The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany - 5 February 2012

Isaiah 40:21-31
Psalm 147:1-12, 21c
I Corinthians 9:16-23
St. Mark 1:29-39

Background: Capernaum
This ancient village called Kafar Nahum (“Nahum’s village) was founded as a fishing village on the eastern shore of the Sea of Tiberias (Galilee) during the Hasmonean period ca. 140 BCE.  The town is mentioned most notably in Luke, but also appears in Matthew and Mark.  It is known as the home of Peter and Andrew, James and John, and the tax collector Matthew.  Jesus preached in its synagogue and performed healings there. 

Isaiah 40:21-31

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to live in;
who brings princes to naught,
and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.
Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows upon them, and they wither,
and the tempest carries them off like stubble.
To whom then will you compare me,
or who is my equal? says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high and see:
Who created these?
He who brings out their host and numbers them,
calling them all by name;
because he is great in strength,
mighty in power,
not one is missing.
Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
"My way is hidden from the LORD,
and my right is disregarded by my God"?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

This reading is taken from a section of Second Isaiah called Hymns to the Lord Redeemer.  They date from the period prior to the fall of Babylon (539 BCE) and make allusions to the Exodus.  This pericope is taken from the section “On the splendid majesty of God the Creator.  The questions that are posed and the time that is the focus is the here and now, suggesting the immediacy of God’s creating word.  Viewed from Isaiah’s perspective all things earthly are diminutive and God is clothed in expansiveness and grandeur.  Isaiah’s religious and political agenda are never far away.  “Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing.”  This simple statement seems only to refer to the creation of the heavens filled with stars, however there is a deeper meaning for Isaiah.  The “stars” are the symbol of the Babylonian deities, and in this scene the God of Israel is the master over them.  Thus God is not only the creator and caregiver extending back to the beginning of time, God continues to be master and caregiver of all – even the enemy’s religious figures.

Breaking open Second Isaiah:
  1. Why does the prophet pepper the opening verses with so many questions, what is it’s effect?
  2. What are the comparisons that the prophet makes between the earthly and the heavenly?
  3. What is God’s knowledge of the universe?

Psalm 147:1-12, 21c Laudate Dominum

How good it is to sing praises to our God! *
how pleasant it is to honor him with praise!

The LORD rebuilds Jerusalem; *
he gathers the exiles of Israel.

He heals the brokenhearted *
and binds up their wounds.

He counts the number of the stars *
and calls them all by their names.

Great is our LORD and mighty in power; *
there is no limit to his wisdom.

The LORD lifts up the lowly, *
but casts the wicked to the ground.

Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving; *
make music to our God upon the harp.

He covers the heavens with clouds *
and prepares rain for the earth;

He makes grass to grow upon the mountains *
and green plants to serve mankind.

He provides food for flocks and herds *
and for the young ravens when they cry.

He is not impressed by the might of a horse; *
he has no pleasure in the strength of a man;

But the LORD has pleasure in those who fear him, *
in those who await his gracious favor.


This psalm, which was written in the period immediately following that of the First Reading, repeats many of the themes that Second Isaiah versed.  The point of view is that of the returning exile, and the image of God is similar to Isaiah’s vision.  Verse four of the psalm is remarkably similar to verse 25 in the Isaiah text.  The stars, regardless of either their symbolic nature or of there reality in the heavens become signs of God’s majesty and sovereignty.  God is not only the creator of all, but also the caregiver who has knowledge of all.

Breaking open Psalm 147
  1. How is God described in this psalm?
  2. What deeds of God does the psalm focus on?
  3. What does God see as favorable in God’s creation?

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.

For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

In this on-going reading from the first letter to the Church at Corinth, St. Paul continues his discussion on Christian freedom and liberty.  He introduces us to the paradoxical notion of freedom and obligation.  The gospel frees us, and obligates us to proclaim the good news.  This is followed by a variety of paradoxical statements: freed yet a slave, under the law yet not under the law, all things to all people in order to save some.  This dense conversation covers all the possibilities, and can only be “unpacked” in a conversation of devoted Christians about how they will live life in freedom and obligation.

Breaking open I Corinthians:
  1. What are your obligations as a Christian?
  2. What are your freedoms as a Christian?
  3. How do you balance the two?

Mark 1:29-39

Jesus left the synagogue at Capernaum, and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, "Everyone is searching for you." He answered, "Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do." And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

We continue with Mark in the first chapter of his gospel.  The scene with the mother of Peter is quite intimate, and forms a direct contrast to the succeeding verses.  As these healings are structured, we see two aspects of Jesus’ destiny mirrored in the mother-in-law of Peter.  First of all she is healed, with Mark using a Greek verb that he will use later in the gospel at the resurrection of Jesus.  It is a foreshadowing of what will be.  She also rises and begins to serve them - so complete is the cure.  This is Jesus’ focus as well.  Unlike Peter and the others, he is not so interested in capitalizing on the situation in Capernaum.  Despite the appeal he knows amongst the townsfolk, Jesus is anxious to get away to the wilderness.  There he will be filled by the Spirit and refreshed.  Jesus is not interested in returning to Capernaum as Peter suggests.  There are other fields of mission and it is to these that Jesus directs himself.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What was Jesus chief ministry?
  2. Was healing the chief ministry?
  3. What do you think of the demon talk?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


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