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Epiphany 3, Cycle A

God goes before us. Again the lessons testify to the fact that all the good there is in life is a work of God (Justification and Sanctification by Grace).

Psalm 27:1, 4-9
The Psalm is an act of devotion, a triumphant song of confidence, and a prayer for deliverance traditionally attributed to David. Yahweh is said to be our light and salvation, and so there is nothing to fear (v. 1). The psalmist says he has asked the Lord to be permitted to live in his house (to worship in the temple) all the days of his life, beholding his beauty [noam, which refers to God's graciousness or favor] (v. 4; cf. 90:17). (Reference to living in the temple suggests that like many of the Psalms the writer worked in the temple as a Levite priest.) With confidence it is proclaimed that the Lord will hide the faithful in the day of trouble (v. 5). With head lifted up above his enemies the psalmist proclaims that he will offer sacrifices in the Lord’s tent (the temple) with singing (v. 6). In a cry for help he urges Yahweh to hear him and be gracious to him. Yahweh is also urged not to hide or turn away in anger, for he is the God of the psalmist’s salvation (vv. 7-9).

Application: The Psalm offers opportunities for praising God for his care and for who he is (beautiful). One might try to help the faithful recognize that God’s beauty is in the favor and love he shows (Providence and Justification by Grace). Worship understood as joyful sacrifice and singing might also be a theme to explore.

Isaiah 9:1-4
Unlike chapters of the book from 40 on, this text is likely a prophecy of the historical Isaiah, whose ministry to Judah (the Southern Kingdom) transpired in the eighth century BC. This is a prophecy about the messianic king, originally an oracle for the coronation of a Judean king, perhaps for Hezekiah (724-697 BC) in the Davidic line, who reigned during Isaiah’s ministry. The lesson begins with a promise that there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. It is noted that in the former time the Lord allowed the lands of the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali as well in the north to become Assyrian provinces (v. 1). This new king (the Messiah) is described as a great light [or] for those who had been in darkness [choshek] that is in oppression. It seems that this light will make glorious the way to the Sea [of Galilee] (vv. 1-2). Light is an image for release from oppression. The new king will make the nation more abundant, increase its joy, and break the oppressor’s rod, just as the great war hero of the tribe of Manasseh, Gideon, conquered the Mideanites (vv. 3-4; Judges 7:15-25).

These observations were readily applied to the Babylonian exiles of the sixth century BC addressed in the chapters from 40 to the end of the book after this chapter pertaining to the earlier prophet was combined with the later chapters. Their exile was interpreted in accord with God’s plan to restore the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali since they were not in accord with God’s final aims.

Application: The text invites preachers to explore the sense in which we are in bondage, both socio-economically and mired in our own selfishness and narcissism (Sin), along with the freeing word that God in Christ sets us free (Justification by Grace and Social Ethics).

1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Paul continues his introduction to the troubled Corinthian church with a discussion of the division in the community and a testimony to Christ crucified. He appeals for unity (v. 10). Some members of the household of Chloe (a female disciple of the apostle) had reported to Paul that there were quarrels, some saying they belonged to Cephas [the Aramaic name for Peter], others to Apollos (an early Alexandrian Christian), and others to Paul (vv. 11-12). Paul laments that Christ cannot be divided. He notes that none was baptized in his name and that he had not been crucified for them. He also adds that only two of the Corinthians in the household of Stephanus were baptized by him (vv. 13-16).

The apostle concludes by noting that he was not sent to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and that proclamation is not to be done with eloquent wisdom (which apparently a number of Corinthian Christians felt they possessed [2:5-6; 3:18]), so that the cross of Christ is not emptied of its power (v. 17). The message of the cross, he adds, is foolishness to those who are perishing, but for those saved it is the power of God (v. 18). The theme of Christ crucified is a central theme of the letter.

Application: This is an opportunity to promote concentration on the crucified Christ (Atonement) and help parishioners to see how this gets the focus off worldly wisdom and ourselves. In so doing this nurtures unity, so when it is no longer about protecting our own territory it becomes easier to live with each other (Justification, Sanctification, and Church).

Matthew 4:12-23
We return again with this lesson to the gospel of this church year, the most Jewish of all the gospels written, evidenced such as in this lesson with the concern to find links in the stories told to the Hebrew scriptures. The account reports the beginnings of Jesus’ activity in Galilee. It begins with Jesus learning that John the Baptist had been arrested. He then went to Galilee, but left Nazareth, making his home in Capernaum (a town about thirty miles northeast of Nazareth on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee) (vv. 12-13). This relocation was to fulfill Isaiah 9:1-2 (portions of which are quoted) and its reference to a great light [liberation] to people in darkness [oppression] seen on the road to the Sea of Galilee (vv. 14-16). (See the discussion of these images in the analysis of the First Lesson.)

Next Jesus is reported as beginning to proclaim repentance, for the kingdom of heaven has come near (v. 17). (In contrast to Mark, Matthew uses this phrase more than the “kingdom of God,” presumably because in good Jewish fashion his preferred phrase avoids mentioning the divine name.) The story of the conversion of fishermen Simon, called Peter (Matthew gives no indication that he knows of the apostle’s name change), and his brother Andrew is recounted. They are reported to follow immediately (vv. 18-20). A similar account is given regarding the calling of fishermen [lower-class occupations in the Holy Land in this era] James son of Zebedee and his brother John (vv. 21-22). The motif of “following” [akoloutheo] Jesus is characteristic of Matthew’s gospel.

Application: The text’s citation of segments of the First Lesson permits a focus on the freeing word of Christ (the light), which liberates from oppression (Justification by Grace and Social Ethics). Another witness of the text is to conversion, which is nothing more than an urgent spontaneous response to the light of Christ (the compelling character of his love [Justification by Grace and Realized Eschatology]).

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Author of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen

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