If the headlines are to be believed, many Americans today seem to think that our current situation is somehow unique. It is not! The authors of our prayer book, and more importantly, the authors of the Holy Bible describe a world, that in many ways, looks very familiar. And we would be wise to listen to their counsel.
The Collect of the Day reminds us that ours is a God who “always resist[s] the proud who confide in their own strength.” The psalmist advises us not to put our trust “in rulers, nor in any child of earth, for there is no help in them.” And St. James marvels at how we honor the rich and despise the poor, when, in fact, it is the rich who oppress the poor, who drag their opponents into court in order to extract the last penny from them. In contrast, we are told, the poor in the world have been chosen by God himself to be “rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom.”
Today’s Gospel starts out with Jesus’ appointing precisely 70 evangelists to go out ahead of him preaching the Good News, for Jesus knows that he can’t do it all alone. Why 70, you might ask? Well, it turns out that in the book of Genesis, 70 is given as the number of Gentile nations in the world. So, there is a symbolic and prophetic reason for Jesus’ picking this exact number of evangelists; it represents the extension of his mission to the Gentiles—in other words, to people like most of us! I say it was an extension of Jesus’ mission, because in Luke 9, Jesus had already sent out the twelve apostles to spread the Good News among the descendants of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Luke tells us that Jesus sends out his evangelists to the Gentiles in pairs. And there are several possible reasons for this. One obvious reason would be mutual support. But another might have to do with the fact that in Jewish law, valid testimony requires two witnesses. And these evangelists, we are told, will be testifying for the Kingdom of God, as well as testifying against those towns that refuse to accept the Good News of God’s Kingdom. (As an aside, the Episcopal Church also encourages sending out home visitors two by two, but in this case it is to prevent misbehavior during home visitations.)
I don’t know about you, but my heart is still broken by the massacre in Orlando. I hear stories about a man who sang in a Gospel choir, another man who worked in a local blood bank, two men who faithfully served their country in the Army Reserves, an 18-year-old woman who graduated high school just the week before her murder…. The list goes on. Good people died, and the nations mourns. But the nation does not unite. Yes, after September 11 some 15 years ago, the nation did unite for a time. But not now.
Recently, a county commissioner in Alabama defied the proclamation of the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces to lower the flag in mourning. Why? Because he thinks that to mourn is to be weak. On an Episcopal Church blog, a man refuses to pray for the President of the United States by name, because he just can’t stand Barack Obama. Another person on that same religious blog criticizes a litany against gun violence (not against gun ownership, mind you, but against gun violence!), because if God fulfilled the prayer he might have to give up his guns. Democrats look at the massacre in Orlando and see a case of domestic gun violence by a mentally unstable man. Republicans look at that same massacre and see foreign terrorism at work. And so they defy each other and block any real change. The truth, of course, as it often is, is lost somewhere in the middle.
Why, you may well ask, do I bring up all this mess at church? What on earth does it have to do with the lectionary readings? Well, let’s look at those readings.
If you’re very keen-eyed, you may have noticed that our lectionary inserts now say “Track 2,” instead of “Track 1.” The difference between the two tracks is that in Track 2, the Old Testament readings during Ordinary Time are chosen to complement the Gospel reading, while in Track 1, the Old Testament readings have no connection at all with the Gospel reading. Today, the Old Testament reading and the Gospel reading not only complement each other, they look like carbon copies. Each is the story of the resuscitation of a widow’s only son. But there are differences, and these differences are significant.
In First Kings, Elijah, as you may recall, is a refugee in the town of Zarepath, in the Gentile kingdom of Phoenicia. He is abiding with a widow and her son. When he arrived at their door, he found them starving due to a drought. Having been promised that God would provide, the woman fed Elijah with the last of her food. God rewarded her generosity by providing a miraculous never-ending supply of flour and olive oil. All seemed well. Then disaster strikes. The woman’s only son dies. This would be a tragedy in any culture. But it was even more so in ancient Israel. A widow with no male heir lost all her property to her husband’s family. And unless her deceased husband had a brother who was willing to marry her, she would be homeless and destitute. In a real sense, the death of the woman’s son was her death sentence as well.
The widow of Zarepath accuses Elijah and his God. (Now I say “his God,” because the woman was most probably a Gentile worshiper of Baal.) Elijah is a bit panicked. And he too accuses God of a betrayal. But he conquers his doubt and performs an action that could be considered either a prophetic sign, a medical procedure, or a magical rite. He covers the body of the dead child three times with his own body, all the time praying to God to revive the boy. And God shows mercy and returns the child to life. This is the first resuscitation story.