Engaging the Word: 02/05/17 (The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany)

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 By Barbara Klugh

Isaiah 58: 1-12; Psalm 112; 1 Corinthians 2:1-16; Matthew 5:13-20. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text. In this week’s readings, Isaiah teaches that God’s favor is earned not by ritual fasting, but by compassionate social action, Paul tells us that God’s wisdom is available to those who possess the Spirit, and Jesus that we are the salt and light of the world.

The Prophet Isaiah by Jacob Cobaert, late 16th century. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Prophet Isaiah by Jacob Cobaert, late 16th century. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Isaiah 58:1-12: Our reading this week takes place when the Israelites were waiting to return home from exile. The people are discouraged, but more than that, they were in a spiritual crisis. God wants them to wake up! They were going through the ritual motions of fasting and worshiping, and complained that God was not responding to their prayers: “Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Isaiah points out that their attitude and behavior is not acceptable to God. They fast, but it’s meaningless because they oppress their workers; they quarrel and fight. God demands more than words and rituals. “Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.”

Even in exile, the people have not repented of their sins. God wants the Israelites to “loose the bonds of injustice,” free the oppressed, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and clothe the naked. When they take care of the everyday needs of the poor, “Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.” God will bless them and their homeland will be rebuilt and restored.

Psalm 112: Our psalm is a wisdom psalm. It seems like a response to our reading from Isaiah, a guide to living as godly people—to hold God in awe, care for others, and live according to Mosaic Law. It begins “Hallelujah! Happy are they who fear the Lord and have great delight in his commandments!”

Apostle Paul by Andrei Rublev, c.1410. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Apostle Paul by Andrei Rublev, c.1410. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

1 Corinthians 2:1-6: In last week’s reading, reading, Paul described the crucified Christ as the wisdom and power of God. He called on the Corinthians to set aside their understanding of worldly wisdom (which the Corinthians valued above all else) in exchange for God’s spiritual wisdom, for “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”

In this week’s reading, Paul reminds the Corinthians that he did not come to proclaim the gospel with “lofty words or wisdom,” but in weakness, fear, and trembling. For Paul, the message of the gospel is not about fancy rhetoric, but about the power of God.

However, Paul makes the case that he does speak words of wisdom “among the mature.” He’s making a distinction between the human wisdom and divine wisdom. The “mature” respond to the gospel “through the Spirit,” the mind of Christ. Those who just have human wisdom have not (yet) received this gift, so the gospel makes no sense. Basically, all the wisdom of the world is inadequate; true wisdom is expressed by Jesus’ death on the cross.

Sermon on the Mount by Makarov, 1889. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Sermon on the Mount by Makarov, 1889. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Matthew 5:13-20: This week’s reading continues the Sermon on the Mount as Jesus calls on his disciples to be salt and light, and talks about his vocation to fulfill the law and the prophets. In some ways, the Sermon on the Mount is a rulebook for how we, the people of God, are to bring salt and light to the tasteless and dark world.

When we talk about someone being “the salt of the earth,” we mean that he or she is honest, reliable, decent, and good.  Jesus said “You are the salt of the earth.” We might think, Who, me? And Jesus says, Yes, you!

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world….let your light shine before others” so your good deeds will draw others to the glory of God. As you may recall in John’s gospel, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.”  Jesus is the source. Since we don’t create our own light, I think Jesus means that are to reflect his light by what we say and what we do.

I recently purchased my first smart phone, and one of the instructions was to recharge the phone every day. So it is with Christ. I need to stay connected with Christ, the source of light, through daily worship, prayer, study, and action. If I don’t, I’ll be out of juice in no time.

Then Jesus said, “Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”  The fulfillment of the law is not about piling on more petty rules and regulations, but about internalizing the guiding principle of loving God with all our hearts and minds and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

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