Soon after making the move here, I began exploring Dish Network. There are lots of free movies available, for the first three months at least. I watched one named Campaign, starring Will Farrell. It was about the sin of politics and it made fun of the politicians that use empty promises to excite a populace to vote them into office.
Without spoiling the whole movie for anyone who might want to watch it, a candidate was created to challenge a John Edwards like incumbent. The new man was cut from God-fearing cloth, and his sins would be deemed the least heinous of all possible sins. However, he fell for the lust of power – winning at all costs – which is the trap of politics.
The good man candidate came clean of his sins in a last minute commercial, actually confessing the worst things he had done in his life. He told the audience that he had entered politics to help his local district, but had failed to live up to that original intention. However, he promised, if elected, to live up to that high standard as a representative of the people.
That was a movie. Now back to reality. We just do not see that level of honesty in politics. Instead, we see how schemers take advantage of the honest, those initial attempts by people who enter that arena trying to do good … if that has happened in the last 200 years. Rulers are more like Ahab and Jezebel, plotting to have someone who is against them killed – using the system that is at their disposal. It is also reflected in rulers that are more like David, plotting to have someone holding him back from a desire and lust killed – using the same self-serving system. Rulers like that change the rules, making sure they are in their favor once in power. The people pay with their lives, so the rich can get richer.
The difference between then and now is Ahab had a priest of the LORD that was above the Law. His name was Elijah. We know Elijah was the priest to the One God, because we read about him going up against 450 priests for Ba’al, in the reading two Sundays ago. Last week, Elijah raised the widow woman’s son from being dead. This week, Elijah is telling Ahab he will pay dearly for his sins – he will die. In the same place the dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, whose life he caused to end by stoning, so too would the dogs lick up the blood of Ahab.
That is the Law – an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth – a life for a life.
Do the crime, do the time. Blindfolded justice plays no favorites.
In the Gospel reading from Luke, we find a woman who has gone outside of the limits of the law. She has sinned and she recognizes her past mistakes. As penance, she works as a servant for the Pharisee named Simon, but for all she does, she gets no respect. Once a sinner, always a sinner, at least in the eyes of those who police the limits of the law. It is as if she has a criminal record that can never be expunged.
Jesus has been invited to eat with Simon, and some of his pious friends (presumably also Pharisees), and the woman bathes Jesus’ feet with her tears, dries them with her hair, and continues to kiss his feet afterwards. Simon chides Jesus for letting a sinner touch him, causing Jesus to ask the question about two people in debt, both unable to repay what they owe. If both are forgiven their debts, with one owing ten times more than the other, then who will love the forgiving creditor more?
Simon answered correctly – the one who had more debt forgiven will love the forgiving creditor more. Thus, one with more sins in their past, with more to be forgiven, will love the forgiver more.
This caused Simon and friends to murmur, “Who does he think he is that he can forgive sins?”
Jesus answered, “I am not forgiving sins. God forgives this woman because of her faith, such that she believes she must repay her debt in this life.”
The woman servant had done the crimes, and she was willing to do the time necessary to be justified (or absolved, meaning free of blame). Jesus told her that her time was served and she could go in peace.
The woman who had sinned died that day. The woman who would follow Jesus and sin no more was born that day.
This is what Paul said to the Galatians, in his letter that we read today. When he asked, “But if, in our efforts to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ a servant of sin?” he was saying that there is no yo-yoing back and forth between sin and absolution. You don’t get freed to go in peace if you then go out and sin again.
This means that absolution – the remission of sins – forgiveness of sins – comes not from without, but from within.
In essence, the penalty for sin is death. Like Ahab, a sinner can act like the law allows one to sin and deny all need for absolution. In those cases, people die without God.
David wrote in Psalm 5, “God does not take pleasure in wickedness” and “evil cannot dwell with God.” God destroys liars and abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful. God “hates all those who work wickedness.” If you die – if you leave this life – without having paid the price for the crimes committed, then don’t call on God from the deathbed.
It is much better to die like Paul and the woman servant of Simon the Pharisee. You leave the old self behind. You stand aside and let Christ run your life. As Paul wrote, “For through the law I died to the law, so that I may live to God. … it is Christ who lives in me. … the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God.”
That is the commercial we all need to run on television. We need to announce to the populace that we realize the traps we have fallen into, from getting caught up in the game of life, where the law allows us to sin first, pay later. We have to promise not to ever sin again, meaning the law no longer is a boundary we lean up against and look beyond … peering towards an outside world … seeming to be prisoners to our own desires and lusts. That self must die to be with God.