Journeying through the Revised Common Lectionary
Readings, Commentary, and Discussion Questions for January 21, 2018
Third Sunday after Epiphany
First Reading: Jonah 3:1-5, 10
1 The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time, saying, 2 “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.”
3 So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. 4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
5 And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. . .
10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
Worth Noting: The fabulous aspects of the story of Jonah (sea monsters, tremendous size of Nineveh, and so forth) may occlude its message: The God of Israel, and the God of Jesus of Nazareth, is the loving God, full of mercy, of all people. How does your community live out this message towards and about others?
5 For God alone my soul waits in silence,
for my hope is from him.
6 He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
7 On God rests my deliverance and my honor;
my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.
8 Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us.
9 Those of low estate are but a breath,
those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up;
they are together lighter than a breath.
10 Put no confidence in extortion,
and set no vain hopes on robbery;
if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.
11 Once God has spoken;
twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
12 and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord.
For you repay to all
according to their work.
Worth Noting: The psalmist is quite clear: Wealth and poverty, power and oppression provide scant assurance for righteousness in the sight of God. (See Gospel below for examples of those forsaking all to follow their vocation.) How do we balance trust in God with retirement accounts? How do we decide what professions to follow, jobs to take, and what to give to charity: does trust in God enter those decisions?
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 7:29-31
29 I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, 30 and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, 31 and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.
Worth Noting: Paul was convinced that Jesus was coming very soon. In response, Paul counsels “keep on keeping on – don’t change anything!” Would that be your resolution were you convinced that Jesus was coming in the next six months? Why would you change anything?
Gospel: Mark 1:14-20
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea– for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him.
19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
Worth Noting: When the four apostles left their boats, how did they and their families survive? Perhaps relatives and friends supported them, allowing the four to pursue their vocations. How does your community call and support vocations to service?
CONNECTING WITH THE SCRIPTURES
Entering into the Scriptures
The Bible collects stories that change minds. And there is nothing that can change more swiftly than the image of God. Is God a xenophobic destroyer of the Israel’s enemies? Yes, if you read Joshua and Judges a certain way. Or does God love the enemies of Israel? Yes, if your read Jonah.
The point is, the Bible is not just a collection that makes us feel better about ourselves. The Bible, when read thoughtfully, jars our sensibilities and shakes us out of our comfortable places. For instance, the story of Jonah, when it first circulated, must have stirred some ill will among the people who heard it. Jonah, it will be recalled, first rejected God’s call to be a missionary to the great city Nineveh because Jonah knew that if the people repented God would relent in his punishment of the authors of the destruction of the northern Kingdom of Israel and the ethnic cleansing of the ten tribes from the Promised Land. Why would anyone want to save those people from just punishment? In the New Testament, is God a mighty king (see Revelation) or a babe in a manger (as in Luke).
The God of the Bible is all of these things and more. The God of the Bible changes the divine mind, and commutes the sentence of the Ninevites. The Son of God changes his mind and cures the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman after a sharp exchange. The God of the Bible is a monarch and a political rebel, a fierce warrior and a tender shepherd, the Creator and the Destroyer. The God of the Bible surprises us and refuses our confining pigeon holes.
How Then Shall We Live?
The question we pose to the Bible most often is “How shall I live?” These texts give some answers. The book of Jonah tells us “When God calls, answer!” The psalmist affirms that not money and fame but trust in the LORD will endure. Jesus gives the apostles an open-ended invitation to a new way of life: “Come follow me.” While these answers ask for change in our lives, conversion. Paul says “Keep on doing what you’re doing (because the world is ending soon anyway).”
Unlike a self-help manual, the Bible never provides a definitive step-by-step process to the better life. (If you think it does, just read a bit further.) The Bible calls us to reflect on our lives using the Bible as inspiration and source book. One of the most important decisions we make, for instance, is where to settle – in what neighborhood of what city. The location largely decides the people with whom we (and perhaps our children) will interact, the amount of money we will spend on housing, where we will worship, even with whom we will rub elbows in the supermarket. The housing decision shapes a large part of our lives. We use the Bible not for real estate listings, but for images of how to live our lives – in community, sharing our talent and resources, caring for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger in our midst. We model the family of Joseph and Mary who lived in the backwater town of a backwater province earning a living and educating their children. That education extended beyond academics to the real question: How shall we live?
Questions for Discussion
Psalm 62 calls us to trust in God. How does that work when we are making tough decisions? Do we trust that God will lead us to the right decision or that God will work with our decision, no matter what it is, so we can make the most of it?
Is an image of God as unchanging as the Rock of Gibraltar important to you and your community?
If we are created in the image of a restless, changeable God, how are we to live? Does God call us in the same way at 16, 36, and 56?
For a PDF version of this week’s Journeying, click here.
Dennis Haugh has enjoyed working with adult seekers for over 20 years. He aims to engage academic and general audiences for the New Testament. To hone his skills and burnish his credentials, he earned his PhD in Biblical Studies in the University of Denver/Iliff School of Theology joint program. He appreciates any correspondence: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Unless expressly stated otherwise, all quotations from Scripture are taken from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.
The “Call of the Apostles Peter and Andrew” by Duccio di Buoninsegna (c. 1255-c. 1320) has been identified as free of known restrictions under copyright law.
Journeying through the Revised Common Lectionary © 2018 Dennis Haugh. Recent postings may be accessed at https://www.sttims.net/journeying-through-the-lectionary/.