Musings on the Lectionary Readings

Musings on the Lectionary Readings

for the fifth Sunday after Epiphany (Ordinary 5)

Feb. 9, 2003

by Philip W. Gilman


Isaiah 40: 21--31

In case anyone wonders who is the intended audience of YHWH's message through the Prophet, look back a few verses.

            Ascend a lofty mountain,

            O herald of joy to Zion;

            Raise your voice with power,

            O herald of joy to Jerusalem--

            Raise it, have no fear;

            Announce to the cities of Judah:

            Behold your God! (9)


Before you read the Prophet's message of joy to Zion, stop and consider who the people in the cities of Judah are.  "They are My people (Exo. 3: 7)," God declares, for the LORD chose you to attend upon Him, to serve Him (2Chr. 29: 11).  So today's words from this herald of joy should clang with astonishment in our ears.  Why should YHWH ever ask such a question of Her beloved, Her chosen ones?


            Do you not know?

            Have you notf !srd?

            Have you not been told

            From the very first?

            Have you not discerned

            How the earth was founded?

            It is [God] who is enthroned above the vault of the earth (21-22a).


Even after several centuries of repeating the stories of deliverance, care, guidance and love that YHWH lavished upon the people, Isaiah yet must

            Ascend a lofty mountain,

            Raise [his] voice with power, and

            Announce to the cities of Judah:

            Behold your God!



            Do you not know?

            Have you not heard?

            Have you not been told

            From the very first?

God, in Christ Jesus, has finally and completely taken care of our sin problem; that, by the will of God, we have been made holy by the offering of the body of Jesus Christ made once and for all. (Heb. 10: 10)  But the Church, after almost twenty centuries, is still all concerned about sin.  Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, "You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread?  Do you still not understand?  Don't you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered?  How is it you don't understand that I was not talking to you about bread?" (Mat. 16: 8-9, 11a, NIV)

             Do you not know?

            Have you not heard?

            The LORD is God from of old,

            Creator of the earth from end to end,            He never grows faint or weary,

            [Her] wisdom cannot be fathomed.

            [God] gives strength to the weary,

            Fresh vigor to the spent.

            Youths may grow faint and weary,

            And young [children] stumble and fall;

            But they who trust in the LORD shall renew their strength

            As eagles grow new plumes:

            They shall run and not grow weary,

            They shall march and not grow faint. (28-31)

"Do you still not understand?"


Psalm 147: 1--11, 20c


            It is good to chant hymns to our God;

                it is pleasant to sing glorious praise. (1)

Why?  Because

            [the LORD] heals their broken hearts,

                and binds up their wounds. (3)

                [God] gives the beasts their food,

                to the raven=s brood what they cry for. (9)

"How is it you don't understand that I [am] not talking to you about bread?"


1Cor. 9: 16--23

            What reward do I have, then?  That in my preaching I offer the gospel free of charge to avoid using the rights which the gospel allows me. (18)  This seems like rather strange language: the rights which the gospel allows me.  I do not recall, in the past 30-some years, having heard much from the pulpit about my rights as a believer in Christ.  A lot has been preached about my obligations, my duties, my offenses, my debts, but precious little about my rights.  When we read: the law of the Spirit which gives life in Christ Jesus has set [us] free from the law of sin and death (Rom. 8: 2), should we not infer that some rights are attached?


            I accommodated myself to people in all kinds of different situations, so that by all possible means I might bring some to salvation.  All this I do for the sake of the gospel, that I may share its benefits with others. (22b-23)  What are the benefits of the Gospel?  Is salvation all there is?  And what is salvation?  A promise of some far- off-in-the-future-after-we-die happy "life" with Jesus and God up in the clouds somewhere?  Or do the benefits apply to this life on earth, in the wilderness, here, now?  And if we are saved in the present, does that not mean that we are free from the law of sin and death?


Beloved, consider this: the Magi came to worship Jesus, then returned to their own country by a different way. (Mat. 2: 12b)  "Do you still not understand?"


Mark 1: 29--31

            Now Simon=s mother-in-law was in bed and feverish, and at once they told him about her.  [Jesus] went in to her, took her by the hand and helped her up.  And the fever left her and she began to serve them. (30-31)  The Greek verb, sozo, the base of Paul's salvation above, carries a strong sense of healing and wholeness.  In Mark and (especially) Luke, this connection is intentionally played on.  Which fact leads us to understand that the Evangelists, as well as Jesus, are speaking of something other than that which their words convey superficially.


            Mark offers this allegory to teach us something.  [Jesus]... helped her up.  And the fever left her....  Christian, the "fever" of sin has left you.  You have been buried with [Jesus] by your baptism; by which, too, you have been raised up with him through your belief in the power of God who raised [Christ] from the dead.  You were dead, because you were sinners and uncircumcised in body: [God] has brought you to life with [Christ], [God] has forgiven us every one of our sins.  [God] has wiped out the record of our debt to the Law, which stood against us; [God] has destroyed it by nailing it to the cross (Col. 2: 12-14).  "Do you still not understand?"


(Comments to Phil at .)