Year C — The Third Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 5)

Commentary for June 9, 2013
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Click here for today’s readings
Click HERE for the Lectionary Lab Live podcast

1 Kings 17:8-16, (17-24)
Elijah is moved by “the word of the LORD.” Interesting.

Is such a movement limited only to biblical prophets and patriarchs? Or, does God’s word still speak to “the people in the pews?”

There are multiple purposes on display through this narrative. Elijah needs a place to chill for a while and will need to eat and drink. It doesn’t seem that a poor widow’s house would be the best choice for this abode, but that’s where God sends him.

The widow’s faith is tested, as it is plain to see she doesn’t have enough food for herself and her son, much less for the man of God. Is God crazy? Why not send Elijah to the home of a rich person? Of course, God’s goodness and ability to provide in even the most difficult of circumstances is demonstrated. Good story…let’s move on.

But wait…there’s more! (I feel a bit like a Ronco commercial here. 🙂

The “rest of the story” is about a miraculous resurrection (or, resuscitation, at least.) Has God perhaps intended this from the very beginning? Was Elijah sent here for such a time as this?

There is, of course, a significant tie to the gospel account for today, as Jesus will also raise a widow’s son from death. Jesus is very much like Elijah — a prophet of Israel. But, he’s also very different from the testy Tishbite, who tends to see things according to the way they will affect him.

Good thing God can use even whiners and complainers to deliver God’s message!

Psalm 146
The psalm stands alone as brilliant praise for God; it also coordinates with today’s readings, as v.4 touches the issue of what happens when our “breath departs.” We also have v.7 in which we are assured that God watches over “the orphan and the widow” — and God does lots of other cool stuff in this psalm, as well.

Psalm 30
Psalm 30 also has ties to the other lessons; it is ultimately God who redeems us all, bringing our souls up from Sheol. 

Verse 5 is often quoted (and rightly so): “God’s anger is but for a moment, but his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” This verse speaks of the longer working of God — a deeper part of wisdom comes from realizing that the events of any particular day must be seen against the backdrop of a lifetime. 

Both joy and sorrow will come — as surely as day follows night. God is present in both (or, in all.)

Galatians 1:11-24
What does it mean for us to consider that, like Paul, we were “set apart” by God before we were born? How has God’s grace been evident as we look back over our lifetimes? What do these things mean for our futures?

Luke 7:11-17
Jesus was bold enough to interrupt a funeral. Nobody asked him to display his power. He just did it. 

Why?

Evidently, the compassion he felt at the moment was an irresistible force — he couldn’t stop himself. There was no logic by which he could justify not acting. Sometimes, you just gotta’ do what you can to help a sister (or a brother — or both) out!

Of course, as Luke is building his story about Jesus in the gospel, this account serves to tie him to the prophetic ministry of Elijah (see commentary above — and, if you don’t mind me saying so, give the Lectionary Lab Live podcast a listen for some extended conversation about how these two lessons are connected.)

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Two of today’s Scripture lessons deal with miraculous returns from the dead, with unbelievable, incredible stories of corpses being brought back to life through the power of God. Each story has a widow, an only son, and an act of compassion by a man of God.

It is difficult to know what to make of such stories. While the Elijah text is a bit open-ended, never really saying the young man was dead, only that “the breath had gone out of him,” Luke is very clear and straight-forward: the man was dead. So dead, in fact, that the people were on their way out of the city to bury him. Coming out of the gates of the town, the body is preceded by a group of professional mourners, playing on cymbals and wailing like Banshees.

Jesus and his followers would have been expected to step aside, to clear the way, one last act of respect for the dead and for those who mourn them. But they didn’t. They didn’t because something happened to Jesus, something Luke tells us about in a few spare words – “He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; . . when the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ ”

A sonless widow in that time and that place was facing a life of poverty. With no man to provide for her and no social security or life insurance or inheritance or employability, she was dependent upon the kindness of strangers. Her future looked desperate, perhaps hopeless.

Jesus reached out and touched the funeral bier, the platform on which the dead man was being carried. By doing so he broke religious and cultural rules; seriously shocking, scandalizing and confusing all those around. Not stopping there, he broke the rules of science and common sense by commanding the young man to get up, to come to life, to return from the dead; and miracle of miracles, he did. 

After Jesus’ Baptism, the Spirit drove him into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. One of his struggles was to resist the temptation to use his powers to fix the world’s physical problems; represented by turning stone into bread to feed the world.

There in the wilderness, Jesus realized that fixing every human hurt was not to be his mission; indeed that miracle working and signs and wonders would be a diversion from his primary calling; which was to proclaim the Kingdom of God. So, he purposely held in his power, restrained himself. 

Throughout his ministry opportunities for healings came to Jesus, but he didn’t go looking for them. Every time he worked a miracle it happened because of those three little words:
“he had compassion.”

Time after time in the Gospels, Jesus’ compassion and love spills over and he breaks his own rules and does a miracle for someone in need. Have you ever noticed how often he says “All right, now, don’t tell anybody I did that.”
Scholars try really hard to create an explanation for what they call “the Messianic secret,” this tendency of Jesus work a healing miracle and then tell the healed ones to keep quiet about it. Yeah right.
Well, here’s my theory. Jesus did not want people joining the Kingdom of God movement for what they could get out of it, for the supposed material benefits of being “Jesus people,”
Instead, Jesus really wanted people to get excited about giving their life to God, about a movement dedicated to peace and love and justice. And he was afraid that miracle-working and faith-healing would get in the way of people’s realizing their spiritual need for repentance and renewal.
But, his loving, grace-filled, compassionate nature kept getting in the way; and he would spontaneously heal someone right in front of him. He broke his own rules in the name of love.
It is strange to me that so many people don’t believe that God is love, that God is forgiving and kind and merciful. Too many people in the world believe that God is eager and willing to send us all to hell.
In the story about Elijah, the woman turns on the prophet with the assumption that God has come to her house with judgment and punishment: Verse 18: “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!”

In the Gospel lesson, when Jesus worked his miracle, the immediate response of the crowd is anxious fear. The text says “Fear seized all of them . . .”

We live in a world full of fear. People are afraid of rising gas prices, we are afraid of failing health care systems, we are afraid of immigration and disease and forest fires and drought and drugs and tornadoes and hurricanes and terrorists, and, and, and . . .

And in the midst of this, there are many people who are afraid of God. Or who believe that God is indifferent to the human plight. Or believe there is no God to help us.

In this bog of sadness, sorrow and unbelief; we are called to be like Jesus and break the world’s rules and sometimes our own rules in order to shatter this cycle of fear and violence with words and deeds of compassion and healing.

AMEN AND AMEN.

One thought on “Year C — The Third Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 5)

  1. Pingback: The Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year C | The Lectionary Lab

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