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.


Popular posts from this blog

The Second Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 5, 6 June 2021

The Day of Pentecost, Whitsunday, 23 May 2021

The Second Sunday of Advent, 6 December 2020