Fourth Sunday after Trinity
Psalms 23 and 25; 1 Kings 3: 1 – 15 and Luke 7: 36 – 50
And now, O Lord, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in …. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil. 1 Kings 3: 7 and 9a
Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little. Luke 7: 47
O God, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal: Grant this, O heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ’s sake our Lord. Amen. Collect for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity
We have three interesting and contrasting characters in our readings today, illustrating different approaches to God. Two exemplify the sentiments of today’s Collect, the other does not.
Solomon had only recently been made king after the death of his father, David. David was a hard act to follow, because of his military leadership and the dynamism with which he had consolidated the kingdom; it was a golden age in Israel’s history. However, because of the blood that had been shed in battle by David, to his disappointment he had not been allowed to build a fitting house in which God could dwell and be worshipped. Solomon was an completely different character, and it was he God chose to build the temple. The key point in our reading, describing a dream Solomon experienced, was that when God offered him anything he wanted (verse 5), he did not immediately ask for riches, prestige and power. Instead, he asked for an understanding mind to govern wisely, and it is this high-minded request that put the good of the kingdom and its people first; because of this wise request, God then promised to shower on him the riches and honour he had not originally sought (verse 13). The reading ends with worship as the priority, followed by a feast for all his servants – again, this shows a different attitude to the expected behaviour of a king where feasts would normally be held in his honour.
Turning to Luke 7 we see an altogether different encounter, where Jesus has been invited to the home of Simon the Pharisee. The invitation seems somewhat grudging, as if Simon wanted to spy on him and test his orthodoxy. Jesus is not shown the expected courtesies of foot-washing, or the greeting of a kiss or of being anointed with oil signifying welcome and honour. A woman of dubious background now enters the house carrying an alabaster jar of perfumed ointment. She weeps with gratitude over the unwashed feet of Jesus (accessible because guests reclined at a low table), dries them with her hair and anoints them with the ointment. It is apparent she has previously encountered Jesus and already come to faith in him, and is bold enough now to enter forbidden religiously-respectable territory to seek out Jesus and make this offering of worship to him. Like Solomon, she has ordered her priorities correctly and is blessed in return. Jesus publicly announces that her sins have been forgiven, and it is because of this she has wanted to show her gratitude.
Meanwhile, within the reading we see the outraged reaction of Simon the Pharisee. It is telling in verse 39 that Simon’s comment is an inward judgemental thought: how could a real prophet not distinguish a prostitute from the respectable society gathered round his table? Jesus ‘reads his mind’ and replies with his short parable about forgiveness for different weights of sin. Who wouldshow the greatest gratitude? Simon replies it would be the one forgiven most, and probably realises as he says this that he is condemning his own sin and hypocrisy. Jesus concludes that the one forgiven least, loves little in return.
I mentioned at the beginning that two characters were similar and one was different. It is clear that the Pharisee’s attitude was wrong, although he would have spent his life believing he was superior to the sinful dregs of society he passed in the street, like the ex-prostitute, now forgiven. It is curious Luke mentions the internal, unuttered thought of Simon in his appraisal of Jesus. How would Luke know this, unless Simon had subsequently owned up and revealed why Jesus had launched into his parable about forgiveness. Was he one of the Pharisees who came to faith in Jesus and supplied Luke with this nugget of information?
May we follow the humble attitude of Solomon and the unnamed woman in praying the Collect, asking that we may never lose sight of eternity by having wrong priorities in putting the things of the world to the fore. May we recognise we flourish spiritually only with God’s mercy, taking Him as our guide through things temporal, with our eyes constantly having a heavenly perspective. And perhaps Simon the Pharisee did find the answer in Jesus?
Kevin Boak, Lay Reader