Monday, May 31, 2010

Proper 6 Year C

Proper 6 C
(Revised Common Lectionary)

I Kings   21:1-10, (11-14), 15-21a; Psalm 5: 1-8; OR II Samuel 11: 26-12:10,13-15; Psalm 32; Galatians 2:15-21: Luke 7:36-8:3

King Ahab of Samaria wanted the vineyard of his next door neighbor, Naboth.  He offered to exchange that piece of property for another or pay its fair price.  Naboth rejected the King's offers for a very specific reason:  "The Lord forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance."  The King was furious and sulked.  The Queen, Jezebel, taunted him:  "Do you not govern Israel?"  She presented a scheme to have "two scoundrels" bring false charges of blasphemy against "God and the King" against Naboth.  Her plan worked and Naboth was stoned to death.  The King immediately seized Naboth's property.  "Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah...."  The Lord instructed Elijah to go directly to King Ahab and deliver the Lord's gruesome judgment:  "In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth dogs will also lick up your blood."  In the confrontation between King and the Lord's prophet, Elijah delivered a blistering indictment:  "Because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the Lord, I will bring disaster on you...."

The psalmist initiates his prayer to the Lord, expressing confidence that "You are not a god who desires wickedness," because You despise connivers, liars and violence -- "any man of blood."  The psalmist enters the Lord's house only because of the Lord's kindness.


Having abused his power as King and manipulated Uriah into a fatally dangerous place in battle, King David now takes the dead man's widow as his wife.   The Lord sends a prophet, Nathan, who tells the King a story about an abusive bully.  After David declares that the terrible man in the story deserves to die, Nathan says, "You are the man!"  Nathan then reviews all that "the Lord, the God of Israel" had done for and through David and then says "Now therefore the sword of the Lord shall never depart from your house."  David confesses and the prophet pronounces the Lord's absolution,  But there will be a price.  "The Lord struck the child that Uriah's wife bore to David, and it became very ill."

The psalmist rehearses the stark contrast between before and after confession to the Lord.

Paul's letter to the churches in "Galatia" describes the stark contrast in his life before discovering that "through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God."

Luke takes the accusation which arises throughout the gospels that Jesus was a friend of sinners and constructs an unforgettable story-within- a- story.   Jesus accepts an invitation to dinner in the home of a Pharisee.  "And a woman in the city, who was a sinner..." tracks Jesus down on this occasion.  With a jar of ointment, she stands behind Jesus at his feet, weeping so profusely she bathes his feet with her tears and dries them with her hair.  She kisses his feet and anoints them with the ointment.  The Pharisee is repulsed by this emotional display by one so unfit and says that if Jesus were a true prophet he would have known what sort of woman was touching him so unabashedly.  Jesus tells a story  about two people in debt; one owes a huge debt the other much less.  When the one to whom both people were indebted forgave both their debts, which do you think would be the more grateful, Jesus asks.  "I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt."  "You are right," Jesus tells the Pharisee.  He then reviews the effusive behavior of the sinner in contrast to the perfunctory hospitality of his host, and says:  "Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown greater love."  And the he adds,  "But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little."  But those who are still preoccupied with religious prerequisites miss the entire point of the story, Jesus' interpretation and his words to the woman and ask:  "Who is this that even forgives sins?"  Jesus dismisses the woman with assurances:  "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."  Jesus departs and continues his journey through the countryside, "proclaiming and bringing good news of the Kingdom of God."  "The twelve" travel with him "as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities...."  And for the first time, Mary Magdalene is introduced along with several other women by name as well as "many others, who provided for them out of their resources."

Religions share many common, conventional concerns.  But biblical narratives record an experience of God that always supersedes the expected.  The God of the biblical texts is a passionate lover with an obsession for justice.

King Ahab's total disregard for the dignity of his neighbor invokes the anger of the Lord who, through the Lord's prophet, Elijah, confronts the King with  the Lord's judgment.  The psalmist (Psalm 5) recognizes the God of her personal experience and the God of Israel as the One who despises connivers, liars and those who overpower others.   Even the Lord's favored, David, gets his just rewards for causing another man's death to take his widow, although not the full justice he fully deserved.  In Luke's marvelous story, Jesus puts God's love on full display.  Although those invested so heavily in conventional religious expectations are shocked by what he says and does, Jesus not only accepts the overtures of a woman know locally as a "sinner," he tells a story with a punch line that rebukes his pious host: "The one to whom little is forgiven, loves little."  He then accepts the woman into the closest circle of his followers.

Near the beginning of his meticulous , surgeon-like attempt to separate biblical revelation for any form of human conceptualizing, Jean-Luc Marion in God Without Being describes the God of the biblical texts this way: "...God is not because he (sic) does not have to be, but loves, then, by definition, no condition can continue to restrict his initiative, amplitude, and ecstasy.  Love loves without condition, simply because it loves; he thus loves without limit or restriction." (p.47)  Marion continues: " opposed to the concept that, by the very definition of apprehension, gathers what it comprehends, and because of this, almost inevitably comes to completion in an idol, love (even and especially if it ends up causing thought, giving rise-- by its excess-- to thought) does not pretend to comprehend, since it does not mean to take; it postulates its own giving, giving where the giver strictly coincides with the gift, without any restriction, reservation, or mastery.  Thus love gives itself only in abandoning itself, ceaselessly transgressing the limits of its own gift...." (p.48)   Near the end of his study, he reaches another defining conclusion when he quotes Pascal: "'Everytign that does not lead to charity is figurative.  The sole object of Scripture is charity.  Everything that does not lead to this sole good is figurative.'" (p.178)

The capacity of the God of the biblical texts to upend human expectations of religion never ceases.  But it is not shock for the sake of being shocking; it is the inexorable result of  love "ceaselessly transgressing the limits of its own gift...."  Always paired with God's equal obsession for justice, the biblical texts constantly insist on new interpretations for each person and each generation of believers of what these "incomprehensible" passions mean for us and the world in which we live.  With which person in Luke's story would we want to spend more time in our lives-- the circumspect host who believes he understands God and has pretty much figured out what God really wants or the notorious sinner who recognized in Jesus God's always surprising love and whose gratitude made her loving? (We know the one Jesus choose.)

"The one to whom little is forgiven, loves little."