Engaging the Word: Readings for 2/8/15 (Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany)

By Barbara Klugh

Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-12 21c; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text. This week’s reading have to do with God’s creative power and compassion—as our Creator, in the words of the prophet, in the calling of Paul to share the Gospel, and as revealed in the person of Jesus.

isaiah 40 31aIsaiah 40:21-31: This week’s reading is from Second Isaiah, commonly dated c. 540 BC, when the rising kingdom of Persia was about to defeat the Babylonian Empire. Chapters 1-39 were about God’s impending judgment upon Jerusalem for its failure to love God and neighbor. Chapters 40-55 begin about 160 years later. During the long interval, Jerusalem has been destroyed and the Babylonian exile is in effect. God’s people are grieving, dispirited, and worn out. Many of them believe God has abandoned them.

They couldn’t have been more wrong. Beginning in Chapter 40, we hear a decisive new message. God is present, powerful, and active; God announces that the exile is over and speaks words of comfort, forgiveness, hope, and homecoming to his chosen people.

During Advent, we read the beginning of this chapter (40:1-11). For a refresher of my notes, click here.

In this week’s reading, the prophet continues his message of hope. He proclaims that the exiles can take comfort in the fact that the Lord their God is the only God, the One who created the heavens and the earth. The rulers of the earth are like grasshoppers as far as God is concerned. The Lord is the everlasting God who cares for his people, and “does not faint or grow weary.” God’s people have an inexhaustible source of power from God and “those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” This is Good News indeed.

Psalm 147:1-11, 20c: This week’s psalm begins and ends with “Hallelujah!” It’s a hymn of praise to God for his mighty power, limitless wisdom, and providential care to all creation. In my Prayer Book, I’ve highlighted and starred verse 3: “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

The Apostle Paul, by Rembrandt (1606 - 1669). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
The Apostle Paul, by Rembrandt (1606 – 1669). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

1 Corinthians 9:16-23: In his week’s reading, Paul extends last week’s thought that Christians should restrict their freedom, so they will not be a stumbling block to others. He offers his own life as an example. For Paul, proclaiming the gospel is no reason to boast because he was commissioned by the Lord. As an apostle, he has the right to be supported financially, but he has chosen not to do so, and proclaims the gospel free of charge.

Paul has made himself a slave to all that he might further the gospel. He tailored his message to his listeners, depending on their customs and circumstances: “I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.” I think M. Robert Mulholland‘s definition of Christian formation in his book, Shaped by the Word, sums up Paul’s commitment to sharing the Gospel: “Christian spiritual formation is the process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.”

Mark 1:29-39: This week’s reading continues the narrative from last week. Jesus and his four disciples left the synagogue and went to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was sick in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her. “He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.”

That evening, after the Sabbath, the whole city had heard of Jesus’ healing of the unclean spirit, and they gathered around the door. Jesus healed the sick and cured many who were sick or possessed by demons. I’m not sure why, but Jesus “would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.”

Healing Peter's Mother-in-law, from a 13th century manuscript from the Athos monasteries. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Healing Peter’s Mother-in-law, from a 13th century manuscript from the Athos monasteries. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Early in the morning Jesus withdraws to a deserted place to pray. Even Jesus needed to be spiritually strengthened by spending time in the presence of his Father. (And he carved out the time to do so.) His disciples found him and told him that people were looking for him. Jesus replied, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” Instead of returning to Capernaum, Jesus moved on to the neighboring towns throughout Galilee, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom in the synagogues and casting out demons.

N.T. Wright writes about how Jesus used his authority for healing in Mark for Everyone:

Sometimes people for whom life had become a total nightmare—whose personalities seemed taken over by alien powers—confronted Jesus; indeed, they seemed to have had a kind of inside track on recognizing him, knowing who he was and what he’d come to do. He’d come to stop the nightmare, to rescue people, both nations and individuals, from the destructive forces that enslaved them. So whether it was shrieking demons, a woman with a fever, or simply whatever diseases people happened to suffer from, Jesus dealt with them, all with the same gentle but deeply effective authority.

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