Kings 21:1-10, (11-14), 15-21a
My great aunt had a small vineyard, just a few vines on trestles, and I played under them with my cousins growing up. I heard stories of how my aunts and uncles had played under them, and later watched the next generation play under them as well. My great aunt also had vegetable gardens, but my memories of them are only about hard work. Now I have memories of the work days in the vineyard, not easy days by any account, but also of fun days and heritage.
The injustice of Ahab and Jezebel against Naboth is resplendent in this lesson. The injustice, however, is not only personal against Naboth but also cultural. The working of vegetable gardens for the seasonal palace of the royal family is a thing for slaves. The maintaining of vineyards for one’s family heritage is a thing for the People of God.
Ahab’s goal is not simply the expanding of his control in the land, but stripping away the very use of the land that allows the Chosen of God to name and know themselves as God’s Children.
The psalmist is beset with injustice. Our poet is sighing, longing for justice, and so the poet falls to the ground in prayer facing toward God’s temple. The poet seeks a straight path to the way of God.
The psalmist, in the midst of being so beset, knows all the sidetracks that can catch a person up. How easy it is for anyone who is faced with injustice to become bloodthirsty, wanting only revenge, or to delight if pain comes to those who have caused pain, or to do any number of things that have nothing to do with reliance on God.
How much harder it is to fully bring our anger and pain before God in the midst of our prayers and seek a straight path before us.
The key for Paul, in almost every instance, is the proclamation of Christ crucified. The proclamation of Christ crucified is the card that trumps all other plays, the crucial reality no matter the context. If we can proclaim Christ crucified and recognize a new life on account of that act by Christ, then we are justified by faith. The life events, the ethnic culture, the rule of life that brought us to that point of proclaiming Christ Crucified are not what saves us, but Christ’s actions on the cross.
Paul realizes that the Grace of God, through Christ, is not bound to any specific group but can be proclaimed in the midst of any group. This has brought him to break down the divisions he once saw between Jews and gentiles, and he cannot in good conscience attempt to build back those divisions.
It is not our set forms of liturgy, our social class, or cultural norms that save us; we are saved by the Grace of God.
This is not a difficult idea for us to grasp. It can be, however, a very challenging way to live. Paul has begun to live that way and is now challenging others to do the same. It is a challenge that we continue to wrestle with to this very day.
What is the gauge of forgiveness? Can we calculate who has forgiven more? Can we calculate whose sin is greatest? These are rather puzzling questions; indeed, the very riddle that is presented to Jesus by his host.
The host, Simon the Pharisee, views sin and forgiveness in the sense of a tally sheet, much like the creditor in Jesus’ story. In his reckoning, he stands with little debt, little sin, and the woman on the floor has much debt, much sin. Her lascivious actions, unbinding her hair and rubbing Jesus’ feet, do nothing to raise her in the Pharisee’s eyes.
The woman is showing overwhelming love for Jesus by her unorthodox actions. Truly, a much greater love than Simon has shown, who has, in fact, failed to show the basic requirements of being a good host. Is it her greater love that brings her to receive greater forgiveness while Simon’s lesser love brings him to acquire little, if any, forgiveness?
The key is that the woman loves Jesus before she is forgiven. She loves Jesus out of her need to be forgiven, out of her recognizing her need to be in a relationship with Jesus. Simon has yet to recognize his need to be forgiven, has not recognized his need to be in a deep relationship of love with Jesus. Thus unable to recognize his debt, he surely shall not venture to the feet of his creditor.