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Wrestling with the Word, episode 5: Third Sunday after Epiphany, Year B (Jan. 25, 2009) January 9, 2009

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Third Sunday after Epiphany

Episode 5 discusses the biblical passages assigned in the Revised Common Lectionary for January 25, 2009. In Mark 1:14-20 Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee by announcing the nearness of the promised kingdom of God and then immediately begins to gather the new community of the kingdom by calling disciples. In 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, the apostle Paul writes to the relatively new Christian congregation his opinions on marital status in light of the brief time that is available before Christ comes again to end the worldly structures as we know them, including marriage. God’s desire to forgive sinners and give them new opportunities for living occurs in the story of Jonah who reluctantly preaches God’s word to the hated Assyrians and thereby brings about their repentance and their deliverance. Psalm 62 describes a worshiper’s plight at the hands of others, the instruction of the psalmist regarding the use of worldly power, and the intervention of God to announce the faithful sufferer’s rescue.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 5: Third Sunday after Epiphany, Year B.

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Jonah 3:1-5, 10
In spite of the reputation of the people of Nineveh and contrary to the desires of Jonah, God refrained from destroying the city because of their repentance.

Context
The story of Jonah is difficult to date, although the focus on Nineveh forces us to see the author at work anywhere from the mid-eighth century B.C. onwards. The book is an extended parable about the grace of God.  As a result, one should preach on the entirety of the story.

Key Words
V. 2.  Nineveh:  The seat of the Assyrian Empire (8th to 7th centuries B.C.), it was the home of the king (see 2 Kings 19:36).  Nahum (1:1; 2:8; 3:7) and Zephaniah (2:13) promise God’s wrath for the Assyrians’ ruthless treatment of foes.

V. 5.  wayyiqre‘û-tsôm = “and they proclaimed a fast”:  a means of preventing certain destruction; see 2 Chron. 20:3; Ezra 8:21; Jer. 36:9.  wayyilbešû saqqîm = “and they put on sackcloth”:  a symbol of grieving (Esther 4:1; Lam. 2:10).

V. 10.  kî-šābû middarkām hārā‘ = “that they turned from their wicked way”:  their repentance became a byword in the NT: see Matt. 12:40-41; Luke 11:30.

V. 10.  wayyinnāchem hā’elōhîm `al-hārā‘â = “God repented concerning the harm”:  for other cases in which God reverses a decision to bring judgment see Exod. 32: 14; 2 Sam. 24:16; Amos 7:3, 6.

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Psalm 62:5-12
The first four verses of the psalm portray a person in dire straits, leaning like a wall ready to topple. People who pretend to be friends but who in fact are his adversaries torment the psalmist. Our verses communicate a quiet resolve the psalmist experiences when he focuses on God, his rock and his refuge. Be careful not to make a distinction in v. 13 between “God has spoken once” and “twice have I heard it”:  the “one thing” and “two things” make up a synonymous parallelism; see the numerical parallelisms at Prov. 30:15-16, 18-19, 21-23, 29-31.

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1 Corinthians 7:29-31
In light of the passing of the present age and Paul’s belief in the nearness of the appointed time, through Paul, God admonishes the Christians to live “as though” they were free of worldly sorrows and joys.

Context

Starting at 7:1 and continuing into chapter 16, Paul addresses the questions raised in a letter from the Corinthian congregation. To this point in the chapter, he wrote about behavior in marriage (vss. 1-11), marriage between a Christian and a non-Christian (vss. 12-16), circumcision (vss. 17-20), and slavery and freedom (vss. 21-24). In the paragraph beginning at vs. 25, Paul expresses his “opinion” about maintaining one’s marital status in light of the “impending crisis” (vs. 26; see Rom. 7:2 about change in the marriage relationship through death).

Key Words

Vs. 29. ho kairos synestalmenos estin = “the appointed time has grown short”: Paul speaks of the shortening of the time until the end at Rom. 13:11-12. This coming kairotic moment provides for Paul an ethic for the eschaton.

Vss. 29-31. hōs mē = “as though”: Paul instructs not a change in status but a perspective based on the view that, in the kingdom to come, the issues that concern us now will become irrelevant.

Vs. 31. paragei gar to schēma tou kosmou toutou = “for the present form of this world is passing away”: the social structure and patterns of this world have no permanence (see also 1 John 2:17).

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Mark 1:14-20
As Jesus preaches the nearness of the new expected time, he calls into being a new community of persons who will leave all to follow him.

Context
Mark has introduced the reader to John the Baptist and his preaching (1:2-8 ) and then to Jesus who was baptized by John and declared by God to be God’s Son (1:9-11).  Following the baptism and the announcement of Jesus’ identity, Mark records his brief account of the temptation by Satan in the wilderness.  Now begins the account of the earthly ministry of “Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

Key Words
V. 14.  to euaggelion tou theou = “the gospel of God”:  the content of God’s gospel is the fulfilling of time and the beginning of the coming Reign of God; at Rom. 1:2-3 “the gospel of God” has more specifically to do with Jesus himself.  At Rom. 15:16 and 1 Thess. 2:2, 8 the message about Christ seems to be the gospel’s content, and at 1 Pet. 4:17 something to be obeyed.

V. 15.  ēggiken hē basileia tou theou = “the kingdom of God is at hand”:  “the Day of the Lord” when God would eliminate all forces that oppose his orderly Reign.  Thus the day that “is at hand” is sometimes a day of punishment (see Mic. 7:4) or of judgment (Zeph. 1:7). Paul used the expression to call Christians to act appropriate to the Day (Rom. 13:12; Phil. 4:5), and so did James (4:7).

V. 15.  metanoeite = “repent”:  in light of its significant position in Mark’s Gospel, it is striking that the word appears only one other time (6:12), but there it is the content of the preaching of the 12 apostles. Apart from the initial preaching of John and Jesus, Matthew uses the word only in the negative, i.e., people did not repent (11:20; 21:32). Luke uses it in a more instructive way (13:3; 17:4).

Vv. 18, 20. euthus = “immediately”: Mark uses the term in 34 verses. The two occurrences here are already the 3rd and 4th in the chapter. See 1:10 where the heavens opened immediately after Jesus emerged from the water and 1:12 where after Jesus’ baptism the Spirit “immediately” drive him into the wilderness. Obviously a sense of urgency fills Mark’s Gospel.

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