Reading Ramblings – January 19, 2020

Reading Ramblings

Date: Second Sunday after the Epiphany – January 19, 2020

Texts: Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-11; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42a

Context: Although designated as the Sundays after Epiphany, we begin Ordinary Time this week, similarly to how we are in Ordinary Time during those Sundays also designated as being after Pentecost. As such, today the Epistle lesson departs thematically from the Old Testament and Gospel readings. Those readings (along with the psalm) continue to highlight to divine nature of Jesus, as is fitting to the season of Epiphany, drawing on various witnesses to this divine nature. The Epistle lesson continues the lectio selecta route by starting with 1 Corinthians. Unfortunately, we aren’t going to get very far into this book this year, which is tragic considering how crucial Paul’s words to the church in Corinth are for the church in America today.

Isaiah 49:1-7 – Who is this anointed Messiah, this servant of God, and what will this person do? Isaiah’s words (inspired by the Holy Spirit) are beautifully descriptive, making it clear this is no ordinary leader or prophet. The relationship of this servant to God begins before his birth (v.1) with particular intent to his purpose. Everything about him – including the details of his entry to this world – are coordinated by God according to his perfect plan, concealing him until the perfect moment. Yet he remains human, not above emotions and feelings of failure. Yet these won’t consume or derail him, rather he will continue to trust in God (v.4). In response to these struggles, God the Father affirms his purpose in his servant, a purpose that far exceeds human expectations, extending to the salvation of all peoples rather than just God’s chosen people Israel. All of creation, including those most powerful, will eventually bow in acknowledgment that the servant of God is the expression of God the Father’s willl and plan.

Psalm 40:1-11 – We can read this as a psalm of David, who authored it. We can think back on his turbulent life and how God indeed was his rock and salvation through many difficult and trying times. But it’s also interesting to imagine the opening verses of this psalm ultimately not just being about David or you and I, but something Jesus himself would say. God delivers his suffering servant and Son from the very grip of death, raising him to life so that many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord (v.3). Jesus himself knows full well the blessedness of obedience. Not the ease of obedience, but the blessedness of it. He knows full well that obedience to God is always best because He lives this perfect obedience himself and can speak from firsthand knowledge. Jesus is the fullest expression of human obedience to God, and He calls us to participate in this through him. While our obedience will be imperfect, we are still blessed as we follow God’s will and Word in our lives because it leads us ultimately to eternal life and freedom not just from sin but from the death that sin brings.

1 Corinthians 1:1-9 – What strikes me first about these opening verses is what I know about the rest of 1 Corinthians. Paul is writing to a congregation he founded, but a congregation with some serious problems. Most of this letter to them will be spent in trying to correct errors in doctrine and practice. Yet Paul asserts here that despite their many and major problems, they are still the church, they are still the sanctified, and they are still saints. Their sins are many, but the grace of God in Jesus Christ is greater still. We can be recalled from our sins to repentance, and so our sins themselves are never adequate evidence we are not saints in Christ! Despite their sins, Paul can assert they still have received enrichment by God in every way regarding speech and knowledge. Those are strong things to affirm, knowing what he’s going to have to chastise them for shortly!

Sosthenes is mentioned in Acts 18, which has to do with Paul’s time in Corinth. When Paul first comes to Corinth the leader of the synagogue, Crispus, converts to Christianity along with his entire family. Paul stayed for 18 months there teaching and preaching. After his departure, Crispus is replaced with Sosthenes as the ruler of the synagogue. Whether this was a political move by the Jews because of Crispus’ conversion isn’t stated in the text, but Sosthenes apparently also becomes a believer and a fellow-traveler with Paul as he is named here. He is held by some to be an early Christian Bishop, though others are uncertain whether these traditions can be trusted.

John 1:29-42a – I’m not sure why John’s gospel is brought in at this point, though it follows on the theme of last Sunday (the Baptism of our Lord). And it certainly fits the Epiphany theme of the revelation of the divinity of Jesus, with John the Baptist as the last of the Old Testament-style prophets pointing directly at Jesus and proclaiming him the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. John is apparently the first prophet or other person to use this term. But of course the first time a sacrificial lamb is mentioned is in Genesis 22 and the account of Abraham being commanded to sacrifice Isaac to God as a test. Abraham assures Isaac that God will provide the necessary lamb for the sacrifice. God does in that case, and God does through Jesus as well. Likewise, the passover lamb is the next type of lamb specifically described for sacrifice in Exodus 12, and it has to be a young lamb but perfect and without blemish. This sacrificial lamb saves the household from the angel of death, but Jesus offers his life on behalf of the ends of the earth (Isiaah 49:6).

John the Baptist thus begins his ministry as the last Old Testament-style prophet, telling people about the coming Messiah (John 1:26-27), and ends his ministry as the first evangelist, the first one to point others to Jesus as the source of salvation.

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