I Kings 21:1-21a
Our reading is an incident in the longer story of how young King Ahab was seduced into Baal worship and cruelties to his subjects by his wife, Jezebel, a Sidonian princes and Baal worshiper. The king desires the vineyard of Naboth, but Naboth will not sell his ancestral inheritance; in fact, he cannot sell it legally, for he is bound by ancient law to keep inherited lands in the family. So Jezebel has him murdered in the guise of justice.
ALTERNATIVE FIRST READING
2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:10, 13-15
King David has fallen in love with Bathsheba, the wife of one of his outstanding soldiers, Uriah, who is away fighting the King’s war. In his absence, David has an affair with Basheba, and she is pregnant by him. To cover up his affair, he brings Uriah back from the war and tells him he has a few free days to spend at his house with his wife. After that, no one will doubt Uriah is the father. But Uriah thinks it his duty not to leave his fellow soldiers camped by the city and will not go home. David sends him back to the war carrying a sealed letter to the general. In it, David orders his general to put Uriah in the most dangerous part of the battle and desert him so that he will be killed. Uriah is killed and the news brought to Bathsheba. That is the point in the story where our reading begins.
Last Sunday we heard Paul’s defense of himself; today we hear his defense of his ministry. Because Paul’s writing is so unclear, I will try to state his main points. Cephas (Peter) and Barnabas and other preachers in the field, following Paul’s lead, had been making converts among gentiles by baptizing them, but now they have given in to the Jewish Christians of Jerusalem, who require converts to be circumcised. Paul calls them hypocrites. Circumcision was painful and at that time dangerous; to require it would have all but ended Paul’s mission. More important, requiring obedience to Jewish law was contrary to Paul’s central message: one is saved by faith, not by anything one does. If Christians return to Jewish law, he says, Christ died in vain. Paul, who himself was once a rabid Pharisee, says he is now dead to the Jewish law and alive to God’s grace. Paul was often beaten and imprisoned, and he suffered some never-explained painful affliction throughout his ministry, but I find it hard to accept his saying he has been crucified with Christ.