Going out of oneself

Frances writes on this Sunday’s Readings : Now that Eastertide is over we return to the different accounts of Jesus’

mission to his people and the growth of the Church in the light of his

great commission and example. In our gospel, (Luke 7:11-17), we find

Jesus in Galilee. We have to remember that to Jews, Galilee, whilst the

home country of Jesus was itself a dubious area up in the North and we

frequently see officials from Jerusalem checking up on Jesus’ mission.

Clearly this mission was a great success, for our gospel speaks of his

being attended by ‘a great number of people’. It is in this crowded

context that we see Jesus raise the son of the widow of Nain from the

dead. We are told that Jesus did this great, even impossible thing, simply

‘because he felt sorry for her’. Jesus apparently put his hand on the bier

and spoke to the dead man. That is something we find very peculiar for

there is no indication he even touched him, but the point is clearly made.

Jesus transcends the rules of life and death, he is its Lord and not

dominated by its demands. Jesus can then go out beyond the normal

ways of thinking and acting. The people acclaim him as a ‘great prophet’,

clearly Luke wants us to think in quite different ways about Jesus; the

Jesus he is presenting to his patron the Greek Theophilus, someone who

had his own very specific ideas of what divinity was like.

 

By way of comparison we read in 1 Kings, (17:17-24), of a similar

account of the raising of a child from the dead by Elijah the prophet.

Elijah we know was in serious conflict with Ahab, king of the Northern

Jewish state of Samaria, who had married a worshipper of Baal and

adopted her religion to the fury of the prophet. Zarephath was pagan

territory, belonging to Sidon, so the woman was most likely a pagan.

Perhaps then we are to see this raising from the dead as a turning of

God’s back on this evil and apostate king and his people and as a turning

to the gentiles. The ‘raising’ from the dead then becomes an analogy, a

rich story of God’s work with a different people, and of his turning away

from the Northern Kingdom. Elijah, one of Israel’s foremost prophets,

performs perhaps the greatest of his ‘miracles’, whatever was meant

by that, out away from his homeland and amongst needy foreigners.

The fact that at this time Ahab’s kingdom was economically rich in

comparison with the Southern Judah, and by implication had no need for

God, is telling. Prophets can only work their miracles amongst receptive

peoples.

 

Is this what we are seeing when we read Paul’s letter (Gals 1:11-19), in

which he writes to justify his mission to Gentiles? We, and they, might

have thought that Paul was best qualified by way of education to have

served the Christian cause in Judea. After all, he was a Pharisee and had

studied under Gamaliel. Who better then to have argued the new faith in

Jesus than Paul? Why was it that he went abroad and confined his

mission to gentiles? It seems that God, working through his Spirit in the

Jewish-Christian community thought it best to send this worker abroad.

Paul indicates in Galatians that his first missionary work was in Arabia.

Now ‘Arabia’ at this time was not what we now think of as Arabia, but

rather client kingdoms including the Nabatean Damascus and Petra and

kingdoms in the Decapolis; Greek city states over the Jordan. We have

no other evidence of Paul’s work in these places other than this comment,

and no letters appear to have survived from this earliest missionary

work. It appears that this was where Paul served his apprenticeship as a

missionary before going on to work in the three years before the Council

of Jerusalem in what we now call Turkey. This would include the Galatian

cities and those of Cilicia, Paul’s birthplace and Lycia. What we have then

is an albeit hazy picture of Paul’s move out and away from the security

of his very strict and traditional Judaism into very different and even

threatening environments. Anyone at all familiar with the lifestyle of

Greek cities would have immediately understood what a challenge this

would have been to Paul. Or, was this precisely the reason why he was

chosen for this task? His own upbringing in Tarsus –which he had left

resolutely behind when he opted to study with the greatest rabbis of

his age may in the end have been the reason why the Church felt it

best to send him abroad once more. Contrary to what may have been his

own expectation, given his education in Judaism, the Church may have

felt his earlier experiences provided him with gifts and abilities more

suited to a Gentile mission. Sometimes we have to go out of ourselves

to discover who we truly are, and then make the most of the situation

in which we find ourselves, as did Elijah, and just as Jesus did.

 

 

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