David, Nathan, and Fraternal Correction

Yes, today’s Gospel is the annunciation to Mary. And I’m going to assume that most of us will [appropriately] hear a sermon inspired by this text today. But, I’d like to delve into the lesser-attended-to characters of today’s Sunday readings–David and Nathan.

The angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary just might be one of the most well known proclamations in human history. Mary was able to listen to God speak, through an angel. Now, I’m not sure if it’s easier to listen to God speak through angels or through other human beings–but for most of us, figuring out how to listen to God speak through other humans is important, especially when it involves the Christian practice of fraternal correction. Fraternal correction is something we’re all called to, it’s correction given in charity and love, correction given among those with a common purpose. And in David and Nathan, we find a paradigm for holy fraternal correction—communication between two imperfect human beings that creates the conditions and space for God’s will to be discerned, announced, and acted upon.

So how does this fraternal correction fruitfully occur? First, we see a realization of the need. David realizes that he needs feedback; he wants a consultation. Now this might not seem like a big deal, all of us look for guidance from others when we are wayward or confused. But, David is not in a situation like that; he’s on top of the world! He has been anointed by Samuel, defeated Goliath, gained and lost favor with Saul, survived and outlasted years of pursuit, conquered Jerusalem, and finally reunited the north and south into a unified kingdom. But even though David is now “settled in his palace,” blessed beyond belief, he still subjects his convictions to those around him. David’s enthusiasm, and even his praiseworthy motive for wanting to do something about the “ark of God dwelling in a tent,” is no substitute for testing his vision. We know from First Samuel, that David is a “man after God’s own heart.”[1] And in being a man after God’s own heart, he realizes his need, and opens himself to Nathan, a prophet. David makes himself available to God’s communication in the messenger. By realizing our need to be continually reliant on God, to not grow complacent when we are surrounded by blessings, we too as ministers can be intentional about making ourselves open to the messengers in our lives.

After David’s realization, comes the response of Nathan. At first, Nathan replies, “”Go, do whatever you have in mind, for the Lord is with you.” We don’t exactly know why he says this—he might be cowering to David’s accomplishments, or Nathan might simply assume that the Lord’s blessing is on everything David does. But, we do see that Nathan speaks for himself, not of God, in his first response. He does not take his reply to prayer; he does not initially make himself available and open to God’s communication. The role of the fraternal corrector becomes clear—when we as ministers, friends, and colleagues are called to offer the fruits of our discernment, we must submit ourselves first to God. For the person who is opening him or herself up to us, requesting our fraternal correction, is not asking for our word on the matter, but inviting God’s word to be spoken through us. Holy fraternal correction demands that we die to ourselves, so that Christ can speak through us.

Nathan stumbles, yet comes back to speak the truth that God has filled him with. This takes humility, a dying to oneself. And the result is something great, God’s message is not pure chastisement, but instead a straightening of David’s course, correcting his vision. Nathan’s prophetic words are not just God’s “no” to David’s plan, but a different “yes,” an unconditional grant, a divine promise of a dynasty, a house—an eternal relationship with God. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we must time and time again make ourselves available to God, so that we, like Nathan, might be used as messengers to convey correction that is ultimately God’s good news that is beyond our human wisdom.

After David’s realization and Nathan’s response, then what? David, like Nathan, must also die to himself to accept God’s communication in his life. David does this by taking Nathan’s message to prayer, later in the chapter, David prays, “Now, Lord God, confirm the promise that you have spoken concerning your servant and his house forever.”[2] The response for us as leaders [in whatever capacity] is not to doubt the messenger, but to take the message to prayer, and continue to discern and test all things, so we might know what is good and holy in God’s eyes.

How can this really happen in today’s world? As far as I know, none of us walks around with a special name-tag that says “prophet.” And our fellow-parishioners and co-workers  aren’t likely to either. So, where are these people imbued with charisms that we, as ministers submit our ideas, visions, and challenges to? Recognition is the key. We see that David recognizes the charisms given to Nathan, trusting in Nathan’s judgment and discernment.

As Christians, we are supernaturally empowered with charisms, spiritual gifts that are “a wonderfully rich grace for the holiness of the entire Body of Christ.”[3] In order to recognize the spiritual gifts of those around us, we as leaders must pay attention to developing these gifts in others and helping every baptized believer realize his or her charisms. In doing this, we build up the Body of Christ, so that all of us—especially those of us who are leaders—can follow the example of David who realizes his need. We can open ourselves to consultation and feedback from trusted companions, who are ready to hear and speak the message God places on their hearts for our ears.

As we continue in the Advent and Christmas seasons, we find a striking number of human messengers—not only Nathan delivering news of a dynasty beyond David’s earthly imagination, but also Isaiah, John the Baptist, Zechariah, Elizabeth, the Shepherds, Joseph, Simeon, and Anna. These human messengers often bring news of a divine “no” or change of direction that is an invitation to a greater “yes.” Invitation to a change can sometimes be good news.

Let us enter then into our own time of opening our eyes to God’s communication through imperfect human messengers, as preparation for entire lives of change and continual conversion. For we believe that trusting in the grace of our sacramental encounters with Christ, we can follow His example, dying to ourselves, so that we might truly receive and deliver messages of holy fraternal correction. Correction that is not simply a “no,” but an arrow pointing to a greater “yes.” And, what if we were to live, every day, expecting God to reach out to us through human messengers? If we were to realize our need and recognize the messengers, just imagine what we might hear.


[1] 1 Samuel 13:14.

[2] 2 Samuel 7:25.

[3] CCC, para. 800.


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