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


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