Reading Ramblings – February 4, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany ~ February 4, 2018 ~

Texts: Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-11; 1 Corinthians 9:16-27; Mark 1:29-39

Context: This is the last Sunday of Ordinary Time until June 3 – after Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and Holy Trinity Sunday. Next week is Transfiguration Sunday, and the Wednesday after is Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. Yes, Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day this year, and Easter falls on April 1!

The Gospel, Old Testament and psalm all emphasize the power of God, his absolute mastery over all things for which it is appropriate to give him praise and worship. The Epistle text continues independently along the lectio continua line, working through 1Corinthians. The texts about the power of God are fitting as we prepare ourselves to see the power and majesty and glory of the divine Son of God shining through the humanity of Jesus of Nazareth next week.

Isaiah 40:21-31 – Having declared a message of comfort and good news for God’s people at the start of chis chapter, the rest of Isaiah 40 is dedicated to extolling God’s power and greatness. Comfort is assured because God is all-powerful. He is the creator of all things, eternal and compared to this eternal power we are a fleeting breath, a tiny insect or a bit of grass here today and gone tomorrow (vs. 21-24). Such is God’s power that no aspect of his creation is ever forgotten or lost to him (vs.25-26). So of course it is ludicrous to think that we can hide from God, or that we could accuse God of somehow being unfair to us. God is the source and power of all things, which should be a constant source of encouragement, a constant object of praise. We should expect that He will sustain us in the midst of all things, carrying us at last through death itself and beyond all adversity as surely as an eagel soars effortlessly above the struggles and dangers of the earth below.

Psalm 147:1-11 – A song of praise exhorting God’s people to worship him because it is appropriate. For one thing, He watches over his people, gathering them together. He is the source of healing for those who are sad. This is possible because of God’s power, so vast that He controls the heavens and therefore can protect his people from evil. Further praise goes to God for sending his creation all that is necessary to live and thrive. As such He is not impressed by feats of strength and examples of power, but rather desires the worship and love of those He has created.

1 Corinthians 9:16-27 – In the opening half of this chapter Paul responds perhaps to objections the Corinthians have expressed to his authority, perhaps insinuating or asserting that since he is not one of the Twelve, he isn’t really an apostle and shouldn’t expect to be treated as one. Paul objects to this on a variety of grounds before moving on in his thoughts to the kind of ministry he has been called to – a ministry that involves him adjusting himself to his environment and his tactics. With the Jews he is the observant Jew, yet when with Gentiles he does not allow his Jewish traditions to interfere with or complicate the Gospel message he preaches. He has given up his rights and privileges and even authority in order that he might convince as many people as possible of the truth of the Gospel.

Paul encourages his hearers to be as intentional in their lives and witness. There is a goal towards which they strain – the goal of being found in Christ at his return, and the secondary goal of drawing others into a similar relationship. Paul is willing to endure the scorn of the Corinthians if it means that they are drawn to Christ, but he also is willing to correct their misunderstanding or arrogance or ungratefulness, and clarify his own position as one not of exploiting them but rather relying on them to support and encourage his ministry both to them and others.

Mark 1:29-39 – The conclusion of the beginning of Mark’s gospel shows Jesus demonstrating his power not only over evil spirits but also physical maladies. Mark is clear in this passage that Jesus is doing both of these things. Some people assume that people in Jesus’ day were stupid and couldn’t tell the difference, but it’s clear that they did know the difference, and that they could discern the different effects of Jesus’ power and work. We might be inclined to assume that someone could fake demon possession or casting out demons, but getting rid of a fever and curing other known physical ailments would be more difficult to fake. Jesus becomes even more well known, and the people of Capernaum, where He appears to have based his ministry, may have felt a special relationship and ownership of him.

So the disciples indicating in the early morning hours that the town is already looking for him may imply more than at first glance. They wanted him to be their personal physician and healer and wonder-worker, and there was apparently enough need for such that they could keep him busy from early morning until the end of the day. Jesus has to clarify to his disciples that his mission and purpose is not to hang out his shingle as the town’s healer and demon-defeater. Rather, his mission has a larger scale. Two thousand years later we might better appreciate the full scope of his words. He doesn’t simply mean that He wants to visit Bethsaida or Nazareth or the other local towns. Rather, his mission would continue on from next town to next town, through his disciples and then through the Church, until everyone in the world would hear of the miraculous work of Jesus culminating in his death and resurrection, his ascension and promised return.

Jesus’ power was not local in nature but global – universal even. So wherever He went He exercised similar power and authority to the previous places He preached and ministered. Demons were cast out, the sick were healed, and most importantly the good news that the kingdom of God was near was proclaimed. It was this message that the exorcisms and healings were intended to point towards and provide validation of. The powers that held humanity captive – physical afflictions as well as spiritual oppression – were losing their power. Jesus came to destroy those not on just a limited scale geographically or historically, but throughout all time and space.

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