The Historical Situation and Theological Background: The Books of Kings were written well after the events they describe by an author who had this intent: His main interest is in keeping his audience faithful to the Lord. So he tells the story of each of Israel's kings, with emphasis on how the king was or was not faithful. "The faithful prosper; the unfaithful pay for their defections," as the Introduction to 1 Kings in The New American Bible explains. And when the author compares prophets to kings, the prophets are always the more faithful. Our particular passage today is from a collection of stories of miracles wrought by the prophet Elijah, who famously went up against King Ahab and his pagan Queen Jezebel over the worship of the false god Baal.
The immediate context of this passage is this: Elijah has been relying on the Lord, following abrupt and somewhat unlikely directives, but the Lord has kept him well. Elijah begins staying in the home of a poor widow and her son, and the Lord provides for them, though just barely. Now the stakes become higher. In this culture, a widow without a son to take care of her is dangerously vulnerable and likely disgraced.
Proclaiming It: Read the first sentence slowly, emphasizing "son" and "his", so that your listeners know who exactly is in danger of death.
Why, in the next sentence, is the widow so indignant, and how should the lector faithfully proclaim that? The answer is in the text of the prior paragraph and elucidated in Lector's Notes on that passage. The widow's tone of voice (and the lector's) expresses the apparent limits of what might endure while trying to entrust everything to God. So make her sound desperate and angry.
Do the same for Elijah's cry to the Lord. His faith, too, is being put to the test by these events.
At the end, give the widow a confident, even amazed tone of voice, as she announces the truth that has won her over.
The Historical Background: Among the Galatian Christians were a group who insisted that all Christians should observe Jewish laws (circumcision of males, kosher food preparation, sabbath rest, etc.). The Apostle Paul had done those things (he was a Jew, after all), but he knew they were not part of God's plan for sharing life and grace outside of historical Judaism. The Judaizers, as we call these other partisans, claimed that their version of the gospel was closer than Paul's to the gospel preached and believed by the earliest Christians in Jerusalem.
So Paul had to prove his credentials to the Galatian Christians.
Twenty-second digests for the congregation: Arrange with your liturgy committee to have these brief historical introductions read to the assembly before you do each reading.
Who should announce these before the first and second readings, and before the gospel acclamation? They're not Scripture, nor homiletic, so they shouldn't be delivered from the ambo. They're a modest teaching. So let the presider say them from the chair. Let the lector turn toward the presider and listen.
Print this page, cut it at the blue lines, and give the introduction paragraphs to the person who will speak them.
|Tenth Sunday of the Year, June 9, 2013
Before the first reading:
The Books of Kings tell of faithful prophets, of only somewhat faithful kings, and of the consequences of their choices. Several stories are about the prophet Elijah and what God accomplishes through him. Elijah is lodging with a poor widow and her only child. God has already provided miraculous food for them, but the situation now worsens.
After the psalm, before the second reading:
Some Jewish Christians were insisting that Gentile converts to Christ observe ancient Jewish laws. Preparing to argue against them, Saint Paul asserts his credentials and the sources of his authority to preach a more liberating gospel.
Before the gospel acclamation:
In Jesus' time, childless widows were socially very disadvantaged. Saint Luke stresses Jesus compassion toward such a woman. He reverses her misfortune by restoring her dead son to her.
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Proclaiming It: Were Paul stating this himself, he would sound authoritative and emphatic. It is not just his reputation at stake here, though. As we'll see in further readings from the Letter to Galatians in the near future, his zeal was for the liberty of the people who had heard the saving gospel. He did not want their conversion to be to a warmed-over Judaism, nor did he want Christ's self-gift for them to yield just a bland, minor change. So as lector you should sound convinced, confident and caring.
- He insists he learned the gospel not from other men but "only through a revelation of Jesus Christ."
- He asserts the magnitude of his conversion by describing how thoroughly Jewish he had been ("I stood out among the Jews of my generation" and "how enthusiastic I was for the traditions of my ancestors").
- He drapes himself in the mantles of Jeremiah and Isaiah, saying "God, who had specially chosen me while I was still in my mother's womb, called me ..."
- Once called, he immediately went of what he calls Arabia to preach the gospel.
- Only after three years does he finally visit Cephas (Peter) and James, more as an equal than as an aspirant, and consults no one else in Jerusalem.
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Last modified: May 6, 2013