I Kings 19:1-15
Elijah has just put the prophets of Ba’al to the sword and upset the ruling Jezebel. In retaliation Jezebel sends a death threat to Elijah telling him that she will have him executed in one day’s time. Elijah reacts with uncharacteristic despair. Interestingly the text reminds us that Elijah is now in Judah—out of Jezebel’s jurisdiction, but even here Elijah is despondent. He flees from Jezebel, finds a dessert bush (broom tree), sits underneath it, asks to die, and then falls asleep. While sleeping an angel visits Elijah and offers him bread to eat and water to drink. Elijah eats and drinks then lies down again. The angel returns a second time and offers the same nourishment. Again Elijah eats. After this second offering Elijah continues on his journey and is strengthened by the food for forty days.
Elijah ends up at “Horeb, the mountain of God.” Horeb is another name for Sinai. Just as Moses spent forty days on Sinai, so Elijah will do the same. At such a sacred place at such a desperate time one might suspect a great theophany to occur. Elijah finds a cave to rest in. While in the cave he is indeed visited by the voice of the Lord. The voice asks Elijah why he is there. Elijah tells of his troubles. The voice commands Elijah to go and stand before the mountain and watch as the Lord passes by. Elijah obeys and is witness to a great wind, and earthquake, and a fire but the Lord is not in any of those things. Then Elijah is met by sheer silence, and once again the voice returns with the same question, and Elijah responds with the same words. Elijah is then commissioned to go and name a new king (a very risky business).
Does God prove himself to Elijah? This is a difficult story to interpret. The reluctant or despondent prophet is a popular theme in the biblical text (and in our own life). Upsetting power is a dangerous vocation. Elijah’s despair is not simply brushed away in this story. God does not come in grand fashion with a terrific pep-talk. Despite the ever popular King James Version Elijah does not hear a “still small voice” in which God is found. Elijah is met with “sheer silence” (NRSV) and must choose to press on with the Lord’s commands.
Our psalm lection presents us with a lament from someone who is being hard pressed by enemies. The circumstance of the psalmist lines up well with Elijah’s tenuous situation. In that respect the psalm provides a worship response to our Hebrew Bible lection. The psalmist writes “My tears have been my food day and night” and “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I walk about mournfully because the enemy oppresses me?” Interestingly the Psalmist provides his or her own response to the lament they voiced, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.” Like Elijah the psalmist is not given a spectacular miracle. Hope is the fuel that keeps the faith engine turning.
Some in Galatia were not aware of the radical nature of the gospel of Christ. They were teaching that in order to be Christian one must first become a Jew under the Law, and to behave as such. Paul confronts these false teachers who had come to correct the first gospel that Paul preached. Paul reminds the Galatians that “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.”
In our gospel lection Jesus casts out many “unclean spirits” (AKA “demons”) from a man and sends them into a herd of swine (after the spirits beg Jesus to not let them go back to the “abyss”). The casting out of the demons occurs near the city of Gerasa (that is what Luke means when he says “the country of the Gerasenes”). Gerasa was one of ten cities that made up the decapolis which formed an outpost of Hellenic culture near Samaria and Galilee. It is no surprise then that the man so troubled by the demons refers to himself as “legion.” A Roman legion was made up of 6,000 soldiers. It is also not surprising that the demons found their way into a herd of swine. Roman might was often symbolized by a very fecund sow who gave birth to thirty piglets, and by the wild boar. Jesus’ command that the man not cling to him but return to his own and tell them of all the Christ did for him is a missionary strategy. The good news of Christ goes out to the Hellenistic world that is replete with legions of demons who need to be exorcised.
Celebration of Worship
As you prepare your hearts and minds for worship consider the radical nature of the gospel of Christ. It goes out to Jew and gentile alike, freeing them from life denying demons. It allows us to fellowship those that others feel are untouchable and perverse. It gives us the courage to stand up to oppressive powers and to find the reserves to remain prophetic even in tough times.