Posts Tagged '3 Epiphany'

For Jan. 25, 2015: 3 Epiphany, Year B

The Reading                                                         Jonah 3:1-5, 10

Nineveh was the capital of Israel’s worst enemy, the idolatrous and repressive Assyrian empire. Jonah’s first response to the call to preach repentance there was to flee by ship; it landed him in the belly of a huge fish. This time, Jonah goes partway into the city—and the whole city pays heed, and God chooses not to destroy them.

The Response                                                      Psalm 62:6-14

In a world of wickedness, the psalmist identifies our hope. It is not in the nobility of the highly placed nor even in the virtue of ordinary folk; it is not in amassing riches however one can; it is in the Lord.

The Epistle                                                           1 Corinthians 7:29-31

Paul believed that the end of the world as we know it was coming in his lifetime or that of his hearers. In 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, he reminds them that doing business as usual, in marrying, mourning, rejoicing, buying and selling, or dealing with the world, is no longer the way to live. The right time for the work of God is now.

The Gospel                                                          Mark 1:14-20

Very early in the book of Mark, Jesus begins his ministry by announcing good news: the kingdom of God is near! When he calls disciples from among the fishermen of the Sea of Galilee, they respond (as Mark is at pains to tell us twice) immediately.

Further thoughts

The book of Jonah is an ironic and sometimes comic story about a man who is called by God to preach repentance to his nation’s bitter enemies; his attempt to run away from doing God’s incomprehensible bidding nearly causes a shipwreck in a storm sent by God, and his success in preaching repentance to hated foreigners makes him throw a tantrum. Christians tend to see in Jonah a type or foreshadowing of Jesus: they seize on the call to preach to gentiles, they point to Jonah’s insistence that the terrified sailors save themselves by throwing him overboard, and they note that Jonah’s time in the fish’s belly lasts just as long as Jesus’ time in death. Jews, for their part, read the book of Jonah on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, as a parable of repentance and mercy: they observe that it pleased God neither to destroy Nineveh once its people repented nor to destroy Jonah even though he rebelled, and thus it is both vital and good to be conscious of one’s sin. In both faiths, there is a tradition of substitutionary expiation, or blotting out sin by relocating it. In the days of the Temple in Judaism, one of the many rituals involved symbolically placing the sins of the people over the past year on a goat that would be sent out into the wilderness and herded off a cliff. Christianity no longer countenances animal sacrifice, but it is a mainstay of the faith that the good news is that Jesus died to take away our sin.

In Mark 1:14-20, Jesus launches his ministry by announcing good news: the kingdom of God is near. It is a little challenging to square this pronouncement with the position that what is good news is that Jesus has died for our sins, for the simple reason that, as he speaks, Jesus is still very much alive in this world. This raises the possibility that something other than substitutionary expiation is at work, or at the very least something in addition. Furthermore, it is hard to imagine that a promise to be died for at some point in the future will suffice to motivate Simon and Andrew and James and John to drop everything in the present to run after Jesus. As D. Mark Davis points out, Mark 1:14-20 doesn’t tell us what that is. But Mark 10: 28-31 may give part of the answer. When Peter points out that the he and the other disciples have left everything to follow him, Jesus replies, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.” What he offers, in other words, pays off not only in the future but in this age.

What else can that be, in the here and now, but the chance—the call, the duty, and the inestimable privilege—to love and be loved and make the world new like God?

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.



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?

For Jan. 27, 2013: 3 Epiphany, Year C

The Reading            Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

The Book of Nehemiah was written almost one hundred years after the exiles in Babylon rejoined those who were left behind in the ruins of Jerusalem. It was under Nehemiah’s direction that the city walls were finally rebuilt and the gates hung, and at long last all the people were brought together to hear the Law read and explained.

The Response            Psalm 19

The Second Reading            1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

Paul today continues his counsel to the church at Corinth, expanding on last week’s insight that each of us is God’s gifted child. If we are in Christ, we are one body—and each of us needs all the gifts and guidance of the rest of us, in our function as “God with skin on”, to grow into the full measure of God in us.

The Gospel            Luke 4:14-21


Further thoughts

The CEO of Hilton International, Chris Nessetta, touts the hotel industry as requiring, and rewarding, a broad range of abilities and gifts. “We’re a very complex business… I mean if you’re interested in accounting, finance, tax, development, construction, marketing, you know, the online space… Every one of those and a hundred other things we do every day to make this business work.” He himself began, he says, by plunging toilets.

That breadth permeates today’s readings about the nature of life in the kingdom of God. The men and women of Nehemiah’s account—some of them returned deportees, others the remnant who eked out lives in a city crumbling around them—are hearing the Word read in Jerusalem and in Hebrew for the first time in decades. It is a day to feast, but first a day to weep for joy. Surely they would agree with the psalmist’s assessment of the Word of God as more desirable than gold and sweeter than honey. Just as surely they recognize the thousands of small actions undertaken with thought and grace that make this glorious day possible.

The epistle and the life of Christ underline this point. Paul enumerates desirable gifts of the Spirit, yes, but not before emphasizing and reemphasizing the indispensability of even the least of us to the whole body of Christ. Jesus announces himself as the very fulfillment of the Law that had made Nehemiah’s people weep, but later, we know, he will stop en route to his execution to wash others’ dirty feet and he will take the time once arisen to gut, scale and broil fish for breakfast.

Solemn occasions and grand spiritual gifts have their place, certainly—but in this world, toilets need plunging. Glorifying and enjoying God is not a matter of dazzling display on special occasions but rather of going our way every day, sleeves rolled up, to live out God’s call and to seek God’s good in each other’s faces.

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