May 14, 2020

Modern Day Parable: Nathan Speaks Truth to Power

One day, a man named Nathan approached the powerful leader of a great people. Nathan had long been the leader’s adviser and today was a fearful day. Fearful because of what Nathan needed to share.

“Sir, I have something I need to talk to you about,” he said with great trepidation. With the nod from the leader, Nathan began to share a story.

A young girl ran to her mother with tears in her eyes. She was heartbroken that the homeless people down the street were going to be moved off of the property so a rich man could build a new skyscraper.

“My darling, girl,” Mother said, “why don’t you do something to help them?”

“What can I do?” the confused girl asked, “I’m nobody, just a kid. There’s nothing I could do to make a difference.”

“Nobody is ‘nobody,'” Mother argued, putting an arm around her daughter. “Anyone can make a difference in the world.”

“Right is always right and wrong is always wrong no matter how many good deeds you do or how many dollars you put in people’s pockets…”

Mather and daughter decided the girl would make a sign of support for the homeless people and she’d take food to them each day.

The girl spent hours making a sign that said “These People are HUMAN, Just Like Me.”

The young girl outlined the words in various colors of markers and glitter, whatever she imagined might make her sign one that would be seen as people traveled by. Her heart was sure her message would change things.

The homeless people loved the girl. Each day she would bring what little extra food her family could cobble together and, while the homeless people ate, she would carry her sign, which had been affixed to a wooden stick by her father, and would wave to catch the attention of the people in cars driving by.

After five days of this, a local blogger came by and published a story about the girl. Then the local newspaper and a TV station from the nearby big city came, as well. The reports attracted attention and people began to join the effort, more showing up each day with their own food and signs. The girl’s heart was filled with joy. Surely this would cause the rich man to reconsider his plans to forcibly move this group.

A few days later, while on her way to the homeless encampment, a long, black car drove up. The little girl had never seen such a car in their poor neighborhood and she was surprised as it stopped next to her. A large man with sunglasses and a twirly wire connected to his ear stepped out of the front seat and stood next to the car. The back, tinted window rolled down and the girl spied the rich man who was buying the lot and having the homeless people removed.

“Hi, little girl,” said the man with a toothy grin.

“Good morning, Sir,” she said dutifully.

“Whatcha got in the basket,” he asked. The little girl tried to protest that the food was for her friends as the sun-glassed guard took the basket and the girl’s sign from her and gave them to the rich man.

“Hey, lookie here, boys” laughed the rich man as he handed the girl’s sandwiches to his well-dressed friends in the large car.

“You give that back!” the girl said with horror on her scrunched face and a tear trickling from her eye.

“Why? So you can give the food to your criminal friends on my land?” he said with an upturn of his nose.

“You’re the only criminal here,” the girl snarled, lunging towards the car window, only to be held back by the huge, sunglass-wearing guard.

“That’s not very nice, little girl,” said the man. “You need to stop causing trouble.”

“I’ll keep causing trouble to help my friends.”

“If you do that I might just buy your parents house and then your family can join your homeless friends.” the man turned and smiled to the others in the car. The men laughed at their boss’s joke.

“These people are NOT human,” the rich man said, pointing to the girl’s sign in his hand. “Their dogs, and we’re going to send them to the pound.”

“You’re evil,” the little girl shouted, her eyes now sending droplets of tears down her cheeks.

“I’m going to make this neighborhood much better,” the man said. “You should be grateful.”

“The only way you can make this neighborhood better is to leave!”

The rich man’s face turned a sharp red and then to an ashen gray. He held the girl’s sign up with both hands and yanked in opposite directions, ripping the sign in two. He tore the sign from its stick and tossed all the pieces through the limo window onto the ground. The guard jumped back in the car and it drove away just as the little girl’s basket was tossed from the rich man’s window.

Left behind in a cloud of dust, the little girl began to wail as she collected up the pieces of her treasured sign and basket and headed home to her mother.

Nathan, where does this man live?” shouted the powerful, elected official. His hand pounded the desk. “I’ll have him thrown in jail for treating a little girl like that. I’ll tear him limb-from-limb with my own hands. Those hands were shaking as the elected official stood and moved away from his desk.

Nathan’s steely eyes looked at his employer. He shook thinking the consequences of what he was about to say. Summoning up his courage, he pointed at the official and said: “Sir, YOU are the man in the story!”

The elected official grew wide, his face turned beet red near his ears.

“Me?” the elected official asked as he slowly pulled himself back behind his desk and sank into his seat. “Nobody talks to me this way. You better have a good explanation.”

Nathan tried to look common as he felt a shiver down his spine. Maybe he’d just made a big mistake. After all, he knew the man he worked from was not a good man, but in his position, Nathan could do a lot of good. Why not just keep quiet about the leader’s malfeasance and make good things happen for people?

“What do you mean?” The official asked, his volume dropping and his voice unsteady. “Why do you say I am the rich man in the story?”

“Your tweets, for instance, sir,” Nathan said, his voice quivering a bit.

“My tweets?”

“Like, when you tweeted about the young activist the other day, that was very wrong,” Nathan paused for a moment. Seeing no response from his boss, he continued. “You tried to steal something very precious from her.”

“Steal?” came the answer, the official’s voice rising once again. “From that… troublemaker? Do you know who’s behind her…”

“You tried to steal her voice,” Nathan said, his voice rising to meet the volume of his boss. “You, Sir, are a very powerful man. The people you tweet about are just – people. People you are supposed to represent and protect.”

Nathan sucked in another breath and finally let his final judgment come forth.

“Sir, you ought to be ashamed… Uh, with all due respect, Sir.”

The official sat in thought for a moment.

“It’s just a silly tweet…”

“Nothing is silly about it, Sir,” Nathan interrupted again. “All this young girl has is her voice and even if she’s wrong, it costs you nothing to allow her to speak. But for a man like you to take a shot at her? You have the power to take everything from her… and you’ve attempted to do so. For what? So you can feel like a big man? So you can rile up your followers?”

“Nathan, why are you doing this?” the leader asked. “Things are so good, we’re appointing the right judges. Who cares about what I have to say?”

“God cares,” Nathan said with air forced through clinched teeth. “God cares way more about justice for the poor and marginalized than he does about people being encouraged to say, ‘Merry Christmas.'”

“And what do you propose I do, Nathan?” the leader asked, his eyes glaring at his advisor.

“Repent,” said Mr. Nathan.

“Repent? But I’ve never even asked for forgiveness…”

“‘Repent’ means to change your mind and change your direction. If you humble yourself and apologize to the girl and change your ways, maybe you’ll still have a chance to be the leader I know you can be. You’re the carrier of the integrity of your people. It’s time you acted like it.”

“But I’m constantly getting attacked,” the leader shot back, pointing towards the door to the room. “They treat me so badly…”

“Oh, poppycock!” Nathan shouted. “You denigrate women, minorities, and the poor.” Mr. Nathan’s voice echoed around the room as the two paused for a moment.

“You’re a highly placed authority,” Nathan finally continued. “You should expect to take hits – even unfair ones. It’s part of the job. You carry the moral responsibility of the people you lead. You were given that responsibility when you were elected. You accepted that responsibility when you were elected.”

“I’ll consider your words,” said the leader, turning to stare out of his office window. “And tomorrow I’ll let you know if I plan to follow them – or to tell you ‘You’re Fired!'”

This Modern Day Parable is my version of the story of King David and his sin exposed by the prophet Nathan in the biblical story of 2 Samuel 12:1-25. King David, a sovereign King with all rights to grant life and death to any man he pleased, allowed Nathan to speak honestly to him, because David wanted to be held to account for his actions. No person can survive great power without having someone around who is able to say “stop it.”

As the old saying goes – “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Yet, Christian leaders today crowd around our leaders and our president seemingly more interested being next to power and enjoying their position than they’re willing to use that proximity to hold those in power to account.

Unfortunately, it’s actually a common story throughout the history of the Church.

Look at the stories in Jeremiah, the gospels while Jesus was on earth, the crusades and even pre-World War II Germany. The Church wanted to be next to power, so they compromised the ongoing one command in the Bible – that a people must care about the poor, the widow and the foreigner.

Today, Christians believe laws about abortion, gay marriage and right-wing causes are what’s important as the decades long fight for political power has left its mark. But when our leaders mistreat the powerless. Do we speak up?

The Bible says in second Chronicles that our land will be healed when God’s people – the people of our churches, not the ‘sinners’ outside of it – will humble THEMSELVES and turn from THEIR WICKED WAYS.

Well, our land is divided like never before and desperately needs healing. So I wonder, where are the Nathans today?

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