PROPER 6, YEAR C
Two remarkable Biblical stories make for a rich bounty today. Both the OT and the Gospel speak about greed.
Wikipedia’s definition of greed is an inordinate or insatiable longing especially for wealth, status, and power. A desire to acquire or possess more than one needs. From the letter of James (5:1,4) “Do not live like the greedy, but live in the spirit of humility, generosity and love. Simon the pharisee invites Jesus to dinner. Simon it turns out is neither humble nor generous.
Simon: offers no water for cleansing. no kiss of greeting, no oil for anointing
The woman of the city: cleanses Jesus’ feet with tears, Continually kisses his feet, she anoints with oil
Simon thinks he is in control. The woman knows she is not, nor does she seek worldly status. But she has the courage of faith in the rabbi Jesus. Luke’s Gospel expands on the OT story of King Ahab and the violent taking of Naboth’s vineyard – another form of greed.
Not unlike the story of King Midas whose every touch turned objects and people into gold. What was thought to be what he wanted, turned into a catastrophe when he turned his daughter into a golden statue. The powerful are vulnerable not only to those who would take their power but also to the corrosive force of their own greed.
St.Luke provides another example of greed and humility. We do not know the nature of the woman’s sin but she was known to the whole town. She breaks the cultural and religious taboos, as she commits a strange public act by loosening her hair to dry the tears she shed on Jesus feet. Simon seems startled by the woman’s lack of shame and Jesus lack of shock. After all she is known by the townspeople as a “shameful” woman, and Jesus does not push her away.
Shaming is as old as humanity. It is a tactic of those who wish to push others to the margins. Shame and humiliation have been used by societies to isolate those thought to norms be outside the margins of society. The reasons have been many: alcoholism, domestic violence, eating disorders, sexual orientation, diseases that frighten or are contagious, and divorce.
So many throughout time have been on the receiving end of rejection and condemnation. (Think AIDS or Ebola in our time.) This “nameless woman” tells us something important happened. She knows the power of Jesus’ love and acceptance. The burden of shame is lifted. Here Jesus counters Simon’s understanding of divine righteousness. The righteousness of God is the generous mercy of God. “The capacity for love and gratitude is connected to the ability to receive divine love, grace and forgiveness. Faith as openness to grace grasps the forgiveness of debt.” debt.”
Arrogance and greed go together, and Ahab is both arrogant and greedy. He wants Naboth’s vineyard and when his offer is rejected by Naboth, Ahab goes home made sick by his envious greed, and refuses to eat by sulking even unto death. Now Jezebel notorious in her own right arranges for false witnesses to accuse Naboth of cursing God and the King. Whereupon, Naboth is stoned to death and Ahab takes possession of Naboth’s vineyard, thanks to Queen Jezebel’s wicked plan.
The prophet’s job in ancient Israel is to try to keep the King honest by acting as the conscience that judges whether the monarch remains true to the God of Israel. The requirement is that the prophet is to judge the moral and spiritual leadership of the King. The prophet Elijah is sent by the God of Israel to admonish King Ahab and pronounce God’s judgement on the King’s murderous greed. In Israel’s tradition, the prophets proclaim a God who is outraged by the exploitation of the powerless. The Holiness of God requires mercy toward the poor and the Holiness Code (Lev.17-26) makes clear that the Holy God is a God of mercy and God’s Holy people must be merciful. The Holy One stands against all systems that commodify and destroy human beings.
Some believe Biblical theology is Liberation Theology. It is about God’s saving work that has always been with the downtrodden even to this day. From Israel’s deliverance from slavery to today’s downtrodden, and those who struggle for economic dignity, we see redemption afoot in God’s grace for the poor. Scripture insists that economic domination is an instrument of cultural oppression and is to be resisted.
So how do we as 21st.century Christians hear the prophets’ message to us? What do we need to do in our neighborhoods, in our places of employment, on our summer breaks to pay attention to what Our Holy God is asking us to see and hear and to do?
Perhaps what we need to be and to do has everything to do with what Jesus sees in the “nameless woman”. Perhaps what we need is what the “nameless woman” was able to show by her humility; namely, the capacity for love and gratitude. Some believe the systems are rigged for the educated and wealthy and for those who have the inside track in whatever their field of endeavor.
Probably most of us have felt this way at some time or another but in truth we have been blessed with a faith in Jesus, and a love for those in need, because Jesus asks us to love just as did the “nameless woman” no matter our sinfulness.
We live in a confusing world filled with violence and meanness of spirit, Arrogance and greed, lies and hateful speech. We must resist this corrosive atmosphere that separates and brings death to our spirits and not ours only.
Ahab and Jezebel misused their power and fell into evil, and are remembered for their greed, and acts of violence. Simon is not remembered for good but for the ill his heart boasted. The “nameless woman” who wept in thanksgiving and washed and anointed Jesus, is remembered for her simple acts of gratitude.
Would that we also find ways to love and care for one another in Jesus name with thanksgiving.