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Wrestling with the Word, episode 7: Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Year B (Feb. 8, 2009) January 19, 2009

Posted by fostermccurley in Wrestling With The Word podcast.
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Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Three of the four passages for this Sunday include God’s act of healing those in need. The first lesson from Isaiah 40 announces God’s response to the exiles in Babylon who feel forsaken by God. Psalm 147 praises God as both Creator and Redeemer who, among other things, heals the brokenhearted who cried out for help. In Mark 1 Jesus continues to demonstrate the nearness of the kingdom of God through his ministry of healing. The lesson from 1 Corinthians 9 connects with the Gospel for the day on mission of Paul, as of Jesus, to preach the gospel.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 7: Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Year B.

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Isaiah 40:21-31

Addressing God’s word to an exiled people who felt God had forsaken them, the prophet asserts the supremacy of the Lord and the promise of renewal for those who wait for the Lord.

Context

The prophet we call Second Isaiah preached to the exiles in Babylon probably somewhere after 550 B.C. By this time, the people of Jerusalem had been living under Babylonian supremacy for more than 45 years. They had heard the word of the Lord only from the prophet Ezekiel in the early part of their exile, and because of God’s silence the people developed laments and many abandoned the Lord for the gods of Babylon. Second Isaiah, therefore, had two major issues to confront: (1) the apparent absence of God and (2) the idolatry of many people. God called him to announce the coming victory of the Lord over the idols and the human powers that be.

Key Words

V. 22. wayyimtāchēm kā’ōhel lāšābet = “and he spreads them like the tent to dwell”: the stretching out the heavens as the place where divinities live might be polemical against the creation myth of the Babylonians in which the abode of the gods is the body of the slain Tiamat (the Deep).

V. 25. we’el-mî tedammeyînû = “and to whom will you compare me?”: Here the Lord is addressing the question to the people, whereas in vs. 18 the prophet asks the same question of the people in relation to idols. Israel had long praised the Lord as being incomparable (see Ps. 89:6), but apparently, they had come to doubt it. See 43:8-13; 44:6-8; 46:5; 48:3-5.

V. 27. nisterā darkî mēYHWH ûmē’lōhay mišpātî ya‘abōd = “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right/justice is disregarded by my God”: A similar statement by the people appears at 49:14. This feeling of God forsakenness lies at the heart of the lament form; see Pss. 7, 13, 17, 22, 25, 26, 27, 31, 55, 77, 88, 89, 102.

V. 28. elōhê ‘ôlām YHWH bōrē’ qetsôt hā’ārets = God of eternity is the Lord, Creator of the ends of the earth”: The announcement that YHWH is the Creator of the earth—and not Marduk—provides the argument that YHWH has the power over nations and kings and can, therefore, accomplish the promised deliverance. See also Isa. 42:5; 44:24-25; 45:18. Bringing together the confession that God is both the Creator and the Redeemer, Second Isaiah makes a valuable contribution to Israel’s faith.

V. 29. nōtēn layyā‘ēp kōach ûle’ên ’ônîm ‘otsmā yarbeh = “he gives power to the faint and strengthens those without power”: God’s healing of the weary and faint is a common theme in the OT; see, for example, Deut. 32:39; Isa. 19:22; 57:18f.; Jer. 30:17; 33:6; Hos. 6:1; 11:3; Pss. 6:2; 30:2; 41:4; 147: 3.

V. 31. yārûtsû … yēle = “they shall run … they shall walk/go”: in a synonymous parallelism these two verbs mean the same.

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Psalm 147:1-11, 20c

The Lord be praised for the saving and healing the people of Israel and for providing care of all his creatures.

Structure

Like the preaching of Second Isaiah (see Isa. 40:21-31 above), the first part of the psalm (vss. 1-6) praises God as Savior and as Creator. The saving event appears in the praise to God for rebuilding Jerusalem and gathering the outcasts, that is, the exiles. In this sense, God has responded to the laments from the people. Further, God is the one who “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (For the “healing” activity of God, see some references in the discussion at Isa. 40:29; the Hebrew word means basically “to make whole.”) The psalm extols the creating power of God by referring to the stars and the naming of the constellations (see Isa. 40:26). The second part (vss. 7-11) bursts forth in thanksgiving for God’s care of all creatures and for the care that God provides in feeding them by sending rain so that causes the crops might grow. Again, like Isaiah 40:29-31, God is not impressed with human strength but with those who wait for and hope in God’s covenant loyalty. The third (vss. 12-20) calls the chosen people to praise God for the blessings bestowed on Jerusalem.

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1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Entrusted and commissioned with the gospel of Jesus Christ, the apostle Paul writes that while we are free from all people and things, we are enslaved to Christ and called to heed his law.

Context

In responding to the questions raised by the Corinthian congregation via mail, Paul continues the discussion about Christian freedom he began at 8:1.

Key Words

V. 16. “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”:  Like Jeremiah who lamented the call from God but could not but obey (Jer. 20:9), Paul admits that God compels him to preach the good news about Jesus and to do so freely, that is, without pay.

V. 17. oikonomian pepisteumai = “I am entrusted with a stewardship”: At 4:1 Paul indicated that Christian identity focused on our being “servants of Christ and stewards (oikonomous) of the mysteries of God,” that is, of the gospel.

V. 18. tē exousia mou en tō euangleiō = “my authority in the gospel”: refer to the discussion in Episode 6 on the use of “authority” in the Bible.

V. 19. Eleutheros gar ōn ek pantōn pasin emauton edoulōsa, hina tous pleoonas kerdēsō = “Though I am free from all, I enslaved myself to all, so that I might win the most”: The notion that Paul has enslaved himself stands somewhat in tension with his statement at 6:19-20 that God bought him with a high price, namely, the life of his Son. At 2 Cor. 4:5 Paul writes that we are “your slaves for Jesus’ sake.” Still elsewhere, Paul uses terminology that reflects ancient sacred manumission decrees: “for freedom” at Gal. 5:1.

V. 21. mē ōn anomos theou all’ ennomos Christou = “Not being a lawless one of God but a law-abiding one of Christ”: Paul uses the law of Christ elsewhere. At Gal. 6:2 “the law of Christ is to “bear one another’s burdens,” and at Rom. 13:8-10—without using the phrase—Paul highlights the command of loving the neighbor as oneself (Lev. 19:18 ) as the sum of the law (also see Gal. 5:14). Jesus’ so-called new commandment is to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

V. 22. hina tous astheneia kerdēsō = “so that I might win the weak”: The weak might be (a) those Christians who have not yet matured to comprehend the freedom of the gospel, like 8:9, or (b) non-Christians, as in Rom. 5:6. The goal to “win” actually means the same as “save” at the end of the verse. The use of the verb at this point leads to the athletic imagery of racing and boxing that follows.

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Mark 1:29-39

With the authority of God, Jesus heals the sick, casts out demons, and preaches his message, all signs that God is breaking into human history with a new time.

Context

Following his baptism, Jesus went into Galilee, preaching the message about the nearness of the reign of God. Immediately thereafter he began calling into being a new community of disciples and exorcised a demon.

Key Words

V. 31.  kai diekonei autois = “and she was serving them”:  the impf. indicates an ongoing activity, thus the NRSV “she began to serve them” is better than the RSV “and she served them.” In any case, the verb diakoneō is used frequently, but not exclusively, for the physical care provided by women for Jesus and the others; see Mark 15:41; Luke 8:3; John 12:2. For the service Jesus offers to humanity, see Mark 10:43-45.

V. 34. kai etherapeusen pollous kakōs = “and he cured/healed many sick”: In Mark’s Gospel Jesus heals others at 3:2, 10, 15; 6:5, 13. Thanks to the gift of the Holy Spirit at Acts 2, the early church continued this healing ministry at 4:14; 5:16; 8:7; and 28:9. This healing is not simply the curing of diseases but the restoration to wholeness.

V. 34.  kai ouk ēphien lalein ta daimonia = “and he would not allow the demons to speak”:  The silencing of the demons and other forces of chaos is one of the ways Jesus brings them under control; see Mark 1:25; 4:39.  At the same time, the words contribute to the so-called Messianic secret which is typical of Mark: see 3:11-12; 8:30; 9:9.

V. 35. eis erēmon topon = “to a lonely place”:  In such locations Jesus is interrupted by others, paving the way for acts of ministry to occur; see also Luke 9:12.

V. 39.  hina ekei keruxō eis touto gar exēlthon = so that I might preach, for I came out for this (purpose)”:  the verse crystallizes the mission on which Jesus was sent:  to preach so that all might believe. See the key expression also at 1:14:  kērussōn to euaggelion tou theou.