The Third Sunday after The Epiphany, 21 January 2018

Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Psalm 62:6-14
I Corinthians 7:29-31
St. Mark 1:14-20

Background: Nineveh

Nineveh serves as a good representative “foreign” city in the universalistic sermon we know as the Book of Jonah. Ancient Nineveh was the capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire sitting on the eastern bank of the Tigris River. It’s reputation as being the largest city in the world lasted until 612 BCE when it was destroyed by the Babylonians and Medes. The name seems, from its cuneiform symbols, to indicate a “Place of Fish”. It was an important cross road weaving commercial routes coming from the east and going on to the Mediterranean basin. It was originally settled around 6000 BCE and had become a cult center for Ishtar around 3000 BCE. It was built on a fault line and suffered numerous earthquakes. It plays a significant role in the Bible, both in the patriarchal stories and as a political rival in the period of the kings of Israel and Judah.

First Reading: 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.

This section follows significant portions of the story in which Jonah attempts to avoid God’s call to him to specifically go to Nineveh. At this point, with our reading, Jonah receives a second call to go to Nineveh, ‘The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.” The message is brief (in the Hebrew only five words) and dire, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” This rather direct sermon seems to be more complex than the words might suggest. One commentator suggests that the verbal ought to be translated “shall overturn.” Is the suggestion made that the great city might change its mind? The result is that it does repent. Here we learn the real import of repentance for it is not only the people of Nineveh who repent – who turn around, but God also repents, and changes God’s mind about what to do with them – a double reversal. This sermon about Nineveh stakes an additional place in the Hebrew Scriptures that begins to allow for the participation of non-Jewish peoples in the acknowledgement and worship of YHWH.

Breaking open Jonah:
1.      When have you used words effectively?
2.      What was the result?
3.      When have you been moved by a sermon?

Psalm 62:6-14 Nonne Deo?

     For God alone my soul in silence waits; *
truly, my hope is in him.
7      He alone is my rock and my salvation, *
my stronghold, so that I shall not be shaken.
8      In God is my safety and my honor; *
God is my strong rock and my refuge.
9      Put your trust in him always, O people, *
pour out your hearts before him, for God is our refuge.
10    Those of high degree are but a fleeting breath, *
even those of low estate cannot be trusted.
11    On the scales they are lighter than a breath, *
all of them together.
12    Put no trust in extortion;
in robbery take no empty pride; *
though wealth increase, set not your heart upon it.
13    God has spoken once, twice have I heard it, *
that power belongs to God.
14    Steadfast love is yours, O Lord, *
for you repay everyone according to his deeds.

The first verse sets the theme that runs through the entire psalm, a theme that is important in understanding our own reading for this day, “For God alone my soul in silence waits.” The use of the word “only” (which does not appear in our translation) provides for points of focus within the poem[1]: “Only is God is my being quiet” (v.2), “Only He us my rock and rescue” (v.3), “Only from his high place” (v. 5), “Only in God be quiet” (v. 6), “Only he is my rock and rescue” (v. 7), and “Only breath – humankind, the sons of man are a lie” (v. 10). It is the last of these that points to a contrast to the psalmist’s focus on God. Our translation points to the contrast, “Those of high degree are but a fleeting breath.” Against them God gives us confidence and a standing. The emphasis that is inherent in the word of God is pointed out in verse 13, where God’s one word is heard by the psalmist twice. Such is the reality of trust in God.

Breaking open Psalm 62:
1.     What does it mean to wait for God in silence?
2.     Where do you find silence in your life?
3.     What do you hear in your silence?

Second Reading: I 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.

We are in a bit of a lectio continua in the First Letter to the Corinthians and continue Paul’s teaching about Christ in the body, and discerning immoral behavior. These readings conclude with comments about “the end times.” Today Paul notes that the “appointed time has grown short.” What is coming is salvation – salvation that is intended for the believers in Corinth, especially. In the surrounding material the notion “remain as you are,” is repeated several times. In other words, continue the good works and mind that you already have and wait for what is to come. In waiting for the Lord, we are often distracted by other things, here marriage, death, and wealth. Paul sees all of this “passing away.” The key word is “focus”.

Breaking open I Corinthians:
1.     What do you understand by Paul’s “the appointed time has grown short”?
2.     What do you need to do in what is left of your life?
3.     How can you “remain as you are” in Christ?

The Gospel: St. Mark 1:14-20

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.

This reading lies on the cusp between the Temptation of Jesus and the Ministry in Galilee. The story of John the Baptist is quickly summarized for us, and now we meet not only Jesus, who follows after, but hear his message as well, “repent and believe.” The cusp and division are made clear in Jesus’ proclamation that “the time is fulfilled.” It is also clear that this ministry is not going to be done alone. The bulk of the reading introduces us to Simon and Andrew, and James and John. Jesus riffs on their vocation as fishermen and sees it as a foreshadowing of their apostleship. The model is set, there is the call and the immediately following of those who have been called. The boat which once was a sign of their profession now becomes a sign of their confession, the leaving to follow another wind and breath of God.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.        How is your profession a part of your ministry?
2.        What is your Christian message?
3.        What have you left behind to 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 © 2018, Michael T. Hiller

[1]     The Translation in from Robert Alter’s The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary.


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