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Wrestling with the Word, episode 58: Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Year C (January 31, 2010) January 15, 2010

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Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

We have inherited and continue to develop the notion that good work leads to success. Some of the earliest writings in the world, the so-called wisdom traditions, teach that the good will receive rewards and the wicked will reap their deserved punishment. The lessons for this “epiphany” Sunday expose us to some stunning news. Speaking God’s word, apparently a good thing, can lead to failure in society’s eyes and to society’s rejection. God’s word is not always what we want to hear, especially when it confronts our established values.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 58: Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Year C.


Psalm 71:1-6
The psalm is an individual lament in which the worshipper asserts trust in the Lord on the basis of God’s graciousness in the past. That past goes all the way back to the psalmist’s birth from his mother’s womb. Now, in the face of enemies and advancing age, the petitioner pleads for the Lord’s presence, counting on the Lord’s righteousness to deliver and to rescue. Considering the Lord “hope” and “trust,” the petitioner promises continuing praise to God.


Jeremiah 1:4-10
In spite of Jeremiah’s protests of inadequacy, God calls Jeremiah to speak the word which brings comfort to the afflicted and judgment to the all-too-comfortable.

According to the superscription at 1:2-4, Jeremiah’s call from the Lord occurred first about 627 B.C., and his ministry continued until about 588 B.C. This record of Jeremiah’s call, like those of Moses (Exod. 3:1-12) and Gideon (Judges 6), consists of an objection based on some plea of insignificance by the hearer, a specific commission by the Lord, and the divine promise to be present with the commissioned one throughout the trials to come. Given to a prophet, the call report authenticates the message of the speaker over against the more established guild of prophets (cf. Isaiah at Isa. 6; Second Isaiah at Isa. 40; Third Isaiah at Isa. 61; Amos at Amos 7).

Key Words
V. 4.  beterem ’etstsārekā babbeten  yeda‘tîkā ûbeterem tētsē mērechem hiqdaštîkā = “before I formed you in the belly I knew you and before you came forth from the womb I set you apart”:  The parallelism of yd‘ and qdš indicates a profound understanding of the Hebrew word for “know”:  an intimate relationship with God that determines the use of Jeremiah’s life. God defines the beginning of that relationship since prior to Jeremiah’s conception in his mother’s womb (see the similar relationship in Psalm 71).

V. 4.  nabî’ laggôyîm netātîkā = “a prophet to the nations I have given you”:  While Jeremiah’s preaching was directed mostly to the people of Jerusalem, God instructed him to speak as well to the “nations” (see chapters 46–51).

V. 8.  kî-’ittekā ’anî lehatstsîlekā = “for I am with you to deliver you”:  Though the Hebrew is different, see the promise of God’s presence at Gen. 28:15; Exod. 3:12. The verb “rescue” is the same Hebrew word used at Psalm 7:3 where the petitioner prays for the Lord’s “rescue” from enemies. The same verb appears often for God’s rescue from the power of the Egyptians in the exodus story and from the power of Babylon in Second Isaiah.

V. 9.  hinnē nātattî debāray bepîkā = “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth”:  By this declaration Jeremiah can authenticate his preaching and its source. The word of the Lord provides the power “to pluck up and break down” but also ‘to build and to plant” (v. 10).


1 Corinthians 13:1-13
In contrast to our human tendency to separate ourselves from one another, God brings the baptized into one body in which all the parts contribute to the functioning of the whole and all members are called to love one another.

The apostle directed his correspondence to a congregation that was split according to various factions:  Paul, Apollos, Cephas, Christ (1:11-13). While much of the letter is directed to issues raised by the Corinthians themselves, Paul turns at the beginning of chap. 12 to “spiritual gifts” and develops the notion that the many members of the church are like the members of body:  each contributing its talent without being relegated to an inferior position. The paragraph prior to our pericope ends with the announcement that God has so arranged things “that there be no dissension within the body, but the members have the same care for one another” (12:25).


Luke 4:21-30
Against those who would claim the kingdom of God for themselves, Jesus delivers the unpopular message that God’s grace and God’s kingdom are for all people.

In the preceding verses Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah during service in the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. In particular, he read the section dealing with the call of Third Isaiah (61:1-2) in which the prophet was commissioned to announce the signs of the kingdom-to-come.

Key Words
V. 21.  sēmeron = “today”:  Luke uses this word to announce the birth of Jesus (2:11), the salvation of the outcast Zacchaeus (19:9), and the entrance into the kingdom by the repentant thief on the cross (23:43). All cases have an eschatological thrust, but none more strongly than here. The passage from Isaiah 61 indicates that part of that prophet’s message concerning the transformations of the kingdom to come is proclaim “the day of vindication of our God” (Isa. 61:2), that is, the Day of the Lord.

V. 22.  kai pantes emartyroun autō kai ethaumazon epi tois logois tēs charitos tois ekporeuomenois ek tou stomatos = “and all spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words (words of grace) that came from his mouth”:  The astonishment of the people seems based on the incongruence that the son of Joseph, a craftsman, would speak so eloquently. (They did not have the advantage of the conception and birth stories of chapters 1-2.)  In Mark, the crowds express their astonishment at Jesus’ teaching with “wisdom” in the synagogue because he is “the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of” four brothers and some sisters (Mark 6:3). Here their astonishment develops from his announcement of the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 61:1-2.

V. 23. iatre, therapouson seauton = “Physician, heal yourself”: While the proverb has parallels in Greek writings, it is tempting to see it here as a foreshadowing of the mockery by the people at the foot of the cross: “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one” (24:23-24; see Matt. 27:42; Mark 15:30-31).

V. 24. oudeis prophētēs dektos estin en tē patria autou = “no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown”:  The same teaching appears at John 4:44. Of particular importance, however, is the example of Jeremiah who lamented his rejection by his friends, his relatives, and the people of his hometown Anathoth (Jer. 11:18-20; 15:17; 19:7-12).

Vss. 25-27. “Elijah … Elisha”: Jesus’ citing Elijah’s feeding of the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17) and Elisha’s cleansing Naaman the Syrian of his leprosy (2 Kings 5) not only demonstrate the divine outreach to Gentiles. Those stories also set the stage for Jesus’ raising from the dead the son of the centurion’s slave and the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:1-17). The latter event led the people to identify Jesus as “a great prophet.” Likely, the story of Jesus’ healing the ten lepers that identifies the only grateful one as a Samaritan is part of this continuing story (17:11-21).

Vv. 24, 25.  amēn legō hymin … ep’ alētheias de legō hymin = “truly I say to you … in truth I say to you “:  The three expressions indicate that Jesus, who alone in the NT used “Amen” to introduce a speech, spoke with the authority of God (see also en exousia ēn ho logos autou =  “with authority was his word” at v. 32).

V. 28. kai eplēsthēsan pantes thymou en tē synagōgē akounontes tauta = “and hearing this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage”: As with Jeremiah, Jesus’ message was unpopular among his own people—a threat to their security and their “special” favor from God.

V. 29.  exebalon auton exō tēs poleōs kai ēgagon auton … = “they cast him out of the city and led him …”: The phrasing seems to point toward the action at Jesus’ crucifixion (see 23:26). However, v. 30 reports that Jesus escaped and “went on his way.” It is pointless to conjecture how he accomplished that. The reason for Luke’s wording relates to Jesus’ teaching: “it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem” (13:33). Recall the city’s rejection of and attempt to kill Jeremiah (Jer. 38:1-6).