There Came a Traveler

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Tom Bodett is one of the voices of my childhood.  His promise, on behalf of the Motel 6 chain, “We’ll leave the light on for you” is imprinted on my mind.  So it is that as I open up the lessons for Proper 6c and read anew Nathan’s prophecy to King David I hear Nathan in the voice of Tom Bodett.  It is a story about power and privilege, but it revolves around a very mundane line, “There came a traveler…”

Living in a Motel 6 world, the average modern Americans can’t really understand this story.  We read it assuming that the traveler who came to the rich man was a relative or a friend who’s visit would have been known to the rich man, but this is probably highly unlikely.  Instead, in a culture that wasn’t too far removed from the nomadic life of tribal Hebrews, this is a story of a stranger who came to town unannounced.  Upon meeting a stranger, it was the duty of any faithful Jew to welcome them into their home as a guest, to provide water that they might wash their feet, to offer them a meal, and even a place to stay (See Genesis 24:29-32).

The rich man in Nathan’s story follows the protocol with the key exception that he is too stingy to use his own animal for the feast, and instead steals the only, beloved lamb of his poor neighbor.  While Nathan’s intent is to use this story to open David’s eyes to his sin in stealing Bathsheba from Uriah, we also see in it the deep roots of hospitality in ancient near-eastern culture; a long lost art for many 21st century Americans.  David’s sin is as much a failure to offer hospitality to Uriah, a man who in many ways was a stranger in need of welcome.  Uriah was a Hittite, not an ethnic Hebrew.  He was a minority, though his family had probably been resident in the Land of Canaan since well before Abraham’s arrival.  He was also a solider, a man under the authority of King David, who had no power in and of himself and instead relied on the wisdom of the good King to lead his army into battle.

Just as the sin of Sodom was a lack of hospitality, so too did David find his failure not so much in sleeping with Uriah’s wife, but by failing to be hospitable to a stranger under his authority.  David failed to show Uriah hospitality on both fronts, and it cost Uriah his life.

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