2 Samuel 12.1-3
Then the LORD sent Nathan to David. And he came to him and said to him: “There were two men in one city, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had exceedingly many flocks and herds. But the poor man had nothing, except one little ewe lamb which he had bought and nourished; and it grew up together with him and with his children.
A Word of Hope
Have you ever watched any of the old Frank Capra movies? You probably have, even though you may not have been aware that Frank Capra directed them. The most recognizable title to everyone would likely be It’s a Wonderful Life, which has aired annually a few million times during the Christmas season. Some of his other films, such as Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and meet John Doe all are variations on the same theme: The pure-of-heart Common Man vs the heartless Greedy Rich Establishment. The Common man always wins, of course. The movie’s endings were so predictable that reviewers for years have referred to them as Capra-Corn.
The plotlines were not unique to Capra, however, when we consider the ancient and biblical sources of so many of them. When we read the opening line of the above 2 Samuel narrative and come across the phrase, “There were two men in one city, one rich and the other poor….”, there is not a question in our minds as to who good guy and who the bad guy are going to be. The story is told by Nathan the Prophet to King David. The rich man who has everything steals the only treasured possession of the poor man who otherwise has nothing. King David is righteously outraged by the underhanded deed to the point of wanting to see the rich pay back the poor man fourfold or even be put to death; perhaps the same kneejerk reaction we might have when the unredeemable Mr. Potter steals benevolent George Bailey’s Wonderful Life out from under him.
Then Nathan’s story develops an unexpected plot twist as he tells King David, “You are that rich man,” referring to David’s betrayal of his loyal servant, Uriah, in arranging for Uriah’s death so that David could steal the man’s wife, Bathsheba, as his own. The Prophet then bravely outlines the details and degree of the King’s transgression, certainly at the risk of his own life in the court of an all-powerful monarch. David, however, takes the surprise ending in stride and becomes profoundly repentant, declaring “I have sinned before the Lord” throwing the Capra-corn ending out the window. David knows who he is and admits it.
David’s reaction to the story challenges us to examine our own lives. It’s easy to identify with James Stewart’s generous and compassionate George Bailey, because we are the good guys, but how many of us can admit to having some of the same desires as Lionel Barrymore’s sinister Mr. Potter? Real life is not a Frank Capra movie. Could it be that there is a little bit of both in each of us?
Understanding God, guide us on the path toward honest self-appraisal. May we learn to know ourselves as you have always known us. Amen
Order of St. Francis and St. Clare