The Second Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 4 - 2 June 2013

I Kings 18:20-39
Psalm 96
I Kings 8:22-23, 41-43
Psalm 96:1-9
Galatians 1:1-12
Saint Luke 7:1-10


Background:  The Revised Common Lectionary

The Revised Common Lectionary became the official lectionary of the Episcopal Church on The First Sunday in Advent in 2010.  Prior to that time it had been authorized for trial use beginning in Advent of 2007.  The Lectionary is a further revision of the Ordo Lectionum Missae, the three-year lectionary that was a result of the revisions of Vatican II in the Roman Catholic Church.  The Roman lectionary was promulgated in 1969, and was quickly adopted and adapted by the Lutherans, the Episcopalians, and the Presbyterians.  The Revised Common Lectionary was a further revision and was introduced in 1994.  It operates on a three-year cycle (Years A, B, and C) with year A devoted to the Gospel of Matthew, year B to the Gospel of Mark, and year C to the Gospel of Luke.  The Gospel of John appears in all three cycles.

Of special note is that during Ordinary Time (The Sundays after Epiphany, and The Sundays after Pentecost) in the Sundays after Pentecost there is a two-track system for the First Reading from the Hebrew Scriptures.  Track 1 provides for a semi-continuous reading that in year A is largely from Genesis, year B is largely from the Davidic narrative and from portions of Wisdom Literature, and year C focuses on the prophets, especially Jeremiah.  Since the Psalm usually relates to the first reading, two psalms may be offered as well.  Track 2 has the first reading reflect on the Gospel reading for the day.

Since different congregations use one or the other of these options, this blog will offer commentary on both tracks.

1 Kings 18:20-21, (22-29), 30-39

Ahab sent to all the Israelites, and assembled the prophets at Mount Carmel. Elijah then came near to all the people, and said, "How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him." The people did not answer him a word. [Then Elijah said to the people, "I, even I only, am left a prophet of the LORD; but Baal's prophets number four hundred fifty. Let two bulls be given to us; let them choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it; I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the LORD; the god who answers by fire is indeed God." All the people answered, "Well spoken!" Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, "Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many; then call on the name of your god, but put no fire to it." So they took the bull that was given them, prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon, crying, "O Baal, answer us!" But there was no voice, and no answer. They limped about the altar that they had made. At noon Elijah mocked them, saying, "Cry aloud! Surely he is a god; either he is meditating, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened." Then they cried aloud and, as was their custom, they cut themselves with swords and lances until the blood gushed out over them. As midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice, no answer, and no response.]

Then Elijah said to all the people, "Come closer to me"; and all the people came closer to him. First he repaired the altar of the LORD that had been thrown down; Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD came, saying, "Israel shall be your name"; with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD. Then he made a trench around the altar, large enough to contain two measures of seed. Next he put the wood in order, cut the bull in pieces, and laid it on the wood. He said, "Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood." Then he said, "Do it a second time"; and they did it a second time. Again he said, "Do it a third time"; and they did it a third time, so that the water ran all around the altar, and filled the trench also with water.

At the time of the offering of the oblation, the prophet Elijah came near and said, "O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back." Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, "The LORD indeed is God; the LORD indeed is God."

This is a reading that endeavors to have the reader make up his or her mind about whether to follow God or not.  Verse 21 makes it quite clear, but the translation that Alter offers makes in quite dynamic: “How long will you keep hopping between the two crevices?”  The one side of the crevice represented the Ba’alim (The gods of the surrounding population.)  Ba’al means “Lord” and is a title, not a proper name.  The other side represented YHWH, the God of Israel.  The author sets up a contest between the two camps, and the side of YHWH is represented solely by Elijah, the other faithful prophets hiding in fear.  This depiction of Elijah is a reflection of the “remnant” theme that appears in Jeremiah and the Isaiahs – the few faithful that remain in a land that has gone away from the worship of YHWH.

The lesson is filled with sarcasm and over-the-top depictions of the difficulty of the contest.  It also depicts some of the practices, forbidden in the Torah, that were the hallmarks of Canaanite religion such as the practice of cutting themselves with “swords and lances”.  Elijah’s offering, made more miraculous with having water poured over the victim and altar, was done at the appointed time (in the Temple) – the late afternoon.  The final verse with its exclamation “YHWH (The Lord) indeed is God; YHWH (the Lord) indeed is God” is quoted in the liturgy of Yon Kippur.  The purpose of the Book of Kings was assembled by the same person who edited Deuteronomy, to remind Israel of its heritage, by completing the story of David, and then telling the story of the prophets who were faithful in the company of the successor kings who were not.

Breaking open I Kings:

1.     How does Elijah taunt the prophets of Ba’al?
2.     Is this a challenge to God?
3.     Do you ever challenge God?

Psalm 96 Cantate Domino

Sing to the LORD a new song; *
sing to the LORD, all the whole earth.

Sing to the LORD and bless his Name; *
proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day.

Declare his glory among the nations *
and his wonders among all peoples.

For great is the LORD and greatly to be praised; *
he is more to be feared than all gods.

As for all the gods of the nations, they are but idols; *
but it is the LORD who made the heavens.

Oh, the majesty and magnificence of his presence! *
Oh, the power and the splendor of his sanctuary!

Ascribe to the LORD, you families of the peoples; *
ascribe to the LORD honor and power.

Ascribe to the LORD the honor due his Name; *
bring offerings and come into his courts.

Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness; *
let the whole earth tremble before him.

Tell it out among the nations: "The LORD is King! *
he has made the world so firm that it cannot be moved;
he will judge the peoples with equity."

Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;
let the sea thunder and all that is in it; *
let the field be joyful and all that is therein.

Then shall all the trees of the wood shout for joy
before the LORD when he comes, *
when he comes to judge the earth.

He will judge the world with righteousness *
and the peoples with his truth.

The psalmist bids us to “sing a new song.”  Actually the entirety of the psalm is a pastiche of verses from other psalms.  What is different, however, is the perspective of the psalm, which views “all the peoples” as the subject of God’s concern.  All are invited to sing God’s praise.  Given that perspective, the author quickly characterizes the nature of the gods of the world.  He calls them “ungods”, incapable of the acts that he will ascribe to the Lord.  God is depicted as the ruler of the cosmos – the author of creation and the God that happily receives the praises of the world.  In that context, he judges the earth, but with justice.

Breaking open Psalm 96:

1.     Whom does God redeem?
2.     Is this redemption restricted to Christians only?
3.     Why does God need our praise?


1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43

Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven. He said, "O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart.

"Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name -- for they shall hear of your great name, your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm-- when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and so that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built."

This reading is made up of two separate sections, one of invocation, and the other a supplication that reflects the universalism found in psalm 96 (above).  The context is rich with symbolism, for the Ark of the Covenant is being moved from Zion (a hill to the west of the Temple Mount) to the new Temple that Solomon has built.  The reading functions as a prayer of dedication, although the focus of the lectionary is on the greatness of God, and God’s appeal to all the nations of the earth.  Solomon comments on the convincing nature of this God of Israel who appeals to all the peoples of the earth – to the “foreigner.”  It certainly reflects a later theology that was formed in the teaching of Jeremiah and the Isaiahs.

Breaking open I Kings
1.       Does God need a physical building as a place of worship?
2.       How does God dwell with you?
3.       With whom else does God dwell?

Psalm 96:1-9
(See Above)

Galatians 1:1-12

Paul an apostle-- sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead-- and all the members of God's family who are with me,
To the churches of Galatia:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-- not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!

Am I now seeking human approval, or God's approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.
For 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.

Paul begins his letter to the Galatians by tackling a very sensitive issue, namely his authority to proclaim the Gospel.  He calls himself, in this initial verse “an apostle” though he was not one of the Twelve, and then calls attention to the fact that it was the Christ who sent him out.  In the following verses Paul makes even more claims about the authenticity of what he preaches.  He denounces the Galatians for “turning to a different gospel”.  He is raising the standards of his proclamation, and discourages them from listening to another or to something else. 

Now Paul appeals to his status over against Christ.  He calls himself a servant (really the word is “slave”) of Christ, and he promotes his claim that what he proclaims is the Gospel of Jesus, not a human invention, or watered down by ideas counter to what Jesus had proclaimed.  He is not a slave to his own ideas, or to the ideas of others.  He exalts the preaching of Jesus.

Breaking open Romans:

1.               Did Paul agree with the Church in Jerusalem?
2.               How did Peter and Paul disagree on issues?
3.               Is Paul being a bit egoistic here, or is he being authentic?

St. Luke 7:1-10

After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, "He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us." And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, "Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, `Go,' and he goes, and to another, `Come,' and he comes, and to my slave, `Do this,' and the slave does it." When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith." When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

It may be helpful for you to compare Matthew’s version of this story (Matthew 8:5-13) to reach a richer context for this healing story.  The point of this story is seen in the actions taken by Jesus rather than by his words.  In Luke the action takes place at a distance – an attitude that would appeal to the circumstances of the early church.  The center of this healing story is the Centurion and his servant.  Their relationship is characterized by Luke as being “valued highly” (this translation seems a bit wooden here – the Greek really implies a much closer relationship – a dear and close relationship.)  The centurion (most likely a gentile) is quite deferential to Jesus – sending a delegation of notable Jews, and then discouraging Jesus from coming “under my roof”.  This passage (Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed) is used in the Roman Catholic Liturgy, and in some Anglo-Catholic liturgies as a prayer immediately preceding the Communion.  The prayer assumes that it is possible for Jesus merely to do without necessity of sight, or touch.  The attitude is characterized by Jesus as “faith”, greater than any he had found in Israel.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What differences are there in Matthew and Luke’s version of this story?
  2. What do you think of the Centurion’s deference?
  3. Why does Jesus proclaim that the Centurion has faith?

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

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth: Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; 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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