Saturday, June 15, 2013

Sin, forgiveness, and gratitude

1 Kings 21:1-10, 15-21a; Luke 7:36—8:3

We don’t have time today to talk about the last few verses of the Gospel reading, but I want to call your attention to this list of women who supported Jesus. While the twelve lead disciples were all men, there were also a large number of women who followed him and supported him financially.

Today’s texts are about sin and forgiveness, mostly sin. Whose sin in Scripture is worse than this one by Queen Jezebel!? She wants whatever she can get, and forces her husband, King Ahab to go along with her.
 Property in ancient Israel was rarely sold; it was passed on through the generations. Property was income and inheritance and retirement for whoever lived there. It was the family home, and only in extreme desperation would a family sell their land, or even trade it, as Ahab offered.
Ahab lay in his bed, dejected. Dejected, probably as much because Naboth refused to give him the land as because Naboth dared to speak to him the way he did. Jezebel wanted nothing to do with his depression. Aren’t you the king?! I guess I’ll have to do this myself!
So, Jezebel made up a plan to get the land by using forgery, perjury, and murder. Once Naboth was dead, Jezebel announced to Ahab that he could go and claim the land.
Elijah heard what had happened and hurried to see Ahab. Elijah declared the actions sinful, and that the consequence would be his own death at the site of Naboth’s stoning. Eventually, Ahab repented, and Eijah changed the condemnation to apply to Ahab’s children. About three years later, Ahab was killed in battle; Jezebel was thrown down from a window in her home, and trampled by horses until there was nothing left of her body but her hands and feet, and her skull.
There is plenty of sin in this story: Ahab covets what can’t legally be his; Jezebel steals the property, bears false witness against Ahab; and arranges for his murder.
… In the story from Luke, a woman, labeled a sinner in the town, entered the room where Jesus was dining with some of the leaders of the town. The host was Simon the Pharisee, who “knows” from his training what sin is. He was anticipating an interesting evening, with a rich conversation of Scripture interpretation.
The evening got more exciting than Simon had anticipated when a woman entered the home. She knelt at Jesus’ feet and began to clean them with perfume and tears. Her specific sins are not named, but most people assume her sin is sexual, that she was a prostitute. Maybe she was a prostitute; maybe it was some sin other than adultery. Perhaps she was a thief, or she had to work on the Sabbath, or she coveted her neighbor’s property and spent more of her husband’s income than he could afford.
Many scholars suggest that the Jesus and the woman have had a previous encounter, during which the woman has confessed and Jesus has already forgiven her. She has come to Jesus this night to thank him for the gift of forgiveness.
Jesus knew what Simon was thinking; either Jesus could read Simon’s mind, or he could read the look on his face. Jesus wanted to challenge the judgment expressed by Simon so he told them a story with a question at the end.
Such stories and questions by Jesus are always traps intended to challenge the thinking of the person with whom he is talking. Simon took the bait, and answered Jesus question. “I suppose the one who has the largest debt cancelled.”
Jesus replied, “You have answered correctly.” Turning to the woman, Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven.”  The gasp of the diners is almost audible. “Who does he think he is!? Only God forgives sins!”
Jesus disregarded the comments of Simon and the others. He dismissed the woman. “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
There is plenty of sin in this story, too. The woman is guilty of some unnamed sin. Simon is guilty of unkindness, of judgment. He assumes he is clean, righteous in God’s eyes, but Jesus has just pointed out that he is not.
It is a bit harder to determine exactly which commandment he has broken. The first commandment – put God first – requires us to treat creation as God intends. So, Simon’s judgment of the woman meant that he was breaking the first commandment.
We remember the time the Pharisees questioned Jesus. “What is the greatest commandment?” Jesus reply was “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul. And the second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
It’s obvious that Simon does not love his neighbor – and this woman in particular – as he loves himself and as much as he loves his status in the culture as a righteous Pharisee.
The woman is so grateful for the forgiveness she has been granted that she lavishes expensive perfume on him. Most likely, she feels like she has new life ahead of her and this gift is a small token of her gratitude.
… In our world today, the same sins show up that our Bible stories reveal. Sin is anything that breaks our relationship with God. It can be doing something forbidden such as stealing or lying. Or it can be not doing something we know we should do, such as remembering to bring food for the food pantry. The sin is in not trusting God to work out our situation so we don’t need to steal or lie; and the sin is in not being trustworthy in helping care for our neighbors.
I always get caught by the “what I have left undone” part of the confession, and the part that reminds us that we don’t always know in what ways we sin. There is no way to know what we have done to hurt someone else unless they tell us.
Jezebel knew she was sinning, but she went ahead with her plans anyway. There was no regret that we can determine, except perhaps at the end her regret was that the people had turned on her and killed her.
The woman who pours out her gratitude onto Jesus’ feet knew what her sins were, regretted them, and knew the blessing of forgiveness. Simon the Pharisee may have been perfect according to the word of the commandments, but he failed to obey them in his heart. He did not recognize his sin, and I’m sure he was resentful of Jesus’ accusation. Because of his attitude toward Jesus and the woman, neither was he able to receive the forgiveness Jesus would have offered him, and he never knew the gratitude he would have felt at being forgiven.
… This week, think about these things: When have you sinned? When have you confessed your sin, to God or to another person? When have you been forgiven? How did that forgiveness feel? Was it not a blessing to be forgiven?
When have you refused to forgive? How does that lack of forgiveness affect your life? What is preventing you from forgiving? How might your refusal to forgive be sinful? Would it not be a blessing to be rid of the pain caused by the refusal to forgive?
And, it is not a blessing to know that we are all forgiven by God through Jesus? What would you give Jesus in your gratitude for the forgiveness you have been offered? A jar of ointment? Your heart poured out in tears washing his scarred feet?

Please pray with me. God of mercy, forgive us. We sin, intentionally and without realizing we are sinning. We are so grateful for your forgiveness. Help us to offer the same forgiveness to those in our lives, for our sake, and theirs. Amen