Archive for the ‘Widow of Zarephath’ Tag

Four Miracles of Elisha   Leave a comment

Above:  The Shunammite Woman and Elisha

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1-2 SAMUEL, 1 KINGS, 2 KINGS 1-21, 1 CHRONICLES, AND 2 CHRONICLES 1-33

PART LXXXIII

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2 Kings 4:1-44

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In you, O LORD, I seek refuge;

let me never be put to shame;

in your righteousness deliver me!

Incline your ear to me,

rescue me speedily!

Be a rock of refuge for me,

a strong fortress to save me!

–Psalm 31:1-2, Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition (2002)

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Miracle stories attested to the bona fides of a prophet, in the cases of Elijah and Elisha.  These miracles were practical in 2 Kings 4.  A poor widow’s children did not become slaves because God, acting through Elisha, enabled their mother to pay her debts.  The Shunammite woman gave birth to a son, who died and whom Elisha restored to life.  Flour neutralized a natural poison.  A hundred men ate from a small quantity of food, and there were leftovers afterward.

One may recall 1 Kings 17 and think of the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath.  One may detect similarities between that account and the first two stories in 2 Kings 4.

One may also notice a similarity between 2 Kings 4:38-41 and 2 Kings 2:19-22, another miracle story involving Elisha.

One, looking forward, may also detect a similarity between 2 Kings 4:42-44 and Gospel accounts of Jesus feeding thousands of people with a small quantity of food, as well as having leftovers afterward.  The difference between 100 men, in the case of Elisha, and 4000-plus and 5000-plus, in the cases of Jesus, point to the Son of God being greater than Elisha.

I live in a town in a university town in the U.S. South.  College football is the dominant cultus in my community.  (Sports have legitimate places in society, but not as quasi-religions.)  Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, one could easily stand at a particular intersection near campus on a home game day and see people holding signs reading,

I NEED TICKETS.

Desires are not needs.  Necessities include food, shelter, and clothing.  One can lead a full life without ever attending a football game.  Wisdom entails know the difference between “I want” and “I need.”  If one has wrestled with mortality, one may have a strong sense of what is necessary and what is merely desirable.

The focus on necessities in these four miracle stories reinforces a major teaching in the Bible.  God cares about what we need.  And God frequently provides our necessities via human beings.  There is enough for all people to have a sufficient supply of their necessities at all times.  The problem relates to distribution, not supply.  And the fulfillment of certain desires is harmless while the fulfillment of other desires is dangerous.  The fulfillment of proper desires can improve the quality of one’s life.  That is important.  But desires are still not necessities.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 28, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS SIMON AND JUDE, APOSTLES AND MARTYRS

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Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath   1 comment

Above:  Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath, by Bartholomeus Breenbergh

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1-2 SAMUEL, 1 KINGS, 2 KINGS 1-21, 1 CHRONICLES, AND 2 CHRONICLES 1-33

PART LXXI

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1 Kings 17:1-24

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And now, you kings, be wise;

be warned, you rulers of the earth.

Submit to the LORD with fear,

and with trembling bow before him;

Lest he be angry and you perish;

for his wrath is quickly kindled.

Happy are they all

who take refuge in him!

–Psalm 2:10-13, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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King Ahab of Israel (Reigned 873-852 B.C.E.)

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For a while, kings have occupied the forefront in the narrative.  From this point to 2 Kings 13, they will continue to do so much of the time.  However, monarchs will occupy the background instead from this point to 2 Kings 13.  Stories of Elijah start in 1 Kings 17 and terminate in 2 Kings 2.  Stories of Elisha begin in 1 Kings 19 and end in 2 Kings 13.  Some of the most famous Biblical stories come from 1 Kings 17-2 Kings 13.  Some of them are also repetitive, given the overlapping traditions regarding Elijah and Elisha.  1 Kings 17, for example, bears a striking resemblance to 2 Kings 4, the story of Elisha, the Shunammite woman, and her son.

The sneak preview is over.  Now I focus on 1 Kings 17:1-24.

The deification of nature is one of the oldest patterns in religion.  The multiplicity of gods and goddesses with specific portfolios (rain, the Moon, the Sun, et cetera) for thousands of years and in a plethora of cultures proves this assertion.  Old habits can be difficult to break, and monotheism is a relative latecomer to the party.  Also, attempting to appease the gods and goddesses or some of them, at least, without the strictures is relatively easy.  Lest we monotheists rest on our laurels, Psalm 14, Psalm 53, the Law of Moses, the testimony of Hebrew prophets, and the New Testament warn us not to mistake God for an absentee landlord.  The Gospels, for example, contain many cautions to the self-identified insiders that they may actually be outsiders.  

Baal Peor, a storm god, was powerless against a severe, multi-year drought.  Of course he was; Baal Peor was a figment of many imaginations.

The drought of 1 Kings 17:1-18:46 contains a call back to Deuteronomy 11:13-17.  (I like connecting the dots, so to speak, in the Bible.)  Speaking of connecting the dots, Jesus referred to God sending Elijah to the widow of Zarephath in the synagogue in Nazareth, to the great displeasure of his audience, in Luke 4:26.  The Gospel of Luke, addressed to Gentiles, included that reference, absent from parallel accounts of the rejection at Nazareth in Mark 6:1-6a and Matthew 13:54-58.

Zarephath was in Phoenician–Gentile–territory.  King Ahab of Israel had no jurisdiction there, but Queen Jezebel may have been familiar with the territory, given her origin.  The widow was especially vulnerable, given her precarious economic status.  Her faith contrasted with the evil Queen Jezebel and with the faithlessness of many Hebrews.

Whenever I read a text, I seek first to understand objectively what it says.  Then I interpret it.  The text describes Elijah as a wonder-worker.  The refilling jar of flour and jug of oil may stretch credulity, from a post-Enlightenment perspective.  The resurrection of the widow’s son does, certainly.  Yet, in the cultural context of 1 Kings 17, those elements fit in and give Elijah his bona fides.  If we understand that much, we grasp objectively what the text says.

Happy are all they who take refuge in God.  They may even include Gentiles and other alleged outsiders.  And many alleged insiders may really be outsiders.  The grace of God is for all people, although not everyone accepts it.  These are also themes prominent in both the Old and New Testaments.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 26, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALFRED THE GREAT, KING OF THE WEST SAXONS

THE FEAST OF ARTHUR CAMPBELL AINGER, ENGLISH EDUCATOR, SCHOLAR, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF FRANCIS POTT, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER AND TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF HENRY STANLEY OAKELEY, COMPOSER

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Rejecting Grace   Leave a comment

Above:  Nazareth, 1875

Image Publisher = L. Prang and Company

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-pga-14154

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For the Sunday Next Before Advent, Year 1

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Lectionary from A Book of Worship for Free Churches (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, 1948)

Collect from The Book of Worship (Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1947)

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Absolve, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy people from their offenses;

that from the bonds of our sins which, by reason of our frailty,

we have brought upon us, we may be delivered by thy bountiful goodness;

through Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with

thee and the Holy Spirit, ever One God, world without end.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 236

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Haggai 2:1-9

Psalms 149 and 150

Revelation 21:1-7

Luke 4:16-24

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The glory of God is a major topic in the Bible.  Many of the Psalms deal with that subject.  Prophecies of the Day of the Lord/Parousia in both Testaments employ poetic imagery to describe the world order once the fully-realized Kingdom of God becomes reality on the planet.  Regardless of the full reality at which human poetry can only hint and imagination can never fully grasp, such descriptions do have an immediate function.  They cast the world as it is in a negative light, exposing how far short societies, institutions, norms, and governments fall, relative to divine standards.  The apocalyptic imagination is a moral and ethical imagination.

The Gospels contain two accounts of Christ’s rejection at Nazareth.  They are plainly two very similar yet slightly different versions of the same event.  The key difference from one account to the other is when the audience turns against Jesus.  In Matthew 13:54-58, it happens when Jesus speaks wisdom.  In that account, people respond by asking,

Where does he get this wisdom from, and these miraculous powers?  Is he not the carpenter’s son?  Is not his mother called Mary, his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas?  And are not all his sisters here with us?  Where then has he got all this from?

–Matthew 13:54-56, The New English Bible (1970)

In Luke 4:16-24, however, the turn toward hostility comes later, after verses 25-27.  Those verses are about God having mercy on Gentiles, including Naaman (2 Kings 5:1-27) and the widow at Zarephath (1 Kings 17:9-24).  Given that the original audience for the Gospel of Luke was Gentile, telling the story of the rejection of Jesus in his hometown this way makes sense.

The Lukan version of the rejection at Nazareth also challenges us to confront our provincialism.  I am a Gentile, so I like reading about divine graciousness to Gentiles.  Nevertheless, to be uncomfortably honest, I must admit that the reminder of divine generosity to certain people and populations can and sometimes does offend me.  You may resemble that remark, O reader.  If you do, you are not unusual.

All of us need reminders of how far short of divine standards we fall.  We may tell ourselves how kind and loving we are.  We may even be kind and loving.  Nevertheless, all of us can be kinder and more loving.  When God shows us how far short of that divine standard we fall, do we reject the message?  Or do we confess our sin, repent, and strive, by grace, to do better?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 3, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF CAROLINE CHISHOLM, ENGLISH HUMANITARIAN AND SOCIAL REFORMER

THE FEAST OF ELIAS BOUDINOT, IV, U.S. STATESMAN, PHILANTHROPIST, AND WITNESS FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIE-LÉONIE PARADIS, FOUNDRESS OF THE LITTLE SISTERS OF THE HOLY FAMILY

THE FEAST OF SAINTS MAURA AND TIMOTHY OF ANTINOE, MARTYRS, 286

THE FEAST OF SAINT TOMASSO ACERBIS, CAPUCHIN FRIAR

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God of the Jews and the Gentiles, Part II   1 comment

Above:  Elijah Resuscitating the Son of the Widow of Zarephath, by Louis Hersent

Image in the Public Domain

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Exodus 20:1-20 or 1 Kings 17:8-24

Psalm 57

Hebrews 1:1-2:12

Mark 8:1-13

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Scholars of the Hebrew Bible debate whether the commandment,

You shall have no other god besides me,

in its original context, refutes the existence of other gods or merely places them off limits to Hebrews.  Subsequent monotheistic developments point to refutation of other gods in today’s context, though.

Scholars of the Hebrew Bible agree, however, that Canaanite religion influenced Hebrew religion in more than one way.  The Bible tells us that polytheism influenced Hebrew folk religion, much to the consternation of the orthodox.  We also detect linguistic influences of Canaanite religion in certain names of God, as in Psalm 57.  Furthermore, some of the Psalms are rewritten Canaanite texts.

Three of the assigned readings pertain to Gentiles.

  1. The widow of Zarephath and her son were Gentiles.
  2. The 4000 or so people Jesus fed in Mark 8:1-13 were Gentiles.
  3. The audience for the so-called Epistle to the Hebrews (not an epistle) consisted of Gentiles.

I, as a Gentile, find this comforting.

How likely are we to write off populations as being beyond hope, help, salvation, et cetera?  Take courage; God has not, does not, and will never write you, O reader, off.  But will you write yourself off?  I pray that you will not.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 25, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES BAR-ZEBEDEE, APOSTLE AND MARTYR

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2019/07/25/devotion-for-proper-18-year-b-humes/

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