Monday, January 23, 2017

Epiphany 4A Readings & Commentaries

The Collect of the Day
Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The First Reading:  Micah 6:1-8
The prophet Micah was a contemporary of the prophets Hosea and Isaiah of Jerusalem (First Isaiah), exercising his ministry in the 8th century b.c.e., a time when the southern kingdom (Judah) was under threat from the Assyrians.  Micah’s roots were in the common people.  His chief concerns were to restore the heart of worship, which he linked to the doing of justice. Our passage this morning begins with a covenant lawsuit against the people.  The lawsuit includes a review of God’s redeeming acts in Israel’s history (The Balak story is at Numbers 22-24; Shittim at Numbers 25:1-5; Gilgal at Joshua 4:19-24).  A worshipper than asks a question in verse 6: how much is required? The answer is one of the most well- known passages in the Hebrew Scriptures.

6:1 Hear what the Lord says: Rise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. 2 Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the Lord, and you enduring foundations of the earth; for the Lord has a controversy with his people, and he will contend with Israel. 3 “O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me! 4 For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. 5 O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised, what Balaam son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.” 6 “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” 8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Psalm 15
Our psalm this morning was most likely an entrance liturgy for pilgrims to the Temple.  It sings of qualities held by the ideal worshiper.  There are ten requirements, the same number as the Ten Commandments.  The number ten had no special meaning other than being a round number that could be ticked off on one’s fingers.

1 Lord, who may dwell in your tabernacle? *
                who may abide upon your holy hill?
2 Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right, *
                who speaks the truth from his heart.
3 There is no guile upon his tongue;
    he does no evil to his friend; *
                he does not heap contempt upon his neighbor.
4 In his sight the wicked is rejected, *
                but he honors those who fear the Lord.
5 He has sworn to do no wrong *
                and does not take back his word.
6 He does not give his money in hope of gain, *
                nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.
7 Whoever does these things *
         shall never be overthrown.

The Second Reading:  1 Corinthians 1:18-31
One of the primary themes of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians is “the message of the cross.”  To understand the cross, Paul contends, one must experience it as a saving event in one’s life.  It makes no sense, it is foolishness, if it is not experienced.  It is a completely counter-intuitive thing for most of us, whether we are Jew or Gentile.  God shows his power in weakness.  We cannot boast in a God who is wise and powerful by the standards of the world.  We can only boast in the God of the cross. The quotes are from Isaiah 29:14 (v. 19) and Jeremiah 9:22 (v. 31).

1:18 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. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. 26 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29 so that no one might boast in the presence of God. 30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

The Holy Gospel:  Matthew 5:1-12
The Sermon on the Mount begins with the well-known “beatitudes.”  The sermon covers three chapters of Matthew’s Gospel (5-7).  It is the first of several extended bodies of teaching by Jesus in Matthew.  The sermon begins with blessings.  They are not commandments, but statements: “Blessed are those who…”  The most remarkable thing about these blessings is that they completely reverse the values of most societies. Jesus is claiming those whom society rejects as his kingdom people.

5:1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:  3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Collect of the Day and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2017, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved.

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