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Epiphany 3 | Ordinary Time 3, Cycle C (2016)

The people of God stick together. In accord with the Epiphany Season’s preoccupation with the Christian life (Sanctification) these lessons stress our unity in Church, Ministry (the Priesthood of All Believers), and society (Social Ethics).

Psalm 19
This is hymn of God as creator of nature and of the Law, traditionally attributed to David. This notation is made to the director of the Jerusalem Temple musicians. Of course as we have previously noted it is unlikely that David is the author of the Psalms attributed to him (Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, p. 512). In fact some scholars conclude that references to David in the Psalms may be a way of using him to represent the inner life of all his subjects, and so of all the faithful (Ibid., p. 521). In that sense this is a Psalm calling on all the faithful to praise God as creator of nature and of the law.

The song begins with verses claiming that the sky and the succession of days praise God (vv. 1-6). This theme affords an opportunity to express ecological sensitivity. We find a reference to nothing being hidden from the sun’s heat, probably an image drawing on the Near Eastern notion of the sun god as the god of justice, who knows all things. This anticipates the verses that follow verse 6, which may be a later addition, praising the revelation of God’s will in the Mosaic Law [torah] (especially vv. 7-10). First it is noted how the Law makes wise, gives rejoicing [sus], warns us (the judgments of Yahweh are said to be righteous), and that in keeping the Law there is great reward [eqeb] (v. 11). We are reminded again that the terms mishpat [judgment] and tsaddiq [righteous] do not just connote legal, judgmental actions, but when applied to God they concern loyalty in one’s relationships (Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 373, 376ff), in this case how God’s judgment or warning contributes to restoring our relationship with him. The psalmist then prays to avoid sin (vv. 12-13) and concludes with the reminder that only with God’s grace can we keep the Law. In the final verse, we find the famous prayer that our words and meditation may be acceptable [ratson, be pleasing] to God (v. 14).

Application: Several sermon options emerge from this Psalm. Sermons on ecology (Social Ethics) might be developed. For this to transpire it should be noted that we need to stick together. Other sermon directions might be to focus on the purpose of God’s Law, to condemn sin leading us to an awareness that we need grace in order to keep the Law and do God’s will (Justification by Grace).

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
Ezra and Nehemiah were originally one book. Parts of Nehemiah may have been misplaced and belong in Ezra (especially this chapter). It was probably compiled by the author/editor of the Chronicles in the late-fourth/early-fifth centuries BC. This reflects in themes of theses books regarding how the bond between God and Israel was best symbolized in David and his kingdom and the establishment of the temple in Jerusalem. Another crucial theme was God’s use of foreign rulers for Israel’s sake. Collectively Ezra and Nehemiah are a narrative of the restoration of the Hebrew people to their homeland during the period of Persian domination in the late-sixth/early-fifth centuries BC. As noted this lesson reports a first stage in the return of the exiles to Israel, under the leadership of Ezra.

The lesson first reports that when all the people gathered in the square in Jerusalem the priest Ezra was directed to bring the book [sepher] of the Law [torah] of Moses (vv. 1-2). He reads it for the people in front of the water gate for the entire morning (v. 3; see 3:26 for the location of the water gate). Then he blessed Yahweh and the people responded with amens and uplifted hands (v. 6). Interpretation was offered (v. 8). It was probably necessary to interpret the book written in Hebrew for the people more familiar with Aramaic. The emotional response of the people indicates that the Law is not so much perceived as something external to them, but as a liturgical component that shapes and has shaped who they are. Nehemiah is identified as governor and Ezra as the priest and Levites who taught the people all inform them that it is a holy day. They are instructed to feast (in accord with the commemoration of the new moon, which included sharing bounty with the poor and resident aliens [Deuteronomy 14:29; 26:12-13]) (vv. 9-10). This day, the first day of the seventh month, later became Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year’s Day).

Application: This story in this lesson invites reflection on the biblical roots and common sense of the Church’s engagements on behalf of the poor and immigrants (Social Ethics) and the roots of these activities in Justification by Grace.

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Again we read a lesson taken from 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). Relations had become strained with the church. The letter aims to address doctrinal and ethical problems disturbing the Corinthian church. This lesson is a discourse on the Body of Christ and its many members.

Paul observes that just as the body [soma] is one with many members [melos], so it is with Christ’s Body (v. 12). He notes that all members of Christ’s Body were in one Spirit baptized into one Body, no matter what their condition (v. 13). The Body consists of many members, he adds (vv. 14, 20). Each member of the Body is essential (vv. 15-18, 20-21). There would be no body were there only a single part of the body (v. 19). Members of the body that seem weaker are indispensable (v. 22). Thus the less respectable [inferior] members of Christ’s Body are to be treated with greater respect/honor, while the more respectable members do not need this (vv. 23-24). If one suffers all suffer together; if one is honored all rejoice together with it (v. 26). Paul reminds the Corinthians that they are the Body of Christ and individually members of it (v. 27). God has appointed many different offices — prophets, apostles, teachers, various kinds of tongues, and so forth (v. 28). All cannot undertake all these tasks (vv. 29-30). But Paul urges they strive for greater gifts [charisma] (v. 31).

Application: This lesson affords excellent opportunity to reflect on the idea of the Priesthood of All Believers (Ministry and Church), that all vocations undertaken by Christians are holy/spiritual undertakings (Sanctification).

Luke 4:14-21
We have previously noted that this gospel is the first installment of a two-part history of the church traditionally attributed to Luke, a physician and Gentile associate of Paul (Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24). Along with Acts, the author’s intention was to stress the universal mission of the Church (Acts 1:8). Addressed to Theophilus (1:1), it is not clear if this means that the work was written for a recent convert or for a Roman official from whom the Church sought tolerance. But since Theophilus means “lover of God” it is possible that the author addressed all the faithful.

This lesson is a tale of Jesus’ return home and programmatic identification of himself with the messianic ministry of setting the oppressed free (an express concern for the poor — typical of Luke). Though there are parallel accounts in Matthew (13:54-58) and Mark (6:1-6a), the concern about the poor in this lesson is unique to Luke’s gospel at this point. Filled with and under the power of the Spirit [pneuma], Jesus is said to return to Galilee and a report about him was spread. He began teaching in the synagogue to much praise (vv. 14-15). The claim that Jesus was under the power of the Spirit is another example of Luke’s teaching the agency of the Spirit (3:22; Acts 2). In Nazareth, identified only by Luke as Jesus’ hometown, he goes to the synagogue to worship (as was his custom), he is given the scroll of Isaiah to read (as it was common to have guests read the prophetic scroll) (vv. 16-17). Then Luke has Jesus launch into his speech, which is unique to the Lukan gospel. He reportedly reads Isaiah 61:1-2; 58:6 and the message of the Spirit of the Lord being upon Zion, if not the Suffering Servant (Messiah) to come to bring good news to the poor [ptochos], to proclaim release to the captives and oppressed, to proclaim the year of Yahweh’s favor [acceptable year of the Lord ] (vv. 18-19). This is probably a reference to the Year of Jubilee of Leviticus 25:8-12, which prescribes the emancipation of slaves and the return of confiscated land. It seems intended to be an Eschatological vision (see vv. 43-44; cf. Robert Tannehill, The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts, Vol. 1, pp. 81-82). Jesus sits down after reading the scroll, the position from which most sermons in this era were delivered. He then proclaims himself the fulfillment of this scripture (v. 21).

Application: This text is an excellent opportunity to preach on the Christian’s concern for the poor (Social Ethics) but with attention to the Holy Spirit.

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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