Readings for (Proper 6) Third Sunday after Pentecost 17 June 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Third Sunday after Pentecost Proper 6C / Ordinary 11C / Pentecost +3 Textweek

I Kings 21:1-10, (11-14), 15-21a; Psalm 5:1-8; Galatians 2:15-21; Luke 7:36-8:3


The readings today, particularly the Old Testament reading and the Gospel reading which have got a story attached, they’ve got an obvious moral lesson in them and it’s perfectly all right to just read it, get it and stop there. And for a lot that probably will be the focus of the readings. If however, we can appreciate that when we look into scripture what we’re looking into is a pool of eternal truth and as we look in, what we’re seeking is our reflection, then we might look a little further than the obvious moral teaching.

The first reading from Kings is about power, power and its interplay between the powerful and the powerless, the interplay between Ahab and Naboth. The interplay of power in this instance, and interestingly enough in many contemporary instances, is manifested around possessions. It’s interesting because if we look at our lives and look at the modern world and see where power is acted out, we’ll often find it in relation to possessions. There’s an opportunity for us to now locate ourselves in the interplay of power. If we consider what is it that we want, what is it that we need, what is it that we covert that others have, what is it that we want to hang onto? As we start to consider those things for ourselves so we awaken for ourselves the forces of power that we’re complicit in maintaining. Power is not something in the hands of others - that is to deny God. We have each been empowered by the divine; let’s not pretend that others have it and we don’t. What we do with it and what we realise with it, that is the choice that we make.

The Gospel reading is also about power, but it’s far more subtle and it introduces a new dynamic into the process of power. The interplay of power in the Gospel reading is illustrated by the interplay between the Pharisee and the sinner. It also echoes and brings forward the first reading, and that’s done by including the parable of the creditor and the debtor. Once again we’ve got an opportunity to find ourselves in the interplay of power. Maybe we could consider the self-righteous stand that we take against those who we judge as wrong. Once more we might look at where we have accumulated a credit, where others owe us a debt.

The new dynamic that the Gospel introduces is the power of forgiveness. And there’s a stunningly important appreciation to find in there and that is that forgiveness is not part of the same transaction. Where the interplay of power was between the powerful and the powerless, the power of forgiveness doesn’t get added to that equation. It says in verse 47, ‘her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love’ – it’s very important. She was not forgiven because she showed great love; she showed great love because her sins were forgiven.

The reading that we have from Paul in between does the weaving and the wrestling. It’s as if Paul looks into the eternal pool of truth and finds a reflection that brings these narratives into the every moment. Here we find the truth of justice and the place of our being justified, that’s what Paul is talking about. Paul speaks as one enlightened - I have looked into the pool, I have seen, this is the being that I found reflected in the pool. And it’s a sense of being that we probably still have to find or it’s a process that we might engage as part of our orientation towards a fuller life. We all of us, generally, culturally, have reference points for living. It’s interesting that in our modern world most or many of those reference points are about possessions.

Possessions form the basis of our primary reference points for life. Think about that when we hear the readings. The readings suddenly jump from the Old Testament into the present moment. No longer is it a vineyard, it’s now an oil well; no longer is he taken out and stoned, rather we drop acres of bombs instead. In terms of power management, justice and our sense of being justified, in the modern world most of the time the reference points for justice and being justified come from the law; they’re the reference points we use to know justice, and this is where Paul, like Christ, turns the world upside down, for Paul says, ‘if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing’. I would read that as, if our sense of justice comes through the law, then Christ dies for nothing.

We live and move in a Pharisaic world, a world that is driven by the law. Much - I initially wrote most, then I tempered it - it’s either most or much injustice in our world, globally, is based on the law and supported by the law. If that’s the case then it’s also the same in our own lives. We use the law as a basis for justifying injustice. The Gospel gives us a new understanding of power; it does it by introducing the dynamic of forgiveness and it’s a mechanism for diffusing power, not by forgiving after the fact, but as with the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet, it’s knowing forgiveness as a place to be, a place to abide, so that we can each and all of us live a life which is creative and giving of great love. It’s actually the end of that great Christian myth, original sin. St Augustine got it wrong, the earth is not flat. What we discover here is the power of forgiveness that is the place and the given, in order that we might show great love. That’s revealed in Christ, that place; Paul gets it, Paul gets that place in the Damascus road process: not an event, a process, an orientation. It’s the place of being fully alive, to know oneself as forgiven. Not to know oneself filled with guilt, not to know oneself filled with original sin, not to know oneself as constantly and forever struggling to stay within the law. The law is being corrupted and is not the truth, is not the absolute. The whole interplay of the Pharisees that we see in the scriptures is to give us that. It isn’t to give us freedom from the law, but rather it is to give the law back to us, because that’s where it is entrusted. God didn’t create parliaments or systems and structures; the given, the divine power is given to each and everyone made in the image of God, it is given to all life.

What we’re asked to do today is to think about the reference points we have for life. What is it, what are the points we use to steer our course? Be aware of the law, the law of the state, the law of the church, and be aware of living in Christ - just another way to live, a way in which we become empowered ourselves to be creative of great love: ‘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.’ This is our truth.

The Lord be with you.
Peter Humphris