The Third Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 5, 5 June 2016

Track One:
I Kings 17:8-16 (17-24)
Psalm 146
Track 2
I Kings 17:17-24
Psalm 30

Galatians 1:11-24
Saint Luke 7:11-17

Background: Resources on Galatians

Since we are going to be traveling with Galatians over the next Sundays, I thought that I might lift up some resources that might be helpful to the preacher, the lay reader, or any Christian. Some may be scholarly and other might be lighter and more approachable fare. With this blog entry I would like to suggest Brigitte Kahl’s Galatians Re-Imagined Reading with the Eyes of the Vanquished.[1] By looking deeply into the Celtic background of Galatia, and to the tribal and imperial myths that surround the peoples who settle there, the author helps us to have an understanding of Paul that causes the reader to reexamine our assessment of Paul. Is the Law of the Jews the threat that we encounter in Galatians, or is there a much broader cultural and social context to the notion of the Law with which Paul wrestles. By looking at the expectations of Greco-Roman civic culture, and the imported culture of the Celtic/Galatian mercenaries that had settled these lands. The confrontation of Law and anti-law becomes not only a theological reality with which Paul grapples, but also a social reality that informs the people he is attempting to evangelize.

A tantalizing quote (I hope): “in Roman eyes, Gauls/Galatians were objects of beauty precisely in their agony as they succumbed to the disciplinary blows of their imperial masters. This is how Paul himself and many of his brothers and sisters would eventually see death at Rome, about a decade after the Galatian controversy and less than ten years before Rome struck the final blow against the Jewish insurgency.”[2]

Track One:

First Reading: I 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."]

Both Track One and Two share this reading, although Track Two uses only the second half of the entire pericope. Elijah, as God’s agent, announces God’s intention to make for a drought in the lands that had abandoned the God of Israel, and thus Elijah has to flee to the wadi of Cherith, there to await the passing of the king’s wrath. Provided for by ravens and the waters of the wadi, Elijah survives, but is then forced to move on to Zarephath (in the territory of Sidon). There he meets a widow and her son, who will become a contrast to the non-believing King Ahab. She is also an encapsulation of the fate of Israel, and understands her fate, ‘we shall eat it and die.’ What follows is a request for a demonstrated faith. The prophet demands to eat first. The order is interesting: first the prophet, then the woman, and then her son. Normally the concern would be for the future, for the fate and survival of the son. Faith is demonstrated, and the promise of a future is given.

It is quickly taken away in the second part (see Track 2) when the son is either dead or dying for ‘no breath (neshama) was left in him.’ The Hebrew vocable can indicate the literal breath that animates the boy, or the life breath that is the cause of life. The widow wonders why the prophet has ‘(brought) my sin to remembrance.’ The social assumption was that any kind of affliction or illness was the result of some wrongdoing. What happens next is either the practicality of artificial respiration, or the passing of bodily vitality from body to body. The story affirms Elijah’s role as prophet and miracle worker, and are cleverly combined in this story.

Breaking open I Kings:
  1. Who is more desparate, the widow or the prophet?
  2. What is the biggest sacrifice that has been demanded of you?
  3. What is the point of the second part of the story?
Psalm 146 Lauda, anima mea

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.
2       Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth, *
for there is no help in them.
3       When they breathe their last, they return to earth, *
and in that day their thoughts perish.
4       Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help! W*
whose hope is in the Lord their God;
5       Who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them; *
who keeps his promise for ever;
6       Who gives justice to those who are oppressed, *
and food to those who hunger.
7       The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind; *
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;

8       The Lord loves the righteous;
the Lord cares for the stranger; *
he sustains the orphan and widow,
but frustrates the way of the wicked.
9       The Lord shall reign for ever, *
your God, O Zion, throughout all generations.

The psalm is a lovely commentary on the story of the widow of Zarephath – there are many points of contact. The theme, ‘put not your trust in rulers’ reprises the whole context of the Elijah story, and it goes on to illustrate all the gifts that come from God in any situation where faith is demonstrated. Verse eight serves as a good summary of both psalm and story, ‘he sustains the orphan and the widow, but frustrates the way of the wicked.’

Breaking open Psalm 146:
  1. How often do you think about death?
  2. How has death affected you in your life?
  3. What are your hopes about death?


Track Two:

First Reading: 1 Kings 17:17-24
See 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.
2       O Lord my God, I cried out to you, *
and you restored me to health.
3       You brought me up, O Lord, from the dead; *
you restored my life as I was going down to the grave.
4       Sing to the Lord, you servants of his; *
give thanks for the remembrance of his holiness.
5       For his wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye, *
his favor for a lifetime.
6       Weeping may spend the night, *
but joy comes in the morning.
7       While I felt secure, I said,
"I shall never be disturbed. *
You, Lord, with your favor, made me as strong as the mountains."
8       Then you hid your face, *
and I was filled with fear.
9       I cried to you, O Lord; *
I pleaded with the Lord, saying,
10     "What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the Pit? *
will the dust praise you or declare your faithfulness?
11     Hear, O Lord, and have mercy upon me; *
O Lord, be my helper."
12     You have turned my wailing into dancing; *
you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy.
13     Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; *
O Lord my God, I will give you thanks for ever.

This could be called: “The Psalm of the Widow’s Son”. “O Lord my God, I cried out to you, and you restored me to health,” might very well be the words of the widow of Zarephath’s son. The initial image, a bit blunted in our translation, ‘you lifted me up,” is that of being drawn up, as up out of a well. This imagery accentuates the later images of death and “the Pit”, or Sheol, the place of the dead. The verbs of the psalm emphasize the directionality of these ideas, “the going down” and “being raised up.”  It is verses of contrasts – going to bed weeping, and rising in joy, waling into dancing, and sackcloth becoming a cloak of joy. Most astounding is the bargaining that the psalmist engages in. “What profit is there,” asks honest questions of God.  Who will praise you? This is, however, a psalm of thanksgiving, and thus the psalm ends with a note of thanks and praise.

Breaking open Psalm 30:
  1. How has God lifted you up?
  2. When have you been down?
  3. How did your faith help you then?
The Second Reading: 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.

As I mentioned in the Background (above) we are going to be traveling in Galatians for some time. Today’s reading continues Paul’s arguments about authority and revelation.  He is straightforward in sharing with his readers his history over against the church. It is into that nexus of persecution and hate that God reaches in and takes Paul as a chosen one, “God, who had set me apart before I was born,” and gives him the full revelation about Jesus Christ. There is purity here. Paul avoids Jerusalem, and seems to circle about it. In a curious passage, Paul indicates a sojourn in Arabia. In an interesting article on this passage,[3] N. T. Wright is of the opinion that Paul is seeing himself as a latter-day Elijah, journeying to Sinai for final instructions. Others see the trip as one going to Nabataea, perhaps Petra. The point is that Paul wants to locate his instruction away from human beings to a more divine source. He seems to operate in the background, only gradually approaching the Gentiles whom he now addresses, but building himself up in the Gospel for their benefit.

Breaking Open Galatians:
  1. Why is Paul trying to prove his authority?
  2. What is his authority?
  3. I what ways is Paul like a prophet?
The Gospel: 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.

Last Sunday Jesus breached the taboo of contact with oppressor, namely the Roman centurion, whose servant he heals. Fresh from that experience he now pushes on in his efforts to emphasize the radical nature of the Gospel and the Kingdom of Heaven. The widow of Nain (the latter day widow of Zarephath) faced a dismal future without a husband, or a son to carry on the family name. Jesus as the latter day Elijah approaches the scene with compassion – her weeping is met with his compassion. He touches the bier – and perhaps we need to underscore the outrageous nature of that act in a society that avoided all contact with the dead. Even more remarkable are that these events are happening at the periphery, at the edges of Jewish society. John Carroll, in his commentary on Luke, compares the scene at Nain with the first reading for this morning, and suggesta that Luke models his account on the earlier story as it is recorded in the Septuagint.[4]  So Jesus is the prophet and perhaps the story is an illustration of 6:21, “Blessed are the ones who weep now, for you will laugh”.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. Who are the dispossessed people in this story?
  2. How does Jesus restore the mother’s life?
  3. How does this story compare to the first reading?

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.

Questions and comments copyright © 2016, Michael T. Hiller

[1]Kahl, B. (2010), Galatians Re-Imagined Reading with the Eyes of the Vanquished, Fortress, Minneapolis, 413 pages, Kindle Edition.
[2]Kahl, page 2.
[3]Wright, T. (1996), “Paul, Arabia, and Elijah (Galatians 1:17”, Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 115,
[4]Caroll, John (2012), Luke: A Commentary (New Testament Library, Westminster John Know Press, Louisville, page 165, Kindle Edition.


Popular posts from this blog

The Second Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 5, 6 June 2021

The Day of Pentecost, Whitsunday, 23 May 2021

The Second Sunday of Advent, 6 December 2020