23 June 2010

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost - 27 June 2010

I Kings 19:15-16, 19-21
Psalm 16
Galatians 5:1,13-25
Saint Luke 9:51-62


        Elijah and Elisha

When does God move into our lives with a call for action?  Where and when does that happen?  In the readings for today we meet several who are called for just such service – prophets, kings, disciples, and others.  The wonder of this is where such a call to service happens.  Although Isaiah is called to service with a vision of God in a temple filled with glory and smoke, Elisha has a prophet’s cloak thrown over his shoulders in the middle of a muddy field, and Jesus sees his on-going call as he travels with his disciples.  Perhaps, as we read through these lessons, and study their import, we can mull over the call that God is giving to us here and now.  Where will you be sent, and what will you be sent to do?

I Kings 19:15-16, 19-21

The LORD said to Elijah, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place."

So he set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, "Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you." Then Elijah said to him, "Go back again; for what have I done to you?" He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.

In the reading from the Hebrew Scriptures we move from the Elijah Cycle to the Elisha Cycle, with the call of Elisha when Elijah casts his mantle over the shoulders of the new prophet.  The call is not given directly to Elisha, but rather God indicates the call in a directive to Elijah.  What follows then are a series of symbolic actions with 12 yoke of oxen (symbolic of the 12 tribes of Israel), Elijah’s gesture with his mantle, and a subsequent offering of the oxen, finishing in a communion meal with “the people”.  These all represent temple sacrifices and rituals that are here done in the countryside apart from the temple.  Elijah, and now Elisha, is operating in extreme conditions, and so these activities announce that God and God’s word in the prophets still is active with or without the Temple.  Incidentally, in the initial paragraph, Elijah is directed to anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel.  This particular Israelite King is depicted in the Black Obelisk, a stele memorializing tribute brought to Shalmaneser III (King of Assyria, 859 – 824 BCE).

The Black Obelisk showing Jehu kneeling

Breaking open I Kings
1.    What do you do for a living?  How did you make decisions about what you would do for living?
2.    How is your life going?
3.    What do you feel called to do?

Psalm 16 Conserva me, Domine

Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you; *
I have said to the LORD, "You are my Lord, my good above all other."

All my delight is upon the godly that are in the land, *
upon those who are noble among the people.

But those who run after other gods *
shall have their troubles multiplied.

Their libations of blood I will not offer, *
nor take the names of their gods upon my lips.

O LORD, YOU are my portion and my cup; *
it is you who uphold my lot.

My boundaries enclose a pleasant land; *
indeed, I have a goodly heritage.

I will bless the LORD who gives me counsel; *
my heart teaches me, night after night.

I have set the LORD always before me; *
because he is at my right hand I shall not fall.

My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices; *
my body also shall rest in hope.

For you will not abandon me to the grave, *
nor let your holy one see the Pit.

You will show me the path of life; *
in your presence there is fullness of joy,
and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.

This is a psalm of supplication, not unlike the prayers we might offer as we go to bed each evening.  It is also a psalm of confidence in following Yahweh, the God of Israel.  The author distinguishes himself from “those who run after other gods,” and numbers himself among the faithful. This contrast might indicate that the psalm was either written or reworked during the period following the Babylonian Exile – with its sharp contrasts of those who follow, and those who are influenced by the culture surrounding them.  Such a situation might also explain the comments on death – perhaps a metaphor for a society and culture that has been decimated by conquest and exile.  For those who are interested, libations are offerings of either food or drink that are poured out upon the ground.  Such offerings were common throughout the Ancient Near East.  Another note:  “the Pit” refers to Sheol, the Hebrew place for the dead. 

Breaking open Psalm 16
1.     The psalm speaks of “running after other gods”.  What interrupts your relationship with God?
2.     How does God give you counsel?  What do you ask?
3.     What is your path of life?

Galatians 5:1, 13-25

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

Icon of the Paraclete

In Galatians we have an on-going treatment of the theme of freedom in Christ, in which Paul addresses the tension between self-indulgence and faithfulness, with a sub-theme of how Christians treat the Law.  This theme is present in Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and Corinthians as well.  As a way of focusing on this tension, Paul asks us to view life “in the flesh” or “in the Spirit”, and then produces one of his typical lists cataloguing what is meant by life in the flesh, or life in the Spirit.  It is this “life in the Spirit” that is the reality of participating in the Passion of Christ and in the Resurrection.

Breaking open Galatians:
  1. What does freedom mean to you? 
  2. What kind of freedom do you practice in  your religious life?
  3. Are you spiritual?  What is your spiritual life like?

Saint Luke 9:51-62

When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."

He set his face toward Jerusalem

In the Gospel for today we are challenged with the radical nature of God’s call to us.  Jesus is lifted up as the example par excellence of those who have been called.  That he “sets his face toward Jerusalem” gives us a sense of Jesus’ resolve in the matter, so that the concerns of the Samaritans and the disciples are of no concern.  The questions that do arise are all about the urgency of the call.  Elisha wants to say good-bye to his parents.  A disciple wants to go bury his father.  Jesus’ sense of urgency is that these matters will/should take care of themselves.  There is no looking back.   

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. Why does Jesus “set his face toward” Jerusalem?  What happens in Jerusalem?
  2. Why are the disciples are angry with the Samaritans
  3. Some complain that they have other things to do.  What interrupts your mission to the world?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

16 June 2010

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 7) - 20 June 2010

Isaiah 65:1-9
Psalm 22
Galatians 3:23-29
Saint Luke 8:26-39


… and my servants shall settle there.       

We are so familiar with the divisions of the Bible that we are often not aware of earlier redactions of the text.  Today we read from “Third Isaiah” who’s theology differs from that of Second Isaiah (Chapters 40-55) and First Isaiah (Chapters 1-39).  These differences are a result of the time when written and of the circumstances of the intended audience.  None-the-less, it gives us an opportunity to delve deeper into the experience of the Word if we observe these differences and divisions.  After all, these were real words for real people.  It helps us to know what it is that they heard or read in these words.

Isaiah 65:1-9

I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask,
to be found by those who did not seek me.
I said, "Here I am, here I am,"
to a nation that did not call on my name.
I held out my hands all day long to a rebellious people,
who walk in a way that is not good,
following their own devices;
a people who provoke me
to my face continually,
sacrificing in gardens
and offering incense on bricks;
who sit inside tombs,
and spend the night in secret places;
who eat swine's flesh,
with broth of abominable things in their vessels;
who say, "Keep to yourself,
do not come near me, for I am too holy for you."
These are a smoke in my nostrils,
a fire that burns all day long.
See, it is written before me:
I will not keep silent, but I will repay;
I will indeed repay into their laps
their iniquities and their ancestors' iniquities together,
says the LORD;
because they offered incense on the mountains
and reviled me on the hills,
I will measure into their laps
full payment for their actions.
Thus says the LORD:
As the wine is found in the cluster,
and they say, "Do not destroy it,
for there is a blessing in it,"
so I will do for my servants' sake,
and not destroy them all.
I will bring forth descendants from Jacob,
and from Judah inheritors of my mountains;
my chosen shall inherit it,
and my servants shall settle there.

What we know as the Book of Isaiah contains the work of at least three individuals, all who write a different period’s in the history of Israel, and all of whom have different points of view concerning the nation’s destiny and status before God.  Today’s reading, from a so-called “Third Isaiah” is written after the period of exile and return, but it takes a slightly more conservative stance than that of the previous section (Chapters 40-55).  This prophet takes the position that the temple and sacrifice are necessary, and strict observance of the Law of Moses is also required.  In these verses he bewails the failings of the Israelite audience he seeks.  They sit in tombs, eat pork, and do other forbidden things.  To these unfaithful ones, this Isaiah prophesies doom.  In verse eight and nine, we hear a different voice, for the prophet perceives a different audience – one’s who have been faithful to the God of Israel.  To these, the prophet promises the lands that they have returned to God’s faithful presence and protection.

Breaking open II Samuel:
1.    What are the actions and activities that Isaiah finds so reprehensible in the first few verses of the reading?
2.    What are the promises that are made to the faithful?

George Rouault’s “Crucifixion”

Psalm 22:18-27 Deus, Deus, meus

Be not far away, O LORD; *
you are my strength; hasten to help me.

Save me from the sword, *
my life from the power of the dog.

Save me from the lion's mouth, *
my wretched body from the horns of wild bulls.

I will declare your Name to my brethren; *
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.

Praise the LORD, you that fear him; *
stand in awe of him, O offspring of Israel;
all you of Jacob's line, give glory.

For he does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty;
neither does he hide his face from them; *
but when they cry to him he hears them.

My praise is of him in the great assembly; *
I will perform my vows in the presence of those who worship him.

The poor shall eat and be satisfied,
and those who seek the LORD shall praise him: *
"May your heart live for ever!"

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, *
and all the families of the nations shall bow before him.

For kingship belongs to the LORD; *
he rules over the nations.

Anyone who has attended the Maundy Thursday Liturgy will recognize this psalm.  These are the words that are either spoken or sung as the altar is stripped and left barren for the Good Friday Liturgy.  A quick read of the entire psalm will give the sense of why this choice was made, in that the verses have an uncanny connection to the agonies of the crucifixion and verse 2 are the words that Jesus speaks in Aramaic from the cross (My God, my God…). We only have portion of the psalm this morning.  The first half (verses 18-21) still continues to lay out the agonies of a suffering human being, someone deeply in prayer asking God’s intervention.  At verse 22, the tone shifts, and now the psalmist praises God for prayers that have been presumably been answered.  

Breaking open Psalm 22
1.     What parts of the psalm remind you of the crucifixion?
2.     What parts remind you of your own troubles?
3.     How do you respond when your troubles seem to be resolved?

Galatians 3:23-29

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Sadao Watanabe’s “Baptism of Jesus”

In his on-going discourse on the Law, Paul continues to cite the limitations of the Law, and the new status that Christians enjoy because of their baptism.  Paul makes the claim that the law (which he calls “our disciplinarian”) is no longer necessary.  Baptized into Christ, we now share in Christ’s graces.  But it is more than individuals who are affected by this new distinction – whole classes of people are thought of differently.  Jews, Greeks, males, females, slaves, freedmen and freedwomen – all are in the same boat, all are one in Christ Jesus.  This is a word that so desperately needs to be heard in our society.

Breaking open Galatians:
  1. How is the Law your “disciplinarian” – what parts of what you think God wants in your life have you not been able to accomplish?
  2. What does your baptism mean to you?  How do you remember it?
  3. What does “being one in Jesus Christ” mean to you?

Saint Luke 8:26-39

Jesus and his disciples arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me" -- for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, "What is your name?" He said, "Legion"; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.

Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you." So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”

This rather odd story gives us a clue as to why the Hebrew reading for today, and the Psalm were chosen.  At the very least, it proclaims through its actions that which Jesus wanted to proclaim, namely, that the Kingdom of God was at hand.  To that end we meet the “demons” who possess the man, and indeed the man himself – who lives in a tomb (see the verses in the Hebrew reading).  That Jesus should cleanse the man, gives evidence of his universal scope.  He is not bothered by demon, tomb-dwelling, or swine.  What he wants is for the man to experience the presence of God in his life – and so he does, and announces it to others.  The people who witness this, however, are not “amazed” (Luke’s code word for belief) but rather they are afraid.  The Kingdom of God cuts with a sharp knife the faithful from the unfaithful (again, see the Hebrew reading).

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. When the Bible speaks of “demons” what do you think of?
  2. Is mental illness demonic?
  3. How do those who are mentally ill participate in the Kingdom of God?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving kindness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

08 June 2010

The Third Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 6) - 13 June 2010

II Samuel 11:26 – 12:10, 13-15
Psalm 32
Galatians 2:15-21
Saint Luke 7:36 – 8:3

                                                                                             David is confronted by the Prophet Nathan   

We have a reading this Sunday from II Samuel.  Actually I and II Samuel and I and II Kings, are regarded as being a single collection, later divided into the divisions above by the King James’ translation of the Bible.  In actuality, the books are a collection of many sources, some of who were responsible for the various strands of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) and can be detected by their bias on the issues of the time.  In the Hebrew Scriptures we meet Samuel, whose story may have been intermingled with that of Saul, and David – the legendary king of Israel.  Here, the story of the stories may be almost as fascinating as the story itself.

II Samuel 11:26 – 12:10, 13-15

When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son.

But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD, and the LORD sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, "There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man's lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him." Then David's anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, "As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity."
Nathan said to David, "You are the man! Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master's house, and your master's wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife."

David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD." Nathan said to David, "Now the LORD has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child that is born to you shall die." Then Nathan went to his house. The LORD struck the child that Uriah's wife bore to David, and it became very ill.

This is a very interesting choice that the framers of the Lectionary have made.  The person implicit, but not present in the reading – Bathsheba, seems to be the thematic link (see Mary Magdalene in the Gospel) but is not.  The real theme becomes evident later.  The real character in the story is Nathan, the prophet, who calls the great king David to task for David’s murder of Uriah the Hittite, and taking Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, as his own wife.  There are several logical devices in the reading that engage the reader in the drama of the story.  The most prominent is Nathan’s story of the lamb that moves David to condemn himself.  The other is the string of consequence that is tied to the murder and adultery: the sword will never depart from the House of David, and the product of David and Bathsheba’s union will die.  The closing line is poignant: the innocent child (and to this child we could add Uriah, as well, becomes the victim of the machinations of the great king. 

Breaking open II Samuel:
1.    What do you think of Nathan’s prophetic stance over against David?  Do you think that his life might have been in danger?
2.   Which other biblical character got into trouble for commenting on a king’s “marriage?”
3.    How genuine is David’s confession?

Psalm 32 Beati quorum

Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, *
and whose sin is put away!

Happy are they to whom the LORD imputes no guilt, *
and in whose spirit there is no guile!

While I held my tongue, my bones withered away, *
because of my groaning all day long.

For your hand was heavy upon me day and night; *
my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you, *
and did not conceal my guilt.

I said," I will confess my transgressions to the LORD." *
Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.

Therefore all the faithful will make their prayers to you in time of trouble; *
when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach them.

You are my hiding-place; you preserve me from trouble; *
you surround me with shouts of deliverance.

"I will instruct you and teach you in the way that you should go; *
I will guide you with my eye.

Do not be like horse or mule, which have no understanding; *
who must be fitted with bit and bridle,
or else they will not stay near you."

Great are the tribulations of the wicked; *
but mercy embraces those who trust in the LORD.

Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the LORD; *
shout for joy, all who are true of heart.

King David

Some commentators call this a “Thanksgiving Psalm”, and it’s notation as a “Maskil” has a connotation of being a joyous psalm.  Actually it is a psalm of confession, for the verses speak of confession and forgiveness, with resulting thanksgiving.  The psalm seems to be connected thematically with the reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, where David is confronted by the Prophet Nathan about the murder of Uriah, and the adultery with Bathsheba.  Ideally, the psalm could be David’s response of thanksgiving having admitted his sin and having been forgiven.  From verse 8 on, the psalm takes on a wisdom-like character, with verse 8 serving as an introduction to the aphorisms in the verses that follow.

Breaking open Psalm 32
1.     Have you ever been forgiven something – that was a great relief to you?
2.     Have you ever forgiven someone something that was a great relief to them?
3.     What goes on in your mind during the Confession of Sins, in the liturgy?

Galatians 2:15-21

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners - yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law. But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.

These verses in Paul’s letter to the Galatians seem to render an intense internal discussion that Paul has in his own mind.  The argument is about existence and essence: “who am I?”  Paul traces, with an unflagging preciseness the points of his argument – replete with irony and paradox.  Jew – Gentile, Sinner – Justified, the Law – Christ, dead to the Law – alive to God, alive in the flesh – alive in faith.  These are the poles of his argument about leaving the Law for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The verses represent to us a powerful internal struggle in Paul’s mind that is not so much different from the internal struggles that every Christian has when confronted by their sin.  Although this is a virtual lectio continua (continuing reading) through Galatians, it seems to be serendipitously connected to the reading from II Samuel.

Breaking open Galatians:
  1. Do you have an internal ethical struggle at times?
  2. How do you resolve it?
  3. What is Paul’s resolution?

Saint Luke 7:36 – 8:3

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him-- that she is a sinner." Jesus spoke up and said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." "Teacher," he replied, "Speak." "A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?" Simon answered, "I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt." And Jesus said to him, "You have judged rightly." Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little." Then he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" And he said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."
Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

There are several aspects to this reading from Luke.  The most notable is Jesus’ use of a present situation as a kind of parable, when he uses the example of the unnamed woman who anoints Jesus with her tears and with ointment.  Jesus includes in his conversation with Simon (a Pharisee) a series of questions that leads Simon to the truth Jesus wants Simon to perceive.  The teaching is about forgiveness, and the value of that forgiveness.  For, the woman, however, the operative principal is not forgiveness, but rather faith.  She is proclaimed “a sinner” early in the reading, but we do not know what her sin was – we do know, however that her faith saved her.

The later verses name Mary Magdalene (cured of evil spirits) and it is unfortunate that Mary becomes trapped in the descriptor of “sinner”, as is the woman in the preceding passage.  It is interesting that Mary Magdalene, the Apostle to the Apostles, should be bound together in these readings today with Bathsheba, the mother of Solomon, and sinner as well.  What it does show, is that the faithful in every age include those who fail and are lifted up.  Perhaps that ought to be the point of our preaching.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. How did Simon fail as a host?
  2. How did Simon fail as a judge of human character?
  3. What does the word “sinner” suggest to you as it relates to the woman?  Is your judgment fair?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.