“Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?!”

Y’know, as hard as it can be to remember, we are eventually going to have to give God an account of every idle word. The story of Thomas Becket’s murder gives us one reason why.
Evidently, Henry II didn’t actually want anything like what happened. They had been best friends when Becket was Henry’s chancellor and a mere archdeacon, and from what I can tell, that friendship hadn’t been wholly obliterated by the power struggles that arose once Henry insisted that Becket become Archbishop of Canterbury and Becket decided that his loyalty to the Church needed to trump his loyalty to the king. But in a moment of sheer aggravation, Henry started ranting and let fly some quip–either the quote I’ve used as the subject line or some variation on the same thought; sources vary wildly–about wanting Becket gone. Four of his knights understood that to mean that he wanted Becket dead and, without waiting for orders, took it upon themselves to terminate the archbishop with extreme prejudice.
They wanted Henry’s favor. They got a very just death sentence, while Becket was canonized in record time, and Henry eventually did very public penance for his thoughtless words and their effects at his late friend’s tomb.
Of course, lack of intent to do harm makes King Henry’s crime far less heinous than the major crime of King David, whose feast is also celebrated today in the West.
David, as you may recall, was known as a man after God’s own heart, but even he was not immune to exceptionally poor decision-making. His first mistake in this particular instance was staying home in Jerusalem while the army was at war; had he been on the front lines with his men, he would not have been in a position to be a peeping Tom when Bathsheba went up on her roof to bathe. But he was and did and decided to act on his lust, and when he got word that he’d gotten her pregnant, he tried to cover it up by convincing her husband to sleep with her. Yet Uriah, not having forgotten his responsibility to his comrades in arms, would do no such thing when he was supposed to be at the front.
Will no one rid me of this meddlesome grunt?
David might not have said anything of that sort, but he did something far worse. He actually gave his commanders orders to put Uriah in a position where he would surely be killed in battle… and they obeyed.
Granted, “I was only following orders” isn’t seen as a defense since WWII, though at the time, David’s generals likely wouldn’t have felt that they had the option to question or disobey such a monstrous order. Bathsheba likewise may not have felt that refusing David’s summons for a tryst was in any way possible or safe–Scripture doesn’t record her views, but given the power imbalance, most moderns would call the situation dubious consent at best, and in the eyes of most Western legal codes, dubious consent is no consent at all. Even if one posits that there are no innocents here aside from Uriah, however, the lion’s share of the culpability lies with David, since he intended to have an affair with Bathsheba and to have Uriah killed. It took Nathan smacking him in the face with a parable to make him realize just how horrific his actions were, but once David finally understood, he wrote the following:

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.
Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.
Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.
Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.
Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.
Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.
O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.
For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem.
Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar.
–Psalm 51

Repentance didn’t undo the consequences for Henry or for David. Both kings saw their sons rebel against them, and David and Bathsheba’s first son died in infancy. As David notes, too, neither Henry’s public flogging nor any animal sacrifice David might offer could suffice to erase that stain from them… nor would such a thing avail us when it comes to reconciling with God.

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Oh, precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow!
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
–Robert Lowry

And that, of course, is the whole point of Christmas: that He came expressly so that David and Henry and you and I can be washed clean in God’s sight if we will only repent.

5 thoughts on ““Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?!”

  1. Answer from aces book thread: Empire of the Summer Moon. Popular history, but good. Should have some sources to track down in the bib. I think Herman’s book is on eBay too. Let us know when you’re getting ready to publish!

    • Thanks, Brett! Empire of the Summer Moon looks to be focused on the Comanches rather than the Apaches–but I am likely to need it once Quanah Parker shows up (and he will, just not in this book). This is a long shot, but I’ll ask anyway: do you happen to be familiar with a book titled Occupation – Soldier: The Life of 1st Sgt. Emanuel Stance by Patrick Bowmaster? That’s one of the two books I mentioned in my post on the book thread, and I simply cannot get WorldCat to show me what libraries it’s in. Strike that, I just looked again at the WorldCat listing, and it’s described as an independent study project at Virginia Tech, which means it’s almost certainly not available elsewhere.
      And yes, I will definitely let OregonMuse know when the book’s out! I’m aiming for March. The first book in the series is out now, and I plan to start posting the first book in my other series–still Texas history, but with a much stronger fantasy bent–here on January 13.

      • Hello Dr. Wolfe,

        I am the author of the independent study project on Emanuel Stance. I am a published independent scholar like yourself and would be happy to email or mail you a copy of project if you wish.


        Patrick A. Bowmaster

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