Engaging the Word: Readings for 1/24/16 (The 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany)

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By Barbara Klugh

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a; Luke 4:14-21. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text. This week’s readings celebrate the Word of God as found in the scriptures, in nature, in the body of Christ, and in the identity of Jesus himself.

Ezra reads the law to the people by Gustave Doré, 1866. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Ezra reads the law to the people by Gustave Doré, 1866. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10: The books of Ezra and Nehemiah were originally a single book in the Hebrew Bible. They tell the story of the rebuilding of the temple and the walls of Jerusalem (in 52 days!) after the Jews returned from the Babylonian exile. But more than that, the books focus on the challenge of renewing Israel’s spiritual identity as God’s people. The people lacked a standard understanding of God’s commandments. Ezra was the priest and scribe, and Nehemiah was a faith-filled layman, governor, and building organizer.

This week’s reading describes teaching the people God’s word. All the people were gathered together at the Water Gate on the first day of the seventh month, and Ezra read from the Law of Moses from early morning until midday. According to book of Leviticus this day was designated as a day of rest and was ten days before the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur.  Later, and continuing to our time, this day became known as the Jewish New Year, or Rosh Hashanah.

As Ezra read the law, the Levites interpreted the law so the people would understand. The people began to weep—maybe because they realized how far they have strayed from God’s word. Or, it could be that they were overwhelmed at the rebuilding of the temple and are hearing God’s word back in their own land. Nehemiah, Ezra, and the Levites said, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” The people were told to celebrate and “do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Psalm 19: In this his week’s psalm, David praises God whose glory is revealed in heaven and on earth and even in the laws God has given us to live by. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork…. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.”

St. Paul by Rubens, c.1611. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

St. Paul by Rubens, c.1611. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a: This week’s reading continues with Paul’s discussion about spiritual gifts. Paul is addressing Christians who consider certain spiritual gifts to be greater than others. Not so, says Paul. Paul depicts the Christian community as a body, with Christ as the head. Like a human body, the body of Christ has many interworking parts, and all are to be used for the good of the whole. All have been baptized by the same Spirit. We have diverse gifts, but all gifts are to be used to build up the one body. Even the seemingly insignificant parts of the body of Christ are indispensable. Of course that means even if I see myself as a fingernail in the body of Christ, I still have work that God has given me to do.

He who is of God hears the Word of God by James Tissot (1836-1902). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

He who is of God hears the Word of God by James Tissot (1836-1902). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Luke 4:14-21: This week’s reading takes place at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, following his baptism and temptations in the wilderness. Jesus was filled with the power of the Spirit and traveled north from Judea and began teaching in the synagogues around Galilee. His fame spread quickly and he arrived back at his hometown of Nazareth. Galilee is the region on the west side of the Sea of Galilee; Nazareth is a town located in the region of Galilee.

Jesus attended the synagogue on the Sabbath and read from the scroll of Isaiah. He read,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he returned the scroll and sat down. The people were waiting for the usual translation from Hebrew into Aramaic and commentary. Instead, he said to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” One commentator noted that this was one of the shortest sermons ever given.

In essence, Jesus was saying that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him—that God had anointed him to bring the good news to the poor, release to the captives, restore sight to the blind, free the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor—the Jubilee year. Today the ancient messianic passage is being completed by him. And if you think about it, today, now, in the 21st century, Jesus is still fulfilling the Isaiah passage.

Next week we read about how Jesus’ momentous good news was received.

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