By Ched Myers
2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16 | Romans 16:25-27 | Luke 1:26-38
Today’s Gospel is the angel’s annunciation to Mary, a scene so often reproduced by religious art, liturgy and piety that it is perhaps too familiar to Catholics. What might we learn by viewing it through the lens of the (seemingly oddly paired) Hebrew Bible reading? This part of 2 Samuel narrates the fate of the ark, the traditional mobile shrine of Exodus that symbolized God’s journey with the people, distinct from the Canaanite deities who tended to be associated with specific places/institutions.
In 2 Samuel 6, King David has brought the ark to Jerusalem, the key, the final piece in his consolidation of power in Israel. Interestingly, the narrative posits a rather strained relationship between David and the ark. At first David is fearful of its power, and refuses to be steward of such a dangerous force (2 Samuel 6:6-10). But when he observes that the ark brings blessing to the house of Obededom, he covets it (v 11f). Does David want the ark only insofar as it serves his ends?
Once he has “captured” the ark, however, David begins to feel uncomfortable that he lives in a nice house while the shrine dwells in a tent (7:1f, see 5:11). Key to this story is the semantic interplay between clan “houses” and the “house” of God. The houses of Eli, Samuel and Saul have risen and fallen in 1-2 Samuel according to their fidelity to God. Now there is trouble in David’s household, since his wife, Michal, resents him bringing the ark to the South; her alienation scuttles the possibility of bringing the “houses” of Saul and David together in peace (6:20f, see 9:1). And David will take his first fall by invading the “house” of Uriah and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11).
Nathan, who will later unmask David’s murderous adultery (2 Samuel 12), here delivers an oracle from God that is decidedly ambiguous (7:4ff). The first part of the message repudiates David’s pretensions to build God a house (7:5-7). The second part, however, switches to classic covenant language, affirming that because Israel is now “planted” in a place, God will also “make for you a house.” But it is God’s construction project, not David’s. The third part of the oracle announces that it will be David’s offspring, not David, who will “build a house for me name.”
“Unless Yahweh builds the house, in vain do its builders toil over it” (Psalm 127:1). This is an enduring warning to all who aspire to grand projects–whether presidents or peace activists! Its radical wisdom echoes through that familiar annunciation story: God prepares to rebuild the house of David (Luke 1:32f) by taking up residence in the womb of the homeless woman Mary.
This reflection is from Discovering God With Us: 1999 Pax Christi USA Advent Journal, by Ched Myers and Joyce Hollyday. This year’s booklet by Diane Lopez Hughes is still available and can be ordered online here. Ched Myers is a biblical scholar and popular educator who has for 30 years been challenging and supporting Christians to engage in peace and justice work and radical discipleship.