You Were Made to Live for Greatness

Avoiding our responsibility, as King David formerly did, is not living for greatness. It’s living for passivity.

Pieter de Grebber, “King David in Prayer”, c. 1635-1640
Pieter de Grebber, “King David in Prayer”, c. 1635-1640 (photo: Public Domain)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: God’s Chosen One, the king of the Israelites, accidentally saw a married woman bathing. He lusted after her, slept with her, then murdered her husband. All after being called a man after God’s own heart.

Father Mike Schmitz addressed this story at the Arlington Diocese’s 2018 Men’s Retreat on March 3. But he didn’t provide the shorthand version heard at so many pulpits, and described in the first paragraph above. Instead, at a conference focused on “Made for Greatness,” Father Schmitz pointed out that the lust was likely the third of a series of sins that ultimately led to Uriah’s murder and the death of David’s and Bathsheba’s child.

The first sin was abandonment of duty. Just like so many men today watch TV instead of being present with their families, or watch pornography instead of leading their families to holiness, David – the warrior-king in an era when, Father Schmitz pointed out, kings fought with their men – “sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army.”

Not a big deal, right? We all avoid duty from time to time, though not many of us send troops to war while we stay safe in bed.

Speaking of bed – “One evening David got up from his bed walked around on the roof of the palace.” Father Schmitz described this as David’s laziness while his men were fighting and dying.

The third sin was lust. David saw Bathsheba and “sent someone to find out about her.” Finding her married, “he slept with her.”

Then, he sent her home. What a classy guy!

For most of us, this is the point at which we imagine we’d realize how far we’ve fallen. Sloughing off responsibility, kicking back a bit too much, lusting after a married woman and seducing her, and then kicking her out like so much trash.

But David’s not done yet. Father Schmitz highlighted that the king used his authority to manipulate Uriah into sleeping with his wife to hide David’s sin. Uriah, being an honorable man, did not desire to take life easy while the men were fighting and dying – even though David got him drunk. (I think that counts as at least two more sins – lying about the pregnancy and getting someone drunk.)

So, finally, “David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. In it he wrote, ‘Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.’”

Joab followed orders, and Uriah died. God’s Chosen One had committed murder. And it started with just a little bit of Living for Passivity, not Living for Greatness (the theme of Father Schmitz’s speech).

Few people would read what David did without disgust. He committed heinous sins and abandonments of duty to himself, to his people and to God. God’s Chosen One committed murder, but was unaware of his sin until Nathan the Prophet called him out.

And just as our sins have consequences, David’s sin led to the death of his infant child and to future wars. Additionally, in reading more of Samuel 2 afterward, I noted that Joab “instructed the messenger” that David might be angry that Uriah did not die alone. Perhaps this is God’s reminder to all of us that there are consequences to our sins – David’s efforts to murder Uriah led a) to the deaths of others, and b) corrupted Joab, a loyal servant, who was a major part of the murder.

This story of David’s litany of sins started with just a small one. For us, maybe it’s getting mad at someone in rush hour. Perhaps it’s having that one extra drink we shouldn’t, or telling a white lie, or calling someone a name on Facebook. We can tell ourselves that it’s no big deal, we were just tired or irritable or having a bad day, right?

Not according to C.S. Lewis. In Mere Christianity, he describes each moment of our lives as an opportunity to choose to be an angel or a demon. Arlington Diocese Director of Communications Billy Atwell, who spoke after Father Schmitz, said something similar on a panel at the retreat – that being off by one degree can have real consequences on a long hike. And a good friend often points out that the straight line of our time from birth to death is always touching the parabola of infinity.

Avoiding our responsibility, as David did, is not living for greatness. It’s living for passivity, living for avoidance of our responsibilities as baptized chosen ones of God. We are made for greatness, and we can only live up to that through an active relationship with God.

If we consider the arts, what present philosophers can rival Plato, Aquinas, or Aristotle?

What Was Then and What Is Now

COMMENTARY: ‘We all want progress,’ writes C.S. Lewis, ‘but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.’