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Proper 6 | Ordinary Time 11 | Pentecost 4 (Cycle C)

Sunday between June 12 and June 18 inclusive (if after Trinity Sunday)

According to these texts, the greatest need of people and the greatest gift of God are the same — the grace of God. The writer of Psalm 5 asks for the help and grace of God and in faith expects to receive it. Psalm 32 emphasizes the importance of confessing to God every type of sin. As each type of sin is acknowledged, God gives God’s grace and the sinner is forgiven. The guilt that follows the sin is taken away. In the story about Naboth and his vineyard in 1 Kings 21, even though the grace of God is not expressed, there is great need for the gift of God’s grace for all involved: for Naboth who had been murdered, for King Ahab and for his wicked Queen Jezebel who had arranged for the murder of Naboth, and for Elijah the prophet, who had the onerous task of confronting the king. In the 2 Samuel readings for this occasion, through the skillful use of a parable the terrible injustice of David’s sin with Bathsheba was expressed to King David and David had declared his own death warrant to Nathan the prophet. King David desperately needed grace and forgiveness from God, and Nathan announced that grace. According to Paul in Galatians 2:15-21, the grace of God is experienced when Christ lives in us and in faith we respond. Finally, in Luke 7:36–8:3 the grace of God is extended to an openly sinful woman who expressed her love and affection for Jesus. All of these people were in need of the grace and forgiveness of God, and whenever they were repentant and receptive, God’s grace was extended to them. The guilt of their sins was taken from them, although the destructive results of their sins remained.

Psalm 5:1-8

The psalmist speaks as a person in trouble and distress, yet with the assurance that if the psalmist turns to the Lord God and bows down in humble adoration of God in the temple of God, the psalmist will be delivered from those who want to harm the psalmist. It would be helpful to include the concluding verses 11-12 in the reading so that the call of the psalmist to God in behalf of others who are in need of the grace and protection of God would be included.

Psalm 32

Within the beatitudes of Psalm 32:1-2 and again in verse 5 the three most important words for sin in biblical Hebrew are used. In the sequence of the use of these three words in 32:5 there is an increase in the seriousness of the type of sin from word to word. First, the psalmist acknowledged failure to please God in spite of the psalmist’s best efforts. Then the psalmist admitted that the psalmist had broken the rules that God had established. Finally, the psalmist confessed the most serious sin of all, the psalmist’s attempted insurrection against God.

As is typical in Israelite Individual Hymns of Praise, Psalm 32 is an attempt to teach all who will hear the wisdom of acknowledging one’s sins to the Lord. The greatest need of people and the greatest gift of God are brought together in God’s grace here as in many other texts in the Israelite Scriptures. For more about this, see Ronald M. Hals, Grace and Faith in the Old Testament (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1980).

1 Kings 21:1-10 (11-14) 15-21a

As we ponder this text, we may wonder whether perhaps Naboth should have taken the offer of the king to provide a better vineyard in exchange for Naboth’s vineyard that was adjacent to the king’s palace. We occasionally have somewhat similar issues of the so-called governmental “right of eminent domain.” There was no evidence in the story, however, that the property taken would be used for “the public good.” There is, of course, also the important factor of Naboth’s vineyard being Naboth’s ancestral inheritance.

We fully realize as we read this text that King Ahab should not have been so covetous of Naboth’s vineyard that he would mope in bed and would not eat. Most of all, we know that Queen Jezebel should not have arranged for the murder of Naboth just so that her husband would be happy and productive again. One could hardly make the case that her action was justified because of her love for her husband and her desire to make him happy. At any rate, the tragedy of the story would not have occurred had any one of the three, Naboth, Ahab, or Jezebel, responded differently. All were in need of God’s grace.

2 Samuel 11:26–12:10, 13-15

After the parable used by Nathan the prophet demonstrated to David the enormity of David’s sin with Bathsheba, David admitted that he had sinned also against the Lord. Although we might think that Nathan was too quick to announce the grace of God and that the Lord was overly lenient in sparing the life of David, we see that the first child of David and Bathsheba will die and that what David had thought that he was doing privately was to be known throughout Israel.

This story also indicates that the grace of God does not undo the damage that has been done when we have sinned. Uriah the Hittite was not brought back to life, and David’s reputation and respect was permanently sullied.

Galatians 2:15-21

The most important portion of this text is obviously 2:16 and 19-21 where the emphasis is on the grace of God experienced when God lives in us and in faith we respond to God. We see in these texts that faith is best described as our grateful response to the grace of God, both in the Hebrew Bible and in our Newer Testament.

Luke 7:36–8:3

In this text, as in most of the others appointed for this occasion, the emphasis is on the grace of God. In this Lukan composition, the grace of God is extended to a woman who has been openly and blatantly sinful, but expresses her love and affection for Jesus.

This text should be compared carefully with its parallel accounts in Mark 14:3-9, Matthew 26:6-13, and John 12:1-8. Although many commentators think that these accounts record two or three separate incidents (for example, I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978, pp. 304-314]), it seems much more probable in view of the Lukan writer’s stated purpose in Luke 1:1-4 and from a detailed comparison of these four texts that as John Drury in The Gospel of Luke (New York: Macmillan, 1973, pp. 87-88), suggests, the Lukan writer took a story from Mark, lifted it from the end of Jesus’ ministry to the middle, and changed and amplified the story so brilliantly that Luke’s redacted version is the one that most people remember. Comparison of texts such as these indicates how freely the writers of the Four Gospels adapted the stories about Jesus to suit their purposes in their particular situations, not unlike the ways in which we adapt and use biblical texts in our preaching situations today. (It reminds us also of how Richard A. Clarke in Your Government Failed You: Breaking the Cycle of National Security Disasters [New York: Harper, 2008] explains that analysts of security data in our governmental agencies often modify their reports in order to be supportive of the policies and wishes of top level policy makers.)

The Lukan writer apparently wished to heighten the act of grace and accomplished this in part by making the woman depicted in Mark 14:3-9 into “a woman who was a sinner” in Luke 7:36-50. Conceivably she may simply have been among the non-religious am-ha-aretz (ordinary people of the land), but the Lukan playwright in Luke 7:39 depicted her as a courtesan.

The alternative to the suggestion that the writers of the Four Gospels freely adapted the materials that were available to them in written and oral sources is to conclude that various women, some of whom were engaged in “questionable service” occupations, showered their affection on the Jesus of history. Perhaps most of us would be more comfortable with the idea that the Lukan playwright heightened the act of grace by changing the occupation and identity of the woman of Mark’s account.

Only the Lukan writer staged the incident in the house of a Pharisee, setting up the Pharisee in order that the Pharisee might be knocked down and disparaged. This account, therefore, should be compared in this respect to Luke 11:37-41, where Luke even more thoroughly redacted Markan material and produced an account in which Jesus responded to a meal invitation extended by a Pharisee and then engaged his host in direct, abusive condemnation. In our Luke 7:36-50 text the Pharisee is treated less harshly, but nevertheless he is embarrassed in the presence of his friends. More important than anti-Jewish polemic in Luke 7:36-50, however, was the emphasis the Lukan writer placed on the forgiveness of sins, the woman’s love, and the role and identity of Jesus as the one who shared and demonstrated the amazing grace of God.

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen