Old Testament: I Kings (21:1-21a)
Later 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; I will consume you, and will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel; I will bring disaster on you.”
The Response: Psalm (5:1-8)
1 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.
The Epistle: 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.
The Gospel: 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.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Recently, St. Mark’s, along with our ecumenical partners, completed our 14th year supporting the children of Kemp Elementary School. Thank you to those who have participated in this ministry through contributions of school supplies, to those who have provided financial support, to those who have helped with our annual Open House cookout, and especially to those who have served as tutors for our children at Kemp.
I think I can speak for all of our tutors in saying that, over the years, we have learned from our students and their families, while they, one hopes, have learned from us. I know that I have learned from them.
Several years ago, for example, I was working with some second-graders, helping them with their reading skills. It was obvious which of them had a parent or some other adult who read to them as they were growing up and which ones didn’t. There was a significant difference between the reading levels of the two groups.
But there was one girl who confused me. During our months of weekly sessions together, I had learned about her and her family. She and her brother, who was a year older and in the third grade, were being raised by a very loving grandmother. But the girl told me that her grandmother never read to them, nor did she help the third-grader with his math, with which he was struggling. And I wondered how this apparently wonderful woman, who did so much with and for them, had neglected this important part of being a parent to them. Didn’t she realize how important these things are to children?
It was only at the class’ year-end party that I learned the answer, when I finally met the grandmother. She expressed her gratitude for the work that our tutors had been doing for her grandchildren; and, in the course of our conversation, it became obvious why she was not providing them with the help they needed with reading and math. She herself could not do math at a third-grade level, nor could she read at even a second-grade level. As much as this dear lady might want to help her grandchildren with their school-work, she simply was not able to do so. And suddenly, my misunderstanding was gone, and I came to see her in a very different way.
The story told in today’s gospel reading is unique to Luke, although it has its parallels with stories told in the other gospels. And the key moment in the account comes when Jesus turns toward the woman and says to Simon, his host, “Do you see this woman?” That could have come across as a silly question. After all, Simon obviously had watched her come in, observed what she did, and judged her; but he had not really seen her. While he had seen only an intruder, a known sinner in the town, Jesus saw a woman who had experienced the power of God’s forgiveness and who, in response, was filled with gratitude and with love, a love that spilled over into her actions toward Jesus. And Jesus called on Simon to see her in a completely new way.
How do we see other people, in particular, those who seem to be different from us? Don’t we often tend to do what Simon did in the gospel story: to look at them from a detached distance, to size them up, and to judge and categorize them, without ever really getting to know them? When we do that, we often can’t really see them and understand them and the challenges that they are facing in their lives. Our misconceptions, our prejudices, our preconceived notions blind us: keeping us from really seeing them.
François Bovon, in his commentary on this passage (Luke 1, page 298), observes: “The overcoming of sin, or better, the removal of destructive prejudices in society (the cliques that exist in all classes, from drug addicts to bankers), and self-examination… in the individual occur not… in the application of written rules, but in an encounter.” It is in a direct and open encounter with others, getting to know them in a more than superficial way, that we really come to see them. And, in coming to see them, we allow God to forgive us for, and free us from, our prejudices and our narrowness of mind and heart.
But allowing ourselves to see others in a new and more complete way frees us also from our isolation from everyone else around us. That is often an isolation that exists primarily in our heads and in our hearts rather than in any set of external criteria.
Sometimes that separation, that isolation, results from a sense that we are somehow better than others. But often, it seems, that is not the real driving force. Instead, it seems to emerge from insecurities within us: from our own lack of understanding of other people right in our own community who seem to be different from us. And it seems to emerge from our own feelings of inferiority or, to put it in religious language, from the knowledge that we are sinners, often in ways that are invisible to others. And we certainly don’t want that secret to get out!
We are sinners; but, like the woman in the gospel story, we Christians believe that we are sinners who have been forgiven. And it is with that knowledge that we leave here each Sunday with the same words that she heard from Jesus: “Go in peace.” But what does that mean?
Fred Craddock, in his reflections on this story (Luke, page 106), asks: “Where does one go when told by Christ ‘Go in peace’? The price of the woman’s way of life in the city has been removal from the very institutions that carried the resources to restore her. The one place where she is welcome is… among people like herself. What she needs is a community of forgiven and forgiving sinners. The story screams the need for a church, not just any church but one that says, “You are welcome here.”
That is what the church is to be: not a place set apart from the rest of society as a refuge for saints, but a place of welcome for sinners, including all of us. We are not somehow separated from the rest of humanity, except perhaps by the conviction that we have all been forgiven.
And because of that fact, we can now answer in the affirmative Jesus’ question, “Do you see this woman? Do you see this man?” Yes, now we do see them, no longer separated from them by our own bias, by our own prejudice, by our own blindness. By God’s grace, we are now able to see them for who they are: fellow children of God. And so together, as “a people, forgiven, healed, renewed,” we can now go in peace.