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Epiphany 5 | Ordinary Time 5, Cycle B (2015)

God is in control, even in tough and changing times. The lessons afford opportunities for preaching on God’s providential care in all circumstances, at least as it relates to the future (Eschatology).


Psalm 147:1-11, 20c
This psalm is a hymn praising God for his universal power and providential care. (The concept of praise in ancient Hebrew is associated with singing [see zamar in vv. 1, 7].) The song echoes themes of Job (37:9-11) and Second Isaiah (40:26). Yahweh is said to be gracious, fitting of praise (v. 1). God’s concern for the oppressed is noted (vv. 6, 3; cf. Isaiah 11:12, 56:8; Zephaniah 3:19). He is said to determine the number of stars (v. 4). His power [koach] and understanding [tebunah] are beyond measure (v. 5). He sends the rain and makes grass grow, giving animals their food (vv. 8-9). His delight is in those who fear/reverence [yare] him and hope in his steadfast love/mercy [chesed] (vv. 10-11). The community is called to praise Yahweh (v. 20c).

Application: The psalm invites sermons on God’s majesty, creation (including ecology), providence, and also Social Ethics (God’s concern for the oppressed). The sense in which God is to be feared (with reverence) could also be a sermon theme (Sanctification).


Isaiah 40:21-31
It is well known that this book is actually the product of two or three distinct literary traditions. The first 39 chapters are the work of the historical prophet who proclaimed a message to Jerusalem and the Southern Kingdom of Judah from 742 BC to 701 BC, a period during which the Northern Kingdom of Israel had been annexed by the Assyrian empire. Chapters 40-66 emerged in the later period immediately before the fall of Babylon (in 539 BC). Our lesson is a work of this later strand, addressing the Babylonian exiles. It is taken from the Book of Consolation, a series of eschatological prophecies. In the context of offering comfort to the exiles, a discussion of God as Creator of the universe begins in verse 12. The lesson begins with a hymn of God’s lordship of history. It is stated that we are like grasshoppers, for the Lord can bring rulers to naught. He is said to sit above the circle [chug, connoting vault or horizon] of the earth, and all whither [yabesh] in his presence (vv. 21-24). God’s incomprehensibility and omnipotence are affirmed, as the people express a sense of feeling abandoned by God (vv. 25-27). None compare to him. He is able to call those he created by name [shem]. God’s creative work and his inexhaustible compassion for the faint and powerless are extolled. Those who wait/hope [qavah] for Lord will renew their strength; they will run and not be weary (vv. 28-31). God will not abandon his people.

Application: Like the psalm, this text invites sermons on providence, reminding the flock that God is in control of history and that nothing, not even earthly powers, can stand in his way. The lesson and so the sermon may address the weary and those suffering. It is also in line with the prophetic character of this text to frame these points of hope eschatologically, as promises for the future.


1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Again we turn to one of Paul’s authentic letters, written from Ephesus prior to his epistle to the Romans to a church he had established (Acts 18:1-11). The letter aims to address doctrinal and ethical problems disturbing the Corinthian church. After asserting his rights as an apostle [apostolos] (vv. 1-14), for he has been obligated [anagke, of necessity] to do it (vv. 16-17), Paul contends that the gospel [euaggelion] is to be given free of charge (v. 18). He then notes that he is free [eleutheros] with respect to all, though he has made himself a slave [edoulosa] to all (v. 19). This leads Paul to a reflection on his ministerial strategy, his commitment to becoming all things to all people for the sake of the gospel (vv. 20-23).

Application: This text affords excellent opportunities to proclaim a new way of doing mission and ministry, to recognize that the biblical vision and our freedom in Christ (Justification by Grace) directs us to tailor ministries to our context (Sanctification).


Mark 1:29-39
This is a Sunday we continue to examine the first of the Synoptic Gospels to be written, a book that was perhaps the source of other gospels, probably based on oral traditions of the Passion narrative and accounts of Jesus’ sayings (the so-called Q-source). Probably written prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, this anonymous work is traditionally ascribed to John Mark, perhaps referred to as an associate of Paul (Acts 12:12-25, 15:37; Colossians 4:10) or as Peter’s scribe (1 Peter 5:13). Some speculate that the original audience was the church in Rome (especially Gentiles), as the book presumes readers unfamiliar with Jewish customs and Palestinian geography (see 7:2-4, 31), but it could also have been written for Palestinian Christians. The lesson recounts how after a healing in the synagogue in Capernaum Jesus and his disciples visit Simon’s and Andrew’s home (v. 29). Parts of the account (up to v. 35) are found in Matthew (8:14-17, 23), but the story is completely present in Luke 4.

In the home visited, Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law, and she begins to serve them (vv. 30-31). His willingness to be served by women made him more liberal than many rabbis of the era. That evening many who were sick are brought to Jesus, and he heals them, casting out demons [daimonion] who are forbidden to speak (vv. 32-34). (It is significant that the request for healings came after sundown, after the sabbath had ended. The call for silence is typical of Mark’s account and narration of the messianic secret.) The demand for silence may be an example of Mark’s Jesus safeguarding the messianic secret (see 1:44; 7:36; 8:26). In the morning Jesus retreats for prayer. The disciples find him, indicating that people are looking for him (vv. 35-37). (According to Mark’s version, those looking for Jesus or looking for ways to do things often have hostile intentions [8:11-12; 14:1, 11, 55].) They misunderstand the nature of his ministry. Jesus responds by indicating that it is time to move on to other towns. They journey throughout Galilee proclaiming his message in synagogues and casting out demons (vv. 38-39).

Application: The account offers preachers occasions to proclaim and advocate a vision of the Christian life informed by the future, which is in God’s hands (Realized Eschatology), or to preach on God’s hidden ways that come as a surprise in the midst of apparent silence.

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen