Engaging the Word: Readings for 6/5/16 (The Third Sunday after Pentecost)

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 By Barbara Klugh

 1 Kings 17:8-24; Psalm 146; Galatians 1:11-24; Luke 7:11-17. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text.This week’s readings are filled with holy drama; they reflect the power of God to restore and transform lives.

Elijah raises widow's son. jpg

Elijah raises a widow’s son by R. Earlo, 1768. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

1 Kings 17:8-24: The Elijah story is a little out of sequence. Last week’s reading about the contest with the prophets of Baal took place at the end of the drought. Three years earlier, in obedience to God, Elijah had warned King Ahab that God would send a drought. To protect Elijah’s life, God told Elijah to hide out in a desert (beyond Ahab’s territory) and drink from a certain wadi (a deep gully or stream bed); God sent ravens to feed him. This week’s reading begins when the wadi dried up.

The Lord sends Elijah to be fed by the widow of Zarephath; the widow is almost out of food and is gathering sticks to prepare a last meal for herself and her son. (Yet when Elijah asks for some water, she responds with hospitality!) When Elijah then asks for some bread, she tells him of her dire straits. Elijah tells her not to be afraid—that the food will not run out. And so God provided food for all three—Elijah, the widow, and her son.

Then, calamity strikes. The widow’s son becomes ill and dies. The widow thinks this is a punishment for her sin, and that the presence of Elijah, the man of God, has caused her son’s death. Elijah takes the child to the room Elijah was using, and prayed to the Lord to “let this child’s life come into him again,” and the boy is brought back to life. The widow rejoices, and affirms her faith in Elijah as a holy man of God. The Interpreter’s Commentary says this kind of story is a common folktale. Maybe so, but it expresses a deep truth—God abides with us, listens to our prayers, and acts to bring new life out of the most terrible situations.

Psalm 146: This week’s psalm is a hymn of praise to God for his lasting and complete love.

St. Paul, by Giotto (1266 - 1337). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

St. Paul, by Giotto (1266 – 1337). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Galatians 1:11-24: As we continue with Paul’s letter to the Galatians, Paul again defends the divine source of the gospel he proclaims. His critics claim that Paul is not a real apostle because he did not accompany Jesus in his ministry. Also, the early church had tensions around compliance with Mosaic Law with regard to the Gentile converts.

Paul reminds the Galatians of his former persecutions of the Church. He writes that it was by God’s grace that he was set apart, transformed through a revelation of Jesus Christ, and called to be an apostle to the Gentiles. And so Paul has moved from persecuting the church to “proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.” Paul’s mission brings glory to God.

Jesus raises a widow’s son by Ilyas Rehib, 1684. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Jesus raises a widow’s son by Ilyas Rehib, 1684. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Luke 7:11-17: Recorded only in Luke’s gospel, this week’s reading takes place soon after Jesus healed the Roman centurion’s slave. Jesus traveled to Nain, and as he approached the gate of the town, he came upon a funeral procession for the only son of a widow. In ancient patriarchal days, when a widow lost her only son, it was not only a cause of terrible personal grief, but also the loss of her economic support. Jesus had compassion for the mother, and, in violation of Jewish purity laws, he touched the bier and commanded the son to rise. “The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.”

Then fear (in the sense of awe), seized the crowd, for they recognized the presence and power of God at work in Jesus. They announced, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people.” This is similar to our Old Testament reading where Elijah raised the widow’s son, but here Jesus merely touches the bier and commands the son to rise. Also, whereas Elijah’s raising was done without witnesses, Jesus’ action made the crowd aware that the power of God was among them. Not surprisingly, the news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and beyond.

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