Falling at His Feet

Yesterday’s gospel reading — the woman who falls as Jesus’ feet, anointing his feet with oil and her tears in Luke 7:36–8:3 (reminding us as well that women funded and paid the freight for Jesus and his disciples) — was paired with Nathan rebuking David for (what, exactly? adultery? raping?) Bathsheba and then, when her soldier husband Uriah refused to lay with his wife (so that her pregnancy would be easily explained), arranging to have Uriah killed in battle in 2 Samuel 12:1–13.

It makes sense. Here’s a matter of sin, being convicted of one’s sin, and repentance — grateful repentance in the case of the woman in Luke 7. We don’t know what the woman’s sin was, and in the lectionary reading we don’t have Nathan’s promise to David that the child he conceived in this sin with Bathsheba — whatever the nature of that sin was — and David’s long lament for his dying child.

His is not a grateful repentance. David is forgiven, but his tears are tears of fear, sorrow, and loss. Not gratitude.

But there was something I wanted to work into yesterday’s sermon that I didn’t. Because there wasn’t space or time.

The gospel reading begins

37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. (Luke 7:37–38 ESV)

She doesn’t fall at Jesus’ feet, but it brings to mind something that happens to David while he’s on the run from Saul in 1 Samuel 25. David and his men show up in the wilderness of Paran (in what is now an eastern portion of the Sinai Peninsula) and basically attempt to extort a meal or two (or three) from the very wealthy Nabal:

“Nice sheep you have here, and your shearers too. Pity if something happened to them, you know, if my men — who haven’t touched them, I have to tell you, have not hurt a single one of them — were to, you know, do something. Something we might both regret.”

Nabal doesn’t fall for this. “Who is this David that I should share anything with him?” Nabal may be a rude host, but David was something of a rude guest. I’m not sure I’d respond well to this kind of threat either.

A fight looms as David’s men prepare to take up arms. However, whatever sense David seems to lack in the communications department he more than makes up for in actual behavior. His men were good, and guarded Nabal’s men and property while they were out shearing in the wilderness.

So, Nabal’s cunning and comely wife Abigail takes it upon herself to right her husband’s wrong, and avert the coming disaster. For David 400 armed men ready to kill every last man standing in Nabal’s camp.

At which point, Abigail rides out to meet David:

23 When Abigail saw David, she hurried and got down from the donkey and fell before David on her face and bowed to the ground. 24 She fell at his feet and said, “On me alone, my lord, be the guilt. Please let your servant speak in your ears, and hear the words of your servant. 25 Let not my lord regard this worthless fellow, Nabal, for as his name is, so is he. Nabal is his name, and folly is with him. But I your servant did not see the young men of my lord, whom you sent. 26 Now then, my lord, as the Lord lives, and as your soul lives, because the Lord has restrained you from bloodguilt and from saving with your own hand, now then let your enemies and those who seek to do evil to my lord be as Nabal. 27 And now let this present that your servant has brought to my lord be given to the young men who follow my lord. 28 Please forgive the trespass of your servant. For the Lord will certainly make my lord a sure house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the Lord, and evil shall not be found in you so long as you live. (1 Samuel 25:23–28 ESV)

What follows is Abigail’s long blessing of David, followed by a simple request that David let God have vengeance upon Nabal:

… And when the Lord has dealt well with my lord, then remember your servant. (1 Samuel 25:31 ESV)

Because of Abigail’s intercession, David relents. He calls off his planned vengeance against Nabal, and sends Abigail on her way:

35 Then David received from her hand what she had brought him. And he said to her, “Go up in peace to your house. See, I have obeyed your voice, and I have granted your petition.” (1 Samuel 25:35 ESV)

Within a fortnight, Nabal dies (he was a bad man to begin with, and Abigail’s betrayal left no spirit in him), David’s men arrive to take Abigail away to be his wife (it was just as well Nabal died, as she would have been just one more wife David would have stolen), and Abigail responds:

41 And she rose and bowed with her face to the ground and said, “Behold, your handmaid is a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord.” (1 Samuel 25:41 ESV)

It’s in this foot washing, Abigail’s grateful, welcoming, properly hospitable foot washing, that I saw the parallels or allusions between this story and what happens to Jesus at Simon the Pharisee’s house in Luke 7. Abigail repents of sin — in this case, its her husband’s lack of hospitality — and petitions David for forgiveness. To stay the hand of judgement of condemnation. David sends her on her way, forgiven, spared, redeemed. It isn’t just Abigail who is saved here — David promised that “by morning there [would] not have been left to Nabal so much as one male.” (1 Samuel 25:34) She saved everyone who worked (or was owned) by her husband, and any sons she might have had.

She saved everyone but Nabal, a worthless man who died of a broken heart. (Vengeance against Nabal belongs to God!) And let’s be fair — he had it coming, being “harsh and badly behaved.” (Though, he has a solid pedigree as a descendant of Caleb, the only spy besides Joshua who survives the first reconnoitering of the promised land.)

Jesus gives Simon the Pharisee quite a lecture on hospitality — Simon didn’t provide water for Jesus to wash his feet, didn’t kiss him, didn’t anoint his head with oil, whereas the woman, with her grateful tears and her ointment, did all of these things.

Who was more hospitable? The Pharisee with the well appointed house who could host Jesus of Nazareth for dinner, or the wandering “woman of the city” who was a sinner? Who was more hospitable? The wealthy trader and shepherd who could eat for himself “a feast like a king” (1 Sam 25:36), or the wife who had nothing of her own and chose to grovel for mercy and forgiveness before the leader of a group of mercenary bandits?

Who knew enough to ask for forgiveness? And respond in gratitude?

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