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Introduction To The Scripture For Ordinary 12 - Proper 7 - Year C
I Kings 19:1-15a; Psalm 42 and 43; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39
alt - Isaiah 65:1-9; Psalm 22:19-28

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (jlss@sympatico.ca) of the United Church of Canada. John has structured his offerings so that the first portion can be used as a bulletin insert, while the second portion provides a more in depth 'introduction to the scripture'.

INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE	
Ordinary 12 - Proper 7 - Year C


1 KINGS 19:1 15a         Elijah the prophet was on the run from Queen
Jezebel whose foreign priests he had defeated in a contest of spiritual
power.  He was still in God's care, however, and after being provided with
food and drink in the desert, he came at last to the mountain where God had
given the covenant law to Moses.  But he could never escape responsibility
as God's prophet.  After a windstorm, an earthquake and a raging fire, God
spoke to him with a still, small voice within to give him a new commission.
                   
                              
PSALM 42 AND 43          These two psalms were originally one.  The first
part laments a deep sense of absence from God.  Yet the psalmist hopes that
he will eventually have reason to praise God.  The second part prays that
his faith will be vindicated as he goes to the temple to worship.
    
                                            
GALATIANS 3:23-29        Paul's most decisive statement declares that faith
in Jesus Christ has removed all barriers to a relationship with God for all
who believe.  He claims that the law given to Moses was like a
schoolteacher disciplining us until Jesus came to make us all God's
children and heirs with Christ.


LUKE 8:26-39             This story appears to set Jesus' compassion for
the man chained among the tombs against compassion for the Gentile people
of this community east of the Sea of Galilee.  Is it a garbled story of the
demoniac being healed after his frantic outcries had panicked the pigs?  Or
did Jesus fail to convince the unbelieving Gadarenes who had lost their
pigs of God's compassionate love?  Even for the most sane among us, the
struggle to believe can be tormenting. 


          NOTE: There are two alternative lessons from the OT and
          Psalms. The summaries and analysis of these passages
          follow those of the regular RCL lessons. 


Isaiah 65:1-9            In this eschatological song God offers both
judgment and hope for Israel after the return of the exiles from Babylon,
ca. 539 BCE.  Judgment came because of a series of unholy religious
practices (vss.3-5) possibly related to a  nature cult.  Yet God promised
not to completely destroy the whole people and to restore them to their
traditional land.


Psalm 22:19-28           Like all laments, this excerpt pleads with God for
rescue, acknowledges God's sovereignty and promises to be faithful.  It
envisions a hopeful future in which posterity  will serve the Lord.

************

1 KINGS 19:1-18   Most Westerners read a story from beginning to end.  The
various pericopes that present Elijah as one of Israel's greatest prophets
do not follow this orderly pattern.  Scholarly opinion views some of the
stories in which Elijah appears as coming from two different sets, the
Elijah and the Ahab cycles.  The editors of the Deuteronomic history of
Israel, created after the return from exile in Babylon, wove these two sets
of stories obtained from different sources into their overall narrative of
the Davidic monarchy. 

Only 1 Kings 17-19; 2 Kings 1:1-18; 1 Kings 21 and 2 Kings 9:1-10:31 appear
to come from the Elijah cycle.  The Ahab cycle includes 1 Kings 20:1-43;
22:1-38; 2 Kings 3:4-27; 6:8-23 and 6:24-7:20.  The main theme of the
Elijah cycle from which this week's reading is taken is the preservation of
the monotheist tradition against the Baal-worship imported by Ahab's queen,
Jezebel, daughter of the priest-king of Tyre.  It has been suggested by
some scholars  that Psalm 45 bears evidence of being a love song in which
Ahab and Jezebel appear as the two participants.

Elijah was on the run from Queen Jezebel whose foreign priests he had
defeated in a contest of spiritual power on Mount Carmel.  He was still in
God's care, however.  After being provided with food and drink in the
desert, he came at last to the mountain where God had given the covenant
law to Moses. 

Elijah's forty day journey to Horeb, the mount of God (Mount Sinai),
appears to have been more symbolic than real.  It compares with Moses
sojourn at Mount Sinai without food or drink as recorded in Exodus 34:28.
There may be other reflections of the Sinai narrative in the Elijah story:
the cleft of the rock and the mouth of the cave (Ex. 32:22 cf. 1 Kgs. 19:9,
13), the covering of the face (Ex. 32:22 cf.1 Kgs. 19:13; thousands
remaining faithful (Ex. 34:7 cf. 1 Kgs. 19:18).  The symbolism points to a
recalling of the faithful to the ancient tradition established by Yahweh in
the covenant at Mount Sinai.  The particular aspect of the covenant
relationship emphasized here, is the  first commandment: "You shall have no
other gods."

Whatever Elijah's actual experience may have been, he could never escape
responsibility as God's prophet.  After a windstorm, an earthquake and a
raging fire, God spoke to him with a still, small voice within and gave him
a new commission.  Such theophanies and their accompanying natural
phenomena were common in Israel's tradition, especially within the
patriarchal narratives in Genesis.  They were not peculiar to the
Israelites, however, and can be found in traditions of other ancient
peoples.  In the Psalms and some of the prophets, the warrior image of
Yahweh is often accompanied by similar violent natural phenomena (Pss.
18:7-15 & 46:1-7; Nahum 1:2-6; Habakkuk 3:8-15; Jeremiah 10:13.)  These are
instances where Yahweh is identified as having a special relationship with
Israel alone. 

Numerous homilies on the still, small voice have concentrated on the inner
voice of conscience.  That often tends to be guilt-laden.  So it may have
been for Elijah and called forth some self-justification (vss. 13-14). 
True as that may be, emphasis needs to be placed more heavily on continuing
reflection on the divine  mission to which Israel was originally called and
is now summoned to return (vss.15-18). 

Experiencing significantly decline in membership, ordained clergy and
social influence, the church today sounds much like Elijah.  Perhaps this
is the time to reflect on what God's mission really is at this time.  That
could be the theme of each member's individual reflection during the summer
down-time.


PSALM 42 AND 43   These two psalms were originally one, but possibly for
some unknown liturgical reason became separated.  Some Hebrew manuscripts
still have them as one, so the separation could have occurred during
transmission from one manuscript to another.  There is also some indication
of dependence of the second on the first in 42:9 and 43:2.  Then there is
the refrain repeated in 42:5,11 and 43:5.  These elements sustain the
argument for unity.  The lectionary editors agree.

In the first part of the psalm, the poet laments a deep spiritual
depression caused by his sense of absence from Yahweh's presence (vs.2). 
It could have been an actual absence from Jerusalem and the homeland of
Israel where participation in temple festivals was once possible.  Vs.6
appears to suggest that the exact location was near the sources of the
Jordan on Mount Hermon, possibly in enemy hands at the time.  Wherever the
psalmist was, he expresses distress at conflict in his community (vss.
42:3,10).  Scoffers took the present circumstances as evidence that Yahweh 
had deserted Israel or that there really was no god at all.

The psalmist's memories of joining the throng of worshipers processing to
the temple elicited great pain (vs.4).  Yet the psalmist hoped that he will
eventually have reason to praise Yahweh once again within the temple.  The
idea that he could worship anywhere else had occurred to him (42:8; 43:2),
but like many modern folk, it just didn't seem to the same.  We all like to
worship in familiar sanctuaries.  The second part of the psalm picks up
this hopeful theme as the poet prays that his faith will be vindicated and
that he will once again go to the temple to worship and to offer sacrifices
as before (43:3-4).


GALATIANS 3:23-29   Coming from the Gentile city of Tarsus, Paul knew well
what a struggle it was to survive as a Jew in such a foreign cultural
milieu.  When Paul lived there, the site of Tarsus had been occupied for
some 3000 years.  Its founding by noted heroes of Greek mythology was the
subject of many legends.  A Hellenistic Greek city, in Roman times it
became the capital of the province of Cilicia, prosperous as a seaport and
for industries such linen weaving and sail and tent-making.  It also
achieved fame as a centre of learning from which had come several noted
Stoic philosophers.  It well deserved its Pauline designation as "no mean
city." (Acts 21:39)  The exact size of the Jewish element of the population
is unknown, but it is unlikely to have been more than a small minority.

Minority groups seek many means to survive.  Jews adopted their religious
traditions as their way of confirming their identity.  We do not know
whether Paul became an ardent Pharisee in Tarsus or later in Jerusalem.  In
either case, however, he would have been considered an outsider, first in
Tarsus as an ardent Jew meticulous about keeping the law of Moses and then
as a Hellenist in Jerusalem with an accent and an attitude.  When he met
the Christian community wherever he went after his conversion, he found at
a safe haven.  This reality shines through this high point in his letter to
the Greek-speaking Christians of Galatia.

This passage contains Paul's most decisive statement that faith in Jesus
Christ has removed all barriers to a relationship with God and with one
another for all who believe.  He claims that the law given to Moses was
like a schoolteacher disciplining us until Jesus came to make us all God's
children and heirs with Christ of all God's gifts.  

Paul himself had been a life-long learner.  He did not come easily or
quickly to the conclusion he so briefly summarizes in these few sentences.
According to his own words in 1:18 and 2:1, it had taken him at least 17
years before he was well known to the apostolic community in Jerusalem.
Even then, he was considered an outsider rather than a leading apostle
(2:6-10).  So when he wrote in 3:23-24 about being imprisoned and
disciplined until Christ came, he was speaking out of his own learning
experience and recognizing it as something everyone could experience.  As a
Pharisee, the law had been his schoolteacher, then it became a prison and
Christ had been his liberator.

Paul gives us several other experiential images in this passage.  By their
new faith relationship to God, he and the Galatians too had become children
of God and joint heirs with Christ.  They had been dressed in new Christ-
garments through baptism.  New converts in the early church were baptized
naked and reclothed in a new, white garment.  One can presume that Paul had
also been baptized in a similar manner.  He certainly knew what it meant to
be delivered from slavery to the law and free to proclaim his faith with
the considerable gifts of communication which he possessed.  His facility
with languages - Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic in all probability - gave him
additional freedom to roam far and wide among the Hellenistic Jewish
Diaspora and Gentile cities he had visited throughout Galatia and other
Roman provinces of Asia Minor (modern Turkey).

However Paul may be perceived in our day as being prejudiced toward women
in general and their role in society, he also appears to have had
remarkably good relationships with a considerable number of individual
women.  His letters and the records of his travels in Acts identify
numerous women with whom he worked and in whose homes he stayed.  He
considered them as co-workers.  He expressed friendship for both men and
women equally, seeing them as united with him in the body of Christ. 

All this was exceptional for a 1st century Jew from such a strong Pharisaic
tradition.  Today, Moslems, Jews and Christians rightfully claim their
spiritual descent from the patriarch Abraham to a large extent because of
Paul's creative genius in making the gospel known throughout the ancient
Middle East.  This passage from his letter to the Galatians expresses that
unique vision exceptionally well.


LUKE 8:26-39   This unusual story appears to set Jesus' compassion for the
man chained among the tombs against compassion for the Gentile people of
this community southeast of the Sea of Galilee.  Gerasa (apparently
mistaken by Matt. 8:28 as Gadara and by other ancient authorities as
Gergesa) was foreign territory in what was then the Roman tetrarchy of
Philip, the son of Herod the Great and half-brother of Herod Antipas who
executed John the Baptist.  Today it is recognized as an archeological site
at Um Qeis in northeastern Jordan near its border with Syria, but has never
been excavated.  We know that it was a Gentile city because the people who
lived there herded pigs.

Jesus' exorcism of the demons afflicting this man who lived among the tombs
seems at once both puzzling and bizarre.  We can only speculate how to
identify the man's specific illness.  As was the case with many serious
medical conditions in those times, his family and neighbors would have
interpreted it as common demon possession.  Their solution was to run him
out town.  That forced him to survive in the local cemetery.  There he
could do no harm except to himself and be gossiped about in the marketplace
of Gerasa as "Crazy John."  But as reported in this pericope, the incident
reveals obvious marks of grave impurity for any Jew: a demon-possessed
maniac living in a cemetery near a place where a herd of pigs wandered
freely.

In any case, when Jesus confronted whatever the demons were, the reaction
created a panic in the pigs.  Jesus' conversation with the demons about
their name, "Legion" and their desire not to be sent back "to the abyss"
reads like a fictional embellishment in the oral tradition which lay behind
the gospel source.  The abyss was the prison where Satan and his demons was
believed to dwell for eternity (cf. Rev. 20:3).  Popular belief also held
that while waiting for their ultimate banishment demons wandered the earth
in search of a dwelling place.  They especially favored tombs and deserted
places as well as those people we would call seriously ill.  

It is difficult to understand how Jesus could send the man home to tell his
neighbors that their pigs had been drowned.  One explanation may that this
is a garbled story of the demoniac being healed after his frantic outcries
had panicked the pigs.  Another view frankly admits that the story suggests
that although Jesus healed the man, he failed to convince the unbelieving
Gerasenes of God's compassionate love for all victims of dreaded illness.
After all, they had lost their pigs.  How loving could that be?  Wasn't
this a failure on Jesus' part despite having exorcized the demon?  After
this, Jesus did not extend his ministry further east of the Jordan, but
returned to Galilee.  There was one happy Gerasene, however.  The man who
had been healed could not keep this miracle to himself and went about
telling everyone he met what Jesus had done for him.  Perhaps that - and
only that - is the whole point of the story.

************

Isaiah 65:1-9   Scholars have had considerable difficulty dating this
passage.  It appears to be the work of the school of prophet-poets
sometimes referred to as Third Isaiah (Isa. 56-66).  Like the poem that
follows it in ch. 66, it expresses the eschatological vision of "a new
heaven and a new earth" (vs.17) as well as uttering judgment against
Israel's past aberrant religious practices.  It would appear that God
offers both judgment and hope for Israel after the return of some of the
exiles from Babylon, ca. 539 BCE.  By no means did all those who had been
transported return to their homeland.

The poem consists of ten strophes, although only the first four make up
this extract, and not all of the fourth is included (vs.10).  The first
strophe (vss.1-2) presents the accessible nature of Yahweh and voices the
complaint against Israel for not heeding the divine call.  The second
strophe (vss.3-5) describes the corruption of Israel's covenant tradition.
Exactly what the heretical worship practices were cannot be determined.
They seem to have had something to do with a nature cult (vss. 3-5).  But
that had been a continual temptation for Israel since the time of the
earliest settlement in Canaan. 

While in exile, had some Israelites been seduced by the religious rituals
of Babylonian tradition?  The naming of several aspects of the rituals -
sacrificing in gardens, burning incense "on the bricks," (or "on the roof
tops,") sitting in tombs, and eating swine's flesh, all point to a bizarre
cultus.  In Babylon, there was a cult of the god Ninurta for which the pig
was either sacred to the god or a totem.  Swine's flesh, anathema to all
Semitic cultures, could be eaten under special ritualistic occasions. 

Whatever the unholy religious practices may have been and however much
these were abhorrent to Yahweh (third strophe, vss.6-7), Yahweh was not yet
willing to cast them on to the scrap heap of history.  Yahweh promised not
only to preserve a remnant of the people but to bless and restore them to
their traditional homeland (fourth strophe, vss.8 10). 

The naming of Sharon and the Valley of Achor (vs.10) intentionally
redirected the Israelites' imagination homeward.  The Plain of Sharon is
still the rich agricultural plain along the Mediterranean coast north from
Jaffa to the foothills of Mount Carmel.  The Valley of Achor was a small
wadi which once formed the boundary between the tribal lands Judah and
Benjamin, south of Jericho along the northwestern edge of the Dead Sea.  It
is very dry but also very fruitful when well irrigated.  That practice had
been extensively used in the Judean and Negev deserts by the Idumeans.  Not
far from the Valley of Achor, the Essenes created their eschatological
community of Qumran.  The providential image inspired by these names
conveyed just such a vision for the faithful remnant. 


Psalm 22:19-28   Like all laments, this excerpt pleads with God for rescue,
acknowledges God's sovereignty, expresses the worshipper's thanksgiving and
vows to be faithful.  It envisions a hopeful future in which posterity 
will serve the Lord.

With the exception of vss.19-21, the remainder of this passage does not fit
well with the preceding segment (vss.1-18).  Indeed, the repetition of
vs.11 in vs.19 suggests a deliberate transition.  This has caused scholars
to suspect that the first segment was an individual lament to which the
song of hopeful thanksgiving was added so that the whole might serve in the
liturgical setting of the temple when anyone might come to offer thanks for
deliverance from some affliction. 

In vs.21 two images of grave danger indicate how critical the situation had
been for the psalmist.  Lions of the Mesopotamian type still roamed the
Jordan Valley and into the rich pasture lands and agricultural villages of
Palestine well into the Christian era.  The wild ox was the "bos
primigenius," called the "aurochs" in Europe, had been domesticated to some
extent.  The domesticated ox served in many capacities from ancient times.
Sometimes it was used as a sacrificial beast of great value.  The original
wild ox still roamed the foothills of the Syrian mountains in biblical
times frightening the populace with its long horns and fierce nature.

The psalmist, however, expressed the conviction that Yahweh was to be
feared more than any wild beast.  Therefore, he urged that Yahweh be
praised (vs.22-23).  He had an even more significant reason for praise and
thanksgiving: Yahweh had not despised or rejected the afflicted, but had
heard his cry (vss.24-26).  This brought forth the prophetic assurance that
once their realized Yahweh's sovereignty, all nations would join Israel in
the worship of Yahweh (vss. 27-31).  Even the unborn would know and worship
the Lord when they heard of Yahweh's deliverance of the oppressed.

                         
copyright  - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006, 2004
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.



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