INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE
Year C - Proper 6
1 KINGS 21:1- 21a. This simply told tale echoes across the centuries as brilliant example of how the Israelites put their message about God’s justice so even a child could understand. The depressed bumbling of Ahab make for great irony and the deceit of Jezebel clearly describes how the powerful victimize the powerless. The dramatic words of Elijah reveal how God feels about such selfish injustice.
2 SAMUEL 11:26-12:10, 13-15. (Alternate) This conclusion to the story about David’s lustful adultery with Bathsheba forcefully conveys the moral lessons that God’s justice is meted out equally to kings and commoners alike. The prophet Nathan confronted David about his deceitful arranging for Uriah’s death so that he might marry Bathsheba. Despite David’s confession of sin, Nathan declared God’s judgment against the king: Bathsheba’s child will die.
PSALM 5:1- 8. This lyrical lament may well have been recited by temple singers to the music of flutes. It tells worshippers making their way into the temple that God hears their cries for help because God has only steadfast love for all who follow God’s righteous ways.
PSALM 32. (Alternate) This prayer of confession has nothing to do with King David’s confession. It contains a hopeful expression of God’s forgiveness for any penitent relying on the steadfast love of God. This is something in which we too can truly rejoice.
GALATIANS 2:15- 21. Paul cites the basic difference between Jews and Gentiles as resting on the law given to Moses when he led the Jews out of slavery in Egypt. Then Paul strikes down that distinction because Jesus Christ has established an entirely new relationship with God for Jews and Gentiles alike. It depends on faith in Jesus Christ who was crucified and raised from the dead to live in anyone who believes.
LUKE 7:36- 8:3. In this passage Luke told several things about Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. He had friends among the Pharisees and one invited him to dine. He rebuked his host for neglecting a customary welcome. He also had great compassion for this disreputable women always thought of as a prostitute.
The parable Jesus told to drive home his message must have cut the Pharisee to the quick. The point of the whole incident is that forgiveness depends on our faith in God’s compassionate love, not on how righteous we may strive to be.
A MORE COMPLETE ANALYSIS.
1 KINGS 21:1- 21a. This simply told tale echoes across the centuries as brilliant example of how the Israelites put their message about God’s justice so even a child could understand. Yet its fine points speak to our age as crisply as it formed one of what is known as “the Elijah cycle” of stories about one of Israel’s greatest prophets and his conflict with King Ahab and his Tyrian queen, Jezebel. Two other cycles of stories closely related to this one featured the prophet Elisha and the reign of the weak King Ahab. Scholarly debates have not completely settled how the three have been melded into the whole of the Book of Kings. Several incidental narratives are scattered in different places in I and II Kings.
It is thought that these three sets of stories originated in the Northern Kingdom in late 9th century BCE. They existed separately and circulated centuries before being included in the Book of Kings by an editor of the Deuteronomic school. Written after Israel’s return from the exile in Babylon in the late 6th or early 5th century BCE, the main concern of the Deuteronomic editors of the Book of Kings was the struggle to maintain the worship of Israel centralized in the temple Jerusalem against the incursions of alien gods. They believed that it was Israel’s infidelity to the worship of Yahweh and the Torah which brought the great disaster of the Babylonian exile upon them.
In this particularly dramatic incident, the depressed bumbling of Ahab make for great irony and the deceit of Jezebel clearly describes how the powerful can victimize the powerless. The dramatic words of Elijah reveal how God feels about such selfish unfairness.
Just reading the story to its conclusion at vs. 29 would make a great sermon in itself. If one chose to elaborate and draw parallels to present times, one would find ample illustration in the economic and political injustices rampant in the world as we see these described in our news media.
2 SAMUEL 11:26-12:10, 13-15. (Alternate) This conclusion of the story about David’s lustful adultery with Bathsheba forcefully conveys the moral lesson that God’s justice is meeted out equally to kings and commoners, to rich and poor alike.
Whether or not this was indeed an historical event from the later years of David’s reign can never be proven. However, the narrative bears the marks of a much later time in the 8th and 7th centuries BCE when justice had become an important element of the preaching of Israel’s great prophets Amos, Micah and Isaiah.
The prophet Nathan confronted David about his deceitful arranging for Uriah’s death so that he might marry Bathsheba. But the wily prophet doesn’t do it with a blunt charge of misbehaviour. He skillfully tells a parable about a rich man who coveted his poor neighbour’s lamb. The rich man stole the poor man’s lamb to provide a feast for a visitor. When David challenged the prophet to identify the culprit of this injustice, Nathan pointed his finger directly at the king and in Yahweh’s name condemned the king for what he had done to Uriah and Bathsheba.
Despite David’s confession of sin, Nathan declares God’s judgment against the king: Bathsheba’s child will die. More than that, David’s household would experience nothing but strife, a prophecy that subsequent events proved. Indeed, by the time the story was redacted in the post-exilic period, the Davidic dynasty had disappeared.
PSALM 5:1-8. This lyrical lament may well have been recited by the temple singers to the music of flutes. It may have been used as a prayer during the morning sacrifice (vs. 2). While it is written as if sung as a solo, it tells worshipers making their way into the temple that God hears their cries for help because God has only steadfast love for those who follow God’s righteous ways.
We can only imagine the specific circumstances in which the psalmist had composed this prayer. It would appear that he was beset by a menacing group of fellows Israelites. He had suffered from their boastful arrogance and slanderous lies vividly described in vss. 6 & 9. The psalmist found relief from this unbearable annoyance in the assurance of Yahweh’s steadfast love communicated through worship (vs. 7). This results in his commitment to Yahweh’s righteousness, i.e. the Torah.
Vs. 7 contains what may be an oblique reference to the Babylonian exile. The psalmist may not have been in the temple precincts at all, but far away in Babylon and turning toward the temple as he uttered his morning prayers (cf. Daniel 6:10). It is logical to assume, therefore, that the psalm comes from the post-exilic period.
The varying readings of vs. 3b suggest that this is so. The KJV has added the words “my prayer” to the Hebrew text, “I direct my prayer to thee, and will look up,” to convey a clearer sense of its assumed meaning. The RSV gives an alternate reading: “I prepare a sacrifice for thee, and watch.” The NEB tends to agree: “I set out my morning sacrifice and watch for thee, O Lord.” The NRSV, however, stays closer to the Hebrew text conveyed by the KJV: “in the morning I plead my case to you, and watch.” The rather obscure Hebrew verb *‘awrak* (= prepare) does have several meanings, but chiefly “to arrange or put in order.” One may choose which one to prefer.
PSALM 32. (Alternate) This prayer of confession has nothing to do with King David’s confession. It is one of series of penitential psalms frequently used in the Lenten season. The others like it are Pss. 6, 38, 51, 102, 130 and 143. It belongs to a class of wisdom psalms designed to instruct the faithful in times of sickness and distress. Like all theology in the ancient Middle East, it closely links sickness ands sin.
Although attributed to David in the superscription, it actually comes from the late Persian or early Greek periods (4th century BCE) when wisdom literature strove to maintain the true faith of Israelites in the moral law of the ancient covenantal tradition.
Whatever its origins, the psalm contains a hopeful expression of God’s forgiveness for any penitent relying on the steadfast love of God. It describes quite effectively the process of being forgiven: sincere penitence, the acceptance of forgiveness, the resolution to guilt. It also includes a didactic moral with a touch of irony about our human resistance to true penitence. The psalm ends with a shout of praise for God’s compassionate grace in which we can truly rejoice.
GALATIANS 2:15-21. Paul’s primary concern in his Letter to the Galatians was to prevent recently converted Jews and Gentiles from falling away from the simple freedom of their new faith under attack from other Jewish Christians. These “Judaizers” had persuaded them that to be Christians they must also follow the strict Jewish laws. This conflict came a consequence of the division between the Jerusalem and Antioch Christian communities within two decades after the resurrection. In this passage Paul cited the basic difference between Jews and Gentiles. It rested on the law of the covenant given to Moses when he led them out of slavery in Egypt.
In Paul’s estimation, his fellow Jews were wrong in assuming that they put themselves in good standing with God (“justified” - vs. 16) by keeping the laws designed to create ritual purity worthy of admission to God’s covenant. Dietary restrictions and circumcision were the particular aspects of the covenant law against which Paul was arguing. Gentiles could not easily accept such rigorous purification as practical expressions of their relationship with God. Realizing this, and pleading freedom from the ritual restraints of the Jewish tradition, Paul worried that his Galatian friends would desert the Christian community altogether. As anyone who has been in conflict situations, in times of crisis it does not take much to create doubt and disaffection in the minds and hearts of Christian believers.
Then, in a series of rhetorical questions, (vss. 16b-17) Paul strikes down the distinction he had drawn between Jews and Gentiles. Jesus Christ has established an entirely new relationship with God for Jews and Gentiles alike. It rested on faith in Jesus Christ who had been crucified and raised from the dead to live in anyone who believes. The English translation of what Paul was saying is by no means easy to grasp.
He used his own experience as the main illustration of his argument. Does he not claim to have invalidated not just certain parts of the Judaic law, but the legalist tradition as a whole? Trying to understand Paul’s impact on both Judaism and Christianity, many scholars have followed this train of thought in the past century and a half. It was not so much Jesus, but Paul who is regarded as the architect of the Christian tradition distinct from its earlier roots in Judaism. We may firmly counter such a view by showing that, according to this passage, Paul himself believed that his faith depended entirely on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Great though it had been, he did not depend on his personal impact on the communities to which he had proclaimed the Gospel.
But what did he mean in vs. 19 that “through the law I died to the law? There may well be some specific act of transgression the memory of which still bothered Paul’s conscience. We get much the same impression if we compare this passage to Romans 7:7-12 where he identifies a sin but does not specifically state what that sin might have been. It could have been something he coveted, but had to relinquish because it was unattainable or because his changed relationship with Christ prevented its achievement.
Paul had found a new hope, nonetheless. It was in Christ. Whatever his sacrifice had been, he saw it as being personally crucified, yet he was alive as never before. He knew this not because of anything he had done, but because Christ had forgiven him and had given him a much greater commission. He now could live for Christ assured that the risen Christ was with him always. Indeed the Spirit of Christ was alive in him transforming him day by day into a new creation. That was the faith which sustained him. His entirely new relationship with God rested on faith alone. If this were not so, he claimed in his final point to clinch his argument, then Christ had died for nothing.
LUKE 7:36-8:3. In this passage Luke told us several important things about Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. One can easily assume that Jesus’ most ardent opposition came from those who belonged to the party of the Pharisees. On the other hand, he also had many good friends among this ultra-religious party and this one had invited him to dine. Some Jewish rabbis today believe that Jesus himself was a member of the Pharisees.
In his Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography, Bruce Chilton based much of his analysis of Jesus’ ministry on the frequency of his dining out with just about anyone who would invite him. Certainly, some of those who opposed him accused him of being a glutton and an alcoholic. Luke had reported that charge immediately before this passage. Chilton regarded Jesus’ penchant for being a guest at other people’s homes as being particularly significant in marking out his differences with the priestly authorities as well as the Pharisees.
When a sacrifice was offered in the temple, part of the offering was burned on the altar, but most of it was divided between the priests and the worshiper for their own consumption. Jesus may have regarded the temple sacrifices as dining in the presence of God. It culminated, in Chilton’s view, in the intimate fellowship meals of which the Last Supper was only one instance.
According to this pericope, Luke presented Jesus as not being afraid to rebuke his host for neglecting the customary welcome he ought to have received. The normal customs of the time required that on the arrival of his guests, the host would provide water for them to freshen up after walking through dirty and dusty streets. Ritual washing was also required of everyone who ate at home or as invited guests at a feast. In all probability, this stringent practice was frequently ignored, especially far from Jerusalem in Galilee.
The story set up an interesting contrast between Jesus rebuke of his host and his compassion for this interloping woman. Apparently she just came in off the street uninvited, knowing that Jesus was there. Perhaps she had followed him. She has always been thought of as a prostitute or an adulterer, but she could well have had other well-known sins which characterized her demeanor. Her presence quite naturally upset the host. He remonstrated with Jesus for allowing such a person to touch him thus making him impure according to the strict interpretation of the laws governing such behavior.
The parable Jesus told to drive home his message must have cut the Pharisee to the quick. Comparison with Paul’s words to the Galatians reveals that both are very clearly the good news Jesus came to reveal and make effective in reconciling us with God and with one another. The point of both passages is that forgiveness depends on our faith in God’s compassionate love, not on how righteous we may strive to be.
It is important not to ignore 8:1-3, Luke’s brief statement naming certain women who followed Jesus. In subsequent centuries, the unnamed woman who interrupted the feast at the home of the Pharisee has been conflated with Mary Magdalene and/or Mary of Bethany (vs. 2). More recent scholarship has shown this to be completely wrong. Miriam (Mary) was the most common Jewish name for women in those days. Throughout his gospel Luke showed that women held a special place in Jesus’ life and ministry. With regard to Mary Magdalene legend and fiction have made much of this.
So has feminist scholarship of the late 20th century. In her study of Luke, however, Sharon H. Ringe has shown that the roles women filled in the ministry of Jesus did not differ from the customary roles for women in those times. In this instance, we have relatively little information about these particular women. Some of them had been healed by Jesus of evil spirits and demons, but that does not imply that they were sinful or of disreputable moral character. We are told that some of them were women of means. Apparently they chose to make use of their wealth in supporting Jesus’ ministry and joining him on the road to Jerusalem. Several of them reappeared in Luke’s Passion narrative. It would only amount to fruitless speculation to reconstruct anything more from what Ringe described as “a mere opening and closing of the curtain to indicate a new scene.”
SOME ADDITIONAL PREACHING POINTS.
PSALM 5:1-8. What happens during our liturgies? In 2009 a Conference on Performing Self and Community: Ritual and Ritual Practice was held at McGill University, in Montreal, Canada. Papers from this conference were published in Volume 37:2009 issue of ARC: The Journal of the Faculty of Religious Studies. These papers attempt to respond to the question, “What does scholarship on ritual have to say in the 21st century?”
The papers range through many religious and secular fields. Some titles seem far away from religious studies, but on closer examination contain to be very appropriate hypotheses and incisive if tentative insights for our time. For instance, among the titles of papers are: “Etiology, Neurology, and Emergence: Reductionism in Biological Perspective on Religious Rituals;” “ An Examination of Virtual Rituals Found in Online Gaming;” and “Rituals and the Everyday: Performing Food and Sex in Contemporary Visual Arts.” The major world religious traditions and specific pastoral concerns are not neglected: “Ritual is Not Religion: Exploring Balagangadhars’ Proposal for Understanding the ‘East;’” and “Journeys in Grief: Theorizing Mourning Rituals.”
Though not always easy reading, the introduction and thirteen papers may prove quite challenging for a summer of study. ARC is indexed in the Religion Index One: Periodicals published by the American Theological Library Association (http://www.atla.com/) and other well known social science indexes. Individual copies of the journal may be obtained for $15 Cdn within Canada and $15 US outside of Canada from ARC, Faculty of Religious Studies, McGill University, 3520 University Street, Montreal, QC H3A 2A7 Canada. Cheques should be payable to “ARC, FRS, McGill University.” Annual subscriptions are $30 Cdn and $30 US per annum. The Faculty’s webpage is
GALATIANS 2:15-21. There is an ancient legend that part of the price Paul paid when he met Jesus on the Damascus Road was to give up any hope of marriage to the daughter of Caiaphas, the high priest. Was this an indirect reference to such an experience? It was unusual for a young rabbi not to marry and such a marriage would have been immensely advantageous to any ambitious young rabbi. How he would have coveted that! Dare we speculate that this could have been the reason why the “Judaizers” followed him wherever he went and tried to undo all he had done in the predominately Gentile cities of Galatia? As a servant of the high priest he had deserted his commission and had gone over to the enemy. How could that ever be forgiven by the priestly authorities whom he had betrayed?
Who were the Galatians? Primarily, they were the descendants of a tribe of Celts who had broken away from the main Celtic migration in the 7th and 6th centuries BCE. Originally from western Asia, they migrated up the basin of the Danube River in Europe to eventually settle first in Switzerland (known as Helvetians), and France (known as Gauls). Later they had crossed to southern England and Ireland. This break-away migration through Bulgaria and Greece to Asia Minor had taken place in the 3rd century BCE. A relatively small but rather warlike tribe, they had settled in the central Anatolian plain at the invitation of the king of Bythinia. There they subsequently became known as Galatians.
See these websites: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galatians; and
LUKE 7:36-8:3. Do justice and political reconciliation ever meet? During one of Nelson Mandela’s visits to Canada, a member of the Parliament of Canada publicly condemned the South African leader as a communist who had advocated violent revolution in South Africa before and during his imprisonment. However true or false that accusation may have been, the gift Mandela has given to the world in his long struggle against apartheid cannot be denied. His long life has showed how the worst of enemies can be reconciled through the forgiving love of God working through ordinary people of every race and creed. This too is gospel.
Reconciliation can be seen too in current if tragic events. Quite recently a remarkable reconciliation between Poland and Russia has resulted from the death of many Polish political and military leaders in a plane crash near Smolensk. The Polish delegates were on their way to meet with their Russian counterparts and mark the anniversary of the massacre of more than 20,000 Polish military, political and intellectual leaders at Katyn Forest near Smolensk in April and May 1940 on the orders of Joseph Stalin.
On May 24, 2010 Ontario’s educational television station TVO held an hour long debate on the extent and character of this reconciliation featuring a Canadian, two Polish and two Russian political scientists now teaching at different Canadian and American universities. Among the five was Nina Khrushcheva, the granddaughter of former Soviet president, Nikita Krushchev. At the end of the debate the question arose whether or not the Russians had apologized to the Poles for Stalin’s criminal behaviour. No, they conceded, it was not an apology, but it was an admission that a terrible crime had been committed.