Theme Christ restores us to life
Sentence Everyone was filled with awe and praised God! (Luke 7:16).
Collect Father in heaven,
Words cannot limit the boundaries of your love
For those born to new life in Christ.
Always renew our hearts through your Spirit
So that we may be free to love as Christ loves us. Amen. [Adapted]
1 Kings 17:17-24 [related]
1 Kings 17:17-24
Mighty miracles occurred in the ministry of Elijah. These miracles, later, would be seen as precursors to miracles of Jesus: notably a miraculous feeding (1 Kings 17:8-16) and, in today's passage, a resurrection (or resuscitation?). Details differ in each case but the conclusion of today's reading is the theme of miracle stories in the gospels: they provide evidence that the miracle worker is empowered by God and his teaching is truth.
The psalmist (David, according to the superscription) extols God because God has healed him. His affliction brought him close to the point of death (verses 2-3) but God has heard his argumentative prayer (verses 8-10). The core of his argument is that the dead are unable to praise God (v. 9). God is good, 'his anger but for a moment; his favour for a lifetime' (v.5), the psalmist has experienced this, in a profound and (literally) life changing way. He must now praise God and cannot be silent (v. 12).
In obvious ways this psalm sits alongside the Old Testament and gospel readings in which the dead are raised (or, at least, in the OT passage's case, the near dead are resuscitated).
What is not so obvious is the way in which the psalm can be profitably sung corporately. Note in the superscription there is this line, 'A Song at the dedication of the temple.' David never built a temple so we look for a later occasion when this superscription was added. Likely it was the celebration of the cleansing of the temple by Judas Maccabeus in 164 BCE. Israel has been pressed to a point of 'death' but God has saved his people. This psalm is now their psalm of deliverance as well as David's.
(See also notes in post below for Galatians 1:1-12)
These verses, along with 2:1-14, set out an autobiographical account of how "Paul's gospel" came into conflict with "another gospel." Our verses today are strictly autobiographical, telling Paul's story of his conversion, initial Christian life but most especially how Paul can claim - verse 11 - that his gospel "is not of human origin."
Paul's life is interesting in its own right. He was not just a good Jew, but a zealous one. He was not just pure in his own observance of Jewish law, he was aggressive in pursuit of the enemies of Judaism, specifically the 'church of God' which he tried to destroy (v. 13). But we read the passage for clues as to the content of the gospel which Paul now zealously proclaims, defends and acclaims as the basis for pursuit of perverted alternatives.
Earlier in the epistle, 1:3-4, we have the content of the gospel as 'the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age.' In this passage we have the somewhat cryptic note, 'God ... was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles' (2:15-16).
The content of the true gospel is, most simply, Jesus Christ. Paul indeed met Jesus Christ in an instantly transforming way on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). Yet the earlier disclosure (along with the subsequent development of the content of the gospel in Galatians 2-6) constrains us from thinking the gospel is Jesus Christ as we choose to understand him. Paul preaches Christ, the Christ of grace (not works), of liberation from our sins (not blessing us in our sins), with a view to life in a new age to come (the present age is 'evil').
Luke tells a story of an event in the ministry of Jesus which is not told by the other gospels. Above we have mentioned the similarity between this story and the story of Elijah raising another widow's son back to life (we could also read 2 Kings 4:32-37). The crowd are the first interpreters to make this connection as their response is a mixture of fear, glorifying God and exclaiming that a 'great prophet' (i.e. one in the mold of Elijah and Elisha) has 'risen among us' (v. 16).
Whatever connections Luke may have been making with the Old Testament background to the ministry of Jesus, the primary importance in respect of making a connection is that this story and the previous one (7:1-10) becomes a report to John the Baptist who is languishing in prison. His ministry was to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord but has that ministry been successful? Has the Lord come? The answering of that question is the subject of the next part of the chapter (7: 18-35). As such that need not concern us here, but we can observe that Luke has a purpose in telling us about the raising of the widow of Nain's son: he is laying out the case for Jesus being God's Anointed One (Messiah/Christ).
What about the miracle itself? Details in 7:12 imply the situation was not only one of concern that a person had died. The son's death makes the widow's own situation perilous. Likely she now faces destitution. Jesus responds with compassion (v. 13). His command to the widow, "Do not weep," is followed by action. He touches the bier and commands the young man to rise up. When the young man sits up and begins to speak, Jesus gives him back to his mother.
There is much to reflect on here. For instance, unlike the immediately previous occasion, there is no reference to 'faith'. The compassion of Jesus here flows spontaneously from Jesus himself, without a triggering request or a display of faith. Or we might note that the occasion does not become an encounter about discipleship: the young man is given no opportunity to consider whether he might like to follow Jesus or not. He is simply and immediately handed back to his mother. Discipleship can involve leaving family for the sake of Christ. Here it involves cleaving to family for the sake of obvious need on the part of the widowed mother.
Importantly, Jesus demonstrates his power to change lives includes power over death itself. This power will also be demonstrated in the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11). Yet there is no presumption that either the son in this story or Lazarus will not, eventually, die in the usual way of all people. The greater demonstration of power over death will come when Jesus himself is raised from death to a life not subject to further death.