Theme Christ forgives us
Sentence Happy the one whose offence is forgiven, whose sin is pardoned. (Psalm 32:1)
Collect God our Father,
We rejoice in your forgiveness made available to us in Christ.
May we in turn forgive one another
So that the life of the Spirit flourishes in your church,
Through Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Amen.
2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15
Galatians 2:15-21Luke 7:36-50
2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15
This reading starts off mid-story and it could be appropriate for the reader to have a one sentence introduction to the reading such as, 'This reading picks up the story of David and Bathsheba after they had committed adultery and David had arranged for her husband to die in battle.'
With that background the reading is focused on the role of the prophet Nathan in bringing David, via a parable, to a place where David admits his guilt, "I have sinned against the Lord" (12:13). To get there the parable works, as all parables intend to work, to convict the hearer of the need for action. David is drawn into the story as told to him and reacts with anger to the greedy manipulation of the villain and declares, as a king-with-power-to-judge, a fitting outcome for the villain's despicable action. That leaves David vulnerable to Nathan's parabolic twist. The story is not about a lamb stealing manipulator but about David: "You are the man!" (12:7).
The reading ends abruptly relative to the larger story. The child is ill (12:15c). In fact the child dies (12:18-19). The reading also confronts the reader with a huge theological issue at its end when it describes how "The Lord struck the child that Uriah's wife bore to David, and it became very ill" (12:15b). Potentially many words could be expressed to respond to the many questions this kind of language raises. A commentary or three could be usefully consulted. Here we simply observe that this kind of language in the Old Testament, harsh though it may sound to our ears, is simply an application of the basic truth of God's sovereignty, that nothing happens in this life apart from God's rule over life.
Also potentially complicated is the reason why this reading is chosen to 'relate' to the gospel reading. Is it because sexual unfaithfulness is a strong theme in both passages? Is it because David's reaction to the parable of Nathan, the reaction of a righteous man unaware of his own sin bears comparison with the reaction of Simon in the Lukan story to the presence of a sinful woman? Or both? Something else?
This is one of seven penitential psalms (6; 32; 38; 51; 102; 130; 143). Traditionally Psalm 51 is held to have been composed by David after his adultery with Bathsheba. But this psalm includes sentiments which connect with a deep personal experience of guilt as a burden (32:3-4).
The actual themes in the psalm move from the penitential (verses 1-5) to preservation (verses 6-7) to pedagogy or teaching (verses 8-9)* to perseverance and purity (verses 10-11).
*It is difficult to work out whether the "I" here is David as psalmist instructing another (the reader? a family member? Israel?) or God or the personified Wisdom of God instructing us (or perhaps David himself).
Paul develops his argument about the central core of the singular gospel for which other versions are anathema.
Step One: as a Jew by birth he nevertheless knows (what is vital for Gentiles) that "a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ" (2:15-16).
In this context "works of the law" appears to be both the things that are done that make one a Jew (e.g. circumcision) and actions which signify one's Jewish commitment to God (obedience to the commandments of God).
But what is "faith in Jesus Christ", especially when (as many scholars argue) the Greek should be translated "the faith of Jesus Christ" (meaning the "faithfulness" of Jesus Christ or the "faith (in God demonstrated by obedience till death on the cross)" of Jesus Christ)? However these debates are resolved, Paul is arguing that through Jesus Christ justification is obtainable in a way not achieved by Jewishness and not previously available to Gentiles.
Step Two of the argument: Paul, using irony, swats aside the possibility that following Christ and ignoring the law makes Christ a servant of sin, and determines that the pursuit of righteousness through obedience to the law will not be restored (2:17-18).
Step Three: as a means of making Paul righteous before God, the law is dead, we might even say, dead useless, so Paul is dead to it and its claims on him, in order that he might "live to God." There is another way, through an exchange centred on Christ crucified on the cross and the believer's identification with the crucified Christ. Thus Paul has been "crucified with Christ" so "it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me." This means "the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God" (2:19-20).
In this last part of the development of his argument Paul is both spelling out the theory of salvation (Christ saves him not the law) and the method of salvation (Christ lives his life out through Paul).
So Paul concludes on an emotive note, 2:21, if the law does justify him then Christ has died in vain.
There is a lot going on in this passage but essentially there is a triangle. Simon invites Jesus to dinner. The dinner is crashed by a "sinner" woman with a jar of ointment. Simon makes a judgment about the woman but Jesus knows what Simon is saying to himself. To make a point to Simon, Jesus tells a parable about forgiveness (7:41-43) and traps Simon into admitting that greater love comes from the one forgiven most (7:43). He then schools Simon in hospitality, contrasting Simon's meanness with the woman's generosity (7:44-46) and draws the conclusion that she loves Jesus much and Simon loves Jesus little (7:47). Then it is back to the woman: "Your sins are forgiven" (7:48).
Jesus will let her go with an affirming message, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace" (7:50). But the dinner guests are muttering into their wine cups, asking who this bloke is who is claiming to forgive sins (7:49).
The themes of the story are great: faith, salvation, forgiveness, peace, grace, hospitality.
But perhaps the challenge in the sermon is for the hearers to work out who they are in relation to Jesus. Simon? The woman? The other dinner guests?