Biblical Words 
[Note: Readings below are incorrect -- wrong year. Correct readings for 2022 are: I Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a; Psalm 42 and 43; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39. However, see the Note below on Elijah and Elisha.]
I Kings -21, (22-29), 30-39; Psalm 96; Galatians 1:1-12; Luke 7:1-10.
The Lord performs awesome wonders that change things for peoples and nations.
After Pentecost and Trinity Sundays, the Christian year has over six months of “ordinary time,” time between the holy seasons of Advent-Epiphany and Lent-Pentecost. The Lectionary selections for this period are not fixed by sacred themes, but are designed for general exposure of the people to the scriptures. Each of the three years of the Lectionary cycle has its own strategy, but when people have gone through the cycle two times (six years) their Sunday readings have exposed them to most of the Christian Bible.
In Year C, the primary readings from the Hebrew scriptures provide a history of prophecy. The selections move from the work of Elijah through the great eighth century prophets Amos, Hosea, and Isaiah, then dwell at length on the words of Jeremiah in the last period of the kingdom of Judah, and conclude with some post-Exilic prophesies.
In the same period the Epistle selections are taken from Paul’s letters, reading most of Galatians and Colossians for two months, and, after a period on the Letter to the Hebrews, continuing with the Pastoral letters written in Paul’s name. A block of readings from the Letter to the Hebrews is included in each year of the Lectionary cycle, approximately a third of the Letter in each year. The readings in Year C are the third part (chapters 11-13), dealing with the Christian pilgrimage in the world.
readings during Ordinary
Time of Year C are taken entirely from Luke, covering much of chapters 7
through 21, though mainly selected from the materials of the Journey to
I Kings -21, (22-29), 30-39.
For the next several weeks our readings from the Hebrew scriptures concern the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The Special Note below on the background to Elijah and Elisha may be useful for this group of readings.
Our reading presents a great ordeal – contest – to determine what religion the people of the kingdom will follow.
On the surface it is a one-sided contest: one prophet for Yahweh against 450 prophets
for Ba‘al (with another 400 backups in the wings, see ). It is an
all-or-nothing contest, with drastic political consequences. The kingdom is not big enough for both Elijah
and Jezebel; one will have to go, and even though he wins the contest, it is
Elijah who becomes the hunted man (19:1-2).
(This non-sequitur is probably due to the conventional story-pattern
also reflected in the Exodus story:
after winning release from
The contest is to decide which deity controls the
weather – who can make it rain. The
first words of the Elijah story-cycle announce to the king the coming of a
three-year drought. The drought raises
to the Nth degree the issue of who gives rain (I Kings 17:1). The contest on
The details of Elijah’s procedure are intriguing
(verses 30-35). He rebuilds an old
Yahweh altar. He uses exactly
It is clear that in northern Israelite tradition
this contest on
The psalm is certainly a response to the prophetic reading: the triumphant Yahweh of Mount Carmel is celebrated as the lord of all – cosmos and nations.
It is well to hear the key verses in a translation
(the New Jerusalem Bible) that retains the proper name Yahweh, the God who emerged from the polytheistic world of
While the prophetic and psalm readings proclaim that there is no other God, the opening of Paul’s letter to the Galatians insists that there is no other gospel.
This is the first of six Sunday readings from
Galatians, which will cover most of the contents of that fiery letter. The opening is unusual among Paul’s letters
because he leaps into his urgent business after only a short address and
greeting. “I am astonished...,” he
probably shouted to his amanuensis. How
could these “foolish” Galatians (3:1) so quickly distort the central message
Paul had brought to these non-Judean folks in central
After pronouncing a couple of curses on those who distort the gospel, Paul insists that the true gospel is not human (not variable) but the result of divine revelation. “[T]he gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (verses 11-12, NRSV). Next week’s reading will develop this claim in detail.
Like Elijah, Paul was a witness to something decisive for the future of God’s people, and his life was at stake in proclaiming it to the peoples of the nations.
The Gospel reading is not a mighty act of God, settling the destinies of peoples. Instead it is an episode in Jesus’ Galilean ministry that proved to have many meanings for the later followers. Our reading is one version of Jesus healing the servant (or son) of an Officer in Capernaum.
Second generation Christians told (at least) three versions of this story: (1) Matthew 8:5-13; (2) Luke 7:1-10; and (3) John 4:46-54. Each version has its own emphasis.
Matthew presents the basic story in its simplest form: the Centurion with the sick servant declares that Jesus can heal simply by giving a command. Jesus’ authority is like that of a military commander: he speaks and it is done. Matthew adds a special point: This great faith on the part of a non-Judean person is a prophecy that the peoples of the nations will replace the current Judeans in the kingdom to come (Matthew -12).
In the Gospel of John, the “royal official” does not make a fancy statement about Jesus’
word of command. When, however, Jesus,
Luke’s version of the story has several distinctive features. (1) Here the Centurion never comes in contact with Jesus. Instead, he sends messengers to Jesus. In fact, he sends two sets of messengers, one made up of Judean elders of the community (verse 3) and one made up of his own “friends,” perhaps not all Judean (verse 6).
(2) The Judean messengers give powerful reasons why Jesus should help this foreign resident in their community: “...for he loves our people [ethnos, nation], and it is he who built our synagogue for us” (verse 5, NRSV).
Thus, what Luke presents is a Roman career soldier
who is a decided friend of the Judean people in
What Luke has in common with Matthew is the
Centurion’s long declaration about the power of an authoritative command. “But only
speak the word, and let my servant be healed,” for he, the Centurion, is also a
man of authority whom subordinates obey without hesitation (verses 7-8). This is what Luke and Matthew see as the
great “faith” of this foreigner. He has
heard the message of Genesis 1. God
speaks, and it happens. THAT is the
“faith,” of which Jesus says, “Not even in
(It is a bit ironic that in Luke’s text Jesus never utters that word of power! Luke doesn’t bother to say, “ And Jesus said, ‘Let him be healed.’” Hearers are expected to fill in the gaps themselves!)
Commentators have spotted other links for this multivalent story.
Some think the non-Israelite military commander who seeks healing power from an Israelite prophet is like Naaman, the chief-of-staff of the Syrian army whom Elisha healed from leprosy (II Kings 5:1-19). Perhaps more likely is the suggestion that this Centurion who gets help from Jesus anticipates the later Centurion, representing non-Judean folks, whom God directs Peter to bring into the chosen community (Acts 10). Luke seems to make a big deal of keeping Jesus separate from the non-Judean man and house, but Luke knows that will change in good time, in God’s time, and thus he can maintain Jesus’ separateness in Galilee.
Others make the following point: There are only two cases in the Gospels where
Jesus heals foreigners (Samaritans don’t count), and both of those are healing
of a child (or servant) at the request of a master or parent. Also, both healings take place at a
distance. Besides the Centurion with his
Special Note: The Elijah and Elisha stories.
It was in the time
of Elijah (and Elisha) that
The overall framework of the Elijah-Elisha block of materials in I Kings 17 through II Kings 10 is that of a great dynastic revolution. The framework is clearer if we concentrate only on the following passages, which are the essential components of the Elijah-Elisha and King Jehu story:
I Kings 17 Elijah brings drought and works miracles.
I Kings 18 Elijah brings rain, defeating Baal
I Kings 19 Elijah receives God’s
revolutionary commands on
I Kings 21 Ahab and Jezebel are condemned for Naboth’s vineyard.
II Kings 1 Elijah condemns Ahab’s son Ahaziah.
II Kings 2 Elijah’s Mantle passes to Elisha.
8:7-15 Elisha sanctions revolution
9:1-13 Elisha anoints Jehu king for
II Kings 9-10 Jehu executes the judgment of the Lord on Ahab’s house.
It may be noticed that the Elijah-Elisha story is parallel in basic structure to the traditional Israelite story.
Elijah and Elisha replicate the work of Moses and Joshua.
Elijah’s defeat of the Baal prophets on Mount Carmel is the same kind of decisive mighty deed of the Lord as the defeat of Pharaoh in the Exodus. Elijah’s trip to Mount Horeb (with miraculous feeding in the wilderness) and the revelation there of God’s plan parallels Moses at Mount Sinai. And the revolution precipitated by Elisha, parallel to Joshua, equals the Conquest of a new life order for God’s people (meaning the reign of a new dynasty with a radically new religious policy).
history behind the tradition. All of
the Elijah-Elisha materials were preserved in later generations in
“Minimalist” historians would have it that all the Elijah-Elisha stories are simply fiction. As a serious historical issue, however, there is no satisfactory explanation of the details and few tight connections with external history that these stories reflect without some historical core to the Elijah figure and Jehu’s religiously-based dynastic revolution. The Elijah era, with the emergence of the Yahweh-Only religious-political movement, was a decisive point in the evolution that created the Hebrew scriptures as we know them.