Lectionary Commentary

Journeying through the Revised Common Lectionary

Readings, Commentary, and Discussion Questions for February 4, 2018

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany


First Reading: Isaiah 40:21-31
21 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to live in;
23 who brings princes to naught,
and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.

24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows upon them, and they wither,
and the tempest carries them off like stubble.
25 To whom then will you compare me,
or who is my equal? says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes on high and see:
Who created these?
He who brings out their host and numbers them,
calling them all by name;
because he is great in strength,
mighty in power,
not one is missing.
27 Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
30 Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

Worth Noting: Isaiah 40 opens with the prophet proclaiming the deliverance of God’s people from exile in Babylon (Isaiah 40:1-11). This selection follows, with assertions of the LORD’s power (verses 21-26, 28-31) and an exhortation to trust in that power (verses 26-28). How do you renew your trust in God? (Maybe by recalling past deeds in your life or experiences of peace in the midst of turmoil.)

 Psalm 147:1-11, 20c
1 Praise the Lord!
How good it is to sing praises to our God;
for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.
2 The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
3 He heals the brokenhearted,
and binds up their wounds.
4 He determines the number of the stars;
he gives to all of them their names.
5 Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
his understanding is beyond measure.
6 The Lord lifts up the downtrodden;
he casts the wicked to the ground.

7 Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
make melody to our God on the lyre.
8 He covers the heavens with clouds,
prepares rain for the earth,
makes grass grow on the hills.
9 He gives to the animals their food,
and to the young ravens when they cry.
10 His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner;
11 but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who hope in his steadfast love.
20c Praise the Lord!

Worth Noting: This is the God of the Old Testament, who heals the brokenhearted and takes pleasure in those who hope in his steadfast love. Is this the image of the God of the Old Testament you have?

 Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 9:16-23
16 If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel! 17 For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.
19 For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

Worth Noting: Consider: Every time we enter into a relationship – with an individual, a community, or an organization – aren’t we committing to be a servant in that relationship? (In some relationships, like marriage and parenting, more deeply than in others.) Is that what Paul is talking about in the second paragraph? How do you judge the depth of a commitment to a relationship/servanthood? (Again, marriage versus homeowners’ association, maybe.)

 Gospel: Mark 1:29-39
29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32 That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.”
38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”
39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

Worth Noting: In the snapshot of a typical day for Jesus, the notice about rising early and going off to pray shows this was Jesus’ daily habit – pray before work. The practice continued up to his Passion, when Jesus prayed in Gethsemane (Mark 14:32). How does your community encourage and support regular private prayer? Do you have a way to embed regular prayer in your life?


Entering into the Scriptures

The second part of the reading from 1 Corinthians introduces to the Corinthians Paul’s theology of adaptability (and we’ll donate $25 to your favorite charity if you can come up with a better description than “theology of adaptability). Paul emphasizes that as a slave to all he has become “all things to all people” – a Jew to a Jew, Gentile to a Gentile, and weak to the weak. In 1 Corinthians 8:13 (read last Sunday), Paul says much the same thing, allowing that he will not eat meat sacrificed to idols if others do not do so. These chameleon performances are meant to bring all people to Christ. The passages in 1 Corinthians are straight forward and unapologetic; today’s readers may find Paul’s admissions off putting, perhaps slightly deceptive. We know that politicians seeking votes adopt a similar strategy of championing redress of the particular needs of particular voter groups.
Paul, however, sees more in this than just a way to woo listeners. Remember that in Philippians 2:5-11, the Christ Hymn, Paul describes how Christ did the same thing, relinquishing the privileges of divinity to take the form and life of a human. Paul goes on to say that Christ’s reward is that God exalted his name above every other name. While in 1 Corinthians Paul simply asserts his practice, in Philippians Paul urges his readers/listeners to take on the same mind that was in Christ. That is, to regard others as superior and to promote the interests of others in preference to our own (Philippians 2:3-4).  It is Paul’s theology of adaptability.

 “Hometown Boy Makes Good . . . Somewhere Else”

It’s the year 30 and you and your family live in an unremarkable Galilean village. Diseases of all kinds are rampant and many result in early death. Jesus has come and healed and restored. We think: If we can entice him to stay in our village, we will be long-lived and healthy, and we’ll be sure to grow rich on the medical-tourism trade that will spring up.
Next thing we know: he’s gone. Off to another non-descript, unremarkable Galilean village. Soon we hear he even travels into foreign territory, teaching and healing the Gentiles. We look to have lost our chance for robust health and satisfying wealth. Is it surprising that some in the village turn against Jesus?

 Questions for Discussion

Do you see continuity or discontinuity between the image of God in the readings from Isaiah and Psalm 147 and the way Jesus of Nazareth ministered?

There were major healing sites throughout the Mediterranean to which people traveled, just as they go to famous hospitals and clinics today. Besides finding travel broadening, why would Jesus choose to walk from village to village rather than stay in one place? What might it tell us about the Christian life today?

Somewhere along the line, parents learn adaptability towards their children. “Not every battle is worth fighting,” they say. Sport coaches famously treat each athlete differently (it’s called “Being a player’s coach”). Paul wants his followers to be adaptable towards each other. Does that make sense? Don’t we have to maintain certain standards of behavior and belief?

Why would God so value adaptability? For Paul, do you think it was simply a missional tactic or do you agree that Paul saw more in it than that?

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: dennishaugh2011@gmail.com.


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.
Journeying through the Revised Common Lectionary © 2018 Dennis Haugh. Recent postings may be accessed at https://www.sttims.net/journeying-through-the-lectionary/.




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