Scriptures about power, greed, sin, and forgiveness aren’t always welcome today. Somewhere along the line, talking about sin has gone out of fashion almost to the extreme. I was once the short-term interim at a church that wouldn’t allow a prayer of confession even on communion Sundays because the idea of sin made them uncomfortable. Sin, especially our own, should make us uncomfortable. Sin by definition is that which separates us from, or breaks relationship with, God, ourselves, or others. Forgiveness should alleviate the discomfort sin creates. If we don’t acknowledge our sins, how on earth can we accept anyone’s forgiveness, including God’s?
The readings from 1 Kings, 2 Samuel, and Luke all address people in power who succumb to greed in one way or another, commit some serious sins, and face forgiveness or not. These texts can easily inform many contemporary contexts. The obvious invitation is to examine our own lives and see where power, sin, and forgiveness interact. On another level, asking similar questions of a congregation could be fruitful. And I can’t help but think about our national identity and the sins we commit as a powerful nation (not that I believe or think or want this to be a Christian country).
When I read about Jezebel getting Naboth killed so Ahab can have his vineyard, I’m amazed at the brazen abuse of power. Neither Jezebel nor Ahab saw anything wrong in doing whatever was necessary to get what they wanted. It didn’t matter to them that an innocent man was killed. Even when Elijah pointed out the wrong doing, Ahab was unphased. The questions that come to my mind are these: When have I used the power I have to get what I wanted without regard for another’s needs? Did I defend these actions or did I ask for forgiveness? Has the church (the congregation I attend or the denomination I am part of) acted without regard to its neighbor’s needs at any point? Does the church acknowledge this sin and seek forgiveness? When has this nation taken from others without regard to consequences for others? Do we stand unphased or do we seek forgiveness?
Like Jezebel, King David used his power to get Bathsheba for himself. He acted on impulse and desire. As a result Uriah the Hittite was murdered. When Nathan pointed out David’s sin, David recognized that he had indeed “sinned against the Lord.” God offered forgiveness, but the consequences for David’s sins were not wiped out. Here my questions are: When I have acted on impulse and caused harm to another, have I been able to acknowledge my sin and accept forgiveness? Do I view painful consequences as punishment for sin or am I able to face the situation knowing that God has forgiven me? When has the church acted on impulse and caused harm to others? Has the community explored forgiveness even as painful consequences may be felt for years? As a nation, when have we taken what belongs to another and made it our own? Have we acknowledged this sin? What role does forgiveness play as we deal with the long-term consequences?
After these two stories of power and sin, there is the third. Luke’s version of the woman who anointed Jesus comes at this theme from the opposite direction. The woman is clearly a SINNER and she offers Jesus what others did not. Simon the Pharisee offered Jesus nothing in the way of typical hospitality even though Simon would have believed himself to be a much better person than the woman. She recognized that Jesus deserved all she had to offer. She brought her whole self – pricy jar and costly tears – and she showed Jesus hospitality like no other. And no one understood. For this passage my questions are: When have I believed myself to be better than another and, thereby, missed offering Jesus radical hospitality? As a church, whom have we failed to welcome? How have we withheld hospitality from others and from Jesus? As a nation, whom do we judge unworthy? Is there a place for forgiveness and hospitality in our national identity?
All these texts are rich and relevant. But I will end my reflections here since this is not a sermon and is only meant to stimulate thoughts and further reflection on the relevance of lectionary texts for the modern reader. So may it be.
For you are not a God
who delights in wickedness;
evil will not sojourn with you.
The boastful will not stand before your eyes;
you hate all evildoers.
You destroy those who speak lies;
God abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful.
But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love,
will enter your house,
I will bow down towards your holy temple
in awe of you.
Lead me, O God, in your righteousness
because of my enemies;
make your way straight before me.
1 Kings 21:1-10, (11-14), 15-21a with Psalm 5:1-8 or
2 Samuel 11:26-12:10,13-15 with Psalm 32
photo from pdphoto.org