1 Kings 18.20–39
It’s good to be back after a while away in the Holy Land, Jordan, Italy and England. While Karen and I were overseas, we were travelling through places that were quite different from us in terms of their religious life—from Israel with its distinct Jewish identity (yet with a strong Muslim and a lesser Christian presence), to Muslim Jordan, to Catholic Italy with its little shrines dotted here and there in town and country, and lastly to England, a country that can’t work out whether it’s multicultural, still vaguely C of E or post-christian. Or if it just couldn’t care less.
While travelling in these varied places, we practised the virtues of tolerance, happily accepting that people belong to different religions. That wasn’t the case for everyone else; for example, in Nazareth we witnessed a Muslim street preacher accosting religious Jews, near the Church of the Annunciation. It ended without success for the street evangelist, but—and interestingly!—with smiles all round.
I’m left wondering whether the Apostle Paul would sympathise more with the zealous Muslim street evangelist than with us. After all, he thundered to the Galatians:
if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!
But you know, we didn’t curse a single person for being a Jew, a Moslem or a Roman Catholic. (I was tempted to curse a few drivers in Italy, but that wasn’t because of their religious faith!)
We were tolerant. But surely, these people, at least the Muslims and Jews, are proclaiming a different gospel to ours? Surely, the apostle Paul would take a different view. However tolerant we Uniting Church people may be, Paul says they are accursed!
It seems that the prophet Elijah would agree with Paul. There he is, one man against the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal at Mt Carmel. A bull for each side, and each god must set their own offering alight. Baal is strangely absent. Elijah taunts the prophets of Baal, even suggesting that their god had gone away to relieve himself. (The NRSV is a little coy here, translating it as “perhaps he has wandered away…”)
Then Elijah douses his offering with buckets and buckets of water, and fire from heaven consumes the lot. God wins!
Then he goes one further than Paul. Not only does Elijah count the prophets of Baal as accursed, but he also has them put to death in a horrific mass execution that would have him condemned as a criminal today.
So, we seem to have Paul and Elijah standing together on this one. What would they have done while traipsing around the places we went to? We didn’t go to Galatia, but we were at Mt Carmel; it’s a lovely peaceful place today, but I did wonder how Elijah might feel about that. Would Paul and Elijah embrace the tolerance of this Western tourist, or would they long for the ‘good old days’? Continue reading