Weekly Lectionary Commentary (Epiphany 2, Ordinary 2)

1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20]

Our Hebrew Bible lection presents the story of the calling of Samuel.  Samuel is the son of Hannah.  For a long time Hannah was unable to have children, that is until she prayed to God promising that if God would open her womb she would give back to God the fruit of her womb.  When young Samuel was born Hannah made good on her promise delivering infant Samuel to the hands of Eli the priest.

Eli brought up Samuel as a priest (3:1) along with his other two sons Hophni and Phinehas.  Even though the text represents Samuel as “ministering to the Lord under Eli” it is also clear that Samuel “did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.”  Samuel had yet to be called into the office of prophet of the Lord.

When Samuel did receive the Lord’s call in the form of a voice in the middle of the night he did not understand who it was that was calling him.  He ran to Eli’s side believing the old priest was beckoning him.  Three times the voice visited Samuel and three times he believed it was Eli who was calling him.  Finally Eli discerned that Samuel was receiving a call from the Lord, and with Eli’s encouragement Samuel laid down to rest a fourth time to wait yet again for the call.

When the fourth call came Samuel responded as Eli instructed him, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”  The message the Lord gave to Samuel was painful for Samuel to hear.  His mentor Eli and his unrestrained sons were to be punished by God for wrongdoing.  Samuel, with hesitancy, delivered the message to Eli the next morning and Eli accepted it as the word of the Lord.

From that point on the Word of the Lord was strong with Samuel, and he became recognized as a prophet of YHWH.

The offense of the house of Eli was Eli’s lack of control over his two songs Hophni and Phinehas.  Portions of certain sacrifices offered to God were to go to the priests for food.  Hophni and Phinehas had abused their positions and taken more than their portions, including the best ‘fatty’ portions for themselves.  This abuse of power was an affront to God who calls leaders to live self-sacrificial lives for the sake of others.  Samuel’s deliverance of God’s oracle of judgment to Eli was the first of many such oracles that Samuel was to deliver to leaders who abuse their power.  Such is the role of God’s prophet–to pronounce judgment on those who take advantage of the weak, abuse positions of power, and eat their fill while their neighbors go hungry.

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18

It is hard to decide if Psalm 139 is good or bad news.  The assertion on the part of the psalmist that the Lord “discerns [our] thoughts” and is “acquainted with all [our] ways” can be a troubling confession.  We have always operated with the idea that our private thoughts are ours alone.  None of us would want another person to know our innermost secrets, and our daily struggles.  On the other hand the idea that we are so well known, even in our private minds, is simultaneously comforting.  Before God we need not have any pretense.  We stand naked, as did Adam and Eve with their transgressions, before the one who seeks us in our hiding places.

As a response to the Hebrew Bible lection Psalm 139 points to the closeness God has with those he calls.  Samuel’s life was determined by God before he was born, and his prophetic mission was given shape by the deep providence of the one who created the universe.

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

A central part of Paul’s gospel proclamation was the freedom we have in Christ (e.g. Galatians 5:1, “For freedom Christ has set us free…”).  Some, however, were using their freedom as an excuse for licentious living, perhaps even arguing that what was done in the body had little affect on the spirit and soul (a proto-gnostic idea).  Paul has to correct this zealous over application of his message of freedom in Corinth, a place that has been dubbed the “Las Vegas of the ancient world” (my apologies to the good folks in Las Vegas–I’m cashing in on the reputation, not necessarily the reality).

In our lection Paul argues against over indulgence in two areas: food and fornication.  The two are similar (in that they are reactions to our base desires), yet different.  Food is meant for the body (in particular the stomach says Paul).  So eating food is as appropriate as breathing.  However, Paul argues that both food and the stomach will be destroyed by God, and no one should be dominated by their desire for food (i.e. the glutton).  Fornication (not to be equated with sex), however, is not meant for any part of the body.  The word fornication comes from the Greek word “pornea” (sharing etymology with the English word “porn”).  It references any perversion or sexual deviance that may be harmful to a person or to a person’s relations.

Paul argues that our bodies are “members of Christ” and “temples of the Holy Spirit” and have been “bought with a price.”  When the people of Corinth used the services of a prostitute (likely a temple prostitute, possibly from the temple to Aphrodite where it was claimed that more than a thousand prostitutes beckoned the worshippers to use their services) they inadvertently linked Christ himself with the prostitute (since in sexual relations “two become one flesh.”)

Paul shuns this practice, and instead asks the Corinthians to honor God with their bodies.

John 1:43-51

In the season of Epiphany the identity of Christ is made known to us in greater and greater detail.  Our lection this week contains the calling of Phillip and Nathaniel which culminates in Nathaniel’s statement that Jesus is the “Son of God” and the “King of Israel.”

In verse 43 Jesus turns his sights toward Galilee and there meets Phillip who is from the same town as Andrew and Peter.  Phillip receives the invitation of Christ and then seeks out Nathaniel who is “under a fig tree.”  Paul S. Berge is helpful in pointing out an interesting detail of this story that likely escapes modern readers, “it [the fig tree] traditionally denotes a place associated where Rabbis study the Torah” (http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?tab=4&alt=1).  Could it be that Nathaniel is a Rabbi himself, or that Nathaniel was piously seeking the teaching of a Rabbi when Phillip came to him?  Whatever the case, Nathaniel, upon meeting Jesus, will address Jesus as “Rabbi” indicating his willingness to let Jesus teach the scripture to him in greater detail.

At first Nathaniel is not excited about Phillip’s invitation to see Jesus, especially since Phillip describes Jesus as “Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth.”  This invites Nathaniel’s scorn as a he responds, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  It is likely that Nazareth’s poor reputation as a place of little importance was a stumbling block to many who could not see past Christ’s humble beginnings.  Nathaniel’s voicing of this objection, and his subsequent acceptance of Jesus’s son-ship and king-ship provide a model example of how others should respond to Jesus, even those scandalized by Jesus’ connection with Nazareth.

Nathaniel’s confession that Jesus is the Son of God and King of Israel is predicated on Jesus’ knowledge that Phillip called Nathaniel when Nathaniel was under the fig tree.  Jesus was not present at the calling of Nathaniel, so Nathaniel marvels at how Jesus knows this detail of the encounter.  Jesus responds to Nathaniel’s amazement by saying, “Do you believe [in me] because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree?  You will see greater things than these.”  Jesus goes on to describe the greater things that Nathaniel will see and in doing so makes reference to the Hebrew Bible story of Jacob’s ladder (“you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man”).  In this respect Jesus becomes the new Bethel, the new ‘home of God’–the nexus where God dwells with humanity.

Celebration of Worship

As you prepare your hearts and minds for worship consider the circumstance of your own calling.  How did God reveal God’s-self to you?  Have you come to a greater understanding of the work of God in your life since then?  Have you had to correct your application of the gospel as did the people in Corinth?  Were you convinced to follow Jesus by some things and later were shown even greater things?  Have you played the role of Phillip, who was called to Christ and immediately found another to bring along with him?


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