Year C, Proper 6
Dear Sermon-Stories Community,
I hope this finds you well and headed into the wonderful, storytelling season of Ordinary Time! I thought I would try a new format over the next few weeks in order to simplify your access to the weekly information. See what you think and let me know what helps in the comment section below.
Also a BIG thank you to all who responded to the survey! Lots of good food for thought and improvement. The response was very good and I deeply appreciate it!
Themes and Images
Greed! Betrayal! Injustice! Our scriptures this week could read like melodrama if the actions taken by Ahab and Jezebel, King David and the critical Pharisee host of Jesus were not so recognizable in our world today. Our media is rife with stories of the greed of politicians, corporations and even at times religious leaders. And greed always leads to the mistreatment of someone who seemingly has less power or who holds to the ethics of compassion and integrity. God’s answer is God’s justice that comes in surprising ways.
The imagery of injustice is vivid. In I Kings we hear Ahab’s narcissistic whining when Naboth rebuffs him. We hear the imperious voice of Jezebel’s as she gives her conniving proclamation to her messengers. The bloody, cruel visual of Naboth’s stoning and the wailing and weeping of his family as he is killed is stark. Can you hear the family’s pleading when soldiers take possession of their livelihood, the vineyard? These images are echoed in 2 Samuel as we envision Uriah’s death in battle while his wife Bathsheba waits at home, shamed by the rape of David. In a way she, too, has been slaughtered. Nathan’s story of the ewe lamb gives us again visuals of slaughter and sounds of the poor man’s family weeping. David’s outrage is ironically laughable. The woman who washes Jesus’ feet in Luke gives herself sacrificially to the ridicule of the Pharisee as he attempts to slaughter her character.
If there are images of injustice and greed there are also images of God’s justice. The appearance of the prophet, Elijah, at the end of the I Kings passage is a brief but powerful climax. With Elijah on the scene to give us God’s word of judgment, our grief and outrage over the death of Naboth may not be entirely assuaged. We have solid reasons to hope that justice is on its way. Nathan, the prophet, delivers the same message of God’s judgement to David who is a very good king as opposed to Ahab who is quite a bad king. David’s fall is more complex emotionally because we know that he is capable of righteousness. Yet God judges his actions with justice just as God’s judges Ahab’s actions. David is capable of receiving God’s forgiveness whereas we are not sure about Ahab. Jesus’ words to the Pharisee who is obviously trying to test Jesus’ righteousness are prophetic like Elijah and Nathan. The story of the creditor and the two debtors bring images of hope as we can visualize, in sight and sound, as we experience the foreshadowing of the woman’s rejoicing in the rejoicing of the debtor forgiven of the greatest.
In her weekly commentary on one of the lectionary texts (http://www.ucc.org/worship_samuel_sermon_seeds_june_12_2016), Kate Huey, gives us a story suggestion for this week. “Carolyn Sharp remarks on the “toxic” nature of the greed that actually sickens [Ahab], and she finds it ironic that power and greed often make us weak; in this she likens Ahab to King Midas, who was destroyed by his insatiable desire for more and more wealth (Feasting on the Word Year C, Vol. 3).” Most likely, you are familiar with the story of legendary King Midas who was given the power to the turn everything he touched into gold. If you haven’t read it in a while you can find it at:
- and a more contemporary language version at http://www.mythweb.com/today/today04.html
In googling “justice stories” I discovered a website that I found fascinating, Hope for Justice. It is an advocacy and action agency to combat human trafficking. Hope for Justice is based in Manchester, England and partners with Abolition International in the US and Transitions Global in Cambodia. Part of the call to action on their website are incredible stories of people who have been caught in the web of human trafficking and liberated by the work of Hope for Justice. I found the work of this organization quite powerful. You can read the stories of their work at http://hopeforjustice.org/stories/ .
One more resource for folktales with the themes and images of greed, injustice and the justice of compassion and persistence can be found at StoryMuseum.org.uk.(http://www.storymuseum.org.uk/1001stories/search.php?keyword=justice&opt=0). The stories are presented in wonderful audio clips. I particularly recommend:
- “People are Cruel”, a cautionary tale from Haiti, http://www.storymuseum.org.uk/1001stories/detail/159/people-are-cruel.html
- “The King and the Cockerel”, a story reminiscent of Jesus’ parable of the widow and the unjust judge, http://www.storymuseum.org.uk/1001stories/search.php?keyword=justice&opt=0
- “The Smell of Bread”, a familiar Jewish folktale, http://www.storymuseum.org.uk/1001stories/detail/181/the-smell-of-bread.html
Sermon Starter Questions
- If God’s answer to injustice is God’s justice that comes in surprising ways….how are you, we, your faith community an instrument of God’s justice? When do we speak and act as the prophets?
- What do we make of the statement in Luke, “a woman in the city, who was a sinner”? If she was truly a prostitute as has been traditionally imagined why would the Pharisee invite her to dinner? How could she enter his house unless invited? This seems to be a trap. What could be the real nature of her sin? Jesus sees her a victim of the Pharisee’s power play. Where do we find this true of women, children and the poor in the world? Where are they used in “lawful” traps of those in power?
- Consider how one of the scripture stories, contemporary human stories or traditional folktales above can be an illustration for Paul’s exhortation to the Galatians to live by the grace of God and not the justification that comes through law.
- Consider the psalms for this week. They are profound, poetic ponderings on the themes of injustice and greed counter-acted by God’s justice and compassion. Can’t you hear Psalm 5:1-8 as a prayer in the mouth of the dying Naboth? Or Psalm 32 in the mouth of David or the woman who bathed Jesus’ feet as a song of rejoicing in the forgiveness, compassion and empowerment of God?
May your story journey find the path of God’s justice as you prepare for the week ahead!
©Jane Anne Ferguson, 2016 and beyond. Commentary and photos may be reprinted by permission only.