Reading Ramblings – January 22, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Third Sunday after Epiphany – January 22, 2017

Texts: Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27:1-14; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-25

Context: I think I’m giving up trying to ferret out Epiphany-related themes in the readings. I suspect that the Revised Common Lectionary (and the Lutheran variation on it) is simply moving into Ordinary Time and just continuing to refer to the Sundays after Epiphany to mess with my head! The readings, in this case, begin to flesh out the life of Jesus, and this week begins with the calling of his disciples and the beginning of his public ministry.

Isaiah 9:1-4 – Zebulun was the sixth son born to Leah, Jacob’s less favored wife, whereas Naphtali was the second son born to Jacob through Rachel’s servant, Bilhah, whom Jacob married in order that Rachel could claim the children as her own. Isaiah prophesied the invasion of Assyria in the previous chapter, an event which would signal the end of the Northern Kingdom permanently, including the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun. However now Isaiah prophesies that these lands will once again be called glorious because of a great light that shall dawn in those regions. Jesus conducted much of his ministry in the area of Galilee, which included areas of the former tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali.

Psalm 27 – This psalm expresses profound trust in the Lord, building on this theme for the first half of the psalm before transitioning to the actual petitions for help. Verses 1-3 posit the absolute reliability of the Lord against the feeble efforts of the petitioner’s enemies. The objective observer may expect the petitioner to be worried but this is not the case, because the petitioner knows that God is capable of preserving them completely, regardless of the odds. In verse 4, the petitioner refers to earlier/other prayers focused on being in the presence of God in his house, the Tabernacle (since if David wrote this he did so prior to the building of the Temple, which was in the reign of his son, Solomon). The privilege of seeking the Lord’s will in the Tabernacle is the psalmist’s true delight, and he delights in such activity because of the Lord’s capacity to save and deliver in the day of trouble. The petitioner praises God despite the nearness of his enemies (v.6), in complete trust in God. At verse 7 the petition for deliverance begins. The petitioner implores God to be faithful and responsive in a way that no other earthly person could be expected to. The petitioner desires to know God’s way as a means of overcoming his adversaries. The psalmist concludes in verses 13-14 with a reassertion of confidence and an exhortation to others to be equally confident in the Lord’s power.

1 Corinthians 1:10-18 – The lectio continua proceeds in 1 Corinthians. After his greeting, Paul gets to the point of his letter. He’s heard that there are divisions and a lack of unity in the Corinthian church. He calls on them in the name of Jesus to cease these divisions and to reconcile on the matters that separate them, which he will address over the course of his letter. We don’t know who Chloe is, or what relationship she has to the congregation, but it’s her slaves who make Paul aware of the situation. The first issue of division has to do with who was baptized by whom. Various members of the Corinthian church are holding themselves as better than others based on who baptized them. Paul quickly squashes such pettiness. None of the people who baptized the Corinthians died for them. Nor were they baptized in the names of those people, but rather in the name of Christ. As such, sharing the common baptism in Jesus Christ, they should be unified, rather than divided. Paul concludes his exhortations and warnings in this section with a reminder that the saving message is that of Christ crucified and resurrected. As such Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas – all are just servants of the same Christ, no better in themselves than any Christian, and not to be made into a source of pride, spiritual or otherwise. The message of salvation is wrapped up entirely in Jesus Christ. It derives all its power from him, and though it may sound strange to some, that message of Christ crucified and resurrected in and of itself bears the power to save, because it is the power of God in the Word of God conveyed about the Word of God made flesh.

Matthew 4:12-25 – John refers to John the Baptist. It is clear from John’s gospel that there is a period of time where the ministries of Jesus and John the Baptist overlap and coincide (John 3:22-36). So Matthew’s reference to John’s arrest may not mean his arrest by Herod for preaching against Herod’s marriage to Herodias (Mark 6:14-29). It is possible that John the Baptist was arrested on other occasions, perhaps by the Jewish officials rather than the Romans. Regardless, Jesus withdraws back to Galilee and Capernaum to begin his official ministry after his baptism and temptation in the wilderness. Matthew quotes the passage from Isaiah 9 as support for Jesus’ fulfillment of prophecy. Jesus’ message calls on his hearers to repent – to turn from their sin in recognition that the kingdom of heaven has arrived. It is not merely on the way, it is at hand – here and now in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus’ call of the disciples sounds dramatic, but He already met them in the vicinity of Jerusalem, shortly after his baptism. It is there and then that Jesus first calls the disciples to follow him (John 1:35-51). They likely returned to Galilee together, but separated for a time in order for Jesus to wrap up affairs in Nazareth and effect his move to Capernaum. Once situated there, He then finds Peter and Andrew as well as James and John and tells them He is ready for them to begin full-time as his disciples.

Jesus teaches throughout Galilee, not just in Capernaum. His teaching is public, in the synagogues, where He proclaims the message that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. His words are substantiated by a range of healings. This brings him quick fame as a healer, and the extent of his healing capacities are indicated by the range of afflictions mentioned – diseases, pains, demon oppression, seizures, and paralytics. Note that Matthew differentiates between those who deal with seizures as opposed to those who are plagued by demon possession or oppression. Jesus’ following is impressive in scope, ranging from his home area around Galilee and even the Gentile cities that made up the Decapolis, all the way down to Judea and Jerusalem itself as well as the areas east of the Jordan river.

Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy of good news in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali. Matthew sees Jesus not just as a light, but as the light that comes to banish darkness. We too should be encouraged by the reports of those who followed him. They had good reason to follow. They knew what they saw and experienced. Powerful teaching, hopeful announcements, but also prayers answered. Where the kingdom of heaven is, there is truth and healing and joy. We give thanks to God that by his grace, we too are part of a vast crowd following Jesus still today!

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