The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost - Proper 7, 23 June 2013

I Kings 19:1-15a
Psalm 42 and 43
Isaiah 65:1-9
Psalm 22:18-27
Galatians 3:23-29
St. Luke 8:26-39

Background:  Elijah and Ahab

In the Track 1 readings from the Hebrew Scriptures we have been reading the Ahab stories that form a section of the Elijah cycle in the Book of Kings.  The prophet Elijah and King Ahab interacted during Ahab’s reign (874 – 853 BCE).  The name Elijah means “My God is YHWH”, and may be an indication of his fervent defense of Yahwism in the face of a resurgent worship of Canaanite and Phoenician gods, the Ba’alim.  This turn to the Ba’alim is blamed on Jezebel, daughter of the King of Tyre and Ahab’s consort.  This may be, however, a kind of scapegoating.  There was a constant attraction of the fertility religions of the Levant and Mesopotamia to the Hebrew peoples living along the central ridge.  Elijah becomes the champion of the YHWH cult, which was centered by David in Jerusalem.  The political aspect of the Temple in Jerusalem presented another difficulty for Elijah and other defenders of YHWH. 

Elijah challenges the religious policies of Ahab (the building of a temple to the Ba’alim in Samaria, and the raising of Asheroth) by first proclaiming a drought in the land.  Since the Ba’al was a lord of the wind, rain, and storm, this would have been a direct confrontation to the worship of the foreign gods.  Later, after the story of the Widow of Zarephath (see Pentecost III), Elijah causes the drought to cease and challenges the priests of the Ba’alim to a “contest”, which enrages Jezebel.  Fearing retribution, Elijah flees to “Mt. Horeb” (perhaps this location is another name for Sinai, or perhaps it is not.  There are traditions concerning the giving of the Law at both locations.)  Elijah wants to give up, and is burned out.  He is convinced in a stunning revelation by God to continue (see the First Reading below). Finally, the incident with Naboth (see Pentecost IV) serves as the final confrontation of Elijah with both Ahab and Jezebel. 

1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a

Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, "So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow." Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.
But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: "It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors." [Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, "Get up and eat." He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the LORD came a second time, touched him, and said, "Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you."] He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.
Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" He answered, "I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away."

He said, "Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by." Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" He answered, "I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away." Then the LORD said to him, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus."

There are themes in this story that are similar to the situation with Jonah.  Exhausted by his prophetic tasks, Elijah, like Jonah, seeks to run away from the prophetic role, first going to Beersheba (a city in Judah (the Southern Kingdom), and then to the desert, where he is refreshed by angels (thus setting the desert as a place of spiritual refreshment and refinement once again).  Finally he makes his way to Horeb (perhaps Sinai, perhaps not), and there he settles down in a cave and awaits God.  In a manner similar to Jeremiah, Elijah complains about the effectiveness of his ministry.  And like Jeremiah, God will have nothing to do with the complaints but arranges for a spectacular theophany (a vision of the divine) that is meant to send Elijah on his way, and back into action.

What is displayed to Elijah is a symbolic conundrum that challenges not only Elijah’s state of mind, but the reader’s as well.  As with Moses, Elijah is confronted by a mighty wind, an earthquake, and a fire – but God is not found in these.  What does convince Elijah of God’s presence is “a sound of sheer silence” (NRSV).  What moves the prophetic ministry forward is not the presence of God, as such, but rather the commission that God imposes upon Elijah.  The exact aspects of this commission are not kept in this reading.  None-the-less, they embody Elijah’s continued confrontation with “the kingdom” and the God who leads them.

Breaking open I Kings:
  1. Have you ever felt that your life mission has been in vain?
  2. How does God make Godself available to you?  What are the images?
  3. Where do you seek God?

Psalm 42 Quemadmodum

As the deer longs for the water-brooks, *
so longs my soul for you, O God.

My soul is athirst for God, athirst for the living God; *
when shall I come to appear before the presence of God?

My tears have been my food day and night, *
while all day long they say to me,
"Where now is your God?"

I pour out my soul when I think on these things: *
how I went with the multitude and led them into the house of God,

With the voice of praise and thanksgiving, *
among those who keep holy-day.

Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul? *
and why are you so disquieted within me?

Put your trust in God; *
for I will yet give thanks to him,
who is the help of my countenance, and my God.

My soul is heavy within me; *
therefore I will remember you from the land of Jordan,
and from the peak of Mizar among the heights of Hermon.

One deep calls to another in the noise of your cataracts; *
all your rapids and floods have gone over me.

The LORD grants his loving-kindness in the daytime; *
in the night season his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.

I will say to the God of my strength,
"Why have you forgotten me? *
and why do I go so heavily while the enemy oppresses me?"

While my bones are being broken, *
my enemies mock me to my face;

All day long they mock me *
and say to me, "Where now is your God?"

Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul? *
and why are you so disquieted within me?

Put your trust in God; *
for I will yet give thanks to him,
who is the help of my countenance, and my God.


Psalm Judica me, Deus

Give judgment for me, O God,
and defend my cause against an ungodly people; *
deliver me from the deceitful and the wicked.

For you are the God of my strength;
why have you put me from you? *
and why do I go so heavily while the enemy oppresses me?

Send out your light and your truth, that they may lead me, *
and bring me to your holy hill
and to your dwelling;

That I may go to the altar of God,
to the God of my joy and gladness; *
and on the harp I will give thanks to you, O God my God.

Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul? *
and why are you so disquieted within me?

Put your trust in God; *
for I will yet give thanks to him,
who is the help of my countenance, and my God.

Psalms 42 and 43 actually form one unit of three stanzas (42:1-5, 42:7-11, and 43:1-4), each of which end with a refrain: “Put your trust in God; for I will yet give thanks to him, who is the help of my countenance, and my God.”  The first verses give us a setting for the elegant contemplation that the psalmist experiences.  Thirsting in the desert, he ponders his sorrow, and serves as an example of Elijah in the first reading above.  There are several images that explicate his emotions.  He speaks of the cataracts, and floods that threaten him – an ancient allusion to death.  (Even in the wilderness a spring rain could mean destruction as the waters rushed down the wadi (arroyo) in southern Palestine).  There is also a longing for the Temple and its worship (bring me to you holy hill and to your dwelling).  The refrain serves as an answer to each of these longings, reasserting the author’s trust of God, and God’s subsequent help and favor.

Breaking open Psalm 42 and 43
  1. What do you do with your sorrow?
  2. How do the images of the psalm speak to you?
  3. Do you ever long for “God’s dwelling place?”  Where is that.


Isaiah 65:1-9

I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask,
to be found by those who did not seek me.
I said, "Here I am, here I am,"
to a nation that did not call on my name.
I held out my hands all day long to a rebellious people,
who walk in a way that is not good,
following their own devices;
a people who provoke me
to my face continually,
sacrificing in gardens
and offering incense on bricks;
who sit inside tombs,
and spend the night in secret places;
who eat swine's flesh,
with broth of abominable things in their vessels;
who say, "Keep to yourself,
do not come near me, for I am too holy for you."
These are a smoke in my nostrils,
a fire that burns all day long.
See, it is written before me:
I will not keep silent, but I will repay;
I will indeed repay into their laps
their iniquities and their ancestors' iniquities together,
says the LORD;
because they offered incense on the mountains
and reviled me on the hills,
I will measure into their laps
full payment for their actions.
Thus says the LORD:
As the wine is found in the cluster,
and they say, "Do not destroy it,
for there is a blessing in it,"
so I will do for my servants' sake,
and not destroy them all.
I will bring forth descendants from Jacob,
and from Judah inheritors of my mountains;
my chosen shall inherit it,
and my servants shall settle there.

Two major Isaianic themes are rehearsed here, in this reading, which begins rather strangely with God answering to a people who “did not ask.”  So who are these people who know not God, and are not in conversation with God?  They may be an indication of the “universalism” that we find in the Isaiahs, or they may be the people of Israel, returned from Exile, but forgetful of the God of Israel and of God’s ways.  There is a rehearsal of bad behaviors (sitting in tombs, thus making oneself ritually impure, the eating of swine’s flesh, the “broth of abominable things”) that could be assigned to either a foreign nation, or to a forgetful Israel. 

Following verses that imply revenge and punishment, the mood suddenly changes.  It is here that we see the second major theme – the theme of the “remnant”.  “As wine is found in the cluster, and they say, ‘Do not destroy it, for there is a blessing in it’” – clues us into this theme.  There is something good remaining, as in the nascent wine resident in the berry of the grape.  It is the kernel of faith that still exists with either people or foreign nation.  This spark, God will not put out, but will bring them back.  Here the image is one of a people returned to the land of their mothers and fathers, and, Isaiah hopes, to their God.

Breaking open Isaiah:
  1. What do you think Isaiah means when he talks about a “remnant”?
  2. Are you, as a Christian, part of a remnant?
  3. Have you ever been “in Exile”?  Where?  When?  Feelings?

Psalm 22:18-27 Deus, Deus meus

Be not far away, O LORD; *
you are my strength; hasten to help me.

Save me from the sword, *
my life from the power of the dog.

Save me from the lion's mouth, *
my wretched body from the horns of wild bulls.

I will declare your Name to my brethren; *
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.

Praise the LORD, you that fear him; *
stand in awe of him, O offspring of Israel;
all you of Jacob's line, give glory.

For he does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty;
neither does he hide his face from them; *
but when they cry to him he hears them.

My praise is of him in the great assembly; *
I will perform my vows in the presence of those who worship him.

The poor shall eat and be satisfied,
and those who seek the LORD shall praise him: *
"May your heart live for ever!"

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, *
and all the families of the nations shall bow before him.

For kingship belongs to the LORD; *
he rules over the nations.

This is the psalm that is often said or sung at the Stripping of the Altar at the end of the Maundy Thursday Liturgy.  Its references to mocking, being stripped of clothing, and being “dried up” are a comfortable match with the Passion of Jesus.  In this reading we focus on the latter verses of the psalm.  Implicit in the sorrow of the author is the past mercy of a gracious God.  It is these mercies that the author wishes to proclaim in “the midst of the congregation”.  This gathering of people represents those truly in need: the poor, foreigners, outcasts, and even the dead.  It is these that are invited to a “great assembly” which subsequent verses describe as a banquet that satisfies all. 

Breaking open Psalm 22
  1. How do the images of the psalm match the Passion of Jesus?
  2. When you feel distant from God, do you have remembrance of God’s presence?
  3. Who needs to be welcomed to your Eucharistic table?

Galatians 3:23-29

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.

We continue our reading from Galatians.  The initial verse provides an image of a child being taught by a governess (the Law).  To this image Paul adds the theme of liberation, “we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian” – the Law.  The image continues with the believer being seen as a “child” of God, this new status being formed in the faith that the believer has.  In early church baptisms, the candidate entered the waters in the nude, and came out of the waters to be clothed with a white garment.  Thus Paul says, that the candidate is “clothed with Christ.”  Here distinctions end.  All the usual ways of describing individuals are no longer useful, for “all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”  In the final verse, Paul ties the Christian into the salvation history of Israel, implying the satisfaction of an ancient promise.

Breaking open Galatians:
  1. How do you use rules in your life?
  2. How do you use freedom in your life?
  3. What does it mean to be “one in Christ Jesus?”

St. Luke 8:26-39

Jesus and his disciples arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me" -- for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, "What is your name?" He said, "Legion"; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.

Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you." So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

One wonders what the purpose of this story might be, told in such detail.  Thematically, we see in its image of the possessed man the people mentioned in Psalm 22, or even the returnees in the reading from Isaiah (he lived in tombs – an abomination).  This is the only story in Luke that takes place outside of Israel, and it serves as premonition of the ministry to the Gentiles that will be so important in Luke’s program.  The story is of an exorcism, a healing (or the word could mean “saving”), and the consequences.  The presence of pigs underscores the “foreign” nature of this healing, and of the role that Gentiles will play in proclaiming the ministry of Jesus.  A couple of notes:  the demons request that they not be sent back into “the abyss”, a reflection of the Hebrew place of the dead – Sheol.  Also the pigs rush into the waters, another ancient image of death.  Finally, when the people come out to see what Jesus had done, they find the demoniac seated at Jesus’ feet – the position of a disciple.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. How was Simon inhospitable?
  2. How is his inhospitality answered by the woman?
  3. How might this teaching affect your life?

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

O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving­kindness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


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