The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 6, 12 June 2016

Track One:
I Kings 21:1-10, (11-14), 15-21a
Psalm 5:1-8

Track Two:
II Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15
Psalm 32

Galatians 2:15-21
Saint Luke 7:36-8:3

Background: Land Ownership and the Individual

A discussion of property rights in ancient Israel certainly will be helpful as background material in the Track One first reading, the expropriation of Naboth’s vineyard by Ahab. Perhaps more obliquely it will relate to Nathan’s example when confronting David about his taking Bathsheba from her husband Uriah. Both of these incidents involve private individuals, Naboth and Uriah, and individuals that could either operate as a private person or as an agent of the state. In the neighboring societies of Egypt and Mesopotamia, it was the state that seemed to be the core and center of property rights and usage, although some will argue that in Yahwism, a case could be made that God “owned” the property used by families and individuals. Ahab could have as a private individual negotiated for the land, but would have come up against the long held traditions, and Torah proscriptions against land leaving a family’s use.  Here we are not speaking of a generation, but of multiple generations of a family living on and subsisting from a piece of property. Ahab chooses not to put on the mantle of the state to make his case, perhaps because there was no common law or usage that would have allowed for that. Naboth pleads his case from a legal point of view, pointing out the common understanding of land tied to a family and its descendants.

Unfortunately these distinctions leak over into the way women were treated within this society, and thus David’s story is appropriate here.  It is Nathan that has to make the construct absolutely real by telling the story of a neighbor and a lamb, all very innocent. Both David and Naboth betray their public roles by invoking a privacy that was unwarranted. To the lands on either side of them, this might not have been a great matter, but in an Israel still freshly tribal, such actions were unsuitable.

Track One:

First Reading: I Kings 21:1-10, (11-14), 15-21a

The following events took place: Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of King Ahab of Samaria. And Ahab said to Naboth, "Give me your vineyard, so that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house; I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money." But Naboth said to Ahab, "The Lord forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance." Ahab went home resentful and sullen because of what Naboth the Jezreelite had said to him; for he had said, "I will not give you my ancestral inheritance." He lay down on his bed, turned away his face, and would not eat.

His wife Jezebel came to him and said, "Why are you so depressed that you will not eat?" He said to her, "Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite and said to him, `Give me your vineyard for money; or else, if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard for it'; but he answered, `I will not give you my vineyard.'" His wife Jezebel said to him, "Do you now govern Israel? Get up, eat some food, and be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite."

So she wrote letters in Ahab's name and sealed them with his seal; she sent the letters to the elders and the nobles who lived with Naboth in his city. She wrote in the letters, "Proclaim a fast, and seat Naboth at the head of the assembly; seat two scoundrels opposite him, and have them bring a charge against him, saying, `You have cursed God and the king.' Then take him out, and stone him to death." [The men of his city, the elders and the nobles who lived in his city, did as Jezebel had sent word to them. Just as it was written in the letters that she had sent to them, they proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth at the head of the assembly. The two scoundrels came in and sat opposite him; and the scoundrels brought a charge against Naboth, in the presence of the people, saying, "Naboth cursed God and the king." So they took him outside the city, and stoned him to death. Then they sent to Jezebel, saying, "Naboth has been stoned; he is dead."]

As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, Jezebel said to Ahab, "Go, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money; for Naboth is not alive, but dead." As soon as Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, Ahab set out to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it.

Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying: Go down to meet King Ahab of Israel, who rules in Samaria; he is now in the vineyard of Naboth, where he has gone to take possession. You shall say to him, "Thus says the Lord: Have you killed, and also taken possession?" You shall say to him, "Thus says the Lord: In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood."

Ahab said to Elijah, "Have you found me, O my enemy?" He answered, "I have found you. Because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the Lord, I will bring disaster on you."

One wonders why this story has been preserved and its given association with the prophet Elijah. We are shown a period of time when cultural values and mores are in conflict or at least in change. Ahab just wants to make a real estate transaction, but Naboth sees it as a violation of the traditions of the land, and refuses. One can almost picture Elijah standing just outside the proscenium as the scenes unfold, observing the behavior of an idolatrous king and his foreign wife. It is as if the traditional values of Israel are being laid low by the intervention of this foreigner who aids and abets her husband in wresting the land from its rightful owner. It is the closing argument that Elijah wants us to see about Ahab. We have seen him in conflict with YHWH, and we have seen Elijah assert YHWH’s primacy over and over again. This is, however, the last straw. Naboth as a representative of the old Israel is falsely accused and murdered, and left to rot in the fields. Such is the behavior of kings who harbor the foreign God’s. And now, as God’s agent, Elijah delivers prophet curses that will affect the kingship of Ahab. The old is passing away, but the new is being judged harshly.

Breaking open I Kings:
1.     Was Naboth being unreasonable? Why?
2.     What is Ahab’s sin?
3.     What is Elijah’s message to Israel?

Psalm 5:1-8 Verba mea auribus

     Give ear to my words, O Lord; *
consider my meditation.
2      Hearken to my cry for help, my King and my God, *
for I make my prayer to you.
3      In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; *
early in the morning I make my appeal and watch for you.
4      For you are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness, *
and evil cannot dwell with you.
5      Braggarts cannot stand in your sight; *
you hate all those who work wickedness.
6      You destroy those who speak lies; *
the bloodthirsty and deceitful, O Lord, you abhor.
7      But as for me, through the greatness of your mercy
I will go into your house; *
I will bow down toward your holy temple in awe of you.
8      Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness,
because of those who lie in wait for me; *
make your way straight before me.

These could be Naboth’s words, and it is a shame that the entire psalm is not used here because it makes an excellent reference back to the first reading. Here the role of kingship is reserved to YHWH, and not to some human. God is the focus of justice and righteousness here, and there are no provisions for behaviors outside of those parameters. Neither palace, nor the city gate, the traditional sites of justice, are looked to here. It is the Temple that stands at the center. God functions in this psalm as both judge and guide, and it is God that leads the suppliant into a “straight way.”

Breaking open Psalm 5:
1.     How is God the focus of justice in your life?
2.     Where can you find justice in our society?
3.     How does the church help in that endeavor?


Track Two:

First Reading: 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.

Nathan gives his bad news in what might very well be a folk tale about a rich man and a poor man. By doing so he both softens the blow and sharpens its effect on David.  That this rejoinder to the king should be made in such a popular form says something about how public the knowledge was of the king’s transgression. The effect of this public knowledge would now be known in the intimacy of the king’s own life. There is forgiveness, and no death for David, but the king and Bathsheba would loose the life of their son – their future would be limited by his loss. Thus God gives them pause – a time to reflect on what they have done and on how society now looks at them. It is also a time to reflect on God’s judgment and God’s graciousness. Whether the whole of society will realize the double aspect of God’s response will be up to how the couple make known their relationship with God in public.

Breaking open II Samuel:
1.     What do you think of Nathan’s technique?
2.     Have you ever had to confront someone?
3.     How did you do it?

Psalm 32 Beati quorum

     Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, *
and whose sin is put away!
2      Happy are they to whom the Lord imputes no guilt, *
and in whose spirit there is no guile!
3      While I held my tongue, my bones withered away, *
because of my groaning all day long.
4      For your hand was heavy upon me day and night; *
my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer.
5      Then I acknowledged my sin to you, *
and did not conceal my guilt.
6      I said," I will confess my transgressions to the Lord." *
Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.
7      Therefore all the faithful will make their prayers to you in time of trouble; *
when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach them.
8      You are my hiding-place;
you preserve me from trouble; *
you surround me with shouts of deliverance.
9      "I will instruct you and teach you in the way that you should go; *
I will guide you with my eye.
10    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."
11    Great are the tribulations of the wicked; *
but mercy embraces those who trust in the Lord.
12    Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the Lord; *
shout for joy, all who are true of heart.

This is called a David psalm, and it could very well be that – at least its sentiments could.  These are the words of someone who has been forgiven a great fault, and has joy and thanksgiving because of the forgiveness that has been granted. With an abundance of metaphor and image the psalmist makes real the transaction between God and the sinner.

Breaking open Psalm 32:
1.     What has been forgiven of you?
2.     What have you forgiven others?
3.     What ought you forgive others?

Second Reading: 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.

Paul continues his comments on the law.  If you did not read the material regarding this on-going series from Galatians in last week’s comment, you might want to return there now. It’s important to have an understanding of how Paul is viewing the Law not only from the context of the Jewish Torah, but from the Roman imperium as well. Paul’s former identification with the Law is now given up for a total identification with the Jesus who dies for him. Listen to these phrases to hear their import: “I have been crucified with Christ.” “It is Christ who lives in me.” “I love by faith in the Son of God.” In a way Paul stands outside of the Galilean tradition in order to be transformed by it. He does not look to the witness of the Magdalene, or Peter, James the brother of Jesus. He looks within himself to see Christ there. In the same way he stands in a kind of distinction with the law that defines both Jew and Greek (Roman). Faith is lifted up as the means beyond this dilemma.

Breaking open Galatians:
4.     Who formed you in the faith?
5.     In what way do you live in Christ?
6.     How have you escaped the accusations of the Law?

The Gospel: 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.

The role reversals in this pericope are many. The host is turned into a critic, the interloper into a host, a prophet into a dupe, the Pharisee into an individual, and man who forgives sins. Jesus is surrounded by things and events that are questionable at least in the midst of this Pharisaic audience. A woman – a sinner, has pierced the inner sanctum of ritual purity.  It is she who touches Jesus, and actually provides the hospitality that has been denied by the Pharisee, Simon. This is a set piece, with the wanton woman and the scandalized host and guests so that Jesus can make a point about the forgiveness of sins. The parable of the creditor and the two debtors functions in much the same way as Nathan’s folk story told to David. The hearer is immediately capable of seeing what the presented truth is – that God is about the business of forgiveness for anyone. The target is overshot, in a way, for the hearers can only see Jesus as the provider of such forgiveness.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     In what ways are you an intruder into holiness?
2.     What has Jesus set aside so that you might encounter him?
3.     How do others view your faith?

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.

Questions and comments copyright © 2016, Michael T. Hiller


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