The Second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 5), 6 June 2010
I Kings 17:17-24
Saint Luke 7:11-17
Elijah is met in the desert by an angel
What does one do when all the promises seem to be forgotten, when institutions fail, and when people are removed from their homeland? This is the problem that the editors of I and II Kings dealt with. They wished to explain the destruction of the temple and the military success of the Babylonians in a way that would not negate their faith in the God of Israel. What we are given here is a history of the United Kingdom (under David and Solomon) and then a history of the kings of Judah. Similar material is found in I and II Chronicles, but the Kings material is earlier and more reliable. Kings is written from a royalist/prophetic point of view, while Chronicles is written from the levitical or priestly perspective.
During the Sundays after Pentecost, the Revised Common Lectionary gives us two options. The first option is to follow a lectio continua (a continuous reading) of texts from the Hebrew Scriptures, or secondly, to follow a series of readings that are thematically tied to the Gospel for each Sunday. We will be following the latter option.
I 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."
This reading is from the great Elijah Cycle (I Kings 17:1 – II Kings 1:18) in which we follow the prophetic ministry of Elijah. We know nothing of Elijah (his name means “Yahweh is God”), and he is described as “the Tishbite”, although such a town or village is unknown to us. What we do know is that he is an implacable critic of the worship of the Baalim, the gods of the Canaanites. (The title Baal is just that, a title, not a name. It meant either “master” or “lord” and like these words in English, could be applied to either deity or human being). The purpose of this reading for the hearer is to establish Elijah’s credentials, in this case the efficaciousness of his healing and of his word. The act leads the woman of Zarephath to announce, “Now I know that you are a man of God…” The reading, as a healing story, is tied to Jesus miracle at Nain, as rehearsed in the Gospel for today.
Breaking open I Kings:
1. What does prophecy mean to you?
2. Do you think that faith heals? Have you, or someone you know had an experience with that?
3. Who do you think qualifies as a prophet in our time?
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.
The angel of death
A later interpolation describes the purpose of this psalm: “Psalm, song for the dedication of the house, for David.” It may have served as a dedicatory psalm for the Temple, or a renewed part of the temple. It’s central metaphor and theme is made apparent in the first verse, “I will exalt you, O LORD, because you have lifted me up.” Robert Alter’s translation gets to the point in a much more direct manner, however: “I shall exalt you, Lord, for you drew me up.” The Hebrew verb is the same one used to describe drawing water from a well – and this is the central theme for the psalm, and the reason that it is paired with the First Lesson and the Gospel for today. Later on in the psalm we encounter “the Pit”, which was a Hebrew euphemism for “death.” The psalms do not know a heaven or a hell. All they know is Sheol, a place of the dead. “To go down to the pit” is to talk about dying. In the verses of the Psalm, the writer acknowledges God as the one who rescues us from death. Death-like words permeate the psalm: grave, weeping, fear, dust, blood, wailing, sack-cloth, and similar phrases orient the reader to the central antagonist of the psalm – death itself.
Breaking open Psalm 30
1. What are your feelings about death? Fear? Wonder?
2. How do you think the author of the psalm feels about death?
3. The psalm is very personal and yet there are indications that it was used publicly. How would its sentiments fit into public worship?
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.
If we are not having the continuing reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, we are none-the-less treated to one in the Second Lessons – in this case Galatians. Galatians is certainly a Paul document, and was written for the inhabitants of Galatia (cf. the Spanish region of Galicia) that was probably settled by Celts in the third century BCE. Paul’s central issue in the letter is the problem of the Mosaic Law and its demands and how that should be applied or not applied to Gentile Christians. In this reading, Paul introduces himself to us and lays out his credentials (much like the author was doing for Elijah in the First Lesson). He comes to them as a Jew, called by God, on a mission to the Gentiles, and known of Peter and James in particular. In the coming Sundays we will be able to follow Paul’s arguments more closely.
The Apostles Peter and Paul
Breaking open Galatians:
- Why is Paul careful to establish his credentials with the Galatians?
- What are the credentials that he cites?
- Why do you think that he went to see Cephas (Peter)?
Saint 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.
Now that we leave the Sundays of Easter behind, we can once again join the Gospel of Luke, which is the principal Gospel in this cycle of the lectionary. The reading is unique to Luke, and is written in a highly theatrical style. Jesus and his entourage, returning from the cure of the Centurion’s servant, literally run into a funeral procession coming out of the city of Nain. The procession would have been large, composed of members of the family and, in the manner of the period and culture, hired mourners. The loss to the woman, a widow, was considerable for she had now not only lost her husband but her only son as well. This would have been a precarious status at the time. Luke pictures a gentle and gracious Jesus, who touches the bier and who has compassion on her. Luke also uses, for the first time, the title of Lord in speaking about Jesus. Like the prophets of old (see the First Lesson) Jesus brings the promise and actuality of life from the grip of death. The people see it as well, and understand the allusion – “a great prophet has risen among us.”
The Raising of the Son of the Widow of Nain
Breaking open the Gospel:
- What is the hardest part of the Gospel for you?
- How would you describe the truth of the Gospel?
- What does the Holy Spirit say to you?
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.