Theme 3 : Artwork 3

Reflection Title: 
Awe or Desire
Reflection Content: 

David, the youthful hero who slayed the giant Goliath and rose from shepherd boy to king was no model of piety or morality. His story spans three books in the Bible, Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, and gives us a picture of a turbulent warrior, a bandit chieftain, and (as some would say) a successful ruler eager to expand his kingdom. It is the image of a classic Oriental potentate. And yet he is known as the beloved of God, and many of the psalms, the central prayer texts of Jews and Christians alike, carry his name. Desire shapes most of his deeds, and he was easily convinced he was on God’s side and God was on his. The violence that ruled his days is periodically matched by his heart-wrenching sorrow, expressed most profoundly in the psalms of lament. Only then do we see his desire turn to awe at the destruction and pain he had wrought. In the grand narrative of his life, we have a model of desire wreaking havoc, as well as a model of repentance, restoring a sense of awe and the wonder of divine mercy.

Story Title: 
He Fetched Her
Story Content: 

One evening David got up from his couch and, as he walked about on the roof of the palace, he saw from there a woman bathing, and she was very beautiful. He sent to inquire who she was, and the answer came, “It must be Bathsheba daughter of Eliam and wife of Uriah the Hittite.” So he sent messengers to fetch her, and when she came to him, he had intercourse with her, though she was still being purified after her period, and then she went home. She conceived, and sent word to David that she was pregnant.

—2 Samuel 11:2–5

Contemporary Story Title: 
Contemporary Story Content: 

Tony Campolo, (born 1935) is a sociologist, pastor, and social activist. In his 2000 novel, Let me Tell You a Story, Campolo tells the story about when he was in Honolulu to do a Christian event, and late one night could not sleep. This is, “The Agnes Story.” 

So he goes to the local greasy spoon at about 3 a.m. The waiter has a dirty apron on, and Tony orders bad coffee and a doughnut. The overweight waiter, who is also the owner, slaps it on a plate and then wipes his hand on his apron. 

Not long after, some women come in. It’s the local prostitutes. They sit on either side of Tony, some eight of them sitting on stools, and they start talking as if he is not there. The one to his left is named Agnes. The girl on his right is ragging on Agnes and teasing her. Agnes makes the mistake of saying that tomorrow is her birthday. “No big deal,” says the other girl, “we all have them.” 

Agnes says, “Yeah, you’re right no big deal. I’ve never had a birthday party anyway.”

Eventually, the girls get up and leave. 

Tony asks the owner, “Do those girls come in here every night?” 

“Yep,” says Marty the owner, “why do you ask?”

“Well, what would you think about having a birthday party for Agnes tomorrow night right here, same time? I’ll go get the cake in the morning.”

Marty calls his wife in the back, “Hey Louise, this guy thinks we should have a birthday party for Agnes . . . what do you think?” Well turns out they both think it’s a nice thing to do. Marty says to Tony, “No way are you buying the cake. I’m making it.”

“Fine,” says Tony, “I’ll get the balloons and stuff.”

The day comes and goes, and Tony shows up at 3 a.m. again. They decorate the diner, and out comes a nice sheet cake with “Happy Birthday Agnes” on it and lots of candles. These girls are all in their late thirties and forties. Sure enough, they show up at 3:30am sharp, and Tony and the owners say, “Surprise Agnes,” and start singing Happy Birthday to you, and bring out the cake. 

Well, Agnes is stunned, having never had a birthday celebration before. Marty says, “Blow out the candles.” 

Tony interrupts and says, “Wait, if you don’t mind I’d like to say a prayer first for Agnes.” And so he does—thanking God for Agnes’ life and saying that she is a person of sacred worth created in God’s image. 

There is an awkward pause, and then Marty says again, “Blow out the candles and cut the cake.” 

But Agnes is crying and says, “Could I wait just a bit on cutting the cake? I’d like to take it down the block to my Mom’s and show it to her first.”

“Sure,” says Marty, “It’s your cake.” 

No sooner does she leave then Marty says to Tony, “Hey I didn’t know you were a minister. You didn't tell us you were gonna get all religious. What kind of church do you serve?”

“A church where prostitutes are welcome,” says Tony.

“Nah,” says Marty, "There ain’t a church like that, because if there was I’d go there. I’d feel welcome too.”

“Honest,” says Tony, “You could come to my church—Jesus loves everybody and accepts them and starts with them where they are.”

Artwork Title: 
Power and Beauty
Artwork Content: 

Jean-Leon Gérôme, (1824-1904) a French Academic artist, visited Egypt and Turkey several times and became famous for his Orientalist paintings that often depicted harems and female nude figures of bathers. In Bathsheba, the bathing scene is set against the background of a Middle Eastern cityscape. The theme is drawn from the Hebrew Bible story of the seduction of Bathsheba by King David. Bathsheba was married to Uriah, a soldier in David’s army. The King, taking a fancy to Bathsheba, orders that her husband be sent to the front, where David is at war with a neighbour. He then “arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king’s house, and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon” (2 Samuel 1:12). He sent for Bathsheba and had his way with her.


Created for the male-dominated cultural milieu of the late nineteenth century, Gérôme’s painting features an obvious voyeuristic aspect. David’s anxious silhouette is visible on the upper left corner. Bathsheba, with her provoking nudity, seems to be aware that David is looking at her with sexual desire. Who is the seducer? This question seems to inform the painter as it has many biblical scholars who have studied the narrative. The king’s power and the power of Bathsheba’s beauty are both at play in Gérôme’s painting.  

Question Title: 
Naked beauty?
Question Content: 

Beauty Disposed
We no longer dare to believe in beauty and we make of it a mere appearance in order the more easily to dispose of it. . . . We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name as if she were the ornament . . . can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love.
—Hans Urs von Balthasar, (1905-1988).

Have you lingered on the balcony or looked out from a high window today? Looked down upon the surrounding world? Glimpsed beauty in all its wonder and offer of delight? Have you been that beauty? Have you tried to hold on to the moment of beauty offered or claimed? Do you live in its presence? Do you desire it or have an appetite for it? The great poet William Blake said that “He who binds to himself a joy / Does the winged life destroy / He who kisses the joy as it flies / Lives in eternity’s sunrise.” 

Music Content: 

I Beheld Her Beautiful as a Dove

One of Healy Willan’s most widely performed motets, the text, drawn from the Song of Songs, is from an eighth-century responsory for an Office of Our Lady. 

“I Beheld Her Beautiful as a Dove.” Healey Willan, Healey Willan: Missae Breves 4 & 11, Motets, Choirs of the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, Robert Hunter Bell, conductor, Virgin Classics 1994. Track 16.


Bathsheba Smiles

“Bathsheba Smiles.” Richard Thompson, Mock Tudor, Capitol Records 1999. Track 3. 

Image Theme: 
Image Thumbnail: 
Image Summary: 

Bathsheba, 1889. Jean-Leon Gérôme, 1824–1904. 

Story Audio: 

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