Reading from the Old Testament, Isaiah 49:1–7 (1/10/11)
Depending on the denomination you belong to, the period between Epiphany and Lent is called the “season of Epiphany” or “ordinary time.” In the United Methodist Church, we call it ordinary time. It’s not “common” time; it’s “counted” time, ordered in the sense of first, second, third, etc. The lectionary readings don’t have any specific theme, although the Gospel readings relate various events from Jesus’ ministry. (In case you are saying, “As opposed to what?” – his ministry as opposed to Passion Week.)
Now, long-time readers may remember the Hunter Theorem, which states, “Everything is related to everything.” Every scripture is related to every other scripture, and every scripture is related to your life. I have to admit, however, that during ordinary time, one sometimes has to work pretty hard to see the relationship among the four lectionary readings, and this is one of those weeks.
I’m sure we can all sympathize, in this post-Christmas period, with Isaiah’s feeling that "I'm completely worn out; my time has been wasted.” The important thing is to remember what he says in the same breath: “But I did it for the LORD God, and he will reward me." Never cease keeping Christmas; never cease doing good.
Reading from the Psalms, Psalm 40:1–11 (1/11/11)
I suggest that you read today’s passage from the King James Version, mostly because I prefer the KJV’s translation of the psalms to any other. It also never hurts to review the reasons for getting yourself a good, modern translation of the Bible. The KJV (also the Douay Rheims and Jewish Publication Society Bible) uses strange, archaic words like “respecteth” and “didst” and “us-ward.” It uses archaic forms of “you” – thee, thy, thou, thine. It puts random words into italics. Now, we know that the strange words are perfectly good 14th or 15th-century English, and we know that the italics show words that aren’t in the Hebrew or Greek but which have to be in the English. Nevertheless, it makes the KJV difficult and slow to read. I urge you to get a modern translation with study notes.
Reading from the Epistles, 1 Corinthians 1:1–9 (1/12/11)
In most weeks, the lectionary has a reading from the epistles. “Epistles” means “letters,” and most of these books were written as letters to specific individuals, churches, or segments of the Christian community. (It is possible that one or two were written as sermons.)
1 and 2 Corinthians were written by Paul, to (amazingly enough) the Corinthians, i.e., the church at Corinth. We have a normal format for letters in our own day: inside address, date, address, greeting (“Dear Mom”), body (“Please ask Dad to send money”), signature. In New Testament times, letters had most of these parts, but not the date, drat it. The parts are in a different order than our letters, however. The letters start with the signature: “From Paul.” Then it goes to the address: “To God’s church in Corinth.” The greeting is often several verses long; probably the remainder of our reading today could be classified as the greeting.
Reader Question: What is the meaning of “innocent” in 1 Corinthians 1:6-8? Certainly the Corinthians were not sinless, and “naive and inexperienced” would not be a complement.
- 1 Cor. 1:8 And until the day Christ does return, he will keep you completely
innocent. (Contemporary English Version)
Response: Special thanks to this reader for showing up that our Biblical translators are in a difficult business.
The Greek word here is an-eng'-klay-tos. It’s only used 5 times in the New Testament – always by Paul – and never in the Greek Old Testament. It is used only once in the Apocrypha. It’s made up of an-, which is the same as our negative prefixes like un-, non-, a-, ir- and so on, and the verb eng-kal-eh'-o, which means accuse, charge, call into question.
Other translations use guiltless (English Standard Version), faultless (Good News), no one can accuse you of anything (God’s Word), blameless (International Standard and King James Versions), you need fear no condemnation (J. B. Philips), and unreprovable (American Standard Version).
For my money, we ought to go with J. B. Philips. Scholars think this sentence actually starts way back in vs. 4, with “I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ…” So it isn’t that we are innocent in the sense of not having done anything, it’s more that we need fear no condemnation because Jesus Christ through his grace is arranging for us not to be condemned.
Reading from the Gospels, John 1:29–42 (1/13/11)
You can always count on John’s Gospel to report puns and word plays. Puns and word plays don’t translate very well, but one way you can sometimes at least recognize them in English is when every translation you see has something different. Look at John 1:30:
Part of the problem in this particular verse is that in Greek, as in English, both before and after can have either a spatial or temporal meaning – before or after me in the line, before or after 10 a.m. And then there are two different words for are: gegonen and en. Just to add to your confusion, I’ve translated it differently from all of the above.
- "Someone else will come. He is greater than I am, because he was alive before I was born." (CEV)
- 'After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.' (ESV)
- 'A man is coming after me, but he is greater than I am, because he existed before I was born.' (Good News)
- 'A man who comes after me was before me because he existed before I did.' (God’s Word)
- 'After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me, because he existed before me.' (ISV)
- After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me. (KJV)
Note also in the last few verses that John must have a Greek-speaking audience in mind, because whenever he uses an Aramaic or Hebrew word (Rabbi, Messiah, Cephas), he translates it into Greek. So I think that the puns were probably a whole lot clearer to 1st- and 2nd-century native Greek speakers than they are to us. Read all the translations one after another (in either time or space), however, and you’ll have a pretty clear idea of what John the Baptist meant.
‘Behind me opiso is coming a man who was gegonen in front of emprosthen me, because he was en prior to protos me.’
The next morning, John sees Jesus coming toward him, and he says, “Look! The lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one of whom I said, ‘Behind me is coming a man who was in front of me, because he was prior to me.’ And I didn’t know him, but I came baptizing with water so that he might be made manifest to Israel.”
John testified, “I have observed the spirit coming down like a dove from heaven and remaining upon him: I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “The one upon whom you see spirit coming down and remaining – this one is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I have seen, and I have testified, that this is the Son of God.”
The next day, John is standing there again, with two of his disciples, and gazing at Jesus walking along he says, “Look! The lamb of God.” And his two disciples heard him speaking, and they followed Jesus.
Turning and seeing them following, Jesus says to them, “What are you looking for?”
And they said to him, “Rabbi,” (which means, “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”
He says to them, “Come and see.”
So they went and saw where he’s staying, and they stayed with him that day. It was about the tenth hour. Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two who listened to John, and followed him. This one finds first his own brother Simon and says to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means “Christ”). He led him to Jesus. Gazing as him, Jesus said, “You are Simon the son of John – you will called Cephas” (which means “Rock”).
A Track 2 OT Reading from the Revised Common Lectionary
Deuteronomy 11:18-21, 26-28; Matthew 7:21-29 (1/14/11)
I mentioned earlier that sometimes there is an alternative lectionary reading from the Old Testament. In the “seasons,” e.g., Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter, the Track 1 readings are topical, like the Gospel readings. In the time outside the special seasons, the Track 1 lectionary just reads through some OT book; this is called “hearing the author’s voice,” the “semi-continuous track,” or some similar designation. The Track 2 lectionary specifically selects OT reading that are related to the Gospel reading. We are not in a liturgical season that has these Track 2 readings, so I’ve chosen the OT and Gospel reading for another Sunday to show you how it works.
The “semi-continuous track” OT reading for this Sunday would be from Genesis 6, which is about Noah. The NT reading is from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is talking about the importance of obedience to God. The “Gospel theme track” OT reading is from Moses’ address to the children of Israel, and he’s talking about the importance of obedience to God.
Now, if you’ve been paying attention to the Hunter Theorem, you will say, “Look, the Track 1 reading about Noah is also about obedience to God! Everything is related to everything!”
More on Reading from the Lectionary
Epiphany and the Baptism of Jesus
Readings for the Second Sunday after Epiphany
Readings for the Third Sunday after Epiphany
Readings for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
Copyright 2011, 2013 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved.
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