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

Proper 6 (11) Third Sunday after Pentecost
June 13, 2010 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

Proper 6C / Ordinary 11C / Pentecost +3 June 13, 2010

In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Amen.

The first reading from 1 Kings reads like something from Shakespeare, with Jezebel playing the role of Lady Macbeth. Ahab the king, acts like a spoilt child and even Elijah takes on the dark role of tragedy, a prophet of violence and doom. It is a good reading to illustrate the importance of both context and continuity. We did read of Elijah last week and will again next week, so today’s episode is part of an overall ‘Elijah narrative’. It therefore invites us to explore the whole story further – to actually say, where is this story in the story of Elijah? Taken on its own as we hear it today, the story gives us an opportunity to reflect on the drama. What does this short Shakespearean tale have to say in relation to our own lives? What does it tell us about God and the unfolding of creation?

In the characters of Ahab and Jezebel we are confronted with the voice of corruption, and most if not all of us can identify the un-rightness of their activity – it’s obvious that what they’re doing is wrong. In the character of Elijah we hear the voice that confronts injustice and corruption. And, of more importance, is the Divine voice that’s there in the drama, for it has no activity associated with itself and is only given life through the person of Elijah. God does not intervene. God does not fix things nor make things right, for the righteousness is the very essence of God, eternally evident in the unfolding of creation. God cannot step into creation and bring righteousness, for righteousness is here. Only in hearing the Divine Word and enfleshing the Divine Word, taking on that voice for ourselves, can the unfolding of creation continue in righteousness.

Ahab and Jezebel choose their own voices as reference points for their lives, and they find only the path to corruption. Elijah listens to the voice of God; it is a different orientation of life and enables him to challenge even the king. Nothing is made right in today’s reading, but an orientation for the future is spoken into reality. God does not intervene in the events of each moment, but in each moment we can choose to intervene with a Divine voice or to intervene with our own voice.

In the reading from the letter to the Galatians, Paul is wrestling with Peter about the very same issue - the orientation, the arrow of righteousness - but this time in relation to the religious practices and the beliefs of the early church. Elijah’s challenge was obvious, for he challenged the worldly affairs of the king. Peter and Paul are challenging the orthodox and accepted theology of the day. It is sobering to contemplate that previously held beliefs can be just as un-righteous as the voice and the activity of Ahab. The history of the church is, and will be, as much shaped by the un-righteous voice as it is by the righteous voice. So where is our reference point for life in the moment? Where is our reference point as an arrow to direct us toward tomorrow? Paul takes us ‘beyond the law’, ‘beyond the tradition’; Paul offers a new reference point for righteousness. In verses 19 & 20 “I died to the law, so that I might live to God.....” and “ ...it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me”.

We’ve heard that truth and somewhere within ourselves we all know this truth, and yet at the same time we are drawn back into the conformity of the law, we are drawn back into the comfort of the tradition. We justify ourselves, that is, we rationalise our righteousness in relation to the law, rather than seeking to enflesh our indwelling Christ-likeness. It’s an amazing movement that Paul has found. Paul is the prototype Christian in the world – he seeks to illustrate that movement to us. It is not the law; it is not that which we have been told is right and forever will be right, rather it is in enfleshing in ourselves, in knowing the Divine voice within that we can then walk into a future of righteousness.

The gospel is again well chosen for today. It has a sermon on forgiveness as the removal of un-righteousness in terms of relationship. It has another sermon to illustrate the process of forgiveness – no one is required to pay the debt for sin, not you, nor I, nor Christ – the debt is simply cancelled. Ditch that old theology: the debt is cancelled; no one has to pay. And there is a further sermon in there to contrast the activities of the Pharisee and the woman in the city – the law keeper and the sinner!

But I think it’s a particularly good reading for today in relation to the threads from the other two readings - just by appreciating the setting in which the gospel narrative takes place a valuable point is made. Jesus, in all the gospels, has many meals, to the point he’s accused of being a glutton and a drunkard. And we are familiar with him eating with tax-collectors; we are familiar with him eating with prostitutes. Today he eats with a Pharisee, and in Luke’s gospel the Pharisee represents the Law and the tradition that constantly opposes the new life proclaimed in Christ. Elijah confronts Ahab and Jezebel; he confronts the corruption of the worldly orientation to wealth and power. Paul in wrestling with Peter confronts the law and the tradition. Jesus – in Christ – eats with his opposition. He enters into table fellowship, knowing (and so giving us a knowing) that the Divine when enfleshed will be creative of both relationship and righteousness. He eats with a Pharisee, for he eats with them in Christ.

To state the obvious: I do not seek sainthood – it is not one of my life orientations to be a saint, nor do I seek to be good as many of you will have noticed, nor do I seek to claim my four score years, but I do seek righteousness. That's what I seek - a way forward that will take us, and humanity with us, beyond the law, beyond the tradition, beyond the corruption of our world, beyond the corruption of our church. Beyond the seen that is corrupted and that which decays with moth and with rust.

In our baptism, and in our being here, we seek to realise our “In-Christness”, to realise ourselves as righteousness, to know and find ourselves as “the body of Christ”. In our baptism, and in our being here we seek to know that “it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”


Peter Humphris


Peter Humphris