Reading Ramblings – January 27, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Third Sunday after the Epiphany – January 27, 2019

Texts: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a; Luke 4:16-30

Context: Easter is later this year (April 21), which pushes back the start of Lent as well, so there is a longer liturgical season of Ordinary Time at the start of this year than there was last year.. While the Sundays are notated in context to Epiphany, we’re not in the season of Epiphany any longer (since last week) and the Epistle reading follows the lectio continua tradition rather than linking up as tightly with the Gospel and Old Testament.

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 – Having returned from exile in Babylon, the people of God are gathered together again to hear the Word of the Lord in fullness, with explanation. The Word of God their parents and grandparents had forgotten and fallen out of faithfulness to, leading to God’s discipline by destroying Jerusalem and the Temple and leading his people into exile. But now they are home again. God’s graciousness and mercy has given them another chance, a new opportunity to be the faithful people their ancestors were not. An emotional day, but ultimately a day of joy and celebration. To hear of their special relationship to the Creator of the universe should not be a cause for sadness or fear but ultimately joy. To them was entrusted the Word of God, his revelation to his Creation of his identity, their fallen condition, and his promises to restore creation and all those who would trust in this promise. God’s Word is still as source of joy and strength and peace today when people flounder with no anchor, no base, no sure footing in an ever-shifting culture and world. To hear the Word of God is a privilege and a joy!

Psalm 19 – Some might object that knowledge of a Creator is impossible, that the very nature of such an entity is by definition beyond our ability to grasp. But this is not true, according to God. We can indeed grasp the existence of and even some of the attributes of the God behind creation, as creation itself is a witness to his existence and nature. The way that all of creation works together is a testimony to the coherence of God’s Word, and as God sustains creation in good order, his Word to us can do the same for our lives. In fact, the Word of God ultimately is better than creation itself, more beautiful and worthy than any single aspect of the natural order around us. As we grow to marvel in creation, and as we unlock some of the inner workings of the natural world, we must be careful to not presume that such knowledge is greater than the knowledge of the Creator himself. Such is a serious sin as it creates an idol (ourselves or our own understanding) in the place that belongs by definition only to the Creator himself. God’s Word guides us in the life of faith that can marvel in God’s creation, engage with it intelligently and in the expectation that we can and will understand some of it, and yet ultimately reserve the thanks and glory to God alone.

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a – Paul continues his exploration of the nature of spiritual gifts, stressing that rather than competing for certain, more highly prized gifts, the Corinthians should recognize that the varied gifts of their members are for the greater good of the whole community. The creativity of God the Father is expressed in the variety of gifts that God the Holy Spirit is able and willing to bestow on God’s people. The gifts are to be seen for what they are – from God, for his people, rather than matters of individual pride and preference. All are necessary, all need to work together or the body of Christ will not function smoothly. Each gift has value. Each has a function and a contribution to the good of the entire body. To all desire the same gift makes no sense, any more than it would make sense to have a body comprised entirely of a single body part. It makes no sense, and in fact is not what God the Holy Spirit intends. Paul seems to be dealing with a matter of dissension among the Corinthians, trying to set them at peace with one another rather than arguing about whose gift is greater or more desirable. Paul desires the Corinthians to quit squabbling and focus on bigger issues, and ultimately the most desirable gift of all, which is increasing love for one another as an expression of love for God.

Luke 4:16-30 – Once again the reading of God’s Word is the center of the episode. The Nehemiah text featured an audience to whom the Word was new – beautiful and terrible, overwhelming to them. But here we see an audience familiar with the Word, expecting more from both the Word and the speaker. They are not impressed with what they are given. They want more. Apparently they want to see Jesus do some of the impressive things that He has done in Capernaum (Mark 1:21-34). They either want him to prove himself to them, to earn their approval, or they wish to benefit personally from his gifts since He’s a local boy. In any event, Jesus isn’t interested in campaigning for their support or placating them with healings and miracles of their own. In fact, He seems to deliberately provoke them, making it clear that their home-town relationship to him does not entitle them to preferential treatment nor obligate him to earn their approval. As God the Father rejected his own people in the past and showed favor to outsiders, so God the Son can and will do the same. It’s clear from their reaction that they understand his implications perfectly. They don’t believe that He could be the Messiah, and so who is this carpenter’s son to speak so insolently to them? Their reaction does not speak faith or even a desire for faith in this man. In their pride they rush to punish him, to show him who is more powerful and more deserving of honor. But they have no power over Jesus. Whether this is Luke painting a miracle in very muted tones, or whether Luke is simply describing the crowd’s inability to effectively manhandle Jesus, the fact remains that they do not control his identity or his destiny. They may not place their faith in him, but neither are they able to dictate his fate.

The Word of God elicits either faith or disdain, either a recognition of our shortcomings and rebelliousness, or an arousal of our pride and anger. The person who truly hears what the Word of God says is called to a response. But whatever the response, it has no power over the Word itself. It cannot rescind it or alter it or compel it to silence. The Word of God remains, and while darkness and evil people may continue to strive against it, they have not and will not overcome it.

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