- I Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a & Psalms 42 and 43
- Galatians 3:23-29
- Luke 8:26-3
First Reading: The still small voice
This week’s reading from 1 Kings takes us back to a point in the story prior to last week’s reading.
Having overcome the prophets of Baal in a religious contest on Mt Carmel, Elijah flees to the traditional site of divine revelation, “Horeb, the mountain of God.” What follows is one of the classic spiritual stories of the Western religious tradition:
At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” [1Kings 19:9-13]
The mountain is a traditional site for a theophany in the Bible:
- Moses (Sinai) – Exodus 3, 19, 24 and 32
- Elijah (Horeb/Sinai) – 1 Kings 19
- Jesus (Transfiguration) – Mark 9 and parallels
In this case, in place of the traditional theophany signs (cloud, thunder, lightning, earthquake and fire), the awesome presence of God is communicated through “a thin whispering voice.”
Like Moses at the burning bush, Elijah is overcome by the power of the divine powerlessness.
Michael Macrone offers this comment on the meaning of this passage:
What follows is a rather drawn-out introduction, in which God first teases the prophet with wind, an earthquake, and a fire before finally manifesting himself in a “still small voice” — Renaissance English for “a soft, whispering murmur”; that is, a breeze. Since this voice argues Elijah out of his mood and sets him back on a holier track, some commentators have identified it with “the voice of conscience.” Indeed, the message of these verses seems to be that God need not appear to men embodied in great natural forces — though he certainly can do this — but may also reveal himself directly, softly, and personally, like a voice in the mind. [Grace Cathedral Online]
Second Reading: The new humanity—beyond difference
At the heart of this week’s NT reading is the startling declaration of Paul that every traditiona distinction based on gender, race or social status ceases to have effect within the new social reality generated by the Christian community:
As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” (Gal 3:27-29 NRSV)
The churches have rarely lived up to the radical insights given expression in that statement, but a modern paraphrase might go something like the following:
- There is no longer Christian West or fundamentalist Islam,
- there is no longer First World or Third World,
- there is no longer straights and gays;
- for all of us are one in the Anointed Jesus
Gospel: Jesus and the Gerasa demoniac
In The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark. (Yale UP, 2000), Dennis R. MacDonald devotes a chapter to this story. He begins by noting the typical elements of a Hellenistic exorcism tale:
Typically told, an exorcism brings the exorcist and the demoniac (or an agent for the demoniac) into contact and then lets the exorcist and the reader learn of the victim’s condition, such as deafness, convulsions, antisocial behavior, or preternatural cognitive powers, as in Mark 1:24: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” The exorcist then rebukes the demon or demons and demands departure (the apopompe). Often the exorcist sends the spirit or spirits into the wilderness, the earth, the sea, or a living host (the epipompe). The demon may dramatize its exit by producing violent effects, and the crowd, amazed, acknowledges the exorcist’s powers. (p. 63)
MacDonald then notes the unusual features of this account which have made many scholars question the character of this episode:
- Of the exorcisms in the NT only this one begins with a voyage.
- The detailed graphic description of the victim’s antisocial behavior is unparalleled.
- The demons refuse to obey Jesus’ command to leave the man, and negotiate for more favorable terms.
- The request for the demon’s name is unparalleled and results in a puzzling answer, “Legion, for we are many.”
- The permission for the demons to possess a nearby herd of pigs is unparalleled.
- The extended epilogue with the hostile reaction by the townsfolk has no parallel in any other miracle story. The witnesses usually celebrate the achievement.
- The demoniac’s request to follow Jesus is not typical, nor is Jesus’ refusal to accept him as a disciple, and neither is the instruction for him to return home and tell everyone what Jesus has done for him. All these elements seem out of place.
- This is the only NT exorcism that ends with a voyage.
In looking for possible influences to explain this strange story, MacDonald suggests two well-known Homeric tales: Circe the witch (who turned Odysseus’ men into swine and would later see them drown in the sea) and the famous story of Cyclops. After several pages of detailed analysis, MacDonald offers a summary of “the remarkable density and order of parallels between the stories of the Cyclops and the Gerasene.”
Liturgies and Prayers
For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt’s web site
Other recommended sites include:
- Dear Lord and Father of mankind – AHB 519
- God, you are clothed with light – AHB 423
- In Christ there is no East or West – AHB 391
- Morning has broken – AHB 91
- O Jesus I have promised to serve you – AHB 514
- O Master, let me walk with thee – AHB 522
See David MacGregor’s Together to Celebrate site for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre.