Engaging the Word: 1/22/17 (The Third Sunday after the Epiphany)

 By Barbara Klugh

Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27:1, 5-13; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text. In this week’s readings, we’re challenged to consider our calling, and what we are to do—individually and as a faith community—to manifest the kingdom of heaven.

The Prophet Isaiah by Giovanni di Piamonte, c.1456-1466.
The Prophet Isaiah by Giovanni di Piamonte, c.1456-1466. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Isaiah 9:1-4: Our reading is from First Isaiah, written before the exile, c. 740 to 700 BC.

In Chapter 8, Isaiah told of God’s judgment and the coming invasion of Jerusalem from Assyria. The people will be “greatly distressed and hungry….will see only distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish; and they will be thrust into thick darkness.” Now the prophecy moves away from a time of darkness and gloom to a vision of hope and joy. A great king will come from David’s line to rule in peace and justice.

The first verse sets the stage geographically. Zebulun and Naphtali were two of the twelve tribes of Israel, located in the northern kingdom; the area was also known as the “Galilee of the nations.” The “way of the sea” was an ancient trade route linking Egypt and Syria. “The land beyond the Jordan” refers to the land on the other (eastern) side of the Jordan River. All these lands were annexed by Assyria in 732 BC. “But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish.”

Then we have the beautiful poetry that we now associate with the coming of Jesus Christ. Bringing the future into the present, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…they rejoice before you…For the yoke of their burden, the rod of their oppressor…you have broken as on the day of Midian.” As you may remember, the day of Midian refers to Gideon’s great victory against the superior force of the Midianites (Judges 6-8).

This prophecy likely had its origin as a royal song of thanksgiving given at a coronation—most likely Hezekiah’s (715-687 BC). As Christians, when we read this passage, we read it as though Isaiah was anticipating the coming of Jesus.  The Life with God Bible comments:

Although a reference to Jesus is clearly a secondary interpretive maneuver that does not pertain to the historical intention of the prophet himself, it is a long-established and useful reading in church practice. Often referred to in interpretive theory as the “prophetic perspective,” this approach sees a double fulfillment in the prophet’s words—the primary and immediate historical context and also a more distant messianic reference. We may see in this passage (with reference both to Hezekiah and to Jesus the Messiah) that God designates human agents whom he empowers and authorizes in the public process of history. Such human agents designated by Yahweh turn the public reality of politics and economics toward the will of Yahweh.

 Psalm 27: Our portion of this week’s psalm combines a song of trust with an individual petition. I love the first verse:

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?
The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?

Sometimes I think this is all we need to know.

St Paul by William Burges (1827-1881). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
St Paul by William Burges (1827-1881). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

I Corinthians 1:10-18: In this week’s reading, Paul is concerned about discord within the Corinthian Church. Chloe’s people had informed Paul that Christians were quarreling and divided. Paul appeals to them as “brothers and sisters,” to be “united in the same mind and the same purpose.” The Corinthian Christians seemed to feel that they “belonged” to the people who baptized them. Some of them “belonged” to Paul, some to Apollos, some to Cephas (Peter), and some to Christ. We should note that nothing is said that the individual leaders encouraged this divisive behavior. Paul asks, “Has Christ been divided?” Paul reminds the Corinthians that no one but Christ was crucified for them.

Then Paul tells about his own calling: “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.” Paul is about the message of the gospel in the simplest terms, not about getting points for eloquence. “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” One thing I notice about Paul is that he consistently pointed to Christ, not to himself.

Calling Disciples by He Qi, 2001. Public domain, via Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
Calling Disciples by He Qi, 2001. Public domain, via Vanderbilt Divinity Library.

 Matthew 4:12-23: Our lectionary jumps from Jesus’ baptism by John to the beginning of his public ministry, skipping the 40-day testing by the devil in the wilderness. In this week’s reading, when Jesus hears that John has been arrested, he reaches a turning point. He left Nazareth and went to the region of Galilee, to the fishing village of Capernaum. Matthew says this is “so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled,” (as we read in this week’s selection from Isaiah).

“From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’” In Understanding the Sunday Scriptures H. King Oehmig writes,“The Kingdom of heaven refers to that time when the truth of God’s redeeming power will be fully manifested in the world.”

Then Jesus recruits others to join him. Even Jesus—Son of God!—didn’t go it alone. To me this is a good indication that the Christian life is not to be lived in isolation but in community.

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he recruits his first four disciples, all fishermen—Simon, who is called Peter, Andrew his brother, and brothers James and John, sons of Zebedee. Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left what they were doing and followed Jesus.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

And now, Jesus has called us to share in his ministry—to proclaim the good news of the kingdom and to offer a healing touch to people in need.





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