Engaging the Word: Readings for 1/31/16 (The 4th Sunday after the Epiphany)

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By Barbara Klugh

Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text. This week’s readings challenge us to think about how would we respond to God’s call, when God is asking us to do something really, really hard.

Prophet Jeremiah by Piero della Fr(1420-1492). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Prophet Jeremiah by Piero della Fr(1420-1492). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Jeremiah 1:4-10: Jeremiah was born into a difficult time. National tensions were high, and society was decaying. In this week’s reading, God calls Jeremiah to be “a prophet to the nations.” Like Moses, Jeremiah protested that he was unqualified, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But God assures him that he will be with him and will deliver him from any difficulties. God touches Jeremiah’s mouth and said, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.” Then God gives Jeremiah his difficult mission: “See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” Obviously, youth, inexperience, or lack of eloquence does not deter God. What God wants is a willing heart and faithful obedience to his will. As the saying goes, “God doesn’t call the equipped…He equips the called.” Jeremiah’s ministry spanned 40 years.

Psalm 71:1-6: In this psalm, an elderly person who has troubles, cries out to God for deliverance and is confident that God will help and protect him.

Faith, hope, and charity (love) by J.S. von Carolsfeld. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Faith, hope, and charity (love) by J.S. von Carolsfeld (1794-1872). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13: In last week’s reading, Paul told the Corinthians to strive for the greater spiritual gifts. Here he continues his teaching, saying that the greatest spiritual gift is love. Many people are familiar with Paul’s classic definition of Christian love because it is frequently read at weddings. In its original meaning Paul was addressing the church at Corinth, not couples in marriage.

In this week’s reading, Paul discusses what love is with what love is not. No matter what spiritual gifts one may possess, if he or she does not serve with love, it amounts to nothing. Even helping one another is worthless without love.

Love is patient and kind, not envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, irritable, or resentful. It does rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears, believes, hopes and endures. While other gifts like prophecies, tongues, knowledge are transient, “love never ends.”

Paul urges believers to grow spiritually, not to stay as spiritual infants. It’s time to “put an end to childish ways.” Now we see and know as through a mirror dimly, but then we will see Christ “face to face” and will know fully. “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”

The hill near Nazareth by Tissot ( 1836-1902). Public domain, via Wikimedia

The hill near Nazareth by Tissot ( 1836-1902). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Luke 4:21-30: This week’s reading continues from last week, where Jesus attended the synagogue service on the Sabbath and read from the Isaiah scroll. And it tells of the congregation’s reaction when Jesus proclaimed, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

At first, all spoke well of him and were amazed at the Jesus’ gracious words. But then they became skeptical, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” (How can this local fellow make such a claim?) Jesus knew his neighbors only too well and knew that they would want him to perform miracles in his hometown. Jesus observed, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.”

Jesus knew his commission from the words of the Isaiah scroll. He knew that the invitation to the kingdom life was not restricted to the people of Israel. He talked about Elijah’s healing of the widow’s son, and Elisha’s cure of Naaman’s leprosy, neither of whom were Israelites. This made them mad—full of rage, even. They drove Jesus out of town and planned to throw him off a cliff, “but he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.” In Luke’s gospel, Jesus never returns to his hometown.

Both Jeremiah and Jesus were consecrated by God before they were born, dedicated for divine purpose. And both Jeremiah’s and Jesus’ message were not just for Israel, but for all peoples and nations.  And both proclaimed hard truths, and were not welcome. The people to whom they spoke wanted their own way, not God’s way. Much of the time we still do.

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