I’m going to start again today with something you’ve heard me say before, and that I’m pretty sure you’ll hear me say often in the future: I’m always glad that the Bible is honest in how it portrays the lives of God’s people. And today we have some real doozies to use as examples!
First of all, there’s David, the great King, the great leader who God calls and anoints and who takes the 12 tribes of Israel and unifies them into a single nation with Jerusalem as their capital city where both the King and God will live side by side in palace and Temple. David, the one against whom every future King is measured. David, the one called in the New Testament, a man after God’s own heart. Only, this isn’t the only picture of David we’re given in Scripture.
We’re also told about his horrific abuse of power, exemplified in his failure to go to battle with his armies, now that he’s become comfortable in his grand palace in Jerusalem.
You probably remember the story. David’s men are out in battle, and he sees his close friend’s wife bathing and decides he wants to have relations with her. So he sends men and has her brought to him, and he impregnates her. Only, that wasn’t in his plan. He just wanted to have some fun. So he tries to cover it all up by having his friend Uriah come home, thinking Uriah will spent the night with her and then think the child is his and his wife’s and all will be well. But Uriah is a man of honor, and he refuses to be with his wife while his men are in battle.
So, having failed at his scheme, David sends a message back with Uriah to the field commander to place Uriah on the front lines and to withdraw everyone else. And Uriah is killed.
Now, Uriah wasn’t an Israelite. He was a Hittite, a foreigner, an outsider who chose to support David all the way back when David was hiding in caves. And this is how David treats him in the end – arranging Uriah’s murder in battle in an attempt to cover up his own sinful actions…
Example number two is the Apostle Paul, the writer of the letter to the Galatians from which we read again today.
Paul, as we heard from last week’s reading in Galatians chapter 1, was a persecutor of the Church, a murderer of Christians, truly exemplifying what he calls himself elsewhere, the chief among sinners. In his earlier life as a Pharisee, he could have easily played the role of Simon from today’s Gospel – self-righteous and arrogant, ready to point out the sins of others, while failing to realize the depth of his own sinfulness in being unwilling to forgive and love his neighbor…
Which brings us to Simon and the unnamed woman from Luke 7. Both are sinners, but each of a very different sort, it seems.
Simon, the Pharisee, is appalled that Jesus would allow this woman to touch him. He assumes that Jesus must not be a true man of God, or else he wouldn’t allow this woman, this sinner, to touch him. And I guess we can assume that Simon is correct in his judgement of her, that she is in fact a sinner. Neither Luke nor Jesus argues against that assessment. Though I have often wondered just how Simon knew that she was a sinner. Had he perhaps interacted with her? Perhaps supporting her in whatever her sin was? Who knows? But what we do know is that God in Christ turns the tables on Simon, and on the woman, and on the Apostle Paul, and on King David, just as God in Christ turns the tables on us all in the grace, and mercy, and forgiveness we receive through the death and resurrection of Jesus, in which we all come to share in and through the covenant of Holy Baptism…
David, having essentially raped Bathsheba, and murdered her husband Uriah, is confronted by the prophet Nathan, who, rather than confronting him directly, because he is the king after all, and if you want to keep your head, you just don’t do that sort of thing. And in the confrontation, David comes to repentance and confesses what he’s done, and though there’s pain and suffering that still play out as a consequence of his sin, he’s forgiven, and, as I pointed out earlier, he remains the one against whom all future kings are measured, and is called a man after God’s own heart.
And Paul, having been knocked off of his high horse, quite literally, on the way to Damascus where he had orders to arrest, detain and even murder followers of Jesus, is blinded for several days and receives direct revelation from God, learning the true heart of the God he thought he had been serving all along, learning the power of grace, and mercy, and forgiveness And in the revelation, he comes to repentance and his whole life is changed.
And Simon, and the unnamed woman, having each lived their lives in sin, are confronted by Jesus, each in the way that has the greatest impact on each of their lives.
Now the interesting thing is, in this case, that we never hear of or from either of them again, so we don’t know if she received this forgiveness and experienced a change of life, and we don’t know if he experienced a change of heart. And I’ve got to say, I’m not at all disappointed by the open-endedness of it all, because here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t. God’s grace, and mercy, and forgiveness are all that really matter…
I’m willing to bet that there are going to be a lot of my colleagues in pulpits all over the country who are going to be preaching about rape culture, and the injustice of our criminal justice system this week. I’m sure there will be parallels drawn between David and that very privileged Stanford student who thought it would be okay to take what he wanted – to rape an unconscious woman because he was determined to “hook up with someone” that night, just as David saw Bathsheba and just took what he wanted. And I’m equally sure that parallels will be drawn between Simon and the judge in this rape case who, though they’re charged with a sacred duty, caring for the vulnerable and advancing the cause of justice in the world, seem to get so far afield of that duty. And I’m sure that some will try to equate the unnamed woman with the rape victim as just another example of how power, and privilege, and prestige combine to perpetuate systems of gender inequality and to do horrible damage to all women.
And I’m okay with all of these, but I want to point to a much deeper reality than any of these more narrow things. Namely, that we are all sinners.
- We are all that student
- We are all that sinful woman
- We are all that self-righteous Pharisee
- We are all that uncaring judge
- We are all opposed to the Gospel of Christ in some way or another
- We are all guilty of betraying our neighbor whom God calls us to love
That is all true!
But the still more powerful truth, the truth that we hear and experience in God’s gracious word,
- The word that sets us free
- The word that creates saving faith within us
- The word that says: Your sins, which are many, are forgiven
- The word that speaks: Go in peace
Is none other than the Gospel word!
You see, in the eyes of God,
- It doesn’t matter who you were, or who you are
- It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, or what you’ve failed to do
- It doesn’t matter where you’ve been, or who you were with
Because, apart from Christ’s saving love and forgiveness, we are all dead in sin!
We are not saved by good works – by what we do, by obeying the law – or else Christ died for nothing! No, we are not saved by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ. And that’s exactly what Paul writes in our reading for today. Where it’s translated “faith in Christ” Paul actually writes: “faith of Christ.” Faith in makes it sound like there’s something we can or have to do. But, no! We are not saved by what we do, but by what Christ has done! We are not saved by the works of the law but by the faith of Christ.
In Christ, as we are joined to his death and resurrection through Holy Baptism, we are made alive, set free from sin and death, once and for all, and in that freedom we can proclaim with Paul: I have been crucified with Christ, and the life I now live, I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.
It doesn’t matter how good or bad we are, Paul was, David was, Simon was. The only thing that matters is how good God in Christ is!