A Dwindling Crowd

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According to Facebook’s intrepid “On This Day” feature, I know that two years ago, I quoted this line from Pope Francis’ Apostolic exhortation on the proclamation of the Gospel called Evangelii Gaudium, “The Joy of the Gospel”

“The Church and theology exist to evangelize, and [can] not be content with a desk-bound theology.” p. 107

I am still fully a believer in these wise words from the Pontiff, however, as I read the Gospel lesson for Sunday, I am keenly aware that while Jesus hoped to inaugurate the Kingdom of God to all of Creation, but that his message was highly problematic and not necessarily in tune with an easy evangelistic method.  That is, from time to time, Jesus drew large crowds, but by and large, his core following, those who were willing to take on the cost of discipleship, was much, much smaller.

Last Sunday, we heard the story of Jesus raising the son of the Widow at Nain.  As he approached the town, Luke tells us that Jesus was followed by his disciples and “a large crowd.”  At the gate of Nain, they were met by “a considerable crowd,” and both saw him perform his miracle of resurrection.  From there, news spread about him throughout Judea and “all the surrounding countryside.”  Hundreds, and maybe thousands, of people saw Jesus raise a young man from death, and yet by this Sunday, just a few days later, Luke tells that the crowd following Jesus included only the twelve and some women.

True discipleship is difficult.  It isn’t sexy, it doesn’t draw huge crowds, but it is the other side of the coin in the Gospel imperative.  As we invite people to follow Jesus, it will include moments of massive transformation like raising the widow’s son as well as moments of deep unease like watching the woman of the city wash Jesus’ feet with her tears.  That might bring dwindling crowds, in the short term, but eventually, people are drawn to transformation, and the life giving love of God.

She was a sinner…

… But aren’t we all?

This poor woman from the city.  Luke tells the story of Jesus at dinner with Simon the Pharisee only in order to tell us the story of the woman with the alabaster jar.  She is said to be a woman of the city, a sinner, but she’s been given all sorts of extra baggage over the years.  There is nothing to indicate that she was a prostitute.  Nothing to suggest it was Mary Magdalene.  Nothing that tells us that she was any different than you or me.

Luke tells us that she was a sinner by using the standard Greek word, hamartolos.  He uses the word 18 times in his Gospel, beginning with Peter’s confession, “I am a sinful man,” in Luke 5.8.  It is used to describe the various crowds with which Jesus hung out, healed, and even dined.  It is the word that the Tax Collector uses as he prays as foil to the Tax Collector in Luke 18.  She was a sinner like any other, and yet she is remembered not for her sin, but for her thankfulness.

The woman did what she did, anointing Jesus with Alabaster and tear, in thanksgiving for something he had already done for her, or, as Luke seems to indicate, in thanksgiving for what she knew he was going to do for her.  She was forgiven her sins, set free from slavery, and restored to wholeness by Jesus, and as such, she was thankful beyond words.  She was moved to tears, and she was just like me.

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Would that I were moved to tears in thankfulness for what God has done for me in Jesus.  Would that all of us found our way to feel the deep relief that this woman felt.  Would that each disciple of Jesus, all of whom are sinners to begin with, might realize the fullness of forgiveness in our lives.

There Came a Traveler

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Tom Bodett is one of the voices of my childhood.  His promise, on behalf of the Motel 6 chain, “We’ll leave the light on for you” is imprinted on my mind.  So it is that as I open up the lessons for Proper 6c and read anew Nathan’s prophecy to King David I hear Nathan in the voice of Tom Bodett.  It is a story about power and privilege, but it revolves around a very mundane line, “There came a traveler…”

Living in a Motel 6 world, the average modern Americans can’t really understand this story.  We read it assuming that the traveler who came to the rich man was a relative or a friend who’s visit would have been known to the rich man, but this is probably highly unlikely.  Instead, in a culture that wasn’t too far removed from the nomadic life of tribal Hebrews, this is a story of a stranger who came to town unannounced.  Upon meeting a stranger, it was the duty of any faithful Jew to welcome them into their home as a guest, to provide water that they might wash their feet, to offer them a meal, and even a place to stay (See Genesis 24:29-32).

The rich man in Nathan’s story follows the protocol with the key exception that he is too stingy to use his own animal for the feast, and instead steals the only, beloved lamb of his poor neighbor.  While Nathan’s intent is to use this story to open David’s eyes to his sin in stealing Bathsheba from Uriah, we also see in it the deep roots of hospitality in ancient near-eastern culture; a long lost art for many 21st century Americans.  David’s sin is as much a failure to offer hospitality to Uriah, a man who in many ways was a stranger in need of welcome.  Uriah was a Hittite, not an ethnic Hebrew.  He was a minority, though his family had probably been resident in the Land of Canaan since well before Abraham’s arrival.  He was also a solider, a man under the authority of King David, who had no power in and of himself and instead relied on the wisdom of the good King to lead his army into battle.

Just as the sin of Sodom was a lack of hospitality, so too did David find his failure not so much in sleeping with Uriah’s wife, but by failing to be hospitable to a stranger under his authority.  David failed to show Uriah hospitality on both fronts, and it cost Uriah his life.