The Common Good
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What Should We Die For?

There is something intolerably cheap about the popular expression “to die for.” What if we were really to choose what is worth giving up our life for? This week’s scriptures explore what dying for something means. The lurid tale of Naboth’s vineyard presents Ahab just dying to get his hands on his neighbor’s land. It just killed him to be frustrated, so “he lay down on his bed, turned away his face, and would not eat” (1 King 21:4). Jezebel’s remedy? She had Naboth framed and killed. The wheel of violence, though, will roll over the perpetrators. Covetousness is deadly, and a violent and degrading end lies in wait for them.

Paul proclaims to the Galatians what is worth dying for—a totally fresh identity found through union with Christ. “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (verses 19-20).

The woman who anoints Jesus’ feet in the Pharisee’s house has undergone a death. Instead of dying of shame, she has died to shame. With breathtaking insouciance she crashes the party. In a sensuous gesture of devotion, she expresses her gratitude to Jesus for his message of God’s amnesty. Jesus’ freedom has drawn her. He is perfectly free of shame. He relishes her caresses with a tenderness that is totally careless of reputation.

Martin L. Smith was an Episcopal priest, author, preacher, and retreat leader when this article appeared.