- 1 Kings 17:8-16, (17-24) & Psalm 146
- Galatians 1:11-24
- Luke 7:11-17
This week we return to the principal cycle of readings centered around Luke as we move into the Sundays after Pentecost. From now until the end of the cycle, Luke will be the principal reading with separate minor series of readings drawn from the Old Testament and the letters of Paul.
First Reading: The prophet heals a dead child
The OT reading for this week offers a parallel to the miracle in which Jesus raises to life a dead child.
In addition to the set reading from 1Kings 17:8-24, there is another very similar story in 2 Kings 4. This account seems to share the same location as the miracle in Luke, and may have served as a stimulus for Jesus (understood as a prophet like Elijah and Elisha — and operating in the same traditional Israelite territory) being credited with a similar miracle at the site:
One day Elisha was passing through Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived, who urged him to have a meal. So whenever he passed that way, he would stop there for a meal. She said to her husband, “Look, I am sure that this man who regularly passes our way is a holy man of God. Let us make a small roof chamber with walls, and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that he can stay there whenever he comes to us.”
One day when he came there, he went up to the chamber and lay down there. He said to his servant Gehazi, “Call the Shunammite woman.” When he had called her, she stood before him. He said to him, “Say to her, Since you have taken all this trouble for us, what may be done for you? Would you have a word spoken on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?” She answered, “I live among my own people.” He said, “What then may be done for her?” Gehazi answered, “Well, she has no son, and her husband is old.” He said, “Call her.” When he had called her, she stood at the door. He said, “At this season, in due time, you shall embrace a son.” She replied, “No, my lord, O man of God; do not deceive your servant.”
The woman conceived and bore a son at that season, in due time, as Elisha had declared to her.
When the child was older, he went out one day to his father among the reapers. He complained to his father, “Oh, my head, my head!” The father said to his servant, “Carry him to his mother.” He carried him and brought him to his mother; the child sat on her lap until noon, and he died. She went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, closed the door on him, and left. Then she called to her husband, and said, “Send me one of the servants and one of the donkeys, so that I may quickly go to the man of God and come back again.” He said, “Why go to him today? It is neither new moon nor sabbath.” She said, “It will be all right.” Then she saddled the donkey and said to her servant, “Urge the animal on; do not hold back for me unless I tell you.” So she set out, and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel.
When the man of God saw her coming, he said to Gehazi his servant, “Look, there is the Shunammite woman; run at once to meet her, and say to her, Are you all right? Is your husband all right? Is the child all right?” She answered, “It is all right.” When she came to the man of God at the mountain, she caught hold of his feet. Gehazi approached to push her away. But the man of God said, “Let her alone, for she is in bitter distress; the LORD has hidden it from me and has not told me.” Then she said, “Did I ask my lord for a son? Did I not say, Do not mislead me?” He said to Gehazi, “Gird up your loins, and take my staff in your hand, and go. If you meet anyone, give no greeting, and if anyone greets you, do not answer; and lay my staff on the face of the child.” Then the mother of the child said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave without you.” So he rose up and followed her. Gehazi went on ahead and laid the staff on the face of the child, but there was no sound or sign of life. He came back to meet him and told him, “The child has not awakened.”
When Elisha came into the house, he saw the child lying dead on his bed. So he went in and closed the door on the two of them, and prayed to the LORD. Then he got up on the bed and lay upon the child, putting his mouth upon his mouth, his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands; and while he lay bent over him, the flesh of the child became warm. He got down, walked once to and fro in the room, then got up again and bent over him; the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. Elisha summoned Gehazi and said, “Call the Shunammite woman.” So he called her. When she came to him, he said, “Take your son.” She came and fell at his feet, bowing to the ground; then she took her son and left.”
(2Kings 4:8-37 NRSV)
Second Reading: Paul’s gospel
This week continues the series of readings from Galatians, one the most universally accepted of the letters attributed to Paul.
For links to online and print resources, see the Early Christian Writings page.
In the first two chapters of Galatians, Paul refers to his own encounter with the risen Christ and also to some of his earliest encounters with the apostolic leaders within the emerging Christian community. When we compare Paul’s own description with the version of events founds in the Acts of the Apostles, there are a number of discrepancies. Note especially Paul’s insistence that there were no human intermediaries, and that his commissioning—like his message—came direcly from God.
Paul’s insistence that his gospel was received by direct revelation from God is a most remarkable claim, and puts him in a small group of prophetic figures that have shaped humanity’s religious traditions. Such a claim is not susceptible to historical inquiry, any more than Isaiah’s claim to have seen YHWH or Muhammad’s claim to have received the Quran by direct revelation.
It is a great loss that we do not have other first-person reports of the “Easter revelation.” How might Mary Magdalene or Peter the fisherman have described the moment when they came to “know”—directly and for themselves—that Jesus was not dead and gone, but rather alive and with God?
Paul was to spend the rest of his life unpacking this moment of revelation, an epiphany that made Paul both a prophet of God and a devotee of Jesus. He did not convert from Judaism to Christianity, but he was certainly transformed by the experience.
It is very interesting that Paul’s witness to the resurrection of Jesus does not rely on traditions about an empty tomb. For Paul, what mattered is that Jesus had appeared to various people, and especially to himself. Yet it was not their witness that persuaded him, and he insists that he owes them nothing as his gospel derives directly from God and without any human mediation. He would be a difficult person to have on the local parish council, although not the first to think that God was giving them direct instructions. As Paul describes it, God chose to reveal “his Son” to Paul in a vision of some sort. For Paul that was enough, and the rest is history.
For Paul to comprehend that Jesus was “son of God” was not to embrace a philosophical position of the divinity of Jesus, or to begin a lifelong puzzle about the two natures of Christ. “Son of God” was a familiar political title in the Roman world, and indicated the person who enjoys the favour of the gods and exercised their authority to rule the nations. The great revelation for Paul was not so much that Jesus was alive as a result of God raising him from the dead, but rather than Jesus had been designated by God as the Messiah, the Lord, the “son of God.” This was the great revelation. This is the heart of Paul’s gospel. This came direct from God and not through any human intermediary. This was revolutionary. This changed everything. It still does for anyone who takes it seriously.
Gospel: Jesus raises a dead boy at Nain
This week’s Gospel is a story that occurs only in Luke, and it involves an otherwise unknown village somewhere in Galilee.
So little is know about the village of Nain that the BiblePlaces web site offers no photographs – although it does have links to some other sites that seem more confident of their ability to describe the site.
Those commentators who remark on the location also highlight the traditional association of Nain with the story of the Shunnamite woman whose dead son was said to have been raised to life by the prophet Elisah in 2 Kings 4.
Within Luke’s narrative, this episode is one of a series of events that follow the “sermon on the plain” in Luke 6:
- Jesus heals the centurion’s slave (7:1-10)
- Jesus heals the widow’s dead son (7;11-17)
- Questions about Jesus and John (7:18-35)
- Jesus and the woman with the oil (7:36-50)
It may well be that the most significant aspect of this week’s passage is not the healing miracles but the pairing of a story about a woman with another story about a man. Kraemer and D’Angelo, Women and Christian Origins (p.181f) have noted the way that Luke uses gender as he constructs his account of Christian origins:
Unlike the other three canonical Gospels, Luke-Acts uses gender as a central category. This has sometimes caused Luke to be read as the gospel for women. But a number of feminist scholars have observed that Luke’s writings also restrict or denigrate the participation of women. Luke-Acts is less a compilation of good news for women than in the words of Turid Karlsen Seim, a “double message”.
The centrality of gender in Luke-Acts emerges most notably in the pairing of stories about women with stories about men. There are two types of paired stories in Luke. The first is the unit of two brief stories with an identical point or similar function, one story about a male figure and one about a female figure. This technique does not originate with Luke; some pairs of this type of taken over from Q, while others are from Mark. But in many cases, the story about the man comes from Mark or Q, while the one about the woman is special to Luke; one example is the man who had a hundred sheep (Luke 15:1-7) supplemented in Luke by the woman who had 10 coins (Luke 14:8-10).
The second type might be termed “architectural” pairs: two similar stories are told in different contexts to bind the narrative together and to manifest the coherence of “God’s plan and work”. As a list of the 12 male disciples precedes the sermon on the plain (Luke 6:12-19), so a list of named women disciples precedes the parables sermon (8:1-3).
Lukan pairs of one or the other type can be detected in almost every chapter of the gospel:
- two annunciations: to Zachariah and to Mary (1:5-23; 1:26-38)
- two songs: of Mary and of Zachariah (1:46-56; 1:67-79)
- two prophets: Simeon and Anna (2:25-35; 2:36-38)
- two miracles: for Gentile widow and male leper (4:25-27)
- two first miracles: for possessed man and Peter’s mother in law (4:31-39)
- two lists of named disciples: men Apostles (6:12-19; 8:1-3)
- two rescues from the death: the Centurion’s servant and the widow’s son (7:1-10; 7:11-17)
- two penitents: the paralytic and a penitent woman (5:19-26; 7:35-50)
- three miracles: the Gerasene demoniac, the daughter of Jarius, the haemorrhaging woman (8:26-56)
- three questions about discipleship: the scribe, Martha and the disciples (10:25-37; 10:38-42; 11:1-13)
- two Gentile accusers of Israel: the Nivevites and the Queen of the South (11:29-36)
- two “releases”; the bent over woman and the dropsical man (13:10-17; 14:1-6)
- two hider parables: man (?) planting mustard and a woman hiding leven (13:18-19; 13:20-21)
- two finder parables: man with sheep and woman with a coin (15:1-7; 15:8-10)
- two taken: men (?) sleeping, women grinding (17:32-35)
- two examples of prayer: widow, Pharisee and publican(8:9-17)
- two attitudes to worship: scribes and widow (20:45-21:4; 23:26-32)
- two sets of followers: Simon and women (23:26-32)
- two groups of watchers: women and all his acquaintances (23:49)
- two groups of resurrection witnesses (24)
It should be noted that, while the stories about women usually have been added by the author, not every story about a man is doubled with a story about a woman; men still outnumber women in the gospel. And in some cases men are introduced to the narrative: men are added to the group of women watching at the cross (23:49).
Although the appearances of women are significantly fewer in Acts than in Luke, Acts also includes a number of references to women paired with men. But the pairs in the two works differ significantly. In Luke, the pairs consist of a variety of paired stories that form a single unit or a sequence and architectural pairs of stories, while in Acts (though not all) of the references to women consist not of paired stories, but of either the names of couples or the merismus “both men and women”.
- two groups were waiting (1:13-14)
- menservants and maidservants, sons and daughters (2:17-18)
- Ananias and Sapphira (5:1-11)
- a crowd of both men and women added (5:14)
- Paul as persecutor of both men and women (8:3)
- both men and women added (8:12)
- Paul as persecutor of both men and women (9:2)
- Peter cures lame man and Tabitha (9:32-43)
- worshipping women and first men of the city (13:50)
- Paul driven from Lystra by cure of Lame man (14:5-18)
- Paul driven from Philippi by cure of mantic girl (16:16-40)
- Lydia baptised with all her household (16:15)
- Jailer baptised with all his household (16:32-34)
- a great crowd of worshiping Greeks and not a few of the first women were persuaded (17:4)
- not a few respectable Greek women and men (17:12)
- Dionysus and Damaris converted at Athens (17:34)
- Paul received by Priscilla and Aquila (18:1-4)
- Four prophesying daughters of Philip and Agabus, the prophet from the Judea (21:8-14)
- Paul as persecutor of both men and women (22:4)
- Felix arrives with Drusilla (24:24)
- Agrippa and Bernice (25:13, 23, 20 6:30)
Liturgies and Prayers
For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt’s web site
Other recommended sites include:
- A mighty stronghold is our God – AHB 8
- For your holy book – AHB 338
- Stand up and bless the Lord – AHB 383
- Be thou my vision – AHB 455
See David MacGregor’s Together to Celebrate site for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre.