Engaging the Word: 1/15/17 (The Second Sunday after the Epiphany)

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 By Barbara Klugh

Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-12; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text.

This week’s lectionary gives a clear sense that Jesus is the Son of God who came into the world. Jesus asked his first followers, “What are you looking for?” How do we answer that question?

Prophet Isaiah by Fra Bartolomeo c.1516. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Prophet Isaiah by Fra Bartolomeo c.1516. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Isaiah 49:1-7: This week we will read the second servant song; this one is written from the servant’s perspective. It tells that even before he was born, he was called to restore the nation to God after the exile. The Lord said to him, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” The servant is discouraged. He believes that he had “labored in vain”—that the people have ignored God’s message. He grieves that he has accomplished nothing, “yet surely my cause is with the Lord, and my reward with my God.”

Then the servant hears God’s words of encouragement. God has a great ministry for him—that the servant’s vocation isn’t just to Israel but to all humanity: “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” During the season of Epiphany, this sentence is one of the opening sentences we use in Morning Prayer.

I keep thinking about Jesus as he faced crucifixion. Did he believe that he labored in vain? Did he think that he had accomplished nothing? But even if that is true, Jesus never wavered, at least that we know of. He was obedient to God, even to death on the cross. May this be true for us as well.

 Psalm 40:1-12: The Oxford Study Bible calls this Psalm of David a “hybrid psalm,” because the first part is a song of thanksgiving, and the remainder is an individual petition. We will read the first part, which begins:

I waited patiently upon the LORD;
he stooped to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the desolate pit, out of the mire and clay;
he set my feet upon a high cliff and made my footing sure.

Three thousand years later, here is Psalm 40 by U2, the Irish rock band, as they ended a concert in Chicago.

Temple of Apollo, Ancient Corinth. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Temple of Apollo, Ancient Corinth. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

1 Corinthians 1:1-9: We will read selections from 1 Corinthians for five of the next six weeks. Paul wrote this letter from Ephesus c. 57 AD. The ancient Greek city of Corinth sat on an isthmus of about four miles wide that joined the Peloponnese with central Greece. It was a thriving trading and commercial center known for luxury, materialism, pleasure, and immorality.

Paul founded the church in Corinth, and stayed there for 18 months. Later, he heard about trouble and division in the church at Corinth from the household of Chloe, and the first four chapters of this letter address the divisions within the church.

Our reading is the beginning of the letter. Paul identifies himself as an apostle of Christ Jesus. His greeting is “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” So he was reminding the congregation of their identity in Christ and of their calling.

Then Paul gives thanks to God for the gifts he has given to the Corinthians: grace, speech, knowledge, and all the spiritual gifts. Paul assures the congregation that God is faithful and will strengthen them to the end, that they may be “blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ [the second coming].” Paul will get down to the specific issues in our subsequent readings.

Lamb of God by Meister Theoderich von Prag, 1365. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Lamb of God by Meister Theoderich von Prag, 1365. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

 John 1:29-42: This week’s reading from John’s Gospel is incredibly rich, with much to mull over.

John the Baptist makes it very clear that he is subordinate to Jesus. Not in our lectionary, but earlier in this chapter, John had a Q & A with priests and Levites who wanted to know who he was. The Messiah? No. Elijah? No. The prophet? No. Who are you then? “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’”

The day after John baptized Jesus, “John saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John testifies that at Jesus’ baptism, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, `He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

Later, two of John’s disciples began to follow Jesus after they heard John exclaim, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” When Jesus noticed, he turned to them and said, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They remained with Jesus, and then Andrew tells his brother Simon, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

So how do you interpret the meaning of “Lamb of God”? What about “following”? What about Jesus “turning” to them? And how about the question, “What are you looking for?” “Come and see.” After they “remained” with Jesus, they “found the Messiah.” What do you think they talked about?

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