The Third Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 5 - 9 June 2013


I Kings 17:8-24
Psalm 146
   Or
I Kings 17:17-24
Psalm 30
Galatians 1:11-24
Saint Luke 7:11-17

      

Background: Kings
Like its Biblical neighbor, I and II Kings was originally one book, not two.  Its first and second chapters take the task of completing the Davidic saga, and then the book moves on with the rule of Solomon and the rulers who follow him.  The contents seem to have been put together by the Deuteronomist, who in assessing the reign of each of the kings, reports opinions about their lives visa a vie cultic law.  Some are lauded many are not.  The example of the decimation of the Northern Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians along with their ruthless policy of deportation and repopulation seems to amplify the prophetic comments about loosing sight of the God of Israel.  Bad times are coming, report these prophets; and we who know the end always have the Babylonian exile in our minds as we read these stories.


1 Kings 17:8-16 (17-24)

The word of the LORD came to Elijah, saying, "Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you." So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, "Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink." As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, "Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand." But she said, "As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die." Elijah said to her, "Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the LORD the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the LORD sends rain on the earth." She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah.

[After this, the son of the woman, the mistress of the house at Zarephath, became ill; his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. She then said to Elijah, "What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!" But he said to her, "Give me your son." He took him from her bosom, carried him up into the upper chamber where he was lodging, and laid him on his own bed. He cried out to the LORD, "O LORD my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?" Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the LORD, "O LORD my God, let this child's life come into him again." The LORD listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother; then Elijah said, "See, your son is alive." So the woman said to Elijah, "Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth."]

Note:  Both the Track 1 and Track 2 readings for this Sunday involve the same pericope.  Track 1 includes the story of the Widow of Zarephath (verses 8-16) with the story of the son (verses 17-24) being optional.  The Track 2 reading takes the second story as its focus.



In this complex story we begin to have hints of the universalism that can also be found in the Isaiahs and Jeremiah.  The widow is not an Israelite but rather lives in the territory of Sidon.  This story is set in the context of Elijah’s troublesome relationship with Ahab, and his equally bothersome wife Jezebel.  Thus Elijah finds himself outside the realm of the evil king, and in neighboring territory.  It is the widow who realizes that Elijah’s claims about the God of Israel are true and she recognizes in Elijah YHWH’s prophet.  The prophet’s request is outrageous.  The land is experiencing a drought (which was brought on, if we are to believe the story, by the prophet’s wishes and prayers.  Thus the request for water alone is presumptuous, and made even more offensive by his request for her to bake him a little bread.

It is YHWH’s words that fill the prophet’s mouth as he makes these requests and it is a Word that the woman recognizes and obeys, unlike the Israelite King who ignores the Word.  “The Day of the Lord”, the promised visitation of YHWH’s justice and righteousness, will make the difference.  Here the rains will return again.  But just as we rejoice over her faith and over a beneficent God, tragedy strikes. 

The editor wants to ascertain the faith of the woman, recently proclaimed in the pericope that precedes this one.  Her reaction to her son’s “death” (or is it a coma?) is common to the ancient near east.  The disciples mirror a similar concern when they ask Jesus, “Did this man sin or did another” when confronted by the man’s blindness (St. John 9).  So she wonders if she, confronted by this man of God, has inadvertently sinned and caused this situation for her son.  Two words are used to describe the circumstances.  First, “no breath (neshamah) was left in him.”  Secondly, when the prophet intervenes, “and the child’s life breath (nephesh) went back into him.”  It is more than breathing that is restored by the prophet’s words and actions – it is life itself.  It is this Word that the woman recognizes.
Track 1 users should consider reading the entire pericope because of its links to the Gospel today.

Breaking open I Kings:

1.     Why do you think the prophets began to think in more universalistic terms?
2.     What does this reading have to say about sacrifice in your life?
3.     What did it take for the widow to believe?  What does it take for you?

Psalm 146 Lauda, anima mea

Hallelujah!
Praise the LORD, O my soul! *
I will praise the LORD as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.

Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth, *
for there is no help in them.

When they breathe their last, they return to earth, *
and in that day their thoughts perish.

Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help!*
whose hope is in the LORD their God;

Who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them; *
who keeps his promise for ever;

Who gives justice to those who are oppressed, *
and food to those who hunger.

The LORD sets the prisoners free;
the LORD opens the eyes of the blind; *
the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down;

The LORD loves the righteous;
the LORD cares for the stranger; *
he sustains the orphan and widow,
but frustrates the way of the wicked.

The LORD shall reign for ever, *
your God, O Zion, throughout all generations.
Hallelujah!

Totentanz - The Dance of Death
This praise psalm serves as an excellent commentary on the first reading.  The verse “When they breathe their last” and the verse “gives bread to the hungry” seem to hearken back to what we heard in the story of the widow of Zarephath.  The points of the psalm are really the prophetic agenda used by the prophets to try the lives and policies of the kings of both Judah and Israel, and its advice “Put not your trust in rulers” seems timely and fresh.  What follows are the signs of what God would see done.  In reading these points they should sound familiar as the points that Jesus makes about his own ministry.  The sign of the prophets and the righteousness of God are the signs that Christians will see in the works of Jesus. 

Breaking open Psalm 146:

1.     If we are not to trust “rulers” or “any child of earth” whom should be trust?
2.     What are the works of a righteous God in the psalm?
3.     Where do you see them today?

or

1 Kings 17:17-24

The son of the woman, the mistress of the house at Zarephath, became ill; his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. She then said to Elijah, "What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!" But he said to her, "Give me your son." He took him from her bosom, carried him up into the upper chamber where he was lodging, and laid him on his own bed. He cried out to the LORD, "O LORD my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?" Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the LORD, "O LORD my God, let this child's life come into him again." The LORD listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother; then Elijah said, "See, your son is alive." So the woman said to Elijah, "Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth."

See the commentary above.

Psalm 30 Exaltabo te, Domine

I will exalt you, O LORD,
because you have lifted me up *
and have not let my enemies triumph over me.

O LORD my God, I cried out to you, *
and you restored me to health.

You brought me up, O LORD, from the dead; *
you restored my life as I was going down to the grave.

Sing to the LORD, you servants of his; *
give thanks for the remembrance of his holiness.

For his wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye, *
his favor for a lifetime.

Weeping may spend the night, *
but joy comes in the morning.

While I felt secure, I said,
"I shall never be disturbed. *
You, LORD, with your favor, made me as strong as the mountains."

Then you hid your face, *
and I was filled with fear.

I cried to you, O LORD; *
I pleaded with the Lord, saying,

"What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the Pit? *
will the dust praise you or declare your faithfulness?

Hear, O LORD, and have mercy upon me; *
O LORD, be my helper."

You have turned my wailing into dancing; *
you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy.

Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; *
O LORD my God, I will give you thanks for ever.



It seems strange that the lectionary does not use the same psalm as is used in Track 1, however Psalm 30 is much more pointed in its references to the first lesson, and the Gospel reading as well.  There are some wonderful images that the author uses here.  In verse one the psalmist pictures God “drawing up” the psalmist as one might draw up water out of a well (water often serving as an image of death).  In verse three we also have images of God bringing the psalmist “up” out of the depths of Sheol (the Pit, or “the dead”).  The remainder of the psalm seems to be a meditation on this salvation that has been given to him.  Contrasts are made – evening = weeping, morning = joy, wailing vs. dancing, sackcloth vs. “clothed with joy.”  Such are the reasons for praising God.

Breaking open Psalm 30:

1.     What are the various contrasts that the psalmist makes?
2.     What causes you to weep in life?
3.     How is your mourning turned into joy?

Galatians 1:11-24

I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus.

Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord's brother. In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie! Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; they only heard it said, "The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy." And they glorified God because of me.



The first two verses of this reading are repeated from last Sunday’s second lesson, and helpfully repeat Paul’s claim about the authority that surrounds his proclamation. It is not his “version” of things, but rather a revelation that he received from Jesus.  That in mind, he begins to remind the reader of his own history.  It is a reminder of the realities of that authority given on the Road to Damascus.  What Paul does here is to contrast his own missionary effort with that of the Church in Jerusalem and the ministry of Peter and James, the brother of the Lord.  These remembrances offer contrast to what was and what is in his mission to the Gentiles.  The proof of the pudding is the final verse of the reading, “And they glorified God because of me.” 

Breaking open Galatians:

1.               Why does Paul repeat his history to the Galatians?
2.               Why does he distinguish himself from Peter and the Jerusalem church?
3.               Of what importance was authority in the early church?

St. Luke 7:11-17

Soon after healing the centurion's slave, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother's only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, "Do not weep." Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, "Young man, I say to you, rise!" The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, "A great prophet has risen among us!" and "God has looked favorably on his people!" This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.



It should be noted that the readings during Ordinary Time, both the second lesson and the Gospel are in a semi-continuous form.  Readings move regularly from one section to the one that follows and the preacher or person in the pew can think back to what followed the current Sunday’s readings.  Thus in the Gospel we follow on from the healing of the centurion’s slave.  Jesus is not done with death – he confronts the death of a young man in the village of Nain.  It is important to think not only on the young man, but the situation of his mother as well.  As a widow, with no heir, she is in a difficult social condition.  This contextualization of the young man’s death is very much a part of Luke’s program of consciousness about the circumstances of poor.  Also of note is the title that Luke assigns to Jesus – “the Lord”.  Here Jesus is not just an itinerant preacher, but also rather the Lord of life and of death.  Robert Alter comments in his commentary on the Book of Kings that many of the healing stories of Jesus are modeled on the healing stories of Elijah.  Thus we have a complete suite of healings for our consideration today.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. How does this story show compassion for “the lowly”?
  2. Other than affection, how did the life of the son affect the mother?
  3. What does it mean when Luke says, “fear seized all of them”?


After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday. 

O God, from whom all good proceeds: Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

All commentary and questions are copyright © 2013 Michael T. Hiller

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