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Pentecost 3, June 13, 2010

Pentecost 3 Proper 6C RCL June 13, 2010
1 Kings 21:1-10, (11-14), 15-21a
Psalm 5:1-8
Galatians 2: 15-21
Luke 7:36-8:3

One theme running through our lessons today is the question: how do we treat the powerless, or how do those in power use their power?

In our first lesson, we hear the story of Naboth the Jezreelite, who owns a vineyard right next to the palace of King Ahab. Ahab wants that vineyard. He demeans Naboth by offering him a better vineyard. Scholars tell us that it would be very difficult to find a better vineyard, since that area was and still is, a prime area for such crops. Then he offers money, and he adds another stab at Naboth by saying he wants to make the vineyard into a vegetable garden. Naboth, of course, says he will not give up his precious inheritance.

King Ahab is disgusted and goes back to the palace and pouts like a two year old. Jezebel asks him what is wrong and he gives an inaccurate summary of events, whereupon Jezebel springs into action to insure the set up and death of Naboth. Ahab goes to take possession of the vineyard and is confronted with Elijah the prophet who tells Ahab that, because of his murderous behavior, calamity will fall upon him. If there were ever two people who use their power in abusive ways, those people would be Ahab and Jezebel.

In today’s gospel, Simon the Pharisee gives a banquet. Into the banquet, which is in the home of one who is most concerned with the laws of purity and proper decorum, comes a woman who breaks all the rules. We think she has had an earlier encounter with Jesus in which she has experienced his forgiveness. In any case, she comes in, falls at his feet, weeps, washes his feet with her tears, dries his feet with her hair, and then anoints his feet with expensive ointment. Simon says to himself that Jesus should know what kind of woman this is, and Jesus reads his mind and tells the story of the two debtors.

In terms of the purity laws, anyone looking on would know that this woman would have much to be forgiven. But, before he pronounces that forgiveness, which has already been given earlier, Jesus points out that she has been a far better hostess than Simon. One point that Jesus is making is that, if we are forgiven much, we love deeply, and, if we are forgiven little, we love little.

Paul is continuing to talk in the epistle about his process of transformation in Christ. He sums it up in the unforgettable words, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”

Obviously, if we are in a position of power, we do not go to someone and try to cheat him out of his most precious possession, the rich land and productive vineyard which have been in his family for generations. We all cringe at the behavior of Ahab and Jezebel.

But the gospel story is much more subtle. If we were Simon, we might be saying, I give a formal banquet. Everything is done according to the best rules of religious propriety and etiquette, and here comes someone who does not even realize that she is not supposed to be here. She does not have the proper social standing to be attending, and then, after she makes a spectacle of herself, this Jesus person says that she extended warmer hospitality than I did!

Jesus says something very profound. If I know that I have been forgiven a great deal, if I have the sense that I have done some things I should not have done, and I have failed to do things I should have done, and in the process that I have hurt people, and if I also know deep in my heart that God has forgiven all of it and given me a totally fresh start, it is very easy for me to love God and thank God for all of God’s goodness and love and grace.

But, if, like Simon, I think that, by and large, I am close to perfect, after all I have followed all the rules and done everything right, and wear the right clothes and eat the right foods and do the right things, and, yes, God has forgiven me, but really there wasn’t that much to forgive, since I was just a smidge short of perfection in the first place, well, when we get right down to it, I really don’t need God that much, do I? Of course, I respect God as one should and all that, but love God? Love others in that sloppy way? Extend hospitality from the heart? Well, that borders on all that emotional drivel which I think is in such poor taste. This is my little impersonation of Simon, a man who does everything right but has no sense of his sinfulness, his brokenness, whereas, the woman who washes Jesus’ feet has a very clear sense of her brokenness.

Now, how does Paul’s message fit in here? He says that he has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer Paul who lives but Christ who lives in him. If we have had some life experiences which have allowed us to have a sense of our sinfulness, our brokenness, our need for forgiveness, our need for help to move toward wholeness, it is much easier for us to know that we have been forgiven much, and then to love much. With Paul that conversion was so profound that he became a new person. It is now Christ living in him. And that’s what happened to the woman who washed Jesus’ feet at the banquet. When we truly accept God’s forgiveness, we change our lives and behaviors. We are transformed. For some of us, like Paul, it was a dramatic about face. For many of us, it is more gradual.

For Simon, who sees no reason to change, no need on his part for forgiveness, the immediate prospects for transformation look pretty dim. On the other hand, there is always hope.

For Mary Magdalene, who has apparently undergone a radical move toward wholeness, and probably for the other women who are mentioned at the end of the gospel as disciples and supporters of Jesus, we can assume that their devotion to Jesus is rooted in their own transformative relationships with him.

Each of us has experienced the healing and grace of Christ in many ways. Each of us has a sense of God’s love and forgiveness. Each of us has a relationship with God which has nurtured us. That is why we are here and that is the most important thing we have to share—the power of God’s love, forgiveness, and healing. Like the women in today’s gospel, may we follow Jesus faithfully and may we share God’s love and healing. Amen.

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