June 5, 2016- Third Sunday after Pentecost
June 2, 2016 | by Benjamin Cowan
|Reading 1 Alt
|Reading 2 Alt
|1 Kings 17:8-16, (17-24)
|1 Kings 17:17-24
1 Kings 17:8-16, (17-24)
In the middle of a drought, God instructs Elijah to go to stay in Zarephath where a widow will take care of him. Elijah goes, finds the widow, and asks her for some food and water. Her response to the food component shows that she had not had a divine experience of God, like Elijah, about feeding him. She is at her end and is getting ready to prepare one last meal for her son. Elijah hears her story and tells her not to worry because God will provide her with food to last the entirety of the drought. The women acts on Elijah’s words and everyone eats! Two things to consider from this text: 1) the passage does not indicate any explicit instruction by God to the widow to fed Elijah. The command is based in the cultural normative of hospitality towards visitors that God has ordained. This tells us that sometimes commands of God are found in a natural way of living, namely treating others with dignity and respect. God believed that the widow would ultimate not turn away those in need, even if she did not have. This text reminds us of the importance of how we respond to those in need. Jesus himself noted that how we treat to the least person is how we treat him. 2) God’s transitional creativity ( how God influences others in becoming) yields new possibilities for the widow and her household to survive the drought. Her openness to God allowed for the new possibility. Ask yourself, how have you chosen to be open to God and what new possibility resulted from it?
The second half of the reading forms the alternative reading. In this text we are told the story of the death of the widow’s son and how he is brought back to life during the time that Elijah stayed with them. In the ancient world, it was assumed that God as the breath of life chooses when to remove the breath. As such, the widow blames God for the death of her son at what would be perceived culturally to be too early of an age to die. Such actions suggest divine punishment. Elijah intercedes on behalf of her and her son is brought back to life. In doing this, it establishes that Elijah is truly a prophet. A prophet is one who hears from God and communicates to God. As seen in the life of Moses & Samuel, God listens to the prophets. More than the concerns of the widow over her sins is that the text testifies to God being the Yes to life. God is for life. We can speculate over what caused her sons death, but the key of the story is God wants humans to be fully alive.
The psalm is appropriate response to the first reading of the text. Here the psalmist expressed gratitude for God’s provisional care for those in need. The psalmist extolls his listeners to not put their hopes in earthly authorities but to trust in God. It is God who remembers the prisoner, the stranger, the widow, the orphan, the hungry, the oppressed, etc. It is through his commandment, that provisions have been made for them. When authorities, individuals, or communities do what is right, they are obeying the precepts of God. Therefore, the psalmist rejoices that God has taught to care and respect for every human being. The wicked are identified as those who are selfish. The punishment of such beliefs is that they will be brought to ruin.
This is the alternative psalm and focuses on God being the Lord of life. The psalmist gives thanks to God for not only sparing his life but for healing and making him stronger than what he was before. The psalmist observes a finality for him in death and notes only the living can truly testify to the goodness of God. The psalmist is grateful to be able to continue to praise God, even after enduring a hardship. This psalm reminds us to consider the preciousness of life and our time.
In this passage, Paul is providing a testimony and defense of his apostleship. First, his apostleship is a response to an encounter with Jesus. Paul affirms his own christophony. He did not learn of the gospel as a disciple of the other apostles but he is a first-hand witness in his own right. Second, he acknowledges that his past actions are in contradiction to his present life. Paul was zealous for the traditions of the Pharisees who observed not only what we call the Old Testament but a host of oral traditions that have been passed down. Third, he reconciles his current situation with his past but pointing to how God provided him with a new possibility of life and him accepting it. Paul attributes this to God’s grace and goodness that birthed a new occasion in him. The changed Paul eventually meets Cephas (Peter) and James the brother of the Lord. Fourth, Paul takes an oath before God, something that in the ancient world was understood as defending the honesty of one’s claim. If the claim was untrue, divine punishment would occur. Last, Paul describes part of his travels in proclaiming the gospel and the shock that people had at the sight of this because he formerly persecuted the church. Through Paul’s life, the text calls us to reflect on how we have been changed by God’s initial aim.
Our gospel reading ties nicely into the OT reading. In this passage, Jesus breaks Jewish protocol in two manners: 1) He interrupts a funeral procession. Custom dictated one joining at the end as a mourner; instead Jesus goes to the very front. 2) He touches a dead body, which was viewed as the worst way to become ritually impure. This type of impurity was supposed to be reserved for close relatives. Why did Jesus do this? The situation was a double tragedy, not only had a widow outlived her son, but since he was her only son, she now would become dependent upon the kindness of strangers or other relatives to survive. By restoring the widow’s son, Jesus reverses this double woe. Jesus willfully takes on the highest type of impurity to help the widow. The text asks us, what are we willing to take on to help those in need? Will we risk being judged to serve the lest fortunate?