Posts Tagged 'Elijah'

For Feb. 15, 2015: Last Sunday after Epiphany, Year B

The Reading                                                         2 Kings 2:1-12

When Elisha inherits the mantle of his adoptive father, the great prophet Elijah, he requests a double share of Elijah’s spirit, because the other prophets would know that was the true heir’s proper share. Elisha certainly needs it to be God’s voice to the God-spurning kings of Israel and Judah.

The Response                                                       Psalm 50:1-6

In Psalm 50, the Lord summons all the earth for judgment. Showing the Lord’s power are the consuming flame and the storm. He will be judge and prosecutor. Verse 7, not included here, is sobering: “O Israel, I will bear witness against you; for I am God, your God.”

The Epistle                                                            2 Corinthians 4:3-6

In the second letter to the Corinthians, Paul confronts a difficult question: why do some people not accept the gospel? His answer here is that they are being kept in the dark by someone powerful who is not our God, for our God is in the business of giving light.

The Gospel                                                            Mark 9:2-9

As Mark 9 opens, Jesus has foretold his death to the disciples, horrifying Peter. Then Jesus takes Peter and two others up on the mountain, where they behold Jesus transfigured in light beyond light with the two great figures of Jewish history and hear the divine announcement that Jesus is God’s very own beloved son.

 

Further thoughts

The 1982 Book of Common Prayer refers to this Sunday as the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, and it is certainly that. Methodists and Lutherans, among others, call it Transfiguration Sunday, from the Revised Common Lectionary readings that include the mountaintop experience with Jesus that so bedazzled and bemused Peter. (We Episcopalians, like our Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox colleagues, also celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration on August 6.)

A much older name for this Sunday that precedes Ash Wednesday is Quinquagesima Sunday. That is the name used in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, and it is the name under which, as a child more than a few decades ago, I learned about this Sunday in what is now the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Quinquagesima is Latin for ‘fiftieth’: this is the fiftieth day, Sundays included, before Easter. It is preceded less precisely by Septuagesima Sunday (the Sunday nearest the seventieth day before Easter: septuaginta is Latin for ‘seventy’) and Sexagesima Sunday (the Sunday nearest the sixtieth day before Easter). Together, these three Sundays make up the pre-Lenten season, the season in which, historically, Christians turned from the joy of Christmas and Epiphany and prepared for the solemnity of Lent. In the Eastern Orthodox world, the week up to Quinquagesima Sunday is the last week before Easter in which meat products may be eaten, and the week after Quinquagesima Sunday—“Cheesefare Week”—is the last week in which dairy products are permitted.

Among Roman Catholics, of course, there are the traditions of the Carnival season (from Latin carnis ‘of flesh or meat’), the period of hearty eating (and sometimes hearty partying) before the Lenten feast; in some regions, Carnival begins right after the Epiphany, in others it is the week before Ash Wednesday, but most commonly Carnival starts on Quinquagesima Sunday; it always ends the evening before Ash Wednesday. Since the 15th century this time has been known in English as Shrovetide, from the verb shrive ‘to hear confession and/or pronounce absolution: during Shrovetide one went to confession—got shriven—so as to be morally clean for Ash Wednesday. Shrove Tuesday is the same day as Mardi Gras (French, ‘Fat Tuesday’) or Fastnacht (German, ‘evening of the fast’), the day before Ash Wednesday on which, by tradition, one eats pancakes in order to use up the last of the butter (fat) and eggs in one’s house before Ash Wednesday morning.

In the 1960s and 1970s both the Roman Catholics and the Anglican communion turned away from observing the pre-Lenten season in order to emphasize the Epiphany. This shift in emphasis is certainly reflected in the Revised Common Lectionary readings, if we bear in mind that the Greek word ἐπιφάνεια (epiphaneia) means ‘manifestation’ or ‘appearing’. Just as Epiphanytide begins with the first manifestation of the Christ Child to the wise men, so it ends with the first appearance of Jesus in something of the Light from which he came before his birth and to which he has arisen.

What if, however else we observe Lent, we make a point of humbly sharing “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6)?

For June 16, 2013: Proper 6, Year C

The Reading            1 Kings 21:1-10, 15-21a

The first and second books of Kings tell the stories of the rulers of Israel and the prophets during their reigns. In today’s reading from the first book, notorious King Ahab pouts because he wants land he does not own; Jezebel, his even more notorious wife, arranges for the land’s owner to be executed under trumped-up charges. It falls to the prophet Elijah to confront Ahab about his wrongdoing.

 The Response            Psalm 5:1-8

The Epistle            Galatians 2:15-21

As the second chapter of the book of Galatians opens, Paul defends his call to bring the gospel to the Gentiles. He makes a narrow point and a wider one. The first point, made in verses that we are not reading today, is that the circumcised and the uncircumcised are to share the good news together. This leads to his second point, which we read today: what justifies us with God is nothing whatever that we do.

The Gospel            Luke 7:36-8:3

“‘…her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.’”

 

 Further thoughts

Today’s readings present somewhat unappetizing views of righteousness. The psalmist tells us that God shuns the bloodthirsty and protects the righteous, but righteous Naboth is publicly humiliated and killed on trumped-up charges just so Ahab can take his land for a vegetable garden. Super-righteous Paul tells us just how far his super-righteouness goes in buying him justification with God: absolutely nowhere. Jesus’ host clearly believes he has done two extraordinarily generous and superior things in inviting this controversial itinerant preacher to dinner and in not making a public issue of Jesus’ gaucherie in allowing a “sinful woman” to touch him, and then Jesus sets him straight on, among other things, Simon’s unfortunate lapse from the standards for hospitality.

It is hard not to cheer when grasping Ahab and Jezebel finally reap what they have sown, and it may be even harder (because the consequences are less) not to feel satisfaction at Simon getting taken down a peg. This may not be altogether inappropriate: as we will see in the course of the summer’s lectionary readings, justice and equity are very much on the mind of God and so they ought to be on ours.

It is sobering, though, to realize just what Jesus has to say about that nameless woman: she loves extravagantly not because she is good or gifted but because she has been forgiven extravagantly.

What might the world look like if we forgave like that?

For June 2, 2013: Proper 4, Year C

The Reading            1 Kings 18:20-21, 30-39

This summer’s Old Testament readings begin with Israel’s history after David and Solomon. When later kings strayed from God’s way, God sent mighty prophets to get them back on track. As today’s reading opens, Elijah has challenged the priests of Baal to a competition before God’s people to see whose God is great enough to send down fire on a sacrifice. The priests’ entreaties and self-mutilation fail to produce so much as a spark. Then, before he takes his turn, Elijah has the wood and the sacrifice drenched. Now watch the fireworks!

The Response            Psalm 96

“Tell it out among the nations: ‘The Lord is king!… He will judge the peoples with equity.’”

The Epistle            Galatians 1:1-12

For centuries before and after Jesus, the plain of Anatolia in modern Turkey was part of the Greek-speaking world. In the third century BC, several tribes of Gauls or Celts from Europe conquered the central region that came to be called Galatia after them. These Galatians were among Paul’s first and most enthusiastic converts to the gospel of grace—but the beginning of the letter to the Galatians, which we read today, suggests their susceptibility to other influences with which Paul is not at all pleased.

The Gospel            Luke 7:1-10

“‘For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, “Go”, and he goes.’”

 

Further thoughts

Today’s readings tell of speaking with authority, and of three responses.

In the material left out of the Old Testament reading, the priests of Baal seek to make their god set the sacrifice afire by screaming and crying for hours and gashing themselves till the blood flows. Their god doesn’t come through, and Elijah mocks them. The Lord of Israel, however, sends down fire at Elijah’s request. This vividly establishes Elijah’s authority, and reinforces God’s, in the eyes of the assembled people of Israel. I am one of the people of Israel: given a sign, I cry, “The Lord indeed is God!”—but so often I then go away wondering how to make a sign happen again, and wondering what’s wrong when it doesn’t. Sometimes I am also a priest of Baal, desperate to make God do our bidding because, well, don’t I deserve it? (Well, no: I don’t.)

The epistle may be one of Paul’s very earliest. The people of Galatia, neighbors but not kin to Paul’s native city of Tarsus, are thoroughly and Celtically enraptured by the word that salvation is in reach for them, too. In their zeal to follow Christ really well, however, they then buy the line that grace depends on this discipline or that practice, first. Paul is having none of it: as he puts it, even were an angel to announce such preconditions, that’s not the gospel. But I am such a Galatian: captivated by the gift, yet simultaneously looking for the strings that, in my human experience, are surely attached and therefore must and should be pulled.

What of the centurion? He, the outsider or the sell-out—we don’t know whether he was sent from Rome or recruited locally—should have been the one to stand on rank, the one to order a a platoon out for Jesus, the one to grasp and yank any string within reach. Instead, he cares for his servant; he is friends with the Jewish elders, who are willing to go for this Roman outsider to Jesus the Galilean outsider; and finally it is he who recognizes in Jesus the authority of One who will not be forced but who is ready when asked to do the unimaginable. I am not the centurion: it is beyond my grasp—except, of course, through God’s grace.

For Nov. 11, 2012: Proper 27, Year B

The Reading            1 Kings 17:8-16

The first and second books of Kings catalogue the rulers of Israel and Judah after David by their wickednesses and tell stories of the prophets who called them to account. After the prophet Elijah announces a punishing drought to King Ahab and his pagan queen Jezebel of Sidon, the Lord sends Elijah away for his own safety. In far-off Sidon Elijah meets a widow with whose cooperation he brings about one of God’s miracles of feeding.

The Response            Psalm 127

The Epistle            Hebrews 9:24-28

The book of Hebrews demonstrates how and why Jesus is the Messiah. The verses before today’s reading describe the Day of Atonement, the one day each year on which the high priest alone would bring animals’ blood for forgiveness to the holiest place in the temple. In contrast, Jesus who lives brings his own shed blood to heaven itself so we humans can enter the presence of God.

The Gospel            Mark 12:38-44

 

Further thoughts

That the reading from the book of Isaiah is one of the lectionary selections in the month of November is no surprise: this is stewardship season, after all, in which we are called to give of the abundance that we have been given. This is a problematic call, however, when we humans sense our abundance threatened or ebbing.

The ladies of the Old Testament lesson and the Gospel had been wives, each of them, with households to manage and husbands to look after. Then the worst possible societal disaster struck: each was widowed, bereft not only of husband but of financial support given the lack of reputable jobs for women outside the home.

The widow of Zarephath is down to her last meal, literally—or, worse, her son’s—when along comes Elijah, the foreign man of Israel’s God, to demand the little she has left. She protests. Then Elijah announces that God will not let her flour and oil run out until the rains come, if she gives what she has to Elijah first. She elects to trust Elijah and the God who sent him, and it is as Elijah promised: he and she and her household all have enough. Elijah’s prophecy gives her the hope with which to trust.

As for the widow at the Temple, we know that the law of Moses specified offerings for various purposes. Though one could bring actual turtledoves or grain or wood or oxen, it was easier for all concerned to bring the price of the sacrificial item for the Temple to buy and sacrifice in quantity, and so the Temple treasury featured both thirteen or fourteen different trumpet-shaped chests to collect the money and the means to make sure that each worshiper paid the right amount. Then as now, two little copper coins will not buy much—but two little copper coins are all that this widow has, and in front of everybody that is what she deposits. Is she one of the widows devoured by the scribes? Does she put in everything she has out of love of God, or because she will be barred from worship at the Temple otherwise, or perhaps because, like the other widow before Elijah’s prophecy, she has lost all hope? Is she a good steward in giving up this money, if it means that her child starves?

Is it in fact always good stewardship to give up one’s life except when the need is extraordinary?

As the reading from Hebrews tells us, Jesus gave his life to save the world God made—but he gave so great a gift of his own free will and only once. And he yielded neither his Godhead nor his soul.