Posts Tagged 'Zarephath'

For June 9, 2013: Proper 5, Year C

The Reading            1 Kings 17:8-24

The first and second books of Kings tell the stories of the rulers of Israel, most of whom are not very faithful to God, and the prophets in those times, most of whom are faithful and often suffer for it. In today’s reading, the prophet Elijah goes outside of Israel and imposes on a widow who has fallen on very hard times that then get worse. Through his faithfulness and his compassion, God’s servant works a miracle.

Lection 1 pronunciation notes: “Zarephath” is ZARE-uh-fath; “Sidon” is SIGH-don

The Response            Psalm 146

“Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth, for there is no help in them.”

The Epistle            Galatians 1:11-24

The church at Galatia was a mix of Gentiles and converted Jews; this could cause friction when the Jews expected the Gentiles to follow Judaic practice. In today’s reading, the apostle Paul sets out his biography for the Galatians with the goal of establishing both his background as a really good Jew and the insignificance of his background when it comes to salvation, which is strictly God’s to give.

Lection 2 pronunciation notes: “Galatia” is gah-LAY-shah; “zealous” is ZELL-us; “Cephas” is SEE-fuss; “Cilicia” is sill-ISH-uh

The Gospel            Luke 7:11-17

“When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’”

Further thoughts

A thread that binds today’s readings together is of things not going according to plan.

The mourners in Nain know exactly where they are going and why and what will happen afterward: their friend and relative has died, so it is their duty to go get him properly buried, and then his mother is going to be destitute because that’s the way the world works. But other plans are in God’s works, and a fairly standard funeral procession turns into a unique celebration.

Saul of Tarsus knows exactly where he is going and why and what will happen afterward: he is going to save God’s people from the threat posed by people who keep preaching Jesus in spite of persecution; he will be a good guy in God’s eyes and a hero to Israel, because that’s the way the world should work. But other plans are in God’s works; the persecutor is turned around by the grace of God, and the proof that this is from God is that, though the message of grace is largely the same, Paul has absolutely not learned it from any human.

The widow of Zarephath knows exactly what she is doing and where it will end: she has no hope of protecting her son from dying of starvation, because that’s the way the world works, but she can at least feed him one last time before they starve together. But other plans are in God’s works, so the prophet from Israel says, and indeed he and they eat and live.

Elijah himself might be less certain. Zarephath, the first reading tells us, “belongs to Sidon”: it is not Israelite territory, and one senses that Elijah goes there only under orders. There, what he has heard from God comes to pass. So far, so good—but suddenly his hostess’s son sickens and dies. This is not in the script! Elijah seems in shock. He cries out at the injustice, then he does whatever comes into his head, and then he implores God… and, miraculously, the boy begins to breathe again, and grief and anger and self-blame give way to wonder.

That is precisely the message of Paul. Though my frailties and my losses bear down on me like the hand of grief on the mourners of Nain, like the hand of hunger on the widow of Zarephath, Jesus the merciful is ready to stop the bier with a touch, not because I deserve it but simply because, wherever I go and with whatever plans, I cannot help but be his.

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.


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