“Oh James, I am so disappointed in you” said his father. We are eavesdropping a scene between father and son. We don’t know what James has done but we do know that his father is disappointed.
I reckon most of us whether as a child or as a parent have heard or spoken these words. Words that are usually accompanied by a heavy sigh not spoken in anger but in sadness. “I am so disappointed in you.”
It’s one of the facts of life that whether we like it or not we are to a lesser or greater extent motivated by our relationship with our parents.
Even the child who grows up separated from their parent imagines what they might be like and how they might please them.
Even the child who grows up in an unhappy home will often promise themselves that the home they fashion for their partner and family will be nothing like the experience they have had.
And those of us fortunate enough to have had nurturing family homes all pick messages often as children, spoken and unspoken for good or for bad that shape the people we are. Amongst them those words with which I began “I am so disappointed in you.”
But why take this step into the world of therapy. Well, it’s because I have been thinking of that first reading about the death of Absalom.
It’s a strange tale, at least when heard in isolation. So let me unpack it a little.
Absalom was the third of David’s six sons. He was stuck in the middle. Perhaps he felt he was lost or never got any attention.
So, though scripture describes him as being a man of ‘great beauty’ his beauty veiled a streak of evil. He killed his brother Amnon. He was a usurper. He seeks a confrontation with his father David.
We can imagine along the way David saying “Oh Absalom, I am so disappointed in you” his heart broken by the actions of his son. Eventually the confrontation between David’s army and that of his sons takes place as this morning’s reading tells us ‘in the forest of Ephraim.’
David’s army was too strong and Absalom and the men of Israel retreat into the forest. Absalom comes to a great oak and is ‘left hanging between heaven and earth’ as his mule rode on. Remarkably he survives. Only to be found by his father’s men, surrounded and killed.
In the verses that follow we eventually hear of David’s response and of his lament as he hears of his son’s death ‘”Would I have died instead of you”’ he says.
And here the bond of love between father and son is made clear. A bond that says whatever the disappointment David felt, whatever the betrayal he suffered because of his son. He loved Absalom still and would have given up his life for his son.
This story of course has echoes for us.
For as sons and daughters who have in our lives sometimes taken the wrong path or made the wrong choices. We have been thankful for a parents love to support and love us whatever.
And if we are lucky enough to be parents ourselves, we know that the bond of love we have with our children is beyond words, its deeper than the mess and the muddle. It’s a love that cherishes our children for who they are.
Perhaps this story of Absalom and David was one that Jesus the great storyteller knew. Its message seeped into his teaching. Think of the story of prodigal son .
Another story of betrayal and disappointment transformed by the bond of love between Father and Son for remember how that story ends – the father lays on a banquet.
And that brings me to the Gospel for today and making some connections with the story of Absalom and David.
I imagine returning to the beginning that there are times when Jesus is disappointed in us. Disappointed by what we have said and done and left undone. I imagine we sometimes break his heart of love by our lack of love.
Yet thank God this isn’t the end of the story because in and through him a deeper bond between creator and created has been formed. A bond of love that cannot ever be broken no matter how we muck things up.
And this bond is given substance in the bread and wine transformed shared around this table. The bread broken here is as Jesus memorably said; ‘for the life of the world.’ A bread that we are invited to eat.
And the hospitality of this table knows no bounds. There is no good behaviour passport that needs to be stamped in order to be fed here. No credit to be accrued before payment.
Instead, we come broken and weary as we sometimes are, carrying our disappointments and are welcomed by the Jesus who opens his arms to us, embraces us and says I love you.
In Jesus we see a God who is not a manipulative parent who breathes disappointment over us. In Jesus we see God’s commitment to us who invites week by week to ‘feed on him’ for as Jesus said in our Gospel ‘whoever comes to me will never be hungry’.
These powerfully evocative words remind us that his life at work in us sustains us in ways beyond the physical. We are not going to survive on the tiny piece of wafer bread you receive here but yet this is the ‘Life-imparting heavenly manna’ that we sang of in our first hymn.
For through our welcome to this table we are reminded that no matter we much things up, no matter disappointed our creator might be in the ways we have failed to love there remains a place where we are welcomed for who we are, with all our flaws and weaknesses.
A table for all set in the heart of this parish. Where there is no need to compete, as perhaps Absalom felt the need to compete with his siblings to get his father’s attention because here we all have a place.