Second Sunday after Pentecost
6 June 2010
Proper 5C (RCL)
1 Kings 17:8-24
I’mnot entirely satisfied with the story of the raising of the son of the widow of Nain. It bears all the hallmarks of a healing story, and in Greco-roman literature, healings stories serve as propaganda: see how powerful our guy is. Usually in the Gospels, healings carry other meanings as well. Not so sure about this one. A couple of tantalizing details about this story. Luke is clearly modeling this story on the widow of Zarapheth. Jesus/Elijah meets the woman at the gate. Jesus/Elijah “gave the boy to his mother.” The widow of Zarapheth acknowledges Elijah to be a prophet. The crowd acknowledges Jesus to be a prophet. Luke had Jesus cite the story of the widow of Zarapheth in his sermon at Nazareth, saying Elijah went only to an outsider. And yet, the widow of Nain is not an outsider (the centurion in the story just before, however, is). When John’s disciples show up asking if Jesus is the one who is coming, or should they wait for another, Jesus tells them to tell John what they have seen: the dead are raised. Propaganda: our guy is better than your guy. Seems a let down.
But, given the parallel to the Elijah story, does this story have something to do with trusting God’s future? Even widows whose only sons have died can trust God’s future.
The Elijah story seems to offer much more. The story is told perfectly. Jezebel, whose 400 prophets of Ba’al Elijah has just slaughtered after the showdown on Mt. Carmel, came from Sidon. This woman is from Sidon. Jezebel, though the queen of Israel, is a devotee of Ba’al. This woman, outside Israel, becomes a devotee of YHWH, is more faithful than Jezebel or her husband. One can almost hear the pathos in her voice: I am going to prepare what I have for my son and me, so that we may eat it, and then die. Elijah asks her to give up that very thing which she thinks is her security — a little meal and oil — in exchange for a fuller future. She trusts God enough to do it.
In the second half of the story, she is deprived of her real security, her son, which God restores to her. As an outsider, a Sidonian, this story has all the shock value that Luke gives it in Jesus’ Nazareth sermon. God is more faithful to destitute, faithful outsiders, than to corrupt insiders. No wonder the crowd at Nazareth wanted to throw Jesus off the brow of the hill.
Paul also has to give up what he thought was his security, his identity, his Jewishness, to see God at work among other people. What is God asking us to give up, I wonder. What is God’s future for us?