Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany – Year A

As the season of Epiphany progresses, links emerge between how God manifests among people and how people are to respond. God graciously reveals the intent to grant human beings new opportunities for living that will overcome past failures and setbacks, but that requires a willingness on their part to incorporate the divine initiatives into their relations with one another.

The First Reading
Isaiah 58:1-9a, [9b-12]
Devotion to God Requires Devotion to Others

As Israel sought to establish its national life anew following the two generations of exile in Babylonia, this prophecy reminded the nation that a robust life as God’s people calls for more than proper piety. Restoration and renewal will be built on a new commitment to compassion, virtue, and self-giving service. The people’s practice of godly virtues thus makes the glory of God present for all the world and establishes their enduring legacy.

  • 1. Bellow out a cry; do not hold back. Raise your voice like a ram’s horn
  • to proclaim to my people their offense and to the House of Jacob their sins;
  • 2. then they will seek me day by day and desire knowledge of my ways.
  • Like a nation that does right, not abandoning the justice of their God,
  • let them ask of me right judgments;
  • let them delight in their nearness to God.
  • 3. “Why do we fast,” [they say,] “and you do not see us,
  • deprive ourselves and you take no notice?”
  • Look, on your fast day you see to your own interests,
  • relentlessly driving all your workers.
  • 4. Indeed your fasting ends in quarreling and struggle and striking with a wicked fist.
  • Do not fast like that today, if you would make your voice heard on high.
  • 5. Is the fast that I choose like this: a day focused on one’s own deprivation?
  • Is it for folding oneself over like a reed, draping sackcloth and ashes?
  • Do you call that a fast and a day that the Lord wants?
  • 6. Is not this the fast that I choose:
  • release unjust shackles, unstrap the yoke’s harness,
  • set free the oppressed—you shall demolish every yoke!
  • 7. Is it not giving up your food to the hungry,
  • and that you take in the wandering poor?
  • Seeing someone naked, you cover them,
  • rather than look away from your flesh and blood!
  • 8. Then your light will break out like the dawn
  • and your well-being will emerge quickly;
  • your righteousness will precede you;
  • the glory of the Lord will surround you.
  • 9. Then you will call and the Lord will respond;
  • [you will cry out for help and the Lord will say, “I am here”:
  • when you remove from among you the yoke,
  • finger-pointing, and slander;
  • 10.    when you give of yourself to the hungry
  • and make reparation for the humiliated;
  • when your light shines out in the darkness
  • so that your gloom is like midday.
  • 11. The Lord will always guide you and satisfy you in bare wastelands;
  • he will strengthen your spine and you will be an irrigated garden,
  • like a spring whose waters never disappoint.
  • 12. Your people will rebuild ageless ruins,
  • you will re-establish the foundations of generations,
  • and you will be called “repairer of the breach,”
  • restoring pathways for habitation.]

The Psalm
Psalm 112:1-9, [10]
Those who Adhere to God’s Law Are Blessed

Today’s psalm lists blessings that accrue to those who are true to God and faithful to the commandments. A few verses (2, 3 and 5) assure material wealth and progeny. But a greater focus is righteous people’s freedom from fear and dread concerning the future, which evil people appropriately face. In Hebrew, the psalm is an alphabetical acrostic; each line begins with the subsequent letter of the Hebrew alphabet. For this reason, despite its topical focus, the psalm’s individual lines have a somewhat random character.

  • 1. Praise Yah!
  • Happy are those who revere the Lord,
  • who take great pleasure in God’s commandments.
  • 2. Mighty will be their progeny throughout the land—
  • a generation of the upright will be blessed!
  • 3. Homes full of wealth and riches.
  • Their righteousness is ever-present.
  • 4. They arise in the darkness, a light for the upright—
  • gracious, compassionate, and righteous.
  • 5. Good are the generous and giving,
  • who go about their business justly.
  • 6. For they will never be shaken;
  • the righteous will be forever remembered.
  • 7. They do not fear evil tidings;
  • their heart is firm, trusting in God.
  • 8. Their heart is steady; they do not fear,
  • finally seeing their enemies defeated.
  • 9. They distribute freely to the needy;
  • their righteousness stands forever.
  • Their horn is lifted in honor.
  • [10. The evil see this and are angry.
  • They gnash their teeth and despair.
  • The desires of the evil will come to nothing.]

The Second Reading
1 Corinthians 2:1-12, [13-16]
The Grounds of True Wisdom

In writing to congregations of believers in Corinth, Paul insisted that the message concerning Jesus was not grounded in the kind of intellectual pretension that was prized in the Greco-Roman world. Rather, he pointed to God’s Spirit as the sole basis of faith and the only authority for authentic teaching. God has determined when and how to release awareness of the grace that was long planned, and that awareness, Paul claims, becomes the foundation of a new sort of wisdom, one that is divine rather than human.

When I came to you, family, I did not come declaring God’s testimony with superior speech or wisdom, because with you I determined not to know anything but Anointed Jesus as crucified. I arrived among you in weakness and fear and great trembling, and my speech and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of spirit and power, so your faith could depend, not on people’s wisdom, but on God’s power. Still, among adepts we do speak wisdom, neither temporal nor of temporal rulers, who in any case are perishing! We rather speak God’s hidden wisdom in a mystery, which God set up before time for your glory. No temporal ruler knew because, had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. Just as is written: “What eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and has not arisen in the human heart, so much has God prepared for those who love him.” God uncovers this through the Spirit, since the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. Indeed, who knows what is in a person, except the person’s own spirit within? So no one has ever known what is within God except the Spirit of God. And we did not receive the spirit of the world but the Spirit from God, so we can know what has been bestowed on us by God.

[We do not articulate this in words formed by human wisdom, but in Spirit’s formation, accommodating spiritual things to spiritual people. People ordinarily do not accept the things of the Spirit of God, since they are foolishness to them; they are not able to know them because they need to be spiritually apprehended. And the spiritual person apprehends everything, yet is apprehended by no one. Indeed, “Who has known the Lord’s mind, so as to counsel the Lord?” But we have Anointed’s mind!]

The Gospel
Matthew 5:13-20
Active Discipleship that Honors Moses

One of the distinctive characteristics of Matthew’s Gospel is that it presents Jesus as intending to fulfill the Torah, or Law, of Moses down to the finest detail. Fulfilling the Torah gives concrete expression to the conviction that following Jesus should not be a matter of passive belief, but should result in active commitment to the ethical mandates that Moses represents.

“You are the salt of the earth; yet if salt is dulled, by what can it become salty? It is no longer effective for anything, except—having been thrown outside—to be trampled by people. You are the light of the world. A town lying on a mountain cannot be hidden. Neither do they burn a lamp and set it under the bin, but on the lamp stand! And it shines on all those in the home. So shall your light shine before people, so that they see your fine works and glorify your Father in the heavens. Do not presume that I came to demolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to demolish, but to make full. Because, amen I say to you, until heaven and earth disappear, not one dot, not one small stroke will disappear from the Law until everything happens. Whoever releases one of the least of these decrees and teaches people that way will be called least in the kingdom of the heavens. Yet whoever does and teaches, this person will be called great in the kingdom of the heavens. Because I say to you that, except that your righteousness overflows—more than even the scribes’ and Pharisees’—you shall not enter into the kingdom of the heavens.”

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