Reading Ramblings – January 26, 2020

Reading Ramblings

Date: Third Sunday after the Epiphany – January 26, 2020

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

Context: The season of Ordinary Time begins this year with the start of Jesus’ public ministry and the calling of his first disciples. In these simple acts, Jesus continues to fulfill Old Testament prophecies. The location of his birth, the virgin birth, his sojourn as a toddler in Egypt, and now where He begins his ministry, in the regions of the original tribal lands of Zebulun and Naphtali, now known as Galilee – Matthew sees it all as fulfiling words spoken centuries earlier.

Isaiah 9:1-4 – The end of Isaiah 8 pictures God’s unfaithful people wandering in the wilderness, blinded by the spiritual darkness they walk in. They seek out wisdom and insights from mediums and conjurers – forbidden to God’s people but now his people are desperate for guidance. They do not turn to God, but to those He has forbidden them. They find nothing. They hunger and receive nothing, and as they hunger they curse God and look everywhere while seeing nothing. Powerful words in light of the Gospel reading that follows Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Zebulun and Naphtali were tribes, descendants of the sons of Jacob, and this region stretched to the west and north of the Sea of Galilee. These regions ceased to be known by their tribal names in the days of Solomon. Now the area is known as Galilee. Once this area was cursed, destroyed by the Assyrians with the rest of the northern kingdom of Israel. But this ignomy will be done away with, and this region will again be called blessed. Those who struggled in darkness will receive a light, the light of God. Jesus is the light, as John’s gospel testified. Jesus who hungered in the wilderness after his baptism did not despise God and did not grow angry and bitter but remained obedient, so that He might start his formal ministry and be the light in the darkness of our sinful world.

Psalm 27:1-9 – The light imagery continues in the psalm selection. The Lord is the source of light; no one can extinguish this light nor can any other light eclipse it or displace it. The Lord’s light is steadfast and constant and reliable, the only true light to trust in. Satan lines up his forces against God’s faithful, but Satan has no power over us. He can kill and destroy but God can make alive again! He can afflict our lives for a limited span of time but God will summon us forth from death to life for eternity! The work of the enemy against us will fail. God alone can be trusted in all situations – not necessarily to do what we want him to do, but to save us from our sins and eternal separation from him. Jesus chose obedience even after 40 days without food. Jesus continued his faithful obedience in calling disciples to listen to his teaching and bear witness to what He would do during his short three years of public ministry. In all things, Jesus trusted the light of God rather than the boasts and temptations of Satan.

1 Corinthians 1:10-18 – We continue from the thanksgiving portion of the letter into Paul’s broad summary of the problems plaguing the church in Corinth. The root problem is division. That division takes a lot of forms – disagreements about food, about what to wear to church or what is appropriate sexual behavior or whether believers in Jesus should divorce their unbelieving spouse, or even disagreements about whose teaching is best or most authoritative or impressive. Paul, having moved on from Corinth, is given report of dissension. Paul may have founded the congregation but that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone there prefers his teaching. Some may have heard other preachers and teachers and now elevate them to a preferred status to Paul. Paul is not interested in arguing to defend his preeminence. Only Jesus matters – a theme he stressed in the opening of his letter as we read last week. Jesus must be the focus or else we inevitably will begin to fight amongst ourselves for that priority and importance. Instead of divisiveness Paul stresses unity – a unity that comes not simply from the exercise of our will (though that of course is involved) but from God the Holy Spirit’s presence and work. The word of Christ crucified, resurrected, ascending and coming again is the centralizing message of the Christian faith, and all Christians should consider ourselves and one another in the light of this message. Why worry about elegance or personal prestige? Jesus alone is worthy of our consideration. Our unity derives from Jesus only!

Matthew 4:12-25 – Continuing to be led by the Holy Spirit, Jesus moves from the waters of the Jordan to the wilderness and now back to his home turf of Galilee. Ah yes, here He is calling the disciples, like Andrew-wait a minute – John said in his Gospel last week that Andrew began following Jesus in Bethany Beyond the Jordan, not Galilee! What’s going on here?!?

The scene in John 1 is indeed by the Jordan River, far from Galilee. Likely at the end of a major festival in Jerusalem, when all of these natives of Galilee – far to the north of Jerusalem – would have been in the area. It’s possible they came specifically – and separately – to see John the Baptist and hear what he was saying but that seems more problematic for working men to take additional time off for such an excursion. Then again, the fact they are willing to follow John the Baptist and then Jesus may indicate an extreme personal interest in God and theology that would make such a sacrifice of time and money understandable.

In any event, it is here, far to the south of Galilee, where Andrew and Peter and James and John first meet Jesus and express a desire and willingness to become his disciples. This would be understood to mean giving up their current vocations (fishermen) and dedicating themselves to formal study with Jesus. This rather unexpected change in their life work would necessitate some level of coordination with family back home. The disciples and Jesus return to Galilee shortly after the account in John 1. John 1 details four days – the day of John the Baptists’ initial interrogation by religious leaders from Jerusalem (1:19-28), the following day when John begins to proclaim Jesus as the Lamb of God(1:29-34), the next day when John proclaims Jesus as such a second time (1:35-42) and a final day when Jesus begins the return trip to Galilee (1:43-51). By this point Jesus has at least six disciples – Peter, Andrew, Philip and Nathanel, and by tradition, James and John (John not bothering to name himself in 1:37-40, as is his habit in his gospel). The return trek to Galilee likely could have taken six days or more, or might have been accomplished in one or two long days of travel depending on the starting and ending points. Whenever Jesus returned, He and his disciples on the third day (2:1) attended a wedding in Cana which is about a half-day journey from Nazareth, presuming this is where Jesus returns to. John’s gospel could mean that three days after returning to Galilee, Jesus now has his disciples and they head to Cana.

Jesus may have returned to Galilee separately from his disciples (likely with his brothers and mother), and so once Jesus has concluded his personal affairs in Nazareth He sets out in search of the men who committed themselves to be his disciples. They likely told him where they worked as fishermen so He could find them. Upon finding them He calls them, indicating it is time to follow. Having already made their own arrangements, they now do so. John and Matthew’s accounts are not contradictory, but together describe a reasonable transition for at least some of Jesus’ disciples from other vocations to that of being rabbinical students.

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