Commentary: The King as tragic and glorious leader

I always found David to be a fascinating character, and the most human of persons. Way back when, I decided to speak each Sunday on David, as the Lectionary had a Sunday by Sunday reading from the Hebrew Scriptures about a young man, plucked from obscurity, and lifted to the heights of power.  He was laughed at, and praised.  

David was also a musician, and while an exact parallel to Jackson cannot be made, it is interesting to me also that this seminal figure in the history of ancient Israel was something of a music therapist. The addled old King Saul was insistent that this upstart play his harp and soothe his troubled spirit.

Music indeed, has power to soothe the human breast.

Whether Michael Jackson will go down in history as a latter day David, at least on that particular day, the whole world’s attention was tuned to television screens around the world. Whether in London, or Nairobi, in Beijing, or Brasilia, people, sometimes weeping, mourned the passing of a man they had never seen in the flesh.  For two hours and more, Michael was the uncrowned ruler of the musical world. Forget Renata Tebaldi. Forget Isaac Stern.

Even when I could hear and appreciate music, I never paid serious attention to this young man. I remember him only as a figure in a Walt Disney show at Walt Disney World, where he played the character Captain EO in a space adventure in 3-D. Hot and tired from walking through Tomorrowland, I was grateful only for the extremely effective air conditioning. I am sure that my children enjoyed the performance.

Why in the world would I compare this contemporary musical idol to a king who ruled thousands of years ago in a small country constantly besieged by those wishing to conquer it and rule it?

Consider the characteristics of the Sweet Singer of Israel.   

David was a shepherd, and the youngest of a passel of boys fathered by an unknown named Jesse. An emissary of God makes a visit, and declares that David is to succeed Saul as King of what we sometimes call the Holy Land. His role became to unite two countries into one. He soothes Saul the tall fellow, with the sounds of his music, and if tradition is any guide, perhaps with the words of the Psalms Christians and Jews sing at worship. He has his struggles. His first wife kids him for his dancing in scant clothing, and his next spouse, Bathsheba, is the object of his lusty desires.  His son, Solomon, may have been gifted with a particular wisdom, but has problems with foreign alliances. David’s prayers allow him to receive forgiveness, but he himself will never see the glorious temple he wished to build, rise from the earth.

Consider Michael Jackson’s tragic life and his dominance of pop culture.

Michael Jackson’s life is, of course, not a duplicate of King David’s. Michael was, and will remain for many, more important than the powerful political rulers of our day. It may be that today, and for many more days, young people around the world will praise Michael in a way that presidents and prime ministers could only long for.

Despite his immense talent, his great ability to dance and sing, and his appearance, which was altered over the years, Michael Jackson was a child of God.  Perhaps he did not know the power of his music, or the lack of understanding of it by such a Presbyterian as I am. I sing rather safe songs in a sacred place. Jackson sang in unsacred places of a dangerous world that seriously needs transforming.

The word for all of us that rulers, whether they be called kings or queens, presidents or prime ministers, are (as we all are) people who may succeed in worldly things while requiring, sorely, forgiveness. Perhaps Michael’s songs of personal introspection and peace may enlighten a world in great need of those gifts. 

 The Biblical King David, child of God as he was, lived a life that at every intersection was plagued with both desire and devastation.  His sons fought over the succession.  His consort Bathsheba commands him in his old age to fulfill his original promise to her that Solomon would rule.

All of this, whether we think of David or Michael reminds us of the frailty of our human natures, and of the divine spark in each one of that allows us to make music before the Eternal One.
 LAWTON W. POSEY is a retired minister living in Charleston, W. V.

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