First reading and psalm: 1 Kings 21:1-10 (11-14), 15-21a • Ps. 5:1-8
Alternate: 2 Sam. 11:26-12:10, 13-15 • Ps. 32 • Gal. 2:15-21 • Luke 7:36-8:3
Ahab is not without justification. Naboth’s vineyard is near the king’s home; the king wants a vegetable garden, and what the king wants the king should get. How dare Naboth appeal to an ancestral inheritance? And yet the appeal has force, stopping the king in his quest, trapping him in a resentful and sullen state. Depression sets in as he refuses food and turns his face to the wall. But how long can power endure such an insult and remain powerful? Jezebel is furious with her husband and outraged at this affront to his power, and hers. She orchestrates the death of Naboth and then says to Ahab, “Go, take possession of the vineyard” (1 Kings 21:15). All would be well but for the apocalyptic “word of the Lord” which came to Elijah the Tishbite. In the end, Ahab’s blood is a warm libation to the tongues of dogs. God is not mocked.
Is David to be blamed for his optic nerve and the neurosis of desire? Bathsheba is beautiful and David is a man, the king. Pinning the pregnancy on Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, proves impossible, so David arranges his death in battle. Kill the husband, take the wife, and celebrate human conniving. It might have worked, but for “the word of the Lord,” spoken in a parable to the king, who, though up to his neck in guilt, could not, at least publicly, avoid judgment against egregious wrong. David’s anger was kindled against the illustrated man, not knowing, or at least not admitting, that he was the man. What happened? It was terrible. The Lord struck the child, the story says. The moral? Well, what is the moral? Arrange not the death of the innocent lest the angel of death pass not over but through you.
We hear only “a woman in the city, who was a sinner,” and then draw, perhaps, our own perverted and dramatic conclusion. What we know of her is limited. She was a sinner who had shown great love. Whatever her sin, it was publicly known and therefore an offense to the Pharisee with whom Jesus shared a meal. The extravagance of her sin is not, however, the real heart of the story, but rather her outpouring affection. Weeping, she washes the feet of Jesus and dries them with her hair. Jesus says, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 7:50). Who saved whom? Did her faith save her? We are told just that and that is just what we are to believe. Washing and drying his feet, she herself becomes clean. Now look again and trace the movement of her heart, the ache of her tears, the fingers that find his venerable feet. Who or what moves her, prompts her, calls her to this act of devotion?
The stories of Ahab and David tell us something we need to hear. “You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness, and evil cannot dwell with you” (Ps. 5:4). “Great are the tribulations of the wicked” (Ps. 32:10). The woman in the gospel story is a sinner, as are all the others, except Jesus, including the Pharisee, no matter how deep his denial. God is not mocked. Light shines in the darkness. If we could get to the flesh and blood of this woman, the marrow of her being, we would find not her, but him: “it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).
Look It Up
Read Gal. 2:18. Do not try to build again what has been torn down.
Think About It
Both Greek and Latin consider faith as “leaning into.” That into which you lean is God, and that which pushes you is God. The resistance? Our ancient enemy.