The Eighth Sunday after the Epiphany - 27 February 2011

Isaiah 49:8-16a
Psalm 131
I Corinthians 54:1-5
Saint Matthew 6:24-34

John Singer Sargent - "Prophetic Frieze"

The Hebrew word nabi (prophet) is probably a “loan word” from the Akkadian word for “sent one” or “one made to speak”.  To whom was this word applied?  Initially it is applied to Moses, and secondarily to his brother Aaron, and to his sister Miriam.  To understand what was initially meant by the term, a look at Numbers 11:24-30 will be helpful.  In these verses we can get an idea of what the so-called “ecstatic prophets” were like.  These individuals, and groups of individuals used music, and dance to set up a circumstance of ecstasy to deliver a message of patriotism and loyalty to God.  See Exodus 15:20-21 for the example of Miriam’s prophetic behavior at the Red Sea.  Later on, this term, will take on other meanings.  In the time of Moses, however, (and we must remind ourselves that this is a “reconstructed” time, by a people far removed from the actual events) the office of prophet was often more communal than individual.

Isaiah 48:8-16a

Thus says the LORD:
In a time of favor I have answered you,
on a day of salvation I have helped you;
I have kept you and given you
as a covenant to the people,
to establish the land,
to apportion the desolate heritages;
saying to the prisoners, "Come out,"
to those who are in darkness, "Show yourselves."
They shall feed along the ways,
on all the bare heights shall be their pasture;
they shall not hunger or thirst,
neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down,
for he who has pity on them will lead them,
and by springs of water will guide them.
And I will turn all my mountains into a road,
and my highways shall be raised up.
Lo, these shall come from far away,
and lo, these from the north and from the west,
and these from the land of Syene.
Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the LORD has comforted his people,
and will have compassion on his suffering ones.
But Zion said, "The LORD has forsaken me,
my Lord has forgotten me."
Can a woman forget her nursing child,
or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
 Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.

Pablo Picasso - Mother and Child

This second Isaiah wrestles with the problem of an Israel that needs to reinvent itself after its exile in Babylon.  The verses immediately preceding our reading for today form the second of the Suffering Servant Songs (Isaiah 49:1-6), and then move on to discuss the hoped for apocalyptic that will be revealed as Israel’s reinstatement.  This author, who uses the works of Jeremiah as a model for his Suffering Servant, now takes another model to form an idea on which to hang his “new Israel”.  The model is that of the Exodus, the release of Israel from Egypt, the journey through the wilderness, and the presence of God in Israel’s midst.  “In a time of favor”, a phrase that announces this new time, begins a segment that describes what this released Israel will look like, and what the characteristics of such freedom will be.  They sound remarkably like other Isaiah characterizations of the new time, which are picked up by the Gospel writers as well: freed prisoners, the hungry fed, the desert highways, and others all speak of a “day of salvation” that “establishes the land.”  Especially poignant is the tenderness of verse 15, in which Isaiah compares God’s love to that of a nursing mother.

Breaking open Isaiah:
  1. Have you ever had to rethink yourself or your life?
  2. What did you use as a model for your life?
  3. When you think of God’s love, what pictures come to your mind?

Psalm 131 Domine, non est

O LORD, I am not proud; *
I have no haughty looks.

I do not occupy myself with great matters, *
or with things that are too hard for me.

But I still my soul and make it quiet,
like a child upon its mother's breast; *
my soul is quieted within me.

O Israel, wait upon the LORD, *
from this time forth for evermore.

Jacques Lipchitz - "Mother and Child"

The psalter often reflects national and liturgical themes that belong to the whole community.  In this psalm, we are treated to an individual’s spiritual expression that is owned only by the writer.  The themes are of a simple life and contentment, which in the last verse is commended to the whole of the people, “Wait, O Israel, for the Lord” (Alter).  What ties this psalm to the readings for today, are the touching feelings expressed in verse 2, similar to the later verses of the reading from Second Isaiah.  The contentment of the mother’s breast, and the quietness of the soul are quite tender.

Breaking open Psalm 15
1.     What makes for comfort and solace in your life?
2.     What role does your faith play in that comfort and solace?
3.     How do you express your spiritual satisfaction to others?

I Corinthians 4:1-5

Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God's mysteries. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive commendation from God.


We continue with an on-going reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.  Paul uses two words that are used to describe our/his usefulness in the ministry of the Gospel: “servants” and “stewards”.  The Greek has deeper meanings that make Paul’s charge more poignant and meaningful.  The first word, for which our translation uses the word “servant”, is actually a word that described the rowers on the lower level of a trireme.  These men were “assistants” to the rowers above them.  Thus the description is more gritty and down to earth than the mild notion of servant hood.  The second word is translated as “steward” or “manager”.  The actual word described the servant who managed the household for his/her master or mistress.  Thus Paul describes our responsibilities to the Gospel.  And who can judge the quality of the work we do in this regard?  Certainly not by “any human court” – for it is God who will judge our effectiveness.  The final judgment is God’s prerogative.  Our calling is to stewardship.

Breaking open I Corinthians:
  1. Have you ever been a servant?
  2. Have you ever managed someone else’s wealthy?
  3. How are you a servant of the Gospel?

Saint Matthew 6:24-34

Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you-- you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, `What will we eat?' or `What will we drink?' or `What will we wear?' For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

"So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today."

King Solomon

We have three sayings in our Gospel for today.  Two of them are sayings of Jesus, and the third is most likely a common proverb that sums the points of Jesus’ sayings.  In a similar way, the initial saying sums up the points before they are made, “You cannot serve God and wealth.” 

The anxiety of my youth was nuclear war.  Growing up in the ‘fifties, this seemed to be the essence of the future, a devastating nuclear war with Russia.  How interesting, then, that the over-arching anxiety of our time is really more about money (stock market, gas prices, cost of living expenses, and maintaining a certain lifestyle) and appearance.  Jesus’ audience understood his maxims (the second of the sayings) far better than most of us.  They were right to worry about what tomorrow would bring, being peasants and laborers.  Jesus doesn’t ask them to be lazy, but rather that their worry not separate them from a loyalty to the God who provides through their labor.  “Strive first for the kingdom of God” is Jesus’ advice. 

We live in a society and culture of accumulation.  Jesus’ admonition about “sufficiency for the day” ought to cause a conversation in our midst about what really is necessary for living life. 

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. Do you consider yourself wealthy, or poor?
  2. In what ways are you wealthy, or in what ways are you poor?
  3. Do you have too much?

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

Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who care for us: Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


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