For Jan. 26, 2014: 3 Epiphany, Year A

The Reading            Isaiah 9:1-4

The regions of ancient Israel were named for the In the eighth century BC, when Israel has been conquered and Judah threatened by the Assyrian empire, things are dark for the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali, which is to say the offspring of Jacob, in the north—but, says Isaiah, light and joy and victory are coming!

The Response            Psalm 27:1, 5-13

Psalm 27:1, 5-13 celebrates the greatness and mercy of the Lord in terms that remind us of the reading from Isaiah: we have faith not because evil cannot come near us, but because God is with us when it comes.

The Epistle            1 Corinthians 1:10-18

The church at Corinth probably counted no more than a few dozen, but Paul’s first letter makes clear that the members had fallen into factions, claiming bragging rights based on whether they’d been baptized by Paul or Apollos or Cephas (whom we know as Peter). Paul lets them know just how badly this misses the point.

The Gospel            Matthew 4:12-23

As his public ministry begins, Jesus relocates from Nazareth, then a small hamlet in the mountains, to Capernaum on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee; Matthew paraphrases Isaiah’s prophecy about this. Jesus then calls ordinary people from their ordinary lives to share in his ministry.

 

Ponderables

Common threads in the readings for the third Sunday in Epiphany are light and darkness—and fishing. The great light of Isaiah’s prophecy is reflected in the first verse of Psalm 27, in Paul’s resonant affirmation of the Good News, and in Matthew paraphrasing Isaiah’s prophecy to identify Jesus as its fulfillment. But there is also darkness: Isaiah speaks in very bad times, the psalmist foresees trouble in spite of and perhaps even because of being God’s instrument, the church at Corinth is rent with faction and backbiting, and Jesus’ calling wrenches the fishermen away from sacred obligations and the roles that give people identity.

What it is that Jesus is using as bait, to pull those fishermen in so fast? Surely not triumph or accomplishment: fisherfolk know that a good haul today means mending nets so you can try to tear them all over again tomorrow. Surely not an easy life with no conflict: the psalmist looking into the future knows better, and if the Corinthians, despite mentoring by The Apostle Paul His Ownself, feel the tug of faction and carping, then we two millennia later shouldn’t be surprised.

Could it have been love? The love that is brave enough both to tell the truth with grace and to hear it with humility? The love that checks the very human impulse to leap from divergence to disagreement to argument to faction? The love that makes all God’s children more welcome than our fear makes us strangers?

What if we all made that love our bait, and went fishing?

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