O My Enemy! O My Love!

O My Enemy! O My Love!

June 16, 2013
Stina Pope


Elijah, Jezebel and Ahab

Jesus, the sinful woman, and Simon

We have two stories here that both have “the great prophet,” a sinful woman, and a powerful man. That’s about all they have in common, at first glance. So let’s unpack these stories.

Elijah is the great prophet. In the OT, when someone would say “the prophet,” as in “back in the days of the prophet,” everyone knew that they meant Elijah. When John the Baptist showed up, people wondered if he was the reincarnation of Elijah, because Elijah was the definition of a powerful prophet. When Jesus showed up, being even more powerful than John, then they assumed that no, Jesus was the new Elijah. What this tells us is two things. First, that Elijah has an incredibly important part in the formation of the Jewish people’s interpretation of reality, and second, that the people of Jesus’ time thought that Jesus was that special.

The Book of Kings, actually broken up into two books, First and Second Kings – can you guess why there are two books? Think about scrolls – they didn’t have bound books like we do, so there was an actual limit to how long a book could be. Anyway, it is an incredible story, and today we read another snippet.

Naboth has a vineyard. It is near Ahab’s house. Ahab is the king, and Naboth is a foreigner. But Naboth has been in this place a long time – it is his family plot, and vineyards do not grow up overnight. Ahab does not care about the vineyard, about how long it takes to grow vines before you get good grapes from them. He wants to put in a vegetable garden. This is the first insult. Ahab offers him a better vineyard, and if he does not want that, he will give Naboth money, the second insult. Naboth says no, you cannot pay me enough to give up my inheritance.

Now if Naboth had any sense, after saying this to the king, he should have found a good reason to go visit his in-laws in another city for a while. The king, and even more, the queen, were not nice people, and did not give up easily. However, we see here that the king acts like a child, gets resentful and takes to his bed and will not eat.

The queen comes in, finds out what is going on, tells him not to worry. She fixes things so that Naboth is found guilty of blasphemy against God and the king, so that the people stone him. Then she tells Ahab that Naboth is dead. Ahab gets off his bed, and goes to take possession of the property.

Then, it says, the word of the Lord came to Elijah. Go down, the Lord says, and ask the questions: Have you killed, and also taken possession? It sounds like if he had not taken possession, there might have been a different answer. But of course, he had taken possession.

As soon as Elijah speaks, Ahab says “have you found me, O my enemy” and the answer is clear. “I have found you, and because you have sold yourself to do what is evil, I will bring disaster upon you.”

Now the words at the end of the lesson (1 Kings 21:21 Common English Bible) about urinating on the wall were ones I had never seen before, but when I went looking, there in the 1599 Geneva translation, it says: “Behold, I will bring evil upon thee, and will take away thy posterity, and will cut off from Ahab him that pisseth against the wall, as well him that is shut up, as him that is left in Israel.” Now the meaning is clear. The one who pisses on the wall is a free man, as opposed to the one who is shut up in prison. So what Elijah is saying is that all those in Israel who have the ability to will turn against him. That is, in fact, what happens, but that is later in the story – it gets pretty gory. People really, really did not like Jezebel, and Ahab paid dearly for his involvement with her.

So on to the “new Elijah,” Jesus, the one who, like Elijah, is not afraid to confront the political powers and tell them the truth, who performs miracles – it is no accident that many of the miracles that Jesus does are the same ones that Elijah does – feeding the five thousand, raising from the dead, etc. Here we have another woman, another man in a powerful position. Simon was a leader in his community, and no doubt thought it would be amusing to invite the itinerant rabbi to dinner, his dinner guests would find it entertaining, if nothing else. But there are some important differences in this story. For one thing, Simon is a Pharisee. What is the importance of that? King Ahab was technically a Jew, but he did not have much use for the religion, obviously, because he married outside the faith. When Queen Jezebel wanted to bring her religion in, he let her. Now it would have been normal in those days to marry someone outside for political reasons, very normal. And it would have been totally acceptable for her to build a little temple to her god for her and her attendants to worship in. But to replace the local religion with the queen’s religion? Not normal at all! It made it very clear who was in charge, and it was not the king! But Simon is a Pharisee. What we know immediately is that he is devout, he cares immensely for Judaism. He wants to have a good relationship with God, and is wiling to spend time and energy and money on this relationship.

Second, this woman is different. Both this unnamed woman and Jezebel are clearly sinners. That is their only point of similarity. Jezebel was unrepentant to the moment of her death. This woman knew she had sinned, and wanted nothing more than to have her sin forgiven. She was willing to do whatever it took. She shamed herself by coming into a social situation, letting down her hair, crying in public, in essence, letting go of whatever self-respect she had left to do this act.jesus_woman_washes_feet

Simon is appalled. He is appalled by her behavior, but even more by Jesus, who does not respond like Simon thinks he should. Jesus knows this, and starts to teach Simon. There are formulas, if you know what you are looking for. What do I mean by formulas? If I say: “The Lord be with you,” I do not have to say anything more, you know that pretty soon, there will be a prayer. But “The Lord be with you” is not the same as “Let us pray” is it? “Let us pray” is a clear invitation to pray, but “The Lord be with you” is part of our formula. So when Jesus says: “Simon, I have something to say to you,” then Simon responds with the second part of the formula that the student responds with. Everyone else in the room also knows that a formal teaching has started, and they would listen in.

Jesus then explains that although Simon thought what the woman was doing was shameful, that really, what Simon had done was much worse – he had not shown the basic hospitality expected in that society. Simon was in the middle of accusing Jesus, in his mind at least, of having very bad taste, and Jesus accuses Simon in public of having very bad manners. He announces that the woman has shown great love, and that love brings forgiveness of sins. He then speaks to the woman directly, and tells her that her sins are forgiven. Everyone is so amazed to hear him say this that they forget to be astonished that a rabbi speaks directly to a woman, but this too, is outside the norm. It is not surprising then, that the end of this passage talks about the women who travel with Jesus and the disciples, a precursor for the early church, where women were given status as real people.

So what do we hear from these men, these bad women and the prophets? We need to look at our actions, to make sure that we do not get sucked in by the people around us who promise us anything we want at the expense of others. This is a huge issue for us in this country, who are used to getting what we want, using up the resources of the world that belong to us all. We need to make sure that we are the women who recognize that we have sinned, in thought, word and deed, by what we have done, and also by what we have left undone, and that we do whatever it takes to make things right. There are times when we cannot make things right, and then we need to throw ourselves on the mercy of God, not saying, “well, I tried,” as though that makes it OK, but rather saying, “I messed up, totally!” And we need to make sure that we are not like Simon, knowing what is “right” according to the church law, but not having a clue of what it means to love like God loves.

I got to see love in action yesterday at the acupuncture clinic. We had an open house, free acupuncture for anyone who showed up. One of the acupuncturists works at the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic, and so she had invited a few folks there. One of them came, all the way from the Haight out to the Sunset. He obviously had mental issues, as well as several major physical issues. She was so gentle with him, not letting him detract from the others getting acupuncture, but not expecting him to be “normal” either, since he couldn’t. It was a joy to behold.

What would it mean for you to love like God loves, just a little? That’s another trap we get caught in, isn’t it? We cannot love like God does, so we give up. But just a little? Can we do that? What might that look like for you, this week? Think about it!