If you’re particularly observant, and familiar with the story of the books of Samual and the Kings, you’ll notice that the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) reading, which APA follows, excludes three very important verses in the establishment of David as king over all of Israel, reigning from the newly captured city of Jerusalem. The verses the lectionary picks out tell us that, following the succession crisis that resulted from the death of both Saul and Jonathan at the same battle, David is eventually victorious, and the elders of the northern tribes of Israel finally accept him as their king. Their vow, speaking of being one bone and flesh with David, speaks back to the unity of the first man and woman, bringing deeper significance to the reunion of the north and south under the same king once again. The establishment of Jerusalem as a new stronghold, free from the politics of past conflicts between north and south, sets David up for success in his now expanded power.
But the dropping of those three verses; 6,7 and 8 leaves out part of the story. When David besieged Jerusalem, the Jebusites who held the city mocked him saying that the blind and the lame would turn him away. When David’s men found a way in through the water tunnels, he declared that, because of the boasts of the Jebusites, the blind and the lame would not be allowed to enter into ‘the House’; by which he meant Jerusaelm, but later priests would take as an order prohibiting the entry of the blind and the lame into the Temple.
You can probably see why the RCL skips over that seemingly embarrassing part of Israel’s history, but the thing is, a huge piece of David’s moral development hinges on the reader knowing this part of the story. 2 Samuel chapter 9, a passage that the RCL also skips, tells us that David will be torchered by his unfulfilled promise to treat Jonathan’s family as his own, and sends out scouts to determine if any of Jonathan’s descendants still live. They find a single man from Jonathan’s line; a man who’s name means ‘dispeller of shame’, Mephibosheth (Meph= Exhale; Bosheth= Shame). There’s only one problem; Mephibosheth’s legs were severely damaged beyond use in his infancy when he was being hidden from the potential consolidation of power his protectors expected of either David or one of Saul’s other descendants. By David’s own decree, Mephibosheth is not allowed inside Jerusalem.
Laws are not always just, and breaking a law made in the haste of anger or political revenge may ultimately be more just than following the law as written. So David does what is just, even though, by his own words, it was not legal. David brings Mephibosheth to Jerusalem, and sits him at his table with his sons, nephews, and commanders. David makes Mephibosheth his son in all but name, and honors a man who was lame in a city where the lame were banned.
In the Gospel account of Matthew, we read that on the day Jesus entered Jerusalem, he began turning over the tables of the money changers in the temple. John’s account tells us that Jesus was so dedicated to making a scene that he actually took the time to sit down and braid a whip for the occasion; not exactly a quick DIY project. But what’s often missed in the retelling of that story in our churches is 1) what part of the temple Jesus was clearing, and 2) what happens immediately after the space is cleared.
If you grew up in church, you likely have a vague recollection of a flannelgraph scene of the temple showing it broken up into distinct sections of increasingly restrictive entrance requirements. One of the least restrictive areas was a place called the ‘Court of the Gentiles’. It’s a section which, notably, was not required within the original design of the Tabernacle, on which the Temple was modeled. It was a space where Gentile proselytes, or ‘God-fearers’ were permitted to worship; and more importantly for the purposes of the present topic, where disabled Jews were permitted to worship.
In Jesus’ day, those who were disabled; especially the blind and those without full use of their legs, were believed to have either committed, or inherited some sort of uncleanliness or sin making them de facto excluded from the courtyard of the temple where only purified Jews were allowed. No law in any of the books of Moses supported either banning Gentile God-Fearers (at least those who had been circumcised, and performed the prescribed purification rituals), or those with disabilities who were otherwise ritually clean from the Temple courtyard. And yet, an inscription was posted at the entrance of the Temple that stated the entry of such persons was punishable by death. The Herods, who had a vested interest in appeasing both the Jews, and the Gentiles, created the ‘Court of the Gentiles’ in response; a courtyard outside of the temple court not prescribed in the original temple plans. That way the religious hardliners, and the observant gentiles could both be, at least in part, appeased.
But as any worship leader will tell you, trying to partially appease everyone will most likely result in upsetting at least a handful of petty but powerful people. And the court of the Gentiles did just that, it angered the Jewish nationalists. In response to its existence, the temple authorities immediately began making clear that this space on top of the temple mound was not sacred like the temple itself was. During feasts, when the city would fill up with people from all over the Roman world, the currencies they brought with them would need to be exchanged for the local currency; and so that they wouldn’t have to risk bringing livestock over a long and treacherous journey, sellers of sacrificial animals would be necessary for the function of the temple. These functions were not the direct result of greed, but of necessity. What was not necessary was for these functions to be performed in any particular space. They could have been performed on or in front of the steps of the temple mound. They could have been performed in the alleyways and seasonal bazaars of the city. They could have even been performed outside the city gates, as pilgrims arrived from their far flung homes.
The temple authorities chose the court of the Gentiles. The one place the handicap and the foreigner who feared the Lord were permitted to worship. Their worship would need to be performed with the sounds and smells of a livestock market and coinage exchange washing over their prayers. David himself forbade the blind and lame from entering the House, who were these Idumean kings to upend the decrees of David? The court of the Gentiles was no legitimate part of the temple, and need not be treated as a sacred space because of that fact.
Enter the Son of David; the Branch of Jesse; the Lion of Judah, “IT IS SAID THAT MY HOUSE WILL BE A HOUSE OF PRAYER!!! BUT YOU’VE MADE IT NOTHING BUT A REBEL’S DEN!!!”
The nationalism behind this treatment of Gentiles; Jesus uses the derogatory term for the Zealots to describe the priests who made that decision. Moses’ law says nothing about excluding the blind and the lame from the assembly; and in fact prohibits the exclusion of any who are ritually clean and fear the Lord. What Moses’ law does say, quite explicitly, is that you shall not put a stumbling block in the way of the blind. Animal cages; shin high money-changing tables; crates and amphora of grain and oil; stumbling blocks of all kinds scattered haphazardly throughout the worship space of the blind was an egregious and grotesque violation of the commands of God.
Jesus braids a whip, one imagines muttering about idolatrous and perverse apostates the whole multi-hour long process; gets up, marches through the court of the Gentiles, and drives this non-sacred activity out of God’s sacred space, out to the streets where it belongs; out to the streets these temple authorities thought the handicapped and the foreigner belonged. Then, when the trip hazards were all removed, Jesus welcomed the Mephibosheths of His day into God’s space; reversing one of David’s (many) big mistakes. It was an action only a true king of Israel had the authority to do; a Son of David; THE Son of David. And it was an action that would set in motion the plot to crucify Him.
Much like those three verses of 2 Samuel 5, there are countless stories of systematically disadvantaged persons in our own day that end up being left out of larger narratives for the sake of cleaning up appearances. If we are to have any authority in this world as God’s witnesses, we as the Church need to stop the conversation, the money changing hands at the expense of the vulnerable, the stories being suppressed to save the image of our idols, and in that pause create space for those voices to speak up, and those stories to be told. Jesus was not ashamed to confront the wicked legacy of His ancestor’s mistakes, and to make things right; neither should we.