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Breath of the Spirit

Pastoral, Liturgical, Teaching, and Social Justice Moments brought to you by DignityUSA.

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Perhaps some of our fear of dying comes from our lack of dying as other Christs right here and now.


JUNE 5TH, 2016: TENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

 

I Kings 17:17-24
Galatians 1:11-19
Luke 7:11-17

Though we have four biblical accounts of Paul’s conversion, today’s Galatians pericope contains the only one actually written by Paul himself. The other three - sometimes contradictory - accounts in Acts were all composed by Luke.

Like almost all Scripture, this Galatians passage is triggered by problems. The reason the Apostle recalls the event is because some in the Christian community were questioning his work with Gentiles. They didn’t object to his converting non-Jews to the faith of Jesus as long as he first converted them to Judaism, something Paul not only thought unnecessary, but also – as we’ll see in a couple of weeks – totally against basic faith in the risen Jesus, who isn’t a Jew or a Gentile.

What’s interesting is that Paul is convinced his call to evangelize Gentiles came as an essential part of his encounter with the risen Jesus years before on the road to Damascus. He isn’t downplaying the historical Jesus’ Jewishness because, as some of his critics claimed, he’d been a “bad” Jew himself. On the contrary, he’s able to boast, “I (once) persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it.” He’s the most unlikely person to hold the opinions he now holds. At one point in his life he could have been regarded as a “super Jew.” “(I) progressed in Judaism,” he writes, “beyond many of my contemporaries among my race, since I was even more a zealot for my ancestral traditions;” the very traditions he’s now claiming Gentile Christians don’t have to keep.  

Paul answers his critics’ objection that he hasn’t received permission from the church’s leaders to do what he’s doing in two ways. First, he doesn’t need their permission. He received his Gentile ministry directly from the risen Jesus. Second, he eventually did check with the Jerusalem leaders, and they had no objections to how he was evangelizing Gentiles.

Though we’re not certain what exactly happened on the road to Damascus, whatever Paul’s encounter with the risen Jesus consisted in, it not only changed his life, it created a whole new life for him. He began to live something he never lived before. His entire value system was turned upside down.

No wonder Jesus’ followers enjoyed narrating stories of Jesus resuscitating people from the dead. In some sense they were narrating stories which described their own experiences.

The gospel resuscitation stories differ from the narrative of Elijah resuscitating the widow of Zarephath’s son in our I Kings reading. Probably none of the sacred author’s readers identified with the boy the prophet brought back to life. This event was simply proof the word Elijah proclaimed was actually Yahweh’s word.

But when the gospel Jesus resuscitates Lazarus, Jarius’ daughter and the widow of Nain’s son, the readers, because of their own experiences of coming to life in Jesus, logically zero in on the resuscitated persons. They, like the chosen three, have also been brought back to life.

Back in the 70s, when Ray Moody and Elizabeth Kubler Ross studied people who had died and been resuscitated, they discovered that the life these people received was somewhat different from the lives they lived before. For instance, they were more interested in relating to others than they had been before their deaths. Paul certainly demonstrated that dimension in his unexpected relating to Gentiles, a people he seems to have just tolerated before his life-giving encounter with the risen Jesus.

But these resuscitated individuals also shared another characteristic: they no longer had any fear of dying. In some sense, they’d already been there and done that.

Perhaps some of our fear of dying comes from our lack of dying as other Christs right here and now.

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