Year C — The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 6)

Commentary for June 16, 2013
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Click here for today’s readings
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1 Kings 21:1-10, (11-14), 15-21a
Ahab — the king who has practically everything — sees something that he wants. When he can’t get it, he does the kingly thing: he whines!

Jezebel, a name that still drips venom to this day, decides that she will do what any good queen would do for her king — she’ll get it for him. And, of course, she will use any means at her disposal to do so, regardless of the cost.

It is a classic story of those who are willing to use the power of evil in order to get ahead — and appear to do so for a while. But, of course, the setup for a later (and quite different) outcome ends today’s reading.

The way of evil will only and always end in disaster. Should be ’nuff said!

Psalm 5:1-8
The psalm underscores the theme that God does not “delight in wickedness.” God is not interested in the least in tolerating evil. We continually have important choices to make.

2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15
Alas, another king of Israel sees something that he wants — something that is not his! This time, the great king David desires a woman who is another man’s wife. After “arranging” for her to become his wife (there is quite a backstory here — be sure you have read it in the preceding chapters) — David is eventually confronted by the prophet Nathan and convicts himself after hearing the heart-wrenching story of the little lamb.

The key difference in Ahab’s story and David’s is that David is eventually willing to confess his wrongdoing. The way forward to righteousness and restoration runs through our willingness to admit our faults.

Psalm 32
In support of the David/Bathsheba/Nathan story above, the psalm asserts that “keeping silence” about our sin is a sure way to waste away and groan all day long. On the other hand, happiness results from allowing God’s forgiveness to wash over us as we confess our sin.

Galatians 2:15-21
We do not — and certainly can not — nullify the grace of God, no matter how we might misunderstand or misappropriate the gospel of Christ.

Luke 7:36-8:3
Dr. Chilton waxes eloquent and gets at the poignancy of this gospel story in his sermon below. It is not a comfortable thing to be confronted with our failure and our sin — whether we are willingly seeking forgiveness or whether we are somewhat inured to its presence in our lives. 

Faith, salvation, and peace are the results here of a life broken before the Lord. 

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

My preaching professor at Duke, who was a Baptist, liked to tell the story about a young Baptist man from “up north somewhere,” who came to Louisville to study at the Baptist Seminary. It wasn’t long before he secured a regular job preaching at a little church over near Lexington.

On his first Sunday he lit into tobacco pretty hard; smoking it, chewing it, growing it, etc. It was all the same to him, and it was all sin. After service, the head of the deacons stopped him at his car and told him that while, like all good Baptists they were, of course, opposed to tobacco, it was important to know that quite a few of the church members raised tobacco for a living and it might be good to avoid that topic in future sermons.

The next week he lit into alcohol. He did it up pretty good, with all the statistics about drunk driving and broken homes and illness, etc. etc. And again the head of the Deacons met him at his car and after admiring the sermon for a few minutes allowed as how quite a few folks in the church were employed at the local distillery and it might be best to let up on the alcohol issue as well.

The third week the preacher opened up with both barrels on gambling. He outdid himself this time. It was a scorcher. And the Deacon met him at the car one more time. Before he opened his mouth, the preacher shook his head and said, “What this time?” “Well Preacher, you see, a lot of folks, including me, work on the horse farms and we all know those horses are for racing which means gambling, so if you could . . . “

The young Pastor had about had it. “All right then. What can I preach on?” The deacon thought for a few minutes and said, “Why don’t you try Chinese Communism. There ain’t a Chinese Communist anywhere around here.”

In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus directs sharp words at the rich and supposedly holy Pharisee, saying “you, you, you” over and over, making sure that the man knows that these words are pointed directly at him.

Jesus is invited to dine at the home of one Simon, a Pharisee, that is, a Jewish person who is highly particular about following the Jewish religious rules and regulations, a person for whom purity in relation to God was most important.

Now Simon the Pharisee was interested in Jesus; he had heard about this self-taught country preacher and faith healer and he was intrigued and curious, but also skeptical and dismissive.

The word had gotten out that Jesus was there, at Simon’s house and people had begun to gather nearby. The dinner itself was probably outdoors, on the patio, in the backyard. It was a simple matter for uninvited guests to edge their way into the fringes of the banquet crowd. They too were intrigued and curious; they wanted to see Jesus; they wanted to hear him say something unusual, they hoped he might perform a miracle.

Suddenly a woman; traditionally, a woman of the street, a woman of the night, a working girl, but all the text tells us is that she was a “sinner”; this woman pushed herself through the crowd to Jesus.

She came to where he reclined at table, she stretched herself out at his feet, she covered his feet with oil, she bathed them with her tears, she dried them with her hair.
And, of course, all this sensuality, all this sexiness, all this touching was too much for Simon, who would never touch any woman but his wife, much less a woman like this, a sinner, a woman of ill-repute.

How could you? Simon snarled to himself, how could you, a rabbi, allow this, this, this, womanto touch you? Much less all this bathing and oiling, and wiping, and kissing?

There are some commentators who find it extraordinary that Jesus was able to know what Simon was thinking. C’mon now. I mean, if looks could kill, the one Simon gave Jesus would have wiped out a neighborhood. You didn’t have to be divine to know what Simon was thinking. It was written all over his face.

Jesus looked at Simon and must have chuckled a little to himself as he told a story that put Simon in his place. Two men owed the loan shark money. One owed $500, the other $50. Neither could pay. The shark forgave the debt of both. Who will love him more, Simon, who will have more gratitude, more devotion? Of course Simon said the one who was forgiven much.

Jesus then calmly pointed out to Simon that the woman had simply done for him, for Jesus, what Simon himself, as the host, should have done. 

She was not a good woman and she knew it. She knew she needed a lot of love and forgiveness. Unlike Simon, she had no lifetime of doing the right thing to cling to, she knew she was in trouble and needed help.

When she heard Jesus tell of repentance and acceptance into the Kingdom of God, when she heard his stories of love and forgiveness, when she saw him touch the untouchable and love the unlovely; it struck a chord deep within her soul. She really heard his words, not as ideas but as truth; not as religious concepts but as spiritual realities.

She really heard it and believed it and knew herself to be loved and forgiven by God. Only one who knew that she had been forgiven much could respond with such great gratitude and love.

Simon couldn’t hear it because he didn’t think it applied to him. My mother tells a story from the time at three, I was the baby of her three children. We had the measles. Mama says the old family doctor saw us in the examining room. He grunted a few times, and then prepared his needle. When I saw him come at us with that needle, I started yelling out while holding up two fingers, “Just them two’s sick. Just them two’s sick!”

“Not me, Jesus. What you’re saying doesn’t apply to me. I’m not sick. I’m not a sinner. I don’t have hurt and pain and incompleteness. I’m a good person. What you’re saying applies to other people, not to me.” That’s what Simon thought. Until Nathan pointed the finger at him, and shouted out “Thou art the man,” that’s what King David thought. “Not me Lord. Only them people are sick. Not me. Go save the Chinese Communists and leave me alone.”

Our capacity to forgive others comes only when we recognize how very much we have been forgiven by God. Our capacity to love others comes only when we realize how very much we have been loved by God. Our capacity to live fully comes only when we realize how very much Christ living in us is what true life is.

Amen and amen.

One thought on “Year C — The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 6)

  1. Pingback: The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C | The Lectionary Lab

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