Posts Tagged '1 corinthians'

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.

For Jan. 22, 2012: 3 Epiphany, Year B

The Reading    Jonah 3:1-5, 10
When God first sent Jonah to preach repentance to Nineveh, Jonah tried to run away from God. This attempt makes more sense when we realize that Nineveh was not only un-Jewish, it was the capital city of Israel’s biggest enemy, the repressive Assyrian empire. In today’s reading, Jonah obeys. How do you think the Assyrians will respond?

The Epistle    1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Whether or not we believe that the end times will occur within our lifetimes, the message of Paul’s first letter to Corinth is timeless and timely: for living the faith and doing the work of God, the right time is always right now.

Further thoughts
Two of today’s scriptures pose challenges for us that are familiar—and familiarly difficult to contemplate. The letter to the Corinthians explains that business as usual is over, because the end of the world is imminent; Paul believed this and lived this, leaving the privileges of a Pharisee to serve as God’s errand boy to the Gentiles. At the other end of the social scale, the gospel shows the humble fisherfolk Simon, Andrew, James, and John dropping everything to follow Jesus. This is clearly serious business: if our worth as Christians hangs on our willingness to forsake all our other responsibilities at a word, most of us today just don’t measure up.

For the rest of us, there’s Jonah. The book of Jonah is full of ironies and surprises and some of the Bible’s funniest material. Though it’s easy to sneer at Jonah, it’s wise to sympathize: what will a Jewish boy accomplish preaching repentance to this Mesopotamian empire of Jew-oppressing pagans? So Jonah sails for Tarshish, which could be in southern Turkey or northern Africa or even southern Spain—in short, Anywhere Else. When his ship nearly sinks, Jonah begs the terrified sailors to throw him overboard; God will save them, and drowning still gets him out of going to Nineveh. A huge fish sent by God swallows Jonah and pukes him up near home. Once Jonah’s decent again, God orders him back to Nineveh. Jonah goes this time, and succeeds wildly beyond expectation: Jonah 3:6-9 shows even the animals in sackcloth. God then elects to spare all the Ninevites— whereupon Jonah stomps off and pouts: how dare God change God’s mind and let these bad boys off the hook? God’s response is not to blast Jonah into next week for insubordination, but rather to give him shade.

The book of Jonah is read by Jews in its entirety on Yom Kippur, the very solemn Jewish Day of Atonement. Whether we choose God’s standard for behavior or Paul’s or the early disciples, we fall short, and it is appropriate to remember that and be sorry. But it is also vital not to get stuck there, nor to confine others there. Jonah helps us recall that God’s way is to bring mercies beyond expectation through improbable means and unlikely messengers—like you and me.


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