Background and general observations
Jezebel. Think Bette Davis in the 1938 movie of the same name. She plays Julie, an antebellum New Orleans belle, whom her aunt says makes her think of “Jezebel, a woman who did evil in the sight of the Lord.” Bette Davis’ Jezebel redeems herself at the end of the movie by sacrificing herself to care for the now-married lover who jilted her (deservedly), a yellow fever stricken Henry Fonda. The biblical Jezebel fared somewhat worse: she died when members of her own royal court threw her out of a window, and then her corpse was eaten by dogs.
Jezebel. Associated with false prophets and idolatry, and by extension, promiscuity. She was the Phoenician wife of one of the last rulers of the Northern Kingdom, King Ahab, whom she persuaded to abandon the God of Israel and worship Baal. Her evil meddling doesn’t stop there, and eventually her actions provoke a dramatic conflict with the prophet Elijah.
That is the subject of this Sunday’s Old Testament lesson. King Ahab desires the vineyard of Naboth, a faithful follower of the God of Israel, who remains true to his commitment to maintain his ancestral land and refuses to sell. While the sullen Ahab pouts on his bed, his wife Jezebel takes matters into her own hands and pens letters in her husband’s name that result in a charge of blasphemy against Naboth. When Naboth is stoned for this, his lands revert to Ahab. The Lord then stirs up Elijah, who comes to confront Ahab. The story continues next week.
Our reading from Paul’s letter to the Galatians contains his statement of his basic principle: trusting in Christ, including the sacrifice of his death, is what makes one righteous and what justifies both Jews and Gentiles. “I have been crucified with Christ,” Paul writes, “and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” This does not mean that Paul’s personality is destroyed, but that his Christian life is sustained and molded by Christ’s presence within him. Compare this with Jesus’s reference to himself as the vine and his followers as the branches in John 15:1-5.
The gospel lesson from Luke follows Jesus and his followers to the home of Simon, the Pharisee. There, Jesus lies reclined at the banquet table, as would have been the dining custom of the time, stretching his feet out on a couch. That is why the woman who makes her way into Simon’s home is able to anoint Jesus’s feet rather than his head, which would have been the normal custom. If the physical intimacy and extravagance of her action, as she wipes his feet with her hair, takes us aback, just think of how scandalous this action would have been when it occurred! This “woman in the city” is known to be a sinner, and her presence is an offense to the other guests. Jesus, however, is unfazed; he turns the host’s affronted reaction into a teaching moment. When differing debts are forgiven, the greater debtor loves the creditor more. Simon has shown none of the love and care for his guest that this woman has. “Therefore,” Jesus says, “her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” To the woman, Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven. […] Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Thoughts for connecting lessons to living
1.) Jezebel’s letter writing parallels David’s letter writing in order to accomplish Uriah’s murder and David’s possession of Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11). What do these Old Testament stories reveal about how the Bible views acceptable versus unacceptable “possession” of people or property? (See 2 Samuel 12:1-13).
2.) The forgiveness Jesus extends to the woman in the city is the inverse of this greedy possessiveness. The more sin one has, and consequently the greater the forgiveness one receives, the more one is able to love. The more possessions one has, and consequently the greater the acquisitiveness or defensiveness one experiences, the less one is able to love. What are the places in your life where you feel the need to “hold on” or “gain more”? How might that be preventing your experience of other, more life-giving, feelings or experiences? What are the things in your life you would like to “let go”?
3.) When have you experienced someone’s undeserved forgiveness in your life? Has that had an effect on your forgiveness of others? Have you ever resented another person’s being forgiven? What effect did that have on your ability to forgive others?