6.11.2010

Third Sunday of Pentecost - Year C

[Time for a little refresher about how the lectionary works...and then some commentary about when it works beyond the plan. During "Ordinary Time" the lectionary provides two reading options for the Hebrew scripture. The "first readings" begin with Genesis in Year A and follow through in sort of chronological order through the major prophets in Year C. The "second readings" are intended to be thematically tied to the selected Gospel lesson for that week.]

All that said, there is a funny resonance this week among ALL of the readings from where we sit. (Admittedly, we sit in a fairly geeky spot relative to this stuff.) The readings all touch on what happens because of our human nature - what happens when we are tempted by power or greed or lust, when we just can't do what society deems "the right thing." And what happens between us and God because of our humanness.

Come on. You know you do it. You can't quite avoid passing on the latest news (gossip) about a member of your community. Your generous heart falters at the sight of yet another pan-handler at the intersection. The "right" way of getting something done doesn't seem to be working and you take matters into your own hands, perhaps greasing a palm here and there, perhaps even causing someone some discomfort or extra work. Let's face it, all of us reading this have social power we are able to use for evil over others--if you are reading this on a computer and using internet access to receive it, you have more than a lot of the rest of the world. We are human - with bumps and warts and temptation and greed.

But what happens when we recognize our humanness...when we give up trying to be perfect and recognize that God loves us through it all. Do we live out loud? Do we respond to the world differently? We (Matt and Laura) know that in our brokenness, we've discovered a greater ability to love and be loved, by God and the world.

The reading from 1 Kings provides some important history about the Land that God gave the Israelites. King Ahab observed that Naboth, a Jezreelite had some desirable land adjoining his own. He made some overtures to Naboth inquiring about purchasing the land. Naboth refuses. This is the Land that the LORD has granted his people. Now enters one of the more colorful characters - Jezebel assures King Ahab that she can get the land for him. So she basically conspires to have Naboth killed and then sends Ahab to claim the property. God sends Elijah to Ahab with a message - you took what isn't yours and you will suffer as a result. There are some funny human things going on in this story. What was Jezebel's motivation? She seemed to just want to do something nice for her man at some level. And did Ahab question how she accomplished the deed? Was he ok with her forging his signature on official documents? Did Jezebel have guilt? Notice what happens to Ahab...God says, "I will bring disaster on you; I will consume you, and will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel". [On a literary note, does it make you read Moby Dick in a different way knowing what you know about the Captain's namesake?]

The psalm paired with this reading is probably intended to focus on how God makes things right, sets the evil-doer straight. But it is interesting to us that while it is a lament, there is also a petition - make straight my path. Yes, God. I can't navigate alone. Make my path a straight one, please.

The "second reading" is from Samuel - a story that we visited earlier in the year. David has had Uriah killed so that he might take Bathsheba legitimately as his wife. Hmm. Not unlike Jezebel, David's passion consumed him and he just did what he needed to do to get what he wanted. And here's the amazing human moment: Nathan tells a story about a rich traveler who steals a poor man's lamb because he does not want to use one of his own for a feast. David is aghast...but Nathan's word is simple. David, this is about you. Didn't you see it? Do you know what you just did? You just killed a man so that you could lay with his wife! And you have a whole bevvy of other women at your disposal. David knows he has sinned. And there will be a price to pay. However, notice that David's price is not quite as steep as Ahab's. The child of David and Bathsheba is killed....David is not 'cut off' from the rest of his offspring. Why do you think that is true?

The psalmist is giving thanks for God's presence and forgiveness. LIke the earlier psalm, there is an understanding the reliance on God is a necessity.

Now in Paul's letter to the Galatian church, he is exploring how we are justified. He's writing about the difference between the then predominant Jewish implementation of the Law - you were right with God when you followed the Law - and the teachings of Jesus. Jesus taught that the letter of the law was less important than loving God and neighbor and acting out of that love at all times. It's easy to take the leap in the lectionary readings from Hebrew scripture to Gospels and Epistles and embrace a critique of the way things were, but in general, we believe there is more nuance than that in the contrast between these readings. Paul was shaped by the prophet Elijah and Nathan, by stories of Jezebel and David. He knew he had his own flaws and he knew that his connection to God through Jesus was what would save him.

Finally, in Luke's gospel we read about a woman who bathes Jesus' feet with her tears and her hair and then anoints them with valuable ointment. It is an act of bold hospitality and devotion under the nose of the Pharisee who had invited Jesus. The Pharisee is stunned at the act and asks Jesus why he is ok with this. Jesus spends time teaching about hospitality and forgiveness. Most striking perhaps is this: "But to the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little." Hmm. Our ability to love God and to love others and ourselves somehow relates to our very own sinfulness and our understanding that we are forgiven and beloved to God.

Jesus taught something new and radical - that God's love was there if we accepted it and when we did, everything could be different.

God, this self-reflective business is silly.
Why do I have to be aware of the
evil I perpetrate
and admit it
before I can be
forgiven?
Can't you just zap me a little
when I get out of line?
Like the dogs
with the invisible fence?
They have learned to respect the
warning beeps.
I would too.
And that would be so much
easier.
If I was just
prevented
from going astray
instead of having
to keep myself
in line.
I am not to be trusted
left on my own.
No matter now I try,
I sometimes find myself
on the other side
of the
line.
God forgive me
when I follow
the other voices.
Forgive me when
I plug my ears
to avoid hearing
your voice.
God forgive me.
Amen.

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