The Second Sunday after the Epiphany, 17 January 2016

Isaiah 62:1-5
Psalm 36:5-10
I Corinthians 12:1-11
St. John 2:1-11

Background: Symbols, Signs, and Incarnation

The lectionary for this day is full of symbols, signs, and incarnation. Third Isaiah uses name and identity as a way to point to the intentions of God toward Israel. This process of tying the name to an enfleshed (incarnate) theology and hope is not Isaiah’s alone – other prophets use the device as well. This reading enables the hearer to take in the symbols that will follow. The psalmist uses elements of nature to embody the capacity of God to forgive, and Paul will take the signs of language to point to the gifts of the Spirit. Finally, John will underscore the creation and the incarnation in his signs of water, wine, request, and submission.

Isaiah 62:1-5

For Zion's sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest,
until her vindication shines out like the dawn,
and her salvation like a burning torch.
The nations shall see your vindication,
and all the kings your glory;
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will give.
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate;
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your builder marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.

What is interesting in this text is a prophetic propensity to assign symbolic names to persons, or communities, as a way of helping them to rethink their relationship with God or events. In a way this moves the innovation that God wishes to enact by moving from something really quite separate or cerebral to something infinitely more personal. So, Israel’s name changes from “Forsaken” to “Delight”, and the land from “Desolate” to “My Delight.” These are the desired ends of the prophet’s prayer, which he cannot “keep silent.”  The new name is more than more identity; it is a new existence – a new mode of being. When addressing a group of exiles, this can be a transformative concept – you are a “new people.” This sense of a change of the status of things becomes important when we read about Jesus’ changing the game at the wedding at Cana. There are moments in God’s time when things are new.

Breaking open Isaiah:
  1. What does your name mean?
  2. Have you ever “had” to pray? Why?
  3. How has life changed for you?
Psalm 36:5-10 Dixit injustus

Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, *
and your faithfulness to the clouds.

Your righteousness is like the strong mountains,
your justice like the great deep; *
you save both man and beast, O Lord.

How priceless is your love, O God! *
your people take refuge under the shadow of your wings.

They feast upon the abundance of your house; *
you give them drink from the river of your delights.

For with you is the well of life, *
and in your light we see light.

Continue your loving-kindness to those who know you, *
and your favor to those who are true of heart.

This is a very strange psalm, almost redolent of a piece of wisdom literature. It would behoove you to read it in its entirety. The whole character of the psalm abruptly changes with the beginning of our pericope. The focus shifts from a meditation on crime to a reverie about the righteousness of God. What helps (or challenges) us in our thinking about God’s righteousness and justice is the psalmist’s cosmic point of view. There are wide swaths of language that expand the world in which God’s righteousness exists, “reaches to the heavens”, “like the great deep,” “your faithfulness to the clouds.” Other elements of the language look back at creation and the beginning of things that are now renewed for all of creation.

Breaking open Psalm 36
  1. Where do you see God’s justice in the world?
  2. Where should God’s justice be practiced?
  3. How does justice or righteousness make the world new?

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says, "Let Jesus be cursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

If the psalmist of Psalm 36 enjoins us to see the multiplicity of God’s gifts to us, it is Paul who warns us about using them well, and with a sense of the gifts of the other. He directs his comments to the Corinthians, inviting them to learn about all of the possibilities within the life of the Spirit. The difficulty that Paul endeavors to address here are the issues of “prophecy” and “ecstatic speech”. Such expressions would not be foreign in the culture of Corinth where other mysteries and prophecies were common and near. Paul notes that the idols of Corinth are silent, while the believers confession of “Jesus is Lord” is both prophetic and of uncommon courage.

The Spirit who gives breath to the confessions of believers also gives others, and Paul obliges us with one of his usual lists: wisdom, knowledge, healing, faith, prophecy, discernment, and lastly tongues. The unity of these gifts lies in the facility of the Spirit who grants them, and that unity then addresses how these gifts are to be used within the community. Individuals participate in the individual gifts for the common good.

Breaking open I Corinthians:
  1. What gifts of the Spirit have you seen in others?
  2. What gifts have you seen in yourself?
  3. What is your confession about Jesus?
St. John 2:1-11

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come." His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, "Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward." So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now." Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

“And the Word was made flesh.” With these words John introduces his central theme of the incarnation, or as Dorothy Ann Lee says in her Overview to the Gospel of John, “God's gift is no less than God's own self, clad in the garb of creation.”[1]

In this first event in the Book of Signs, Jesus makes an impact on a very human situation. Like the prologue, something new happens here; an old institution (marriage and the feast that follows) takes on new understandings and importance. The pericope is rife with symbols of both the old and the new. The stone jar move from the utility and ceremonial of ritual purification to being vessels of the new – new wine. Should we see in the marriage feast a prefiguring of the Messianic Feast? I believe so, for John is ushering the signs of the new age. Mary’s request allows Jesus’ to comment on time, and “the hour.” There is much more to happen as the fullness of time points to the moment in Jerusalem where the final sign is made. Mary is true to character, “Do whatever he tells you” – reprises of her own will to do God’s will. The ultimate sign here is the glory revealed in Jesus’ actions and the entire ministry that will follow.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. How does Jesus treat his mother?
  2. Why does John call this event "a sign"?
  3. Why does Jesus' make his comment about time?
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 © 2016, Michael T. Hiller

[1]     Gaventa, B. (2010), The New Interpeter’s Bible One-Volume Commentary, Abingdom Press, Nashville, Kindle Location 27419.


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