Weekly Lectionary Commentary (Epiphany 3 / Ordinary 3)

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

The story of Jonah challenges our ability to commend the mercy of God.  Christians can be vindictive people.  Often we long for the final justice of God not only because we desire to experience the grace we receive in Christ but because we desire the toppling of our enemies.

Jonah was called to preach an oracle of judgment to Nineveh the capital of Assyria.  Assyria had a well earned reputation in the ancient world for brutality.  The Israelites had experienced this brutality first hand.  There was no hope for the Israelites to conquer Assyria in battle, that is unless YHWH brought his judgment against the Assyrians and thwarted their military machine and brought harm to the people.  That is what Assyria deserved, the Israelites were sure of it.

When Jonah runs from his calling (when he takes a boat in the opposite direction of Nineveh) we initially think the act prudent.  An Israelite pronouncing the destruction of Assyria in the streets of Nineveh was sure to meet strong, even lethal, resistance.  We later discover that Jonah’s reasons for running have little do with concern for his own safety.  As Jonah considers the future of his sworn enemies, Jonah remembers an inconvenient truth about God–God is gracious, and slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love.  If Jonah delivers his oracle it may be that the Assyrians repent and God changes his mind about the devastation he was going to bring upon them.

Jonah was right to be worried.  The pronouncement of Jonah’s oracle, the repentance of the Ninevites, and the changing of God’s mind are this week’s Hebrew Bible lection.  Together they remind us of the scandalous nature of God’s grace.  We are not called to judge the world out of a sense of self-righteousness, but out of a sense of love and compassion.  God will forgive those that God forgives, even our sworn enemies.  We are called to see the world as God sees the world.  We are called to give up our life for those that would take it in violence.

Psalm 65:5-12

Psalm 65 instructs followers of YHWH to trust alone in their God.  The psalmist repeatedly asserts that God is a “rock” (vs. 2, 6) and contrasts the weight and permanence of God with that of humans who are like “breaths” that have no weight but float up to the sky.  Riches are also seen as unworthy of our trust and worshippers are “not to set their hearts upon them.”

The Psalmist implores worshippers to set apart God as the only legitimate source of  stability, deliverance, and refuge.  The psalmist uses the word “alone” repeatedly (vs. 1, 2, 5, 6) to set apart God as the only worthy object of our trust.

1 Corinthians 7:29-31

Early Christians believed in the imminent second coming of Christ.  As a result much early Christian literature gives instructions to the church in light of this reality.  1 Corinthians 7 is one such text.  In it Paul admonishes the church to see all their relations (even marital relations), daily struggles and triumphs, and their careers and vocations as passing away.

This is comforting advice for those who find the world a difficult place to live.  Conversely this is troubling advice for those who have found comfort in life, and who enjoy the fruits of a good family and productive careers.

Regardless of one’s position in the world, Paul’s admonitions are still of value.  As Christians we are to never ‘settle’ for an imperfect end.  Our sights should be set on the kingdom of God in all its fullness.  As we wait for the kingdom’s full presence in the world we anticipate its coming by living life with a different set of values and concerns.  Thus our marriages our different, our struggles and triumphs are different, and our careers and vocations are different.  We live in a constant state of readiness, and in so doing we participate in the inauguration of the kingdom.

Mark 1:14-20

In this season of Epiphany we are once again invited to witness the calling of the first disciples by Christ (last week we witnessed the calling of Phillip and Nathaniel in the gospel of John).

The gospel of Mark does little to prepare us for the calling of Simon, Andrew, James and John.  We know hardly anything about Jesus (Mark’s gospel has no nativity even) and we know less about Jesus’ first followers.

What we do know is that Simon, Andrew, James and John are fishermen on the sea of Galilee.  Jesus uses the language and goal of their vocation to call them in service to the kingdom, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

We also know that their response was “immediate.”  This is in keeping with the gospel of Mark which runs through the story of Christ at a frenetic pace.  The advent of Jesus has brought about a certain ‘crisis’ of decision that requires immediate action.  The word “immediately” occurs 42 times in the gospel of Mark, and 11 times in chapter one alone.   Why the rush?  Because the “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.”

The presence of the kingdom invites us to repentance and belief.  To assist Jesus in spreading this invitation, a group of Galilean fishermen are selected.  Their response is immediate, just as they in turn call us to immediate action.

The immediate response of the first disciples should not suggest that they understood their vocation entirely.  Mark’s gospel, perhaps more than any other gospel, will present the early disciples/apostles as bumbling pupils, who consistently mistake Jesus’ meaning, and misinterpret the kingdom.  Still, their sense of urgency is a model for us as we feel the presence of God’s call and the fullness of time in our own lives.

Celebration of Worship

As you prepare your hearts and minds for worship consider the immediacy of the kingdom, and how it affects our response to the call.  There is no day like today.  In what way does our worship proclaim the imminence and immediacy of the kingdom and create a crisis of decision that requires immediate action?  In what ways are we proclaiming the fullness of time.  What do we miss by delaying our call, or running away from it as did Jonah?

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