Bible Study: Proper 5 (C) - 2013

June 9, 2013

1 Kings 17:8-16 (17-24)

As Elijah comes out of the wilderness, he is a wild mess of a man. He must have been a sight to see, fearful and intimidating, for Elijah has to assure the widow of Zaraphath with the words, “Do not be afraid,” as he petitions her for sustenance in a demanding way. There is a tension between the untamed prophet of God and the widow he meets as he reenters society. What is the risk involved for each of them as the wild meets the civilized?

The vulnerability in the liminal space between them is palpable, and the widow is experiences a miraculous blessing for her hospitality towards God’s prophet. But yet, her son gets sick and dies. The crux of this passage is the response of Elijah. When the woman declares that the presence of God’s prophet may have brought about the death of her son, Elijah does not make excuses for God and the situation. Instead Elijah stands in solidarity with the widow. I imagine that Elijah lashed out with ferocity and passion towards God. How could God allow the death of the only son of the woman who had shown hospitality to God’s prophet? The restoring of life is not the most important aspect of this story; instead it is the fact that the presence of the prophetic word of God is in solidarity with the widow.

The presence of God in our lives is not about judgment. The presence of the Word of God in our lives is about wild, ferocious compassion. A compassion that is stronger than even death.

  • When have we felt the prophetic presence of God in our very own lives?
  • How can we, as Christians, be a prophetic witness and presence to those at risk in the world?

Psalm 146

This psalm proclaims (and further establishes) God as one who sides with the oppressed and subjugated. The lordship of God is put in contrast to the lordship of worldly leaders, and it is clear here that God’s work is in juxtaposition with that of worldly powers. God executes justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry, sets prisoners free and makes the blind to see. God’s work is directed to lift up those who are victims of worldly powers in society. The God of creation is also the God who sustains life and works to bring about divine justice. But it is a simple fact that evil, suffering and oppression remain in the world. So how does the psalmist reconcile this fact? How do we reconcile this fact?

While we live in a broken world, the work of God in the world is constantly ongoing. Maybe the psalmist provides these words as comfort to the oppressed; in that God does not identify with the oppressors but that God resides in the response to the oppressors. The God who created the heaven and the earth continually works for the liberation of the oppressed and those at risk in the world.

It is important to note that this psalm is one of praise! The psalmist reminds the hearer that knowing the God of creation and justice is faithful to his people, the oppressed, is reason to praise God in adoration. Our praise is to be an outpouring of gratitude for God’s faithfulness. This life of praise is one of discipline that is grounded in community and relationship, through the ups and the downs of life.

  • How can we remain grounded in gratitude and praise, both individually and communally?
  • How can we partner with God’s work for the oppressed?
  • As we bear the divine image of our creator, how do we reflect the image of the Living God who cares for the oppressed and at risk of society?

Galatians 1:11-24

Paul’s account of his conversion and call is not just about recounting the event, but also about establishing the source and authenticity of his conversion and call. While it is curious that Paul so strongly distances himself from the friends and family of Jesus, he establishes that his own revelation came directly from Jesus Christ himself. Paul does not appear to see his call as having anything to do with the specifics or details of the teachings and practices of Jesus. Instead, the significant message that Paul brings to the gentiles is faith in Jesus. Faith is centered around and accomplished through the self-giving love of Christ.

This passage could easily be misused by people who want to create their own brand of Christianity or those who want to convey they possess the true version of the gospel. However, this does not appear to be what Paul intended. This is also not about condemnation of those who differ in tradition or interpretation.

Instead, Paul seems to be saying that while tradition is also important, we must never lose sight of the depth and value found in the abundance and extravagance of God’s love and mercy. This is not about doctrine or religion. This is about love. A revelation of love that is deep and wide. The love of Jesus will always burst through the walls we try to put around it.

  • How has Jesus been revealed to you?
  • How do we put walls around the love of God?
  • How can we proclaim the height, depth and abundance of Christ’s love?

Luke 7:11-17

This miraculous healing of a widow’s only son at Nain echoes the healing of the widow’s son at Zarephath from this week’s reading from 1 Kings. (See above.) However, instead of the prophet crying out to God for miraculous intervention, it is Jesus himself who acts and facilitates the miraculous healing. When Jesus sees the widow, he is moved and feels compassion. Compassion is not just a state of being or posture; compassion is something intense that moves Jesus to act. Divine compassion requires a response and action. In his actions, Jesus demonstrates that he is not only a prophet of God, but that he has compassion for suffering and power over life and death. Further, the actions of Jesus in this miraculous healing reveal much about Jesus, his identity, his character and his intentions. But even more amazing, the actions of Jesus also reveal the character and intentions of God. This is a continued, bold affirmation through the work of Jesus that God stands in solidarity with those who suffer and are downtrodden.

Uniquely, this is the first time in the Gospel of Luke that Jesus is referred to as “Lord.” Further, in response to the healing, the people proclaim, “A great prophet has risen among us!” Jesus is being proclaimed and identified as the prophetic Messiah. Jesus is the prophetic Messiah who proclaims through word and deeds the Good News to the poor, oppressed and suffering. Through the actions and proclaimed identity of Jesus, divine compassion and mercy are revealed as the epitome of God’s character.

  • When has the character of God been revealed to you?
  • Think of and name examples of people, in our great cloud of witnesses, who have been moved by compassion to act on behalf of those who suffer.
  • Have you ever been moved to compassion in such a way that you had to act? When? How so?
  • What are ways in which we, as Christians, can act on behalf of those who suffer and also reveal to the world the character of God?