As I prepared for my very first sermon at my very first parish this week, you can imagine my delight when I read that this Gospel lesson “has been found notoriously difficult to interpret.” Just what you like to hear folks with PhDs in New Testament studies say, right?
But let’s put that on pause for a moment and get our bearings. For some this may be tedious review of the obvious, for others the boundary markers themselves may be foreign, so let’s see if we can get roughly synced up together.
First: What year is it? Yes, it is 2019; yes for some it’s the Year of the Pig; but I’m looking for where we are in our storytelling, in our lectionary...Yes, it’s Year C. And that means...right, we’re reading the Gospel of Luke.
What does that matter? Well, that means we’re following along with Luke’s Jesus. Now, we don’t actually know who wrote this text, but we do know that their portrait of Jesus is unique, as each Gospeler’s is unique. Oversimplifying and exaggerating dramatically, here’s a quick sketch of each of the four so that we can see Luke’s contribution more clearly:
The readings from our lectionary seem to preach themselves today. I would like to give them a little context, and then ask you to listen one more time to these stories, thoughtfully hearing their words anew, to see what the Spirit might have to say to us today.
Our readings focus on the Widow.
In the ancient world, the widow and orphan were the most vulnerable in society. They had no means of income, beyond that most ancient of occupations, and were left to trust in the kindness of neighbors and the laws of their nation.
The first of many encounters between the vilified Israelite king Ahab and the great prophet Elijah centers around a divine judgement-by-drought and the care of a foreign widow. Ahab is said to have done what is wrong in the eyes of God more than any of his predecessors, and worst of all he had taken Jezebel the daughter of the king of Sidon as his wife. Sidon was one of the powerful and wealthy city-states of the Phoenicians. This marriage brought both lucrative trade contracts and foreign idol worship to Israel. In response, Elijah proclaimed three years of drought on the land, and then fled to the wilderness. Here he came across the household of a widow where our reading begins.