We begin with the story of the great prophet Elijah. This week's reading actually backtracks from last week to recount Elijah's role during the drought that God sends in Phoenician territory, the epicenter of Baal worship. Elijah's miraculous gift of the never-empty jars of meal and oil shows that only the God of Israel can provide food and life. Just beyond this passage, if you continue reading this chapter in your Bible, you will find an account of Elijah's revival of the widow's son from death, again demonstrating God's power over life and death. In Phoenician legend, Baal died each year in the dry summer and was revived in autumn by the help of his sister. The God of Israel is not a dying God, but one whose prophet can bring life out of death.
Last Sunday began the reading that this week continues in Paul's letter to the Galatians. Paul here gives an account of his background in Judaism, his conversion and calling, and his mission to the Gentiles. He emphasizes that his gospel was not revealed to him by any human source but came directly through Jesus Christ. Again, the true God is the one who is directly present and involved in the life of his people.
The gospel lesson continues to follow Jesus' early ministry in Luke's account. Here, Jesus replicates Elijah's raising of the widow's dead son. As Jesus approached the town of Nain, he saw a dead man being carried out and learned that this man was the only son of a woman now left destitute by his death. When Jesus saw her, weeping, "he had compassion for her" and comforted her. Then he commanded the young man to rise, and he did! The fearful reaction of the people to this event may indicate that they, too, make the connection between Jesus and the prophet Elijah.
These three readings are all strong lessons in God's power to "give life back" to us after loss and misdirection-in unexpected, sometimes sudden and shocking ways. We may go through a time in which all joy and the possibility of hope and life seem impossibly beyond our reach. And then something unexpected, surprising happens and we are "given life back." We can participate in this happening for others, too, if we genuinely have and act on the compassion that Jesus shows.