For Jan. 15, 2012: 2 Epiphany, Year B

The Reading    1 Samuel 3:1-20
The priesthood of Samuel, the anointer of great King David, is full of surprises. He was born to a mother who had been barren for decades, and his tribe was not the priestly tribe of Levi. Today’s reading relates the beginning of Samuel’s service—and, as is so often God’s way, the surprises build.

The Epistle    1 Corinthians 6:12-20
Samuel was consecrated to the service of God. Jesus’ life and death consecrate us as God’s children and frees us from judgment. In today’s epistle, written to the mixed Jewish and Gentile community at Corinth, Paul points out limits on our freedom.

Further thoughts
One of the difficult tasks of parenthood is to balance two realizations: on the one hand, one is responsible for one’s child; on the other hand, one does not own one’s child, even one’s very young child. We don’t meet Samuel’s mother Hannah in today’s reading, but in the height of her gratitude to God for giving her a son, she promises him to God for good, and then in love she sets about giving the boy the best start possible before she makes good on her promise. The priest Eli’s dealings with Samuel in this reading suggest that Eli has also achieved a balance of those realizations, but from the other end of parenthood and more painfully: his sons’ repeated bad decisions reflect adversely on Eli’s parenting, because Eli had opportunities to intervene but did not do so. One also senses that, before the prophesied doom falls, Eli’s hard-earned understanding will contribute to a better outcome for Samuel.
The letter to the Corinthians was primarily intended to deal with matters of doctrine and of community discipline: the church at Corinth, which was a Greco-Roman trading city, included both Jews and Gentiles, and to say that they disagreed vigorously on appropriate ritual practices such as circumcision and dietary restrictions is to understate the case. Today’s reading also continues the theme of our non-ownership. Just as we do not possess our children, we do not truly possess ourselves: we are God’s because God made us and we are God’s because God paid for us. We are freed from sin by virtue of Jesus’ death. This freedom, however, does not allow us to do whatever we will with our bodies, or for that matter with our talents, money, or time or even each other: in exchange for the extravagant gift of grace, it is incumbent upon us Christians to devote all the means at our disposal to do the work of God for the glory of God, and to look for the face and fingerprints of God in every person.
In short, we are to give ourselves back in gratitude for the grace of God that has given us back the true selves that God made. In so doing we will follow and honor Hannah’s hard but healing example.

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