Engaging the Word: 1/29/17 (The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany)

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 By Barbara Klugh

Micah 6:1-8 Psalm 15; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; Matthew 5:1-12. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text. In this week’s readings, Micah tells us to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God,” Paul speaks of the paradoxical power of the cross, and Jesus gives us a series of blessings, known as the Beatitudes.

Prophet Micah by Hubert van Eyck (c.1366-1426). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Prophet Micah by Hubert van Eyck (c.1366-1426). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Micah 6:1-8: Micah was one of the 8th century prophets and declared God’s judgment on Samaria and Jerusalem for social injustice, exploitation of the helpless, and fraudulent religion.  Micah said that Zion would be destroyed, “plowed like a field” which happened 586 BC.

This week’s reading is set in a cosmic law court. God has brought a lawsuit against the people of Israel for their infidelity and ingratitude; the witnesses are the hills, mountains, and the “enduring foundations of the earth.” God recalls his saving acts on behalf of Israel. He delivered them from slavery, gave them great leaders, and thwarted evildoers.

Next, Israel pleads before God, asking what they can do to atone for their transgressions. What offerings can they bring—burnt offerings, calves, rams,, “rivers of oil,” a firstborn child?  No. “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” This is a wonderful reminder that what God desires of us is to do his will and walk in his ways.

Psalm 15: This week’s psalm, which may have been used used by pilgrims when they came to worship at the Temple, echoes the message of Micah. Who is acceptable to God? Verse 2 says, “Whoever leads a blameless life and dies what is right, who speaks the truth from his heart.”

Apostle Paul Icon, early 19th century. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Apostle Paul Icon, early 19th century. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

1 Corinthians 1:18-31: In last week’s reading, Paul was concerned about the various factions within the Corinthian church that were causing divisions and discord. In this week’s reading, Paul urges the church to turn their attention to “The ‘message’ of Christ crucified, risen and alive.”

The passage is a little tricky, as Paul is communicating with two groups. The Jewish Christians whose history has many stories of God’s deeds of power, such as parting the Red Sea; they expected God to continue to operate with signs and wonders. So the crucifixion of Christ is a stumbling block to Jews because it seemed a sign of weakness. The Greek Gentiles had a tradition of philosophy and logic, and valued wisdom as the highest good. So the crucifixion seemed illogical and foolish to them. Paul understood, but he continued to preach that Christ is the power and wisdom of God. Paul continued, “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”

Neither the Corinthians nor we modern Christians should not be guided by human judgments and wisdom. Paul asked the Corinthians to consider their own call. He reminded them that according to the worlds standards, few of them wise or powerful. So they have no reason to boast. Jesus is the one who revealed God’s wisdom and provided the way to “righteousness and sanctification and redemption” so “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Sermon on the Mount altarpiece, St. Matthew’s Church, Denmark. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Sermon on the Mount altarpiece, St. Matthew’s Church, Denmark. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Matthew 5:1-12: This week’s reading consists of the Beatitudes, the opening verses of the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5:1—7:27) It is the first and longest and best known of five discourses  in Matthew’s gospel and the gospel readings for the next six weeks will be taken from the Sermon on the Mount.

Here is how Eugene Peterson paraphrased the Beatitudes in The Message.

When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are – no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘carefull,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world – your mind and heart – put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

“Not only that – count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens – give a cheer, even! – for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.”

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