Last weekend, I was in Chicago for a conference about the intersection of racism, poverty, and gun violence: an unholy trinity. You can read my review of it for the Episcopal Cafe here.
One of the features of the conference was daily contextual bible study. Led by Dr Dora Mbuwayesango, we read often-overlooked passages of the Hebrew scriptures that highlight the unequal sacrifice of mothers in times of famine and stress.
In 2 Kings 6:24-7:2, we read of the mother who was duped into sacrificing her son by a neighbour who would literally devour widows and orphans. I do not think, when she petitioned the king, that she was begging for further death, or more meat. Rather, she wanted what any mother would: for time to be returned, deeds to be undone. She wanted the king to give her back her son. But he could not.
And in his impotence and out of his rage, he seeks to unleash further violence to absolve himself of blame. But that will not bring back her son. Neither will tomorrow’s bread, although it may save some other mother’s child from starvation.
In 2 Samuel 21, we found two sons names Mephibosheth. One, beloved of the king because of his father’s friendship, lived. The other was out of luck. His mother could only shield his bones from the vultures.
Rizpah spreads herself beside him on the rock. The grief of the mothers shames their kings, but only when their sons are already dead.
And David gathered the bones, and buried them. It is not told what happened to Rizpah when her sons’ beloved bones were repossessed and returned to respectability, as though their death had been part of the very nature of life, after all.
And will these dry bones live?
The bones of children
sacrificed to satisfy
other people’s hunger;
other people’s honour;
other people’s pride.
Priests and kings rend their garments,
and the sky weeps;
but she has already laid
down the law among their clean, dry bones.