The Third Sunday after the Epiphany, 22 January 2017

Isaiah 9:1-4
Psalm 427:1, 5-13
I Corinthians 1:10-18
Saint Matthew 4:12-23

Background: Zebulun and Naphtali

These two tribes were named after sons of Jacob, Zebulun, his son by Leah, and Naphtali, his son by the slave Bilhah (given as a surrogate wife to Jacob by Rachel). These two then become the progenitors of tribes that occupied the north central and northeastern parts of Israel. Zebulun, the smaller of the two was located just above Megiddo, nestled between Asher on the coast and Issachar on the east. Naphtali also touched on Asher on the west just above Zebulun, and on the east by the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee. Both of these territories, sitting on the trade routes than ran from Syria to the northeast down to the southern coastal areas, were subject to the designs of the larger kingdoms to the east, Syria, and later Assyria. They were invaded by Tiglath-Pileser III (ca. 732 BCE) and their populations were deported to Assyria.

First Reading: Isaiah 9:1-4

There will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness--
on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.

The first verse of this reading seems to be an apology on the part of God for the oppression that had happened in the past. The latter part of the verse looks forward to a time of glory and restitution. The phrase, “he will make glorious the way of the sea”, recalls the placement of these tribes at the heart of merchant routes that crossed from Mesopotamia, to the coastal kingdoms along the Mediterranean.

What follow in verses 2 through 7 is a hymn that makes clear that the people will rejoice at what God has done, and (verse 4) the reason for their rejoicing. You may want to read the verses that follow as well in order to see the wholeness of Isaiah’s picture. There is restitution, followed by rejoicing and then a vision of what is to come – a freed and renewed Israel.

Breaking open Isaiah:
1.          Has God ever changed God’s mind for you? How?
2.          Where is God leading you now?
3.         When and where will you arrive?

Psalm 27:1, 5-13 Dominus illuminatio

     The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom then shall I fear? *
the Lord is the strength of my life;
of whom then shall I be afraid?
5      One thing have I asked of the Lord;
one thing I seek; *
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life;
6      To behold the fair beauty of the Lord *
and to seek him in his temple.
7      For in the day of trouble he shall keep me safe in his shelter; *
he shall hide me in the secrecy of his dwelling
and set me high upon a rock.
8      Even now he lifts up my head *
above my enemies round about me.
9      Therefore I will offer in his dwelling an oblation
with sounds of great gladness; *
I will sing and make music to the Lord.
10    Hearken to my voice, O Lord, when I call; *
have mercy on me and answer me.
11    You speak in my heart and say, "Seek my face." *
Your face, Lord, will I seek.
12    Hide not your face from me, *
nor turn away your servant in displeasure.
13    You have been my helper;
cast me not away; *
do not forsake me, O God of my salvation.

 This psalm moves from a credo, “The Lord is my light and my salvation” to a series of verses of supplication. The strength of the threat (verses 3 and 4) is elided from the liturgical selection, but you might want to study it for the strength that it brings to the psalmist’s prayers of supplication. We take it up again with a stated desire to be in the temple – and here we might think of the temple not so much a place of worship as it is a sanctuary from the threats of enemies. Not that there is no desire and attraction for God – that is evident throughout the entire psalm. Our translation blunts the sharp contrasts of verse seven, where “secrecy of his dwelling” is substituted for “tent”, with shelter and tent recalling a nomadic and wandering Israel. These two words on contrasted with the idea of a rock – a more solid place from which to confront the enemy. God’s command to the psalmist’s heart, “Seek my face,” is on the face of it (pun intended) ironic, for it is precisely that aspect of God’s being that has been denied humankind. The phrase and request however, speak to the intensity of the relationship – like unto Moses.

Breaking open Psalm 27:
1.     Where do you seek God’s comfort?
2.     From what threats do you seek God’s protection?
3.    How has God been your helper?

Second Reading: I Corinthians 1:10-18

Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

As we read these verses it is best to have in mind the concept of the body of Christ, for it is to this entity that Paul wishes to speak. We quickly become aware of the problem – divisions within the congregation at Corinth, various parties and factions. Chloe, Paul, Apollos, Cephas and others become the calling cards of these groups, but Paul prevails upon the Corinthians to identify and belong to Christ. Paul’s vision about baptism being connected to anything other than to baptism in Christ is a telling understanding especially in our time. The Christian around us think that they were baptized an Episcopalian, Lutheran, Baptist, or Catholic. That notion is far from the truth of being baptized into Christ. The tough nut, that Paul holds up, is not with whom we are connected but rather that we know and have wisdom of the cross.

Breaking open I Corinthians:
  1. Are there factions and cliques in your church?
  2. What or whom do they center around?
  3. How does your baptism challenge this?

The Gospel: St. Matthew 4:12-23

When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.”

From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

Matthew sets a stage here for Jesus’ ministry. We are settled not only in a locale, ancient Zebulun and Naphtali, but also in the time of John’s arrest, and in the political and economic realities of Galilee. This is familiar territory, although Jesus chooses not to base himself in Nazareth, but rather in Capernaum, and next to the Sea that will become the setting of so many events with the men and women who will follow him. Matthew sees this territory as a fulfillment of Isaiah’s promise of restitution and fulfillment (see the First Reading), and Jesus as the heart of that success. In the center of this community, Jesus builds his own community, Peter and Andrew, James, and John. This will become the core of the school of disciples who will follow and learn from him. It is, however, not the only locus of Jesus’ activity. The synagogues of Galilee will also experience his presence, proclamation, and healing. In chapter five, Matthew will begin “The Great Instruction.”

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     What do you learn about Jesus in these verses?
2.     What kind of men were the disciples?
3.    What was Jesus’ proclamation?

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 © 2017, Michael T. Hiller


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