Today’s Old Testament reading tells of David’s love for his difficult and rebellious son Absalom. God loves us, even when we are difficult and rebellious. When David heard that Absalom had been killed, he “wept; and as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” Jesus our Lord died for our sins and rose to give us new life as God’s reborn children.
Today’s gospel includes both the promise of eternal life and the way this promise is fulfilled in Jesus’ death and resurrection. And finally today’s epistle gives us practical guidance on how to live in thanksgiving for God’s unconditional love in the promise of eternal life.
Some background to the Old Testament reading: David’s first wife was Michal, King Saul’s daughter. He lost her when he revolted and Saul married her to another man. After Saul died David took her back from her grieving second husband. David and Michal had no children. For good cause she despised him. At Hebron during the conflict with Saul David formed alliances with other powerful leaders by marrying their daughters. He had sons by 6 women. You can imagine the drama, and the potential succession conflict.
Amnon, David’s oldest son, lusted after his step-sister Tamar, Absalom’s brother. Amnon pretended to be ill and David ordered Tamar to care for him. He raped her, then he hated her, and two years later her brother Absalom murdered him and fled to his mother’s family in Geshur. Joab, David’s nephew and army commander, negotiated Absalom’s return to Jerusalem but not to the king’s household. Four years later Absalom went to Hebron and, following his father’s example, raised a revolt. David fled north and hid in the forest of Ephriam. Absalom captured Jerusalem and pursued David, but was captured and killed by Joab’s guards in defiance of David’s public order, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” Joab was David’s nephew and his military commander. He had arranged the death in battle of righteous Uriah the Hittite, Bathsheba’s husband. David mourned for his son until Joab and the army said, “Enough!” and forced David to return and reign. After Absalom’s revolt David hired more foreign mercenary soldiers and put down more rebellions. After another family conflict David appointed Bathsheba’s son Solomon to succeed him. Absalom was not a good son, his behavior disappointed David, yet David loved him. We are not good sons and daughters, our behavior has disappointed our earthly parents, yet we are loved, and we love our children even when they do not live up to our expectations or live up to their best potential. David loved his son; we are loved and we love, and God loves us.
God loves us as his children. He offers us eternal life with him, eternal life through the death and resurrection of the Father’s only-begotten son Jesus Christ our Lord. And God gives us instruction in how to live in this life as we await the life to come.
St. John’s gospel expresses his mature life-time reflection on his life with Jesus. Week by week for some 60 years John’s community had met to hear of Jesus’ life and teaching and to join spiritually with Jesus in active remembrance of the Last Supper - and the crucifixion and resurrection. As they received the bread and wine they remembered Jesus’ self-revelation as “the bread of life . . . the bread that came down from heaven.” They ate the bread and drank the wine trusting in Jesus to “raise them up on the last day.” So we today receive the bread of life and the cup of salvation trusting the Lord to raise us up on the last day. He has done that for almost 2000 years for many millions of believers. “I am the bread of life, the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Like the Ephesians, we have some practical guidance in living this new spiritual life we receive in baptism. We receive power by the holy spirit of Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith to “speak the truth . . . to put away . . . bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, and malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” This is not automatic. God works by the Holy Spirit in us and through us, and with us. God will not overrule our free will. If we want to be Absalom, difficult and rebellious, God will let us. But he will grieve as David grieved for Absalom, because God loves us, all of us, all the time, into eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.