Engaging the Word: Readings for 2/1/15 (Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany)

By Barbara Klugh

Moses, by Joan Gascó (c. 1500 - 1529). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Moses, by Joan Gascó (c. 1500 – 1529). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text. This week’s readings have to do with the question of who speaks with authority on behalf of God.

Deuteronomy 18:15-20: Deuteronomy is the fifth book of the Bible, and the last of the five books of the Torah. It’s presented as a series of sermons by Moses as the Israelites prepare to cross the Jordan and enter the Promised Land. The action takes place c. 1400 BC, but the book was composed over several centuries, with final editing around the time of the exile. Moses, speaking on behalf of God, reviews the events of the past 40 years and renews the covenant between God and Israel.

In this week’s reading, Moses tells of the Lord’s intention to raise up a prophet to take his place after he dies. (The use of the collective singular “prophet” points to a series of Old Testament prophets.) Like Moses, the prophet will be a person chosen directly by God to be God’s spokesman. He will guide the nation in its affairs, giving them the authoritative word of God. The people will be held accountable for obeying the prophet’s words. But a prophet who speaks falsely in God’s name will be put to death. We in the Christian community see the culmination of Moses’ promise in Jesus Christ, the ultimate spokesman and revealer of God’s Word.

Psalm 111: this week’s psalm is a hymn of thanksgiving to the almighty and awesome Lord for his works of “majesty and splendor” and because he “is gracious and full of compassion.” The first part of the final verse is a well-known teaching: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” To listen to Psalm 111 sung in Anglican Chant by the choir of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Birmingham, Alabama, Click here.

1 Corinthians 8:1-13: In this week’s reading, Paul continues to respond to questions received in a letter by the Corinthian Church.

St. Paul, by Giotto (1266 - 1337). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
St. Paul, by Giotto (1266 – 1337). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

This passage concerns food sacrificed to idols. Some Corinthian Christians (the weak ones) still believed that the idols were gods and thought it was wrong to eat meat from sacrifices. Others (the knowledgeable ones) believed it was okay, since they knew that “no idol in the world really exists” and that “there is no God but One.” Paul agrees with their reasoning, but not with their conclusion because “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” It is love that binds the community together, so concern for others trumps individual freedom. Paul says it’s a sin to lead others to behavior that wounds their conscience; indeed, it’s a sin against Christ as well. Paul adds, “Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat so that I may not cause one of them to fall.”

How can we adapt the lesson of this ancient text for our 21sr century lives? Here’s what came to me. You may have heard about the tragic death on December 27 in Maryland where a bicyclist was killed in a hit-and-run accident. Charges of manslaughter, drunken driving, leaving the scene of an accident, and causing an accident while texting have been brought against the Episcopal Bishop Suffragan of Maryland. Our Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Whayne Hoagland, wrote in the January 16 EDWM Communicator:

This event brings up many issues. It brings to light that we often choose to sweep aside or neglect to consider the casual use of alcohol within our community. I want us to be aware of this….I’m committed to our health as a diocese, which includes our physical, spiritual and emotional well-being. I want to invite you to join me in giving up alcohol for Lent as a way we might begin to pursue a balanced, healthy life.(Full issue here)

 Daniel said today (1/25) that he, too, was giving up alcohol for Lent and invited us to stand with him and do the same. I drink wine daily as pleasant part of our before-dinner ritual, and, after some wavering, decided to join with the Bishop and Daniel and give up alcohol for Lent as a spiritual discipline. What convinced me was that I caught myself rationalizing—I’m a responsible drinker, I don’t drink and drive, it’s only a glass of wine, etc. I realized that at some level I have made alcohol too important. What about you?

Mark 1:21-28: In this week’s reading, Jesus and his four disciples went to Capernaum, which became Jesus’ home base. When the Sabbath came, Jesus taught in the synagogue. Mark doesn’t report what Jesus taught, but “they were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” When the scribes taught, they cited authorities and precedents from the past, but Jesus needed no authority beyond himself. No wonder the scribes were among those most opposed to Jesus.

Healing of the demon possessed. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Healing of the demon possessed. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Then a man with an unclean spirit in the synagogue yelled, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” I’m intrigued that the demon-possessed always recognize Jesus as the Holy One of God, while those of us supposedly in our right minds are so slow. “Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.” This is a big deal because the pagan and Jewish exorcists used spells and incantations, but Jesus’ exorcised the demon with a few words—again on his own power and authority. Again the crowd was amazed and wondered, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” Not surprisingly, Jesus’ fame began to spread throughout the region.

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