Reading Ramblings – February 5, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, February 5, 2017

Texts: Isaiah 58:3-9a; Psalm 112; 1 Corinthians 2:1-16; Matthew 5:13-20

Context: The theme of the righteous person predominates the readings today. God calls his people to obedience and exhorts them to true acts of sacrifice rather than ostentatious shows that glorify themselves and help no one. The Psalmist describes the beautiful life of the righteous person who glories in God and his Word above all other things. Jesus is that truly righteous and upright man, but rather than clinging to these blessings for himself, He exchanges them for our sinfulness, conveying his righteousness and all the blessings therein to you and I through faith.

Isaiah 58:3-9a – God paraphrases the laments of his people who wonder why He has not responded to their good works and answer their prayers (v.3). However God’s response is telling. It is not that He hasn’t noticed, it is that He has noticed far more than they thought He would! He noticed not only their fasting, but their mistreatment of their hired hands (v.3). He noticed not only their fasting but the foul temper their fasting put them into (v.4). Such good works are not good at all, and certainly don’t merit – in and of themselves – the benevolence of the Lord. Is this what the Lord desires?

Hardly. What the Lord desires is that his people would love one another as much as they claim to love him. If they wish to show devotion to God, then they need to take seriously justice and mercy, care and love for even the lowliest. Devotion to God looks like clothing the naked and feeding the hungry and housing the destitute. Such acts of devotion are certainly pleasing to God, and will bring God into his people’s midst even before they can call out to him.

Psalm 112 – Technically, the lectionary only calls for verses 1-9, but it seems silly to ignore the last verse. Psalm 112 pairs with Psalm 111 and describes how the blessings of God work themselves out in the lives of the righteous person. In Hebrew it is an acrostic with each line starting with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. For the person who makes delight in the Lord and the Lord’s word the center of his life, his life will reflect the perfect blessings of God as he aligns himself with the will and purpose and work of God.

1 Corinthians 2:1-16 – Paul has reminded the Corinthians in Chapter 1 that fancy rhetoric is not what matters, not what saves. Only the unlikely, foolish message of Christ crucified and resurrected saves. Paul deliberately let the Gospel speak for itself without adornment or embellishment – a very unusual approach in a culture that valued good oratory skills above all other skills. Paul wanted to be sure that as the Corinthians came to faith, they came to faith in Christ and not simply in the rhetorical flourishes and argumentative embellishments of Paul.

However there is wisdom to be conveyed by Paul, though it is a wisdom unlike any other. It is a wisdom revealed by God himself pertaining to the future glory of those He calls to himself in faith. The Corinthians as well as Paul are privy to this wisdom, and they need to remember that it is this wisdom that they should cherish and nourish among themselves rather than falling to bickering and infighting about trivial matters such as who baptized who (1:10-17).

Paul is exhorting the Corinthians to unity by reminding them who they have been made in Christ and what they have received from God the Father – nothing less than the Spirit of God that dwells within them to enlighten and guide. How can they be concerned about other trivial issues when this is their new identity? When the power and Spirit of God reside within them? How could there possibly be division among them who share the Holy Spirit?

Rather than glorying in the prestige of one apostle or evangelist over another, the Corinthians should attune themselves to the leading of the Holy Spirit. They are to see not just in themselves but in one another people who have been transformed by the Gospel so that they share through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit the very mind of Christ – understanding his good and perfect will and the enormity of his work on their behalf.

Matthew 5:13-20 – Jesus is preaching about the inbreaking kingdom of heaven (4:17) and has just characterized the citizens who make up that kingdom here and now. These citizens will be rejected and persecuted by the world, but this is to be no bother to them. What the world sees as useless is actually valuable salt that preserves and flavors and enhances all of creation. His hearers are light in a dark world, not in and of themselves but in their reflection of God’s light in their lives.

Christ does not call his disciples to an easier path. His teaching is not a setting aside of the stringent requirements of the Law and they are never to mistake it as such. Christ has come to fulfill the Law in full – every last jot and tittle. Every nuance and shade must be fulfilled perfectly in his life, so that His sacrifice will be perfect and unblemished. This obedience is made evident in Jesus’ preaching and teaching that embodies the perfect life of sacrifice that God outlines in Isaiah 58. Jesus will shatter the yoke not of the Roman Empire but of sin and death, He will feed the hungry and welcome all to him no matter how lowly or questionable.

Jesus is the perfectly righteous man described in Psalm 112. But rather than enjoying the blessings and benefits of his righteousness, He trades them for suffering and ultimately death on a cross, so that He might convey those blessings to you and I. We are the benefactors, we who are not obedient, we who are not the perfectly righteous persons that God desires. We are made righteous in and through baptism into the death of Jesus. We are made into salt and light in a bland and dark world, reflecting imperfectly the perfect light of our our Creator, our Redeemer, and the Sanctifier at work within us.

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