The Vulnerability of Honesty
July 4, 2021
A few years back, my mom was out running errands. Ordinarily, she would drive her car, but it was having issues so she was borrowing my dad’s car for the day. She told me this story of how she stopped somewhere to get things, and because she was just running in to get a couple small things, she didn’t want to bring in her purse, so she left it in the car and locked the door. The problem was, she had left the keys in her purse, now locked inside the car. It wouldn’t have been a problem, but unlike her car, my dad’s car doesn’t prevent the car from locking when the keys are still inside. The other problem was that she also left her phone in her purse.
Well, after trying to call him from the store phone—and him ignoring those calls because he didn’t recognize the number—she finally turned to a friendly looking stranger, explained to her the situation, and asked if this woman would give her a ride home, which they gladly agreed to. That afternoon, despite everything, my mom was completely and entirely dependent upon the kindness of strangers to get home.
Dependence on others is hard. Hundreds of thousands of Americans experienced the difficulty of admitting they needed the help of others during the pandemic, when so many people lost jobs and food pantries had to work overtime to provide for needy families. Relying on others is a kind of vulnerability that we—especially so as Americans—really don’t like. As much as we appreciate the help of others, I don’t think a lot of us really enjoy depending on the goodwill of other people.
And yet that’s exactly what Jesus instructed his disciples to do. Go into the towns and villages around Galilee to preach the gospel, but don’t take anything with you. No bag to carry provisions, no food to supply yourself, not even an extra tunic to change if you get wet or dirty or cold. Jesus was instructing his disciples to rely entirely on the goodwill and generosity of complete strangers wherever they went. A lot of the time the focus has been on the disciples’ call to go and preach the gospel, to take something to others—but just as important is learning to receive, to be vulnerable enough to rely on the goodwill of others.
This kind of vulnerability is a challenge to a lot of us. We’ve been taught to be self-sufficient, to pick ourselves up by our own bootstraps, to hoist the flag of individualism, that the highest ideal is to be a person without any need to rely on others. I’ve heard from many of y’all the phrase “I don’t want to be a burden,” and that’s tied up in this. But when we prize that self-sufficiency, when we shun the vulnerability of leaning on others, we wall ourselves off from letting others be generous. We block the way for others to experience God’s gift of helping one another. And even more, when we refuse to be vulnerable with others, we also learn not to trust others enough to be honest about ourselves.
And that is rooted in fear. Fear about what might happen—or might not happen—if we trust others enough to rely on them with our being or our stories. What if they take advantage of us? What if they are lying about saying it’s okay? What if they twist our needs or our stories or our truth into some manipulative end? It can be very hard to hand over that kind of control to others. It can be very hard to trust others enough to not have to be in control of things.
Like in our reading this morning from 2 Samuel. Notice how the lectionary skips over verses 6 to 8? For all of their good intentions, the lectionary compilers show us by skipping these verses that they were afraid of being honest about David. It talks about how the Israelites all came to crown him king, and then he magically occupied the stronghold at Jerusalem. What it fails to mention—what it refuses to be vulnerable enough to be honest about—is what David had to do to take that stronghold, and who he took it from.
David sent an army against the city of the Jebusites, who refused to surrender the city. After finding a water shaft that led straight into the city, David sent his men in, and, according to the custom of the day, they looted and pillaged and generally committed what we’d call war crimes, because the city didn’t surrender first. He made Jerusalem the capital, and unified Israel around it. But that unification had to found in the blood of conquered enemies.
What the Spirit believes that the lectionary compilers apparently don’t is that we could be trusted with this less than flattering reality. We are being entrusted with the honest reality of Israel’s history, without covering up the ugly parts just because they’re hard to read about. It’s a vulnerable honesty that we could learn to imitate in our own history—whether that history is about slavery and its ongoing effects, or the Native American genocide that opened so much of this country to settlement, or our appalling foreign policy in the Cold War. That the Bible preserves the less flattering parts of Israel’s history is a testament to God’s trust that we can see those ugly parts and still believe there is something to learn, something good, something holy going on.
Because when we are deeply honest about ourselves and our history, when we tell the truth, it reinforces the truth we tell when we share the gospel. When we are vulnerable enough to tell the full truth, even when it looks bad or makes us uncomfortable, it demonstrates to others that we take this gospel truth seriously too. It means we won’t hide anything, or manipulate the good news for our own ends, or twist God’s story of salvation so we always look good. And it starts with being willing to be vulnerable, like the disciples sent out two by two with just their sandals and their staff.
So hear the call of Jesus, to make the first move in vulnerability. Let yourself be reliant on others, giving others the chance to demonstrate their own God-given generosity whether that’s in providing you with water on a hot day or being entrusted with the unflattering parts of your history. Trust in God enough to let go of the need to be in control, and by doing so, show others that the gospel really does change things. Share the gospel by being vulnerable enough to live the gospel.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
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