II Samuel 12, 7-10 and 13
- You are the man.
It is the most famous confrontation scene in the Bible. A court prophet
faces an absolute ruler who believes himself a God-fearing man. I must practice
my best ‘wake-up call’ style until it sounds natural. It’s
not a matter of standing up to David, but rather of trying to make him see what he has done.
- Then Nathan piles it on.
This is what God did. I anointed
you king. I rescued you from Saul. I gave you house and wives. And if this were not enough… In other words, David cannot give himself the credit for any of his present glory. I can say the words more generally today, since God gave me all the abilities I share with the church,
and the Spirit awakens in all of us the good thoughts and talents we share with each other.
- Why have you spurned
the Lord and done evil in his sight?
David has broken his personal covenant with God by his acts of adultery and then his cover-up and murder. He has acted not as an anointed of God but as one more Middle Eastern despot. You have cut down Uriah the Hittite, took his wife as your own.
- Now, therefore… There will be consequences for David. Today we speak of ‘chaos theory’ and say that ‘one evil deed leads
to another.’ I will put on my best voice of foreboding when I say: The sword shall never depart from your house. ‘Never’
is a long time and it should sound like a long time.
- The connection with today’s Gospel comes from David’s
repentance and God’s forgiveness. So let me dwell on the final verse as
the defining moment of repentance and forgiveness that it has always been for Israel and for Christians. It inspired the great penitential psalm and the theme of penance that pervades our life together as church. I recall not just our personal confessions but the public acts of repentance in Rome at the time of the millennium.
- Climax: There are two today.
First is Nathan’s call to conscience. Second is David’s response,
I have sinned against the Lord. I
hear perfect contrition and I will say it as if David is speaking more to God than to the prophet.
- Message for our assembly: Actions against our neighbor have
consequences, whether or not a courageous person arises to say so.
- I will challenge myself: To speak the prophecy in sorrow rather than
in threat or spite, in the spirit of John Paul’s condemnation of war as “the ultimate failure.”
Galatians 2, 16 and 19-21
- On first hearing, the apostle is explaining works of the law. He says this five times in the passage. We are already convinced,
especially if we come out of a reformed tradition. So why don’t I go right
to the famous quotation at the end and stop wasting the church’s time?
- First, I must remember the context. Paul wrote his angriest letter, Galatians, in opposition to missionaries who insisted on judaizing the Gentile believers. This suggests to me the way I should read it.
There is a vital understanding of the Good News of Jesus here, the same issue that forced the apostles to meet in Jerusalem. I give no room
for accommodation in my inflections.
- Next, Paul does not rule out a virtuous life. How could he deny the wonder
of the covenant between God and Israel? He only adduces a new reason for living it.
I hear the word faith three times, as here.
I live by faith in the Son of God.
- I do not nullify the grace of God. Something new has happened, as the entire New Testament witnesses.
I have to practice this sentence a long time until it has the right sound. I’m
listening for the right paraphrase, keeping in mind that the word ‘grace’ here does not mean a condition but an
action – something like ‘I will not make believe this never happened!’
I have to find a tone of indignation.
- (For) if (as these other preachers say) “justification came through the law,” then Christ (who means
everything to me) died for nothing. This
sentence is not really the logical conclusion of the previous one but a more concrete way of expressing it. The grace of God is in fact the wonderful work achieved in
Jesus. I should not emphasize ‘for.’
And Paul does not oppose the law as such, but he is indeed fighting the oversimplified approach of these other preachers.
- Climax: I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me. The assembly should know the source of these words they know so well.
- The message for our assembly: Does our own faith in Christ measure up to that of the apostle?
- I will challenge myself: To avoid a completely dispassionate reading. The
apostle uses plenty of life-and-death examples and I should follow his example.
Luke 7, 36 to 8, 3
- Luke presents for us a sinful (but also and especially repentant) woman. Let me repeat slowly and with meaning the parts of the story. Luke is the master editor among the evangelists.
- Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment, she stood behind him
at his feet. By my pauses and inflections I will describe the scene, including
the unusual way she plays the servant by washing and drying Jesus’ feet (with
her tears and hair).
- This story appears in all the Gospels, though the details differ in each. Luke
sets it in the house of the Pharisee. The
Pharisee does not speak but we could sense his indignation by the expression on his face.
I would speak the words that way.
- Simon, I have something to say to you. Which one will love him more?
The example is taken from their own lives and not meant to entrap anyone. Here
Jesus is only reminding him of that.
- You did not…
It reminds me of the last judgment scene in Matthew, and it is hard to imagine the Pharisee lacking in the most basic
courtesies. I should not say this as if I thought Jesus were complaining, but
as if Jesus is suggesting that – because of the woman – he feels fully welcome in that house.
- Let me read the final verses with admiration for these women who have followed Jesus and who provided for them out of their resources.
- Climax: Her many sins have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. I should make sure the church hears the change in the saying. She loves because she has been forgiven, not the other way around.
- Message for our assembly: Do we have such great love? Aren’t we
- I will challenge myself: To help the church understand that this story summarizes our own call to repentance.
From Word to Eucharist: All
three readings betray strong feeling. Many Christians gave their lives rather
than deny the Christ who lived in them. The common ground we seek at Communion
time must not reduce to a bland or complacent set of values, in which we shuffle forward in our weekly trance. Recall David, Paul and the woman (Magdalene?)