages strike you because of their familiarity and sometimes it is as if you are reading them for the first time. One that has particularly impressed me is this introduction to a tale of human fallenness.

2 Samuel 11:1   At the turn of the year, at the time when kings go off to fight, David sent Joab and with him his guards and all Israel. They massacred the Ammonites and laid siege to Rabbah-of-the-Ammonites. David, however, remained in Jerusalem.

It is not so long since David took Jerusalem and made it his own, the City of David. He has spent nearly all his adult life living in tents, campaigning for Saul or on the run from Saul. The irony is that David seems to be at his best when he is among his men or among the poor and afflicted in Israel. Things begin to go wrong when he settles in his own city.  It is a fatal decision to stay behind. Fatal especially for Uriah the Hittite, fatal for the child who is born to Bathsheba, perhaps Solomon too is fatally flawed. But somehow it vindicates God’s message to David through Nathan the prophet:

But that very night, the word of the LORD came to Nathan:  5 'Go and tell my servant David, "THE LORD says this: Are you to build me a temple for me to live in?  6 I have never lived in a house from the day when I brought the Israelites out of Egypt until today, but have kept travelling with a tent for shelter.  7 In all my travels with all the Israelites, did I say to any of the judges of Israel, whom I had commanded to shepherd my people Israel: Why do you not build me a cedar-wood temple?" 2 Samuel 7:4-7

A King builds a palace as a symbol of power: look at that cedar.  He builds a palace to be above the people not to be among them. He builds a palace to look down on his people, and he looks down on Bathsheba with a sense of entitlement. David has lost the place in every sense of that phrase. God will not be controlled by the King; God will not be bound to the King’s Temple attached as it is to the royal palace. God wants to be free. God makes the promise to be with David’s ‘House’, and it is a promise God will keep through thick and thin. Chronicles explains that David is not allowed to build the Temple because he has shed too much blood. Solomon, whose name is a word associated with Shalom (peace) will build the Temple. In fact, David prepares everything in advance so that Solomon just has to go to the Jerusalem IKEA and assemble it.

Jesus himself was not obviously pro-Temple. But his proclamation of the Kingdom connects with David and Solomon. With David,    Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.' Matthew 8:20

With Solomon

Look at the birds in the sky. They do not sow or reap or gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them….. Think of the flowers growing in the fields; they never have to work or spin;  29 yet I assure you that not even Solomon in all his royal robes was clothed like one of these …  33 Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on God's saving justice, and all these other things will be given you as well. (Matthew 6:26-33)

I’d rather be a sparrow than a snail

Jim Crampsey SJ