Post Author: Rev. Kyndall Rae Rothaus
Content warning: rape
This Advent, Fidelia wanted to share a sermon series with you called No Christmas without Her that focuses on the women highlighted in Matthew's genealogy of Jesus. As we prepare our hearts for the coming of the Christ child, let us honor all those who have born Christ into this world, especially the tricksters and sex workers, immigrants and survivors, like the ones named in Jesus’ family tree.
Nothing quite says Christmas like a sermon about Bathsheba. Bathsheba is the last woman’s name other than Mary’s to be mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew. Except we don’t exactly get her name. She is remembered as “the wife of Uriah,” already hinting at a complicated story of survival. Christmas does not come to us without survivors of trauma. All of the women in Jesus’ genealogy are survivors, and remembering and retelling their stories are ways to remember and retell our own, naming our hurt even as we name our hopes.
I imagine Bathsheba telling her story to Tamar- not Tamar who is named in Jesus’ genealogy, but the Tamar named in 2 Samuel 13, a daughter of David. A survivor of rape much like Bathsheba herself. Let us enter the story from Bathsheba’s point of view:
Finally I ask, “Do you want to talk about it?”
She laughs bitterly and deflects. “Did you know when I was a little girl I hated my name? What kind of mother names her daughter after Tamar?”
“Why, Tamar was in the lineage of King David! Everyone knows Tamar, mother of Perez. She is a revered woman. I’m sure your mother wanted to name you after someone special.”
“The woman who prostituted herself with her father-in-law? This used to upset me.” Tamar laughs. “Don’t you see the joke? I used to resent being her namesake, thinking myself so much better than her. I, the daughter of a king, deserved a better name. And now I am worse off than she! I have lost my honor forever. I will have no husband, no child. Any chance at a life is gone forever.”
I reach to touch her shoulder, but she jerks away from me. I wait. Then I speak, with a heart full of tenderness for this wounded soul. “I . . . I know of the pain you are feeling.”
She scoffs. “You know, huh? You know what it is like to be . . . to be taken, to be . . .” (she brings her voice to a whisper) “raped by your half-brother?” She is getting angry now, but the tears are streaming in earnest down her face. “Do you know what it is like to be raped, then have your own father do nothing? Nothing to uphold your honor! Nothing to reprimand the one who used you? Do you know what that’s like?! How it feels? How it aches?” The desperate loneliness of her grief seems to suck the room of oxygen.
“I think I know why the king does nothing.”
Tamar is surprised. She was expecting sympathy perhaps, but not information. “What do you mean? What about it? Do you mean he does nothing because Amnon is his favorite son?”
“I could be wrong, but I believe there’s far more to it than that. That’s why I came to see you today. So you would know. So you could understand your father’s silence.” I am uncomfortable. I doubt whether I should ever have come here. I dread what I am about to say.
“What is there to understand?” she wants to know.
“It has something to do with my own story. Tamar, I am a widow. Did you know?”
Tamar is incredulous. She has never heard about this part of my life, which is no surprise. Such stories do not get repeated. I continue.
Before David, I was married to Uriah, a Hittite who served in the king’s army. He was faithful man, and we were passionate about one another. But we had no children. And when Uriah was away at war, my grief was the worst. I would often find myself crying in the bath, my tears mingling with the warm water. No matter how I scrubbed, the grief stuck with me. I lingered there, full of sadness.
To my surprise, I had just finished wiping my body and my eyes dry when a messenger came to the door and said the king wanted to see me. I worried that the king wanted to see me to tell me that Uriah had been wounded in battle or worse. I frantically searched for alternative explanations for this unexpected summons. Perhaps Uriah was being honored for bravery in battle! I tried to believe this, but with every step towards the palace, my heart was sinking lower and lower into my stomach, felt as if it might just drop right out of me and plop like a stone on the ground.
On entering the palace and being greeted by the king, I was caught off guard by his amiable smile and friendly ease with me, as if we’d been childhood friends. I had expected the legendary king of Israel to be more aloof and stately. Surely he was not about to tell me my husband was dead—not with that kind of smile on his face. You would not have thought a war was going on at all, not with the way he seemed to be enjoying conversation.
At one point, the king reached up and brushed his hand across my face. Before I knew what was happening, the king was showing me his chambers, and then he was picking me up and placing me on the bed, laughing. I began to panic. The king wouldn’t do anything wrong, I tried to tell myself. I wanted to ask what he was doing, but he was the king and I could not find my words. Next he was lifting up my skirts.
I went home straight after in a disheveled mess. I didn’t eat and couldn’t sleep. When I tried to get up and carry on with life as usual, I found I was so sick I could barely function. Before long, I discovered I was pregnant. Oh how I moaned and wept. Uriah would know immediately the child was not his. How could I tell him the truth?
After much agony, I decided to write the king and tell him of my condition. Maybe, if he knew there was a child, he would see fit to intervene- to help somehow. Maybe he could explain things to Uriah, but nothing could have prepared me for what happened instead.
Within days of my sending the note, Uriah was dead. They called it a war casualty, but of course I knew better. I was devastated.
Eventually King David made a public show of comforting the poor widow of Uriah, the Hittite, who’d been slain in battle, and invited her into his home. The people found it romantic. My friends were delighted I would be a queen. I was despondent. What choice did I have?
None of course. No more choice than you do, my daughter, Tamar. For what has happened to you cannot be undone, and you are not allowed any recompense for your sorrows. I know this, because I have lived it.
“I tell you all this, my sweet Tamar, because I know why the king does not confront Amnon. The king is thinking, like father, like son. He cannot bear to confront the animal inside himself by confronting the one inside his son.
“He was repentant once, you know,” I add, “when challenged by the prophet Nathan. But he does not have the courage to be Nathan to his own son because he knows he’s got blood on his hands. Maybe he cannot endure facing the truth about what happened to you, his daughter, because he cannot endure knowing that he has created more men like himself.” I look into her eyes. “Tamar, we need a better king.”
Tamar: “Isn’t that the truth? God have mercy!”
Me: “I pray for one every day. May God send a new king.”
Tamar: “Maybe someday.”
Me: “We can only hope.”
And it is with that hope that we continue to pray all our days, and with the passing of time, we begin to feel our hope is not in vain. We do not know where this assurance comes from. We do not know how or when, but we feel it, know it deep within that someday, somehow God will send a very different kind of king. We can only pray the world will be ready to receive him. He will be a man willing to be ruined on behalf of the people. If only the people will respond in like courage. Amen.
Rev. Kyndall Rae Rothaus is a preacher, poet, feminist theologian, spiritual director, and preaching coach. She is the author of Thy Queendom Come: Breaking Free from Patriarchy to Save Your Soul (2021) and Preacher Breath (2015). She is the co-founder and Executive Director of Nevertheless She Preached, a national, ecumenical preaching conference designed to elevate the voices of folx on the margins. Kyndall spent eight years as a Senior Pastor in Baptist churches in Texas, where, among other things, she left a legacy of fighting for LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church before leaving institutional church work to start her own business, Kindle Your Soul Fire, working with individuals to heal from religious trauma and re-imagine their spirituality. Kyndall is a queer woman and the single mom of two adopted children.
Image by: Fidelia Editors
Used with permission