Engaging the Word: Readings for 6/19/16 (The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost)

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 By Barbara Klugh 

1 Kings 19:1-15a; Psalm 43; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text. In this week’s readings, the Lord passes by Elijah in the sound of sheer silence, Paul tells us that since Christ came, the Law is no longer relevant, and Jesus heals a man possessed by a legion of demons.

Elijah fed by an angel by Ferdinand Bol c. 1660. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Elijah fed by an angel by Ferdinand Bol c. 1660. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

1 Kings 19:1-15a: After Elijah defeated the 450 prophets of Baal, he had all of them killed. When Ahab told Jezebel about it, she was furious, and swore to kill Elijah. Elijah was terrified and fled for he fled for his life; he went onto the wilderness beyond Beer-sheba. This is quite a change from the fearless prophet Elijah was just a short time ago. He’s just exhausted, completely discouraged, and worn out. He prays to God to let him die.

Instead, God sends an angel to feed him, and Elijah gets enough strength to journey for 40 days and 40 nights to Mount Horeb (aka Sinai), the same mountain where God revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush. After Elijah spends the night in a cave, the Lord comes to Elijah and asks him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah pours out his fears and self-pity, and God said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” As Elijah waits, there is a great wind, an earthquake, and a fire, but the Lord is not in these. Then he hears the sound of sheer silence, and Elijah wraps his face in his mantle, because he knows the Lord is passing by. The Lord asks the question a second time, and Elijah repeats his tale of woe, and the Lord said, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus.” Next week, we’ll have the end of the story.

Psalm 43: In the Hebrew tradition Psalms 42 and 43 originally were one poem—they share the same theme and the same refrain. The psalmist is in exile, mocked by unbelievers, and cries out for the presence of God and the temple community once again.

St. Paul attributed to Lucas van Leyden c. 1520. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

St. Paul attributed to Lucas van Leyden c. 1520. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Galatians 3:23-29: We continue with Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. The lectionary omits chapter 3:1-22, some of which frames Paul’s argument for this week’s reading. Paul reminded the Galatians that “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” God made his promise to Abraham  430 years before the law was given, and before he was circumcised. (“Look toward heaven and count the stars….so shall your descendants be.”) The giving of the law did not nullify God’s promise to Abraham and his descendants. Paul asks the rhetorical question, “Why then the law?” This week’s reading answers the question.

Paul equates the law to a disciplinarian or guardian, who in the Greek world was a slave who would escort a child to and from school and oversee their conduct until they came of age. For Paul, the purpose of the law was to serve as a spiritual guardian until Christ came. Now that Christ has come, we are no longer subject to the discipline of the law, for in Christ Jesus we are all children of God through faith. When we are baptized, we are made one with Christ, so we too are Abraham’s offspring, and heirs according to God’s promise. The distinctions of the law are no longer relevant. For Paul, “There is no longer Jew or Greeks, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

Jesus heals Garasene with an unclean spirit, Ottheinrich Bible, c.1425. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Jesus heals Garasene with an unclean spirit, Ottheinrich Bible, c.1425. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Luke 8:26-39: In this week’s reading, Jesus and his disciples arrive by boat at the country of the Gerasenes, in Gentile territory. On the way, Jesus stilled the storm, causing the astounded disciples to say to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?”

As Jesus stepped out of the boat, a naked man who lived among the tombs and was possessed by a “legion” of demons fell down before Jesus and shouted, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” It’s interesting that this demon-possessed man knew who Jesus was, whereas the disciples were wondering.

Just as Jesus has command over the wind and the waves, he also has command over evil spirits, and he ordered them to come out of the man. They begged Jesus to let them enter a herd of swine, which he permitted, but then they stampeded down the bank into the lake and drowned. Completely healed, the man sat at Jesus’ feet, clothed, and in his right mind.

Although this was a great miracle, when the swineherds went to the city and told what had happened, and the people came and saw the healed man sitting at the feet of Jesus, they asked Jesus to leave, so great was their fear. I don’t think the fear was about the economic loss of the swine; I think it was more about seeing the changed man and recognizing the tremendous power of Jesus. The man was transformed for the good, and they were thoroughly unglued. I wonder if they were terrified that Jesus would mess with their personal demons—the dark side in all of us.

Recently, Richard Rohr had a two-week series about Twelve-Step Spirituality based on the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous for his daily meditations. In his introduction on May 29, Rohr discusses Jesus’ healing ministry, and the fact that nine of Jesus’ healing stories are exorcisms. He writes:

“Although we may think we are too sophisticated for such stories, the fact that there are so many speaks to their importance.  I understand “possession by devils” as a primitive but absolutely truthful way of referring to what we now call addiction. In each case, the person is in some sense trapped by a larger force, and is powerless to do anything about it. The only cure for possession is “repossession.” You have to repossessed by Something Greater than the disease.”

How about us? Are we willing to have Jesus exorcise our demons?

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