Rev’d Jonathan Gale
1 Kings 21 : 1 – 10, 15 – 21a
21Later the following events took place: Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of King Ahab of Samaria. 2And Ahab said to Naboth, ‘Give me your vineyard, so that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house; I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money.’ 3But Naboth said to Ahab, ‘The Lord forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance.’ 4Ahab went home resentful and sullen because of what Naboth the Jezreelite had said to him; for he had said, ‘I will not give you my ancestral inheritance.’ He lay down on his bed, turned away his face, and would not eat.
5 His wife Jezebel came to him and said, ‘Why are you so depressed that you will not eat?’ 6He said to her, ‘Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite and said to him, “Give me your vineyard for money; or else, if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard for it”; but he answered, “I will not give you my vineyard.” ’ 7His wife Jezebel said to him, ‘Do you now govern Israel? Get up, eat some food, and be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.’
8 So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name and sealed them with his seal; she sent the letters to the elders and the nobles who lived with Naboth in his city. 9She wrote in the letters, ‘Proclaim a fast, and seat Naboth at the head of the assembly; 10seat two scoundrels opposite him, and have them bring a charge against him, saying, “You have cursed God and the king.” Then take him out, and stone him to death.’
15 As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, Jezebel said to Ahab, ‘Go, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money; for Naboth is not alive, but dead.’ 16As soon as Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, Ahab set out to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it.
Elijah Pronounces God’s Sentence
17 Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying: 18Go down to meet King Ahab of Israel, who rules* in Samaria; he is now in the vineyard of Naboth, where he has gone to take possession. 19You shall say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: Have you killed, and also taken possession?’ You shall say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood.’
20 Ahab said to Elijah, ‘Have you found me, O my enemy?’ He answered, ‘I have found you. Because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the Lord, 21I will bring disaster on you;
Galatians 2: 15 – 21
Jews and Gentiles Are Saved by Faith
15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16yet we know that a person is justified* not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.* And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ,* and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law. 17But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. 19For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; 20and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,* who loved me and gave himself for me. 21I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification* comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.
Luke 7: 36 – 8: 3
A Sinful Woman Forgiven
36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus* to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.’ 40Jesus spoke up and said to him, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ ‘Teacher,’ he replied, ‘speak.’ 41‘A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii,* and the other fifty. 42When they could not pay, he cancelled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?’ 43Simon answered, ‘I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt.’ And Jesus* said to him, ‘You have judged rightly.’ 44Then turning towards the woman, he said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.’ 48Then he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ 49But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’ 50And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’
Some Women Accompany Jesus
8Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, 2as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them* out of their resources.
Who was here two weeks ago when we considered the troika of licence, law and grace? If you remember it was Ahab the king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel who summoned the prophets of Baal to Mt Carmel. And Elijah wallops their licentious beauhinds with the law. “Don’t do it. It is against the Law of Moses” is essentially what he was saying; and he calls down fire upon the altar.
The same King Ahab is here again, murdering (with the help of his wife Jezebel) this good man Naboth and stealing his ancestral vineyard because he wants a vegetable garden. And again Elijah arrives and hammers him with the law. Punishment goes with law-breaking.
And it happened. 1Kings 22: 38 – They washed the chariot by the pool of Samaria, and the dogs licked up his blood.
And just as each of our 3 readings then illustrated licence, law and grace so do they today.
- The first, involving the prophet Elijah, illustrates the problem of licentious behaviour to which is applied the law.
- The second, involving the apostle Paul, illustrates the problem of law to which is applied grace.
- The third is a little different in that here Jesus is involved. Here we have the representatives of the law – Simon the Pharisee – at table with Jesus, the very fulfilment of the law and the embodiment of grace.
A licentious woman (she is referred to as a sinner) begins washing Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiping them with her hair. Simon is socially embarrassed (understandable) but he stands in moral judgement as well, and says to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.’
Simon’s comment implies that Jesus is short-sighted in not applying the law to her. Jesus’ response to Simon and his forgiveness of the woman are shattering. The law is plain. Jesus should have nothing to do with her, and yet he does. His actions are appreciative, honouring and forgiving. He applies grace.
Before everyone’s eyes she moves from demonstrating her appreciation for this loving man-god to receiving both forgiveness and the status of a disciple.
Elijah’s last words to the sinner Ahab were, Because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the Lord, 21I will bring disaster on you;
Jesus’ last words to the sinful woman were, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’
Let me tell you a little story. It’s about a young and incredibly wealthy ancient warrior-king who arrived in a little village disguised as a peasant. His fellow villagers led a tough life working hard to scratch out a meagre living.
Pretty soon it was impossible for him to hide the fact that he had great prowess in battle and so he was drafted into the local lord’s army and disappeared to fight his wars as there was an enemy invading the country.
However before he left he told his fellow villagers that he was wealthier than they could imagine and he promised them that if he died protecting their territory he would leave everything to them. Not a soul would be left out.
As things turned out news came back that the young warrior had distinguished himself in battle, in fact his efforts had saved the country, but that he had died of his wounds. However he had left in the keeping of his commanding officer, a new will made out to the villagers. What’s more he had told his commanding officer where his great treasure was buried and it was now safe and waiting to be distributed.
Some people believed the news and some didn’t. They thought it was wishful thinking. Nonetheless, when the day came for the reading of the will, they all gathered in a joyful and expectant mood in the village meeting place for a traditional feast.
The commanding officer stood to one side smiling, while a village elder opened the meeting and welcomed all present. He opened a scroll and announced that he was reading the final will and testament – in case anyone was concerned a recently compiled, in other words a new testament – of their friend who had something to leave them.
“I presume you were all his friends?” the commanding officer asked. “Were you all friendly towards him?” One man confessed that he had once been rude to the young man and a woman said she once promised him some potatoes but not delivered them. “O he wouldn’t mind that!” the commanding officer said. “You’re all fine.”
“How do we know someone won’t come and take the treasure from us?” a boy asked.
“The only people who know about it are you and me,” the commanding officer said. “And it is definitely yours because he has died. For a will to be effective the person who wrote it has to have died. So you have my word that you will get it. But what you do with it is up to you.”
The will was read out and all were astounded at how rich they suddenly were.
The villagers then all joined in a celebratory meal together to honour their generous friend who had been so good to them.
After the feast, the commanding officer stood up and said, “Now listen carefully. You are no longer poor, so don’t go back to the massive effort of trying to scratch out a living again. You have died to poverty, just as your friend has died. You could say you have died with him. The life you now live you live by drawing from the inexhaustible bank account that is yours because of your friend’s generosity. So don’t nullify the goodness of your friend by behaving like paupers again. Because if you could have become rich by hard labour, then your friend would have died for nothing. You now live in the privilege given to you by your good and brave friend. Believe me, and follow me to receive your inheritance.”
As St Paul said to the Galatians:
I have been crucified with Christ; 20and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,* who loved me and gave himself for me. 21I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification* comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.
The writer to the Hebrews tells us
Therefore Christ is the mediator of a new covenant so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, now that He has died to redeem them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. In the case of a will, it is necessary to establish the death of the one who made it, because a will does not take effect until of the one who made it has died; it cannot be executed while he is still alive.… (Hebrews 9: 15 – 17)
In the person of Jesus, his life, death and resurrection, God has established a new covenant, a new testament, a new will – and we are the beneficiaries of that will.
And here is the craziness of grace: King Ahab was a beneficiary of the Old Testament (a covenant of law) therefore he was punished for his sin.
The sinful woman was a beneficiary of the New Testament (a covenant of grace) therefore she is included in the family of God.
Grace is received by faith, and faith is a reaching out to a God we cannot see with our eyes, but can sense with our spirits.
I’m quite sure there were villagers in our story who only vaguely knew the wealthy young warrior. They may well have felt as though they didn’t deserve what had been left to them. We are often tempted to think the same way.
They may well have thought that they only deserved what they had earned. This is the pull of the law. It makes us beholden to nobody else. But grace opens up gratitude, healthy relationship and a profound sense of being loved. It is the kind of undeserved goodness and favour that makes us want to share it with others.
Can you imagine the dread that must have fallen upon the woman in our Gospel story as she was caught out by a respectable and powerful Pharisee doing something that was simply not done. Can you imagine the love and gratitude that must have filled her as she received acceptance and forgiveness of sin from Jesus.
Grace leads to love and fellowship. In Paul’s words to the church in Corinth:
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13: 12)