27 January 2015

The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, 1 February 2015

Deuteronomy 18:15-20
Psalm 111
I Corinthians 8:1-13
St. Mark 1:21-28

Background: Prophets
The office of the prophet is one that is often misunderstood in our time. Indeed, amongst fundamental Christians, the prophetic role is seen as one of telling the future. The ancient term “seer” may have given rise to this understanding of the prophet. The Hebrew term navi, is best described in Deuteronomy 18:18, I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kindred, and will put my words into the mouth of the prophet; the prophet shall tell them all that I command.” The office of the prophet is not so much about the future as it is about the “now” of things. The title speaks more about being a spokesperson than it does about gazing off into times that come. Robert Alter puts it well, “The literary prophets in the biblical canon are less in the business of prediction than of castigation.”[1] The Hebrew name comes from the verb n-b which means to “be open”, as in being open to an experience from outside oneself, thus expressing the word that comes to the prophet from God.

Prophets often used language and symbol to get their message across. Isaiah and Amos used names to telegraph their message, and Jeremiah uses clay pots, leather yokes, and other symbols to make clear or to point to his message. Several scholars point to schools of priest/prophets who could have been titled “seers” who practiced rituals that indicated what God wanted for an individual in a particular situation. The taboos against divination, however, made these practices dubious, and the notion of prophetic spokespersons was the favored idea.

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

Moses said, The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. This is what you requested of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said: "If I hear the voice of the LORD my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die." Then the LORD replied to me: "They are right in what they have said. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command. Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak-- that prophet shall die."

Israel was not alone in entertaining and cultivating prophets. Persia and Greece had similar personalities and offices. Often these individuals were harbingers of change in society. Here, however, the office is devoted to a single idea, and that is the notion of “word”. So, in this reading, we hear a lot of “word ideas”: “the voice of the Lord,” “I will put my words in the mouth”, “who shall speak”, “speak in my name”, “a word that I have not commanded.” What this pericope wants us to understand is the discernment of the true prophet from the false prophet. Canaanite religion and other religions in the Levant certainly had their own prophets, and their gods had their own words. Moses wants the people to be able to distinguish YHWH’s spokesperson from these other. Moses is anticipating his absence and the need for other persons to fill the prophetic office. As week look at the history that the Deuteronomist wants us to see, and at the situation that prevailed at the time of the books writing (8th – 7th Century BCE?) we see a common problem of discernment.  What did God want? Who was it that would indicate God’s will in a world turned topsy-turvy? The text leaves us hanging.

Breaking open Deuteronomy:
  1. Who are the prophets of our time?
  2. Who speaks the word of God to you?
  3. How have you been a prophet to others?

Psalm 111 Confitebor tibi

I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, *
in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.

Great are the deeds of the LORD! *
they are studied by all who delight in them.

His work is full of majesty and splendor, *
and his righteousness endures for ever.

He makes his marvelous works to be remembered; *
the LORD is gracious and full of compassion.

He gives food to those who fear him; *
he is ever mindful of his covenant.

He has shown his people the power of his works *
in giving them the lands of the nations.

The works of his hands are faithfulness and justice; *
all his commandments are sure.

They stand fast for ever and ever, *
because they are done in truth and equity.

He sent redemption to his people;
he commanded his covenant for ever; *
holy and awesome is his Name.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; *
those who act accordingly have a good understanding;
his praise endures for ever.

This is a psalm of general praise of God arranged in versets that begin with each letter of the Hebrew alphabet, an acrostic. The setting for this psalm seems to be one of two places: either a psalm sung amongst an elite group, the assembly of the upright, or in a more general audience, in the congregation. It’s all encompassing content seems to suggest the latter. What the author outlines for us is all the attributes and acts of God, seen in their splendor and in their mercy. Not only is majesty described, but God’s compassion and mercy as well. This is a psalm of national stability and strength – a strength that is rooted in the wisdom that comes from God. Rather than being an esoteric collection of wisdom, it is rather the root of “good understanding”, conventional logic and good behavior.

Breaking open Psalm 111:
  1. In what ways are you wise?
  2. Is God’s wisdom present in your wisdom? How?
  3. What is your “good understanding” of God and self?

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that "all of us possess knowledge." Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.

Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that "no idol in the world really exists," and that "there is no God but one." Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth-- as in fact there are many gods and many lords-- yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. "Food will not bring us close to God." We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.

We are in the midst of a lectio continua (continuing reading) from the first letter to the Corinthians, and the subject is a concise discussion on idolatry. It is introduced in general and then moves to a specific discussion about food offered to idols. This activity will serve as the platform on which idolatry will be discussed, and its reflection in the lives of Christians will be examined. “Since no idol really exists”, it is a morally neutral discussion. Paul, however, is never far from the effects that any act might have in the lives of Christians, so a more thorough discussion takes place. The questions revolve around the faith of the weak and the real parameters of Christian liberty. His stance is one of forbearance for those for whom the eating of meat offered to idols is an offence. “Therefore, if food is a cause…I will never eat meat.” One wonders what other social decision we are driven to make might be made differently were we to espouse such an ethic?

Breaking open I Corinthians:
  1. How do you “edit” your life and behaviors for the benefit of others?
  2. How do you not do so?
  3. How do you make the decision, one way or another?

St. Mark 1:21-28

Jesus and his disciples went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God." But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!" And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, "What is this? A new teaching-- with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him." At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

Capernaum becomes the center of Jesus ministry with its parallel focus on the region of Galilee. Here, immediately following the call of the disciples, Jesus urgently begins his mission and teaching. Jesus is characterized here and in other places in Mark as a teacher, but the Gospel actually contains a larger agenda of actions, rather than teachings. This particular pericope is a good example of the combination of both. Also an issue or a demonstration here is Mark’s vision of Jesus’ authority, seen in the context of the gathering at the Synagogue at Capernaum, and also in the exorcism story.  It is important to remember how Jesus’ word has been used in this pericope and in the one prior. The disciples are both called and convinced by that word, and in this pericope people are “amazed.” Thus Jesus enters into the commonalities of human life, and calls the disciples from their labors into a different labor, and calls forth the “demon” from the man, thus showing the power of God’s word in the difficulties of life. The “demon” knows Jesus and his effect, but it is the power of the word, God’s word, that Jesus abruptly pronounces that looks beyond what “evil” has to say, and pronounces good news in everyday life. The word, as it was experienced in Judaism involved debate, and eventually “a vote” to determine what its relevance was. Here Jesus shows forth his authority by pronouncing what is so.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What does Jesus pronounced to you?
  2. What are the “demons” of your life?
  3. How might Jesus expel them from you?

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

Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2015, Michael T. Hiller

[1]      Alter, R. (2008), The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary, W.W. Norton& Company, Kindle Edition, location 20075.

20 January 2015

The Third Sunday after the Epiphany, 25 January 2015

Jonah 3:1-5
Psalm 62:6-14
I Corinthians 7:29-31
St. Mark 1:14-20

Background: Jonah
Readers might want to broaden their understanding of Jonah the eighth century BCE prophet by reading II Kings 14. Here you will meet the prophet, about whom not much is known, whose name is used to describe the main character in the Book of Jonah. It is instructive, I think, to understand all the levels of understanding about this character. That same realization about the multi-layered nature of the person will be helpful in looking at what the Book hoped to accomplish.  A professor of mine always talked about the Book of Jonah as a sermon – and I have found this characterization as being the most helpful. Others see it as a “historical” text, describing a series of events. The difficulty with that is that the symbols and themes that resonate in the text will either be ignored, or missed. The breadth of these symbols have one level of meaning in the Hebrew Scriptures, and then a whole other meaning as Jonah appears in the Gospels, and in the teachings of Jesus. Looking at the text as a homiletical exercise or even as story, gives us space to apprehend both theme and symbol in a different way.

The Wikipedia article is interesting only in its ability to see the story/sermon/character in the context of other ancient near eastern or Mesopotamian literature. You might want to look at this.

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time, saying, "Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you." So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days' walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's walk. And he cried out, "Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

The exaggerations in the Book of Jonah ought to speak volumes to us. They are like the Elevation of the Host during the Mass. They call out to us, saying, “Look here – see this – God is here!”  The fish, the size of the city, the geography of Jonah’s response, the vine and the maggot are sign markers along the journey that demonstrates the argument of the author – not Jonah. We don’t even hear his message – but we do hear the call, “Get up, go.”  That is the message and argument of the author. Accompanying this story is a real understanding of the prophetic call and content.  It is the announcement not of the future, but of God’s presence here and now – even in Nineveh! The most startling image that might prove as grist for the preacher’s mill is God’s attitude of repentance, “God changed his mind about the calamity that (God) said (God) would bring upon them.” Here we have a wonderful combination of mission, salvation, and regret. The story is all too human, and as human beings we should be able to connect to at least one of these. The regret that the prophet experiences, is teachable moment that might lead to mission. The universalism in this sermon (Jonah) is not pie in the sky stuff but deeply rooted in the geo-political realities of the time in which this parable came together.

Breaking open Jonah:
  1. Which of the themes in Jonah reveals the humanity of the text?
  2. In what way are you like Jonah?
  3. How do you deal with mission?

Psalm 62:6-14 Nonne Deo

For God alone my soul in silence waits; *
truly, my hope is in him.

He alone is my rock and my salvation, *
my stronghold, so that I shall not be shaken.

In God is my safety and my honor; *
God is my strong rock and my refuge.

Put your trust in him always, O people, *
pour out your hearts before him, for God is our refuge.

Those of high degree are but a fleeting breath, *
even those of low estate cannot be trusted.

On the scales they are lighter than a breath, *
all of them together.

Put no trust in extortion;
in robbery take no empty pride; *
though wealth increase, set not your heart upon it.

God has spoken once, twice have I heard it, *
that power belongs to God.

Steadfast love is yours, O Lord, *
for you repay everyone according to his deeds.

As I have done with other texts, I encourage you to read the initial five verses (which are not included in the lectionary) we sets up a sort of methodology for dealing with the themes of the psalm.  The phrases “Only in God,” “Only (God),” “Only from,” “Only breath” draw us into this reflection on God’s role with the frailty that is human kind that is introduced to us in verse 6. Verse 10 is unusual in its imagery. I these words I hear a reference to the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and the weighing of the soul with the “Feather of Ma’at”, the sense of balance in Egyptian theology. Here it is also the balance of God and humankind, a comment on the relationship and on the dependency.

Breaking open Psalm 62:
  1. What are the “only” in your life?
  2. How do you realize and know the frailty of your life?
  3. How is God steadfast for you?

1 Corinthians 7:29-31

I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

If there is a theme in this brief passage it is one of urgency, “the appointed time has grown short.” This is the foundational rubric for all that is to follow. The unstated but implicit question is, “What then shall we do – how do we go on from here?” What is remarkable is the collection of contexts that Paul recognizes: marriage, grief, joy, wealth/poverty, and culture. In all of these, in other words, in all of life, Paul asks us to pause. I am wondering why this text doesn’t appear more often in Advent contexts, because it lays out such a wonderful setting of expectation and eschatology.  As I write this, I am sitting in a classroom getting ready for a lecture by Eric Law, who is questioning us about how Missional our churches are. That is Paul’s purpose here – to look into what he perceived as a brief time before the parousia where the change that Christ brings can be realized and encouraged.

Breaking open I Corinthians:
  1. Is there a sense of urgency in your life?
  2. What is the urgency all about?
  3. For what do you wait in your religious life?

St. Mark 1:14-20

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea-- for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, "Follow me and I will make you fish for people." And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

“Now after John was arrested.” With this bracketing Mark already announces the cost of the discipleship into which Jesus will invite Simon and Andrew. It is a lesson that should be leavening us as we read the account of the call. What will they be asked to do? What will it mean to follow Jesus?  We might want to ask what do we so unquestioningly follow today? The answers might surprise us. There is urgency present here – there is no time to waste. The notions here connect with the ideas of Paul in the second reading.  As Paul describes us, this urgency greets us in the midst of life and other things. Here, Jesus invites those to follow in the midst of their lives, and in the midst of their busyness.  And what must we leave behind? Mark gives us examples here – relatives, and financial dependents. So then, what is the cost to us of the call?

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. Where is the danger in your life as a Christian?
  2. What have you been called to do?
  3. In what ways do you follow Jesus?

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

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2015, Michael T. Hiller

12 January 2015

The Second Sunday after the Epiphany, 18 January 2015

I Samuel 3:1-20
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
I Corinthians 6:12-20
St. John 1:43-51

Background: Galilee
So familiar to both our tongues and ears, I wonder if we really understand Galilee apart from the importance it plays in the Gospels, especially Mark.  Historically the home to the tribes of Naphtali and Dan, it was really reserved to and named for in common speech for the tribe of Naphtali. The tribe of Dan had policing responsibilities within the whole land of the united kingdom.  Later, Solomon deeds a great deal of the region to Hiram I of Sidon, and the land that was known to have numerous “foreigners” becomes a haven for even more. The name, in Hebrew, requires a completion through the use of a possessive noun, here “the nations”.  The region was known for its Greek cities, and culture, and during the Roman period, Roman towns are built as well, such as Tiberius. Under the Romans, it was one of the four regions (Judea, Samaria, Paralia, and Galilee) used to administer the country. It was not only the home of Jesus and his movement, but the home of other rabbis as well. The region had a reputation for “miracle workers” and for philosophers. It is known today for its excellent Roman and Greek synagogues that exhibit through their art and architecture a great deal of Phoenician influence and the influence of other cultures as well.

1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20)

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD under Eli. The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was. Then the LORD called, "Samuel! Samuel!" and he said, "Here I am!" and ran to Eli, and said, "Here I am, for you called me." But he said, "I did not call; lie down again." So he went and lay down. The LORD called again, "Samuel!" Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, "Here I am, for you called me." But he said, "I did not call, my son; lie down again." Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. The LORD called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, "Here I am, for you called me." Then Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, "Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, `Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.'" So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

Now the LORD came and stood there, calling as before, "Samuel! Samuel!" And Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant is listening." [Then the LORD said to Samuel, "See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever."

Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the LORD. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel and said, "Samuel, my son." He said, "Here I am." Eli said, "What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you." So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, "It is the LORD; let him do what seems good to him."

As Samuel grew up, the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the LORD.]

This story rides the cusp of two different ideas. It stands on the change from amphictony – the loose federation of tribes that governed Israel, to the beginnings of monarchy. It also begins to witness the slow change (at least in emphasis) from priestly revelation to prophetic revelation. The “blindness” of Eli clues the reader into the changes that are taking place in Israel’s religious and social life. There is hope here, however, for the lamp of the Lord has not yet gone out, perhaps at the beginning of a new day, when light will dawn. Samuel answers his “call” three times, because he does not recognize whom it is that is speaking to him, for “Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.” All is nascent possibility here. Even Eli has given up on his own heirs, and has taken to the young Samuel, “my son.” The final verses of the reading hasten to make us aware of the disappointment that was the life of Eli’s sons. Both Eli and Samuel accede to what God desires, Samuel in agreeing to do what God asks, and Eli in hearing what the evil of his family has begotten. The final verse sets Samuel on his journey, “As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him.”

Breaking open I Samuel:
  1. How does God talk to you?
  2. How do you recognize God?
  3. How willing are you to follow God’s call?

Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17 Domine, probasti

LORD, you have searched me out and known me; *
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.

You trace my journeys and my resting-places *
and are acquainted with all my ways.

Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, *
but you, O LORD, know it altogether.

You press upon me behind and before *
and lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; *
it is so high that I cannot attain to it.

For you yourself created my inmost parts; *
you knit me together in my mother's womb.

I will thank you because I am marvelously made; *
your works are wonderful, and I know it well.

My body was not hidden from you, *
while I was being made in secret
and woven in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb;
all of them were written in your book; *
they were fashioned day by day,
when as yet there was none of them.

How deep I find your thoughts, O God! *
how great is the sum of them!

If I were to count them, they would be more in number than the sand; *
to count them all, my life span would need to be like yours.

It is a shame that we are not allowed to sing the entirety of this psalm, which so appropriately follows the beginning of the Samuel story. All of its verses seem to match so well with the emotions of Samuel’s call. Robert Alter in his commentary on the Psalms[1] connects the poem’s words with the thoughts of Job. For our purposes, however, the psalm makes a fine commentary on the reading from I Samuel.  What the psalm explores are the poet’s introverted reflections on God, and the knowledge of God. It also acknowledges God’s knowing of the poet as well. “From behind and in front you shaped me.” (Alter translation). This passage recalls the sense of Jeremiah’s vision of God as potter and we as clay. What follows this is a reverie on the ubiquity of God. (Please, read the entirety of the psalm to aid your discovery of the lectionary’s verses.) God is present in (at) the dawn, or at the ends of the sea, in the heavens, or in Sheol itself. Even in the darkness of night, God is present as a light (again, Samuel). And this is not about place, or even presence in a place, but rather about knowledge of the omnipresent nature of God. Like the whole spectrum of distance, and difference that describes God’s presence, the words are intended to make us aware of God’s knowledge, and our seeking the knowledge of God.

Breaking open Psalm 139:
  1. How well do you know yourself?
  2. How well does God know you – might might you keep hidden?
  3. How well do you know God?

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

"All things are lawful for me," but not all things are beneficial. "All things are lawful for me," but I will not be dominated by anything. "Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food," and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, "The two shall be one flesh." But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.

The underlying argument here is that the Corinthians who follow Jesus (and by implication, we ourselves as well) are righteous. Being righteous, then, requires a different kind of life and living, and this is what Paul wants to explore in this pericope. The exploration begins with the notion of the freedom that has been won for the people of God, and the freedom that is operative in a righteous life.  Are there dangers here?  In verse 12, Paul draws a line in the sand, “All things are lawful for me.” What is needed now is to see what that law of freedom limits – “Not all things are beneficial.” To make this explicit, Paul uses the example of the body itself, and the notion that the body is indeed a temple, a showing forth of the divine. All of this is tied up with the notion of the Body of Christ, and all of its members. The logic of such an understanding then argues against certain freedoms and expressions. He uses prostitution as an example of the confusion of bodily essence, and of the limits of our freedoms. That the Spirit dwells within us seems to give us pause as we select from the various freedoms that we have been allowed.

Breaking open I Corinthians:
  1. Is your body a temple? To whom?
  2. What freedoms do you exercise in the Gospel?
  3. What limits do you put on those freedoms?

St. John 1:43-51

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, "Follow me." Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth." Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see." When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, "Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!" Nathanael asked him, "Where did you get to know me?" Jesus answered, "I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you." Nathanael replied, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" Jesus answered, "Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these." And he said to him, "Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man."

This is the closing pericope of the first section of the Book of Signs. Following this we will be at Cana, and we will be besieged with symbol upon symbol interpreting to us the ministry of Jesus. Here, however, we are allowed the call of Philip and Nathaniel, and should know that in the previous verses (1:35-42) Andrew and Simon (Cephas) are called as well. Raymond Brown[2] observes an almost parallel structure shared in the two calls. Such a sharing emphasizes the commonality of the call that is shared by the four men. Also of interest is the presence of Greek names (see Background: Galilee, above) included with Hebrew names. What is John’s purpose here? Is it merely to document the call of men who will accompany Jesus into the acts that will reveal the signs of his ministry? Perhaps there is more. The conversation with Philip and Nathanael and then with Jesus and Nathanael begins to set a vocabulary of titles that will enable the disciples, and John to speak about who it is that Jesus really is. We are greeted with “Rabbi”, “Son of God”, “King of Israel”, and “Son of Man”. Which of these will be useful, and which of these will be the ultimate descriptor? That will need to wait until the final passages of the Gospel, and perhaps (accidentally, or with the luck of an editor’s or a scribe’s error) we can see that in the final passage. “And he said to him, "Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man." Is this a bit of proleptic that looks forward to what Jesus will come to in Jerusalem? Or perhaps it ties Jesus to the Jacob’s ladder pericope, in a manner resembling Jesus’ vision in Mark’s account of the Baptism. With forethought, or by accidental means, verse 51 provides a vision of the trajectory of Jesus’ ministry, and the path that the disciples as well will follow.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What do you think the people were thinking while Jesus was having his vision?
  2. What was John thinking?
  3. What kind of example does Jesus set?

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

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ's glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2015, Michael T. Hiller

[1]Alter, R., The Book of Psalms – A Translation with Commentary, New York: W. W Norton and Company, (2007), location 10496
[2]Brown, R., The Anchor Bible – The Gospel According to John (i-xii) Introduction, Translation and Notes, Garden City: Doubleday and Company, Inc. (1966), page 85.