Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany – Year A

This Sunday of Epiphany celebrates the transformative revelation of God to the people by means of Moses in the giving of the Torah. The capacity to choose the way of God reflects a wisdom that God offers for well-being and confidence. Paul insists that wisdom of this kind transcends mere human opinion or group loyalty. Today’s Gospel reading taken from the Sermon on the Mount in the book of Matthew counsels an extra measure of wise caution in following the Torah’s guidance for life as God’s people.

The First Reading
Deuteronomy 30:15-20
God’s Call Presents an Urgent Choice

Near the close of God’s revelation from Mount Sinai, the author of the book of Deuteronomy reports that Moses summarized God’s call to Israel to live as God’s people. That call challenges them to embrace the life that will distinguish them and bring honor to God. By making that choice, Israel will gain a long and thriving life in the land God has promised to their ancestors. Rejecting the choice is characterized as a dire, deadly move. The urgency could not be more clear and the promise that accompanies a faithful response is rich and full.

See—I set before you today life and good, death and doom, by commanding you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in God’s ways, and to observe God’s commandments and statutes and ordinances. Then you will thrive and become numerous and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to inherit. But if your heart turns aside and you do not obey, and you revolt and worship other gods and serve them, I tell you today that you will certainly perish. Your time will not be long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and to inherit. Today I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses in your case: life and death I have set before you, blessing and curse. So choose life, so that you and your descendants may live. Loving the Lord your God, obeying God, and clinging to God—surely this is your life and longevity, dwelling on the soil that the Lord swore to your ancestors, giving it to Abraham and to Isaac and to Jacob.

or Sirach 15:15-20
The Wise Revere God and Choose Faithful Life

For Ben Sira and others in the wisdom tradition of biblical Israel, wisdom is a grace that comes to those who stand in awe of God. Thus the choice to do good or evil, to follow God’s commandments or not, rests with each person in their own good judgment. God neither leads people to sin nor rescues them from their own poor choices. What God desires has been made plain; the choice is up to us.

If you so decide, you will keep commandments, thus showing faith, to God’s pleasure. God has set before you fire and water; you decide the one toward which your hand will reach. Life and death stand before a person and, as one pleases, so it shall be granted. For wide-ranging is the wisdom of the Lord, powerful in majesty and seeing all, so that God’s eyes are on those who stand in awe of the Lord, even perceiving every one of a person’s works. God does not command any person to be blasphemous and gives no one permission to sin.

The Psalm
Psalm 119:1-8
The Strength to Follow God’s Path

Recognizing the joy that comes from following God’s instruction, the psalmist prays for God’s help in ensuring constant observance of the law. These eight verses are part of a much longer alphabetical acrostic that focuses on the need to follow God’s instruction. The psalm presents groupings of eight verses, each of which begins with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Comprising the first unit of the psalm, each of the verses for today’s psalm reading begins with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, aleph.

  • 1. Happy are those whose path is irreproachable,
  • who walk in the Lord’s instruction.
  • 2. Happy are those who keep God’s proclamations:
  • they seek God wholeheartedly!
  • 3. They do no wrong;
  • they walk in God’s ways.
  • 4. You, God, commanded your precepts
  • fully to be upheld.
  • 5. May my ways be firmly established,
  • to uphold your laws!
  • 6. Then I will not be ashamed,
  • focused on your commandments.
  • 7. I praise you with an upright heart
  • as I learn your just ordinances.
  • 8. I shall uphold your laws—
  • do not abandon me!

The Second Reading
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
The Problem of Factions

Writing to communities of believers in the cosmopolitan city of Corinth, Paul targets the emergence of factionalism among believers. This disaccord became apparent in conflicting groups that claimed loyalty to one teacher or another. Paul expresses impatience with all such partisan claims of superiority, even when people identified themselves with his position. Rather, he insists that the only true merit of any teacher is their ability to nurture growth whose actual source is God.

Family, I was not able to speak to you as people of spirit, but as people of flesh. As to babies in the Anointed, I gave you milk to drink, not food, because you were not ready. Neither are you ready now, because you are still of flesh. Where there is jealousy and contention, are you not of flesh, behaving as the merely human do? For if someone says, “I belong to Paul’s faction,” another, “I belong to Apollos’ faction,” are you not being merely human? What after all is Apollos, what is Paul? They are servants through whom you believed, consigned to each of them by the Lord. I planted, Apollos watered, but God brought growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters really matters, but God—who brings growth. The one who plants and the one who waters are the same; each shall receive a reward commensurate with the labor because we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s cultivated field, God’s project.

The Gospel
Matthew 5:21-37
Jesus Extends the Torah’s Requirements

In the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew presents Jesus’ teaching not as any relaxation of the Torah or Law of Moses, but as a deepening of its requirements. In a set of contrasts, he insists that the prohibition of murder extends to being angry with another person and that the prohibition of adultery calls for the control of desire. Moreover, the potentially negative consequences of divorce and oaths mean that neither of them should be practiced at all. With this expansion of the Torah’s restrictions, Matthew aims to ensure that people in his community do not accidentally violate the Torah’s guidance. This approach—referred to as placing a fence around the Law—was common moral practice in Judaism in the first centuries.

“You heard it was said to the ancients, ‘You shall not murder, but whoever does murder shall be liable to the judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with another will be liable to the judgment; whoever says to another, ‘Jerk!’ will be liable to the council; whoever says, ‘Fool!’ will be accountable to Gehenna—the unquenchable fire. So if you offer your gift on the altar and there remember that another has something against you, leave your gift there, before the altar, and go out; first be reconciled with that person, and then come offer your gift. Clear things up with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way together; otherwise, the adversary will deliver you over to the judge, and the judge to the assistant, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen I say to you, you will not get out of there until you have paid the last quadrans.

You heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone looking at a woman as an object of desire has already committed adultery with her in his heart. But if your right eye makes you falter, take it out and throw it from you, for it is to your benefit that one of your parts should perish so that your whole body should not be thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand makes you falter, cut it off and throw it from you, for it is to your benefit that one of your parts should perish so that your whole body should not go off into Gehenna. It was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, give her a certificate of dissolution.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife apart from a matter of infidelity makes her become adulterous, and he who marries a divorced woman becomes adulterous. Again, you have heard that it was said to the ancients, ‘You shall not go back on your word, but you shall carry out your oaths to the Lord.’ Yet I say to you not to swear an oath altogether, not by heaven, because it is God’s throne; not by the earth, because it is God’s footstool; not towards Jerusalem, because it is the city of the great king. Neither swear by your own head, because you cannot make one hair white or black! But your word, ‘Yes,’ should be ‘yes,’ and ‘No,’ ‘no’; what goes beyond these is from the evil one.”

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.”

Presentation of the Lord – Year A

Forty days after the birth of a male child, the Torah recognizes that the mother’s purification may be completed and celebrated with an offering in the Temple (Leviticus 12). This timing is observed in the feast called the Presentation of the Lord or the Purification of his mother. The celebration is also known as Candlemas because the custom arose of blessing candles for usage during the course of the year at this time, a tradition that links to Symeon’s acclamation of Jesus as a light for the nations in today’s reading from the Gospel according to Luke.

The First Reading
Malachi 3:1-4
God Comes with Purifying Power

In the period of the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple, the prophet Malachi announces the imminent appearance of God, who sends a messenger in anticipation. God will arrive at the Temple, says Malachi, setting the stage for this reading to serve as commentary on the day when Jesus’ parents presented him at the Temple in Jerusalem. The passage encourages hope that this moment will have a purifying effect on the worship practices of God’s community.

Look! I am sending my messenger who will clear a path before me. Suddenly, the ruler whom you seek will arrive at the Temple. The messenger of the covenant, for whom you yearn—look!—he is coming, says the Lord of the heavenly divisions. Who can endure the day when he comes, and who will stand fast when he appears? For he is like a smelter’s fire and launderers’ lye. He will judge as a smelter, a purifier of silver, to purify the Levites and to refine them like gold and silver, so that they will properly bring offerings to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and of Jerusalem will please the Lord, as in ancient days and former times.

The Psalm
Psalm 84
Happy Are Those who Dwell in God’s House

The pilgrim yearns to reach and dwell in the house of the Lord—that is, the Temple in Jerusalem, referred to here as Zion. Depicting the joy of standing in God’s presence, the psalm calls God’s blessing upon the righteous who make such an arduous journey. The psalmist also asks for God’s favor upon the Davidic king, whose rule protects Zion and demonstrates God’s continued presence there. The terms “our shield, God’s anointed” in verse 9 refer to that king.

  • For the director, on the gittith, of the sons of Korah, an accompanied psalm.
  • 1. How lovely are your dwelling places, Lord of the heavenly divisions.
  • 2. My innermost being yearns—I am exhausted in longing for the courts of the Lord.
  • My heart and body cry out in joy to the living God.
  • 3. Even a sparrow finds itself a home, and a swallow its nest,
  • in which she sets her fledglings, alongside your altars,
  • Lord of the heavenly divisions,
  • my sovereign and God.
  • 4. Happy are those who dwell in your house;
  • they continually praise you.
  • Selah
  • 5. Happy are those whose strength is in you,
  • in whose hearts are the paths of the pilgrim.
  • 6. Those who cross the valley of Baca—
  • they deem it a place of springs.
  • Indeed, the early rain wraps it with blessings.
  • 7. They go from strength to strength,
  • appearing before God in Zion.
  • 8. Lord, God of the heavenly divisions, hear my prayer;
  • pay heed, God of Jacob!
  • Selah
  • 9. See our shield, God!
  • Look upon the face of your anointed!
  • 10. For one day in your courts is better than a thousand anywhere else.
  • I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God
  • than live in the tents of the wicked.
  • 11. For sun and shield is the Lord.
  • God will provide grace and dignity.
  • The Lord will not withhold what is good
  • from those who walk in integrity.
  • 12. Lord of the heavenly divisions—
  • happy are those who trust in you!

or Psalm 24:7-10
God’s Enthronement in the Jerusalem Temple

Psalm 24’s imagery and use of questions and answers (“Who is this sovereign of glory? The Lord….”) suggests its place in the liturgy of the ancient Temple. It was recited, perhaps, on holidays or occasions on which God’s presence—possibly in the form of the ark of the covenant—was recognized as returning to the holy place. God then was welcomed as a hero returning from battle, and even the Temple’s gates (verses 7 and 9) were understood to rise in joyous greeting. Liturgical use of Psalm 24 continues in the synagogue to the present day. The congregation recites it when they return the Torah scroll to the ark, after reading it and joyously parading it through the congregation.

  • 7. Stand tall, gates—
  • be exalted, ancient doorways!
  • The sovereign manifest in glory is entering!
  • 8. Who is this sovereign manifest in glory?
  • The Lord—mighty and powerful—
  • the Lord is powerful in battle.
  • 9. Stand tall, gates—
  • exalt, ancient doorways!
  • The sovereign manifest in glory is entering!
  • 10. Who indeed is this sovereign of glory?
  • The Lord of the heavenly divisions;
  • God is the sovereign manifest in glory.
  • Selah

The Second Reading
Hebrews 2:14-18
Jesus’ Redemptive Suffering

The Epistle to the Hebrews focuses on Jesus’ redemptive role for humanity, the way his death releases people from the power of sin and death. The author emphasizes that, as a human being, Jesus endured suffering in order to confront and overcome the power of death on behalf of others. The reading contrasts this flesh-and-blood purpose with any attempts to portray Jesus in angelic terms, which the author believes are too distant from human reality to do justice to Jesus’ unique accomplishment.

Because the children of God share blood and flesh, Jesus indeed took part in these together with them, so that through death he could overwhelm the one who holds the power of death—the devil—setting free those who all their lives had been held in slavery to the fear of death. Obviously, he is not caught up with angels, but he is caught up with Abraham’s seed. So he had to be like his family in every way, to become a merciful and faithful high priest in relation to God, making reconciliation through sacrifice for the sins of the people. Tested by having suffered, he is able to provide aid to those who are tested.

The Gospel
Luke 2:22-40
The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

Although the forty-day period of purification set out in the book of Leviticus (12:2-4) applies to Mary as the mother of a male child, Luke’s Gospel also focuses on the infant Jesus. As a firstborn son, he belongs to the Lord from birth according to the book of Exodus (chapter 13). Symeon and Anna, both prophetic figures associated with the Temple, then reinforce this focus. They look ahead to the fulfillment of Jesus’ identity in his final days in Jerusalem, even as he returns with his parents to Nazareth.

When the family had fulfilled the days of purification according to Moses’ Torah, they brought Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord—as is written in divine Torah, that every male breaking open a womb shall be called holy to the Lord—and to give sacrifice according to what is said in the divine Torah, a pair of mourning doves or two doves. And look: A man was in Jerusalem whose name was Symeon. This man was righteous and devoted, anticipating Israel’s consolation, and a spirit was holy upon him, and it had been imparted to him by the holy Spirit—not to see death before he saw the Lord’s Anointed. He came in the Spirit into the sanctuary, and at the very time the parents brought the child Jesus in for them to do according to what is customary in the Torah concerning him, he received him into his arms. He blessed God and said, “Now you release your servant in peace, Master of all, according to your oracle, because my eyes saw your salvation, which you prepared in front of all peoples, a light for gentiles’ revelation and your people Israel’s glory.” And Jesus’ father and mother were marveling at the things spoken concerning him. And Symeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother, “Look: He is set for the collapse and arising of many in Israel and for a contradictory sign, and through your own soul a sword shall pass in order that the deliberations of many hearts might be exposed.” And there was Anna, a prophet, daughter of Phanuel, from Asher’s tribe—she had passed many days living with a husband seven years from her puberty, and she was a widow until eighty-four years—she did not separate herself from the sanctuary, fasting and offering petitions night and day. In the same hour she presented herself and made profession to God and spoke concerning him to all those anticipating Jerusalem’s redemption. And when they had completed all according to the divine Torah, they returned to Galilee to their own town, Nazareth. And the child grew and strengthened, filled by wisdom, and God’s grace was upon him.

Third Sunday after the Epiphany – Year A

The season of Epiphany as a whole concentrates on Jesus’ designation by the Spirit of God as the divine Son who reveals the deepest concerns of his father. Alongside the focus on Jesus, Epiphany underscores the broad scope of God’s revelation. This culminates in the unifying vindication that God wills for the people, which echoes throughout the readings of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament on this Third Sunday after the Epiphany.

The First Reading
Isaiah 9:1-4
The Oppressed See Vindication

The prophet Isaiah looks back on a time of oppression and uncertainty, when God’s people felt diminished by events that threatened their very existence. The passing of the threat vindicates their persistent trust in God’s promises. A bright future opens before them. Even if all has not yet come to fruition, the way ahead is clear and joyous.

  • 1. Indeed, there will be no exhaustion for the land that has suffered oppression.
  • At the outset, the Lord diminishes the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali;
  • in the end, the Lord brings honor to the Way of the Sea, Transjordan,
  • Galilee of the Nations.
  • 2. This people—those walking in darkness—have seen a great light.
  • Those dwelling in a land as dark as death—a light has shined on them.
  • 3. Have you made the nation greater? No! You have increased the joy.
  • They have rejoiced in your presence as with rejoicing at the harvest,
  • or as they would celebrate in dividing up spoils of war.
  • 4. For their burdensome yoke and the bar on their shoulder,
  • the rod of their oppressor, you have shattered—like the Day of Midian!

The Psalm
Psalm 27:1, 4-9
Longing for God’s Presence

God offers security from enemies and from days of trouble. To experience this security, the psalmist longs to dwell in God’s shelter, which is particularly available in the Temple, where the psalmist can offer to God sacrifices and songs of praise. The psalmist hopes for a relationship with God that is reciprocal: to“gaze upon the beauty of the Lord” and to be met with God’s gracious response, in the form of the divine protection the psalmist has heretofore experienced.

  • Of David.
  • 1. The Lord is my light and deliverance—
  • whom shall I fear?
  • The Lord is the safeguard of my life—
  • of whom shall I be frightened?
  • 4. One thing I asked of the Lord—
  • this I request:
  • to dwell in the house of the Lord
  • all the days of my life;
  • to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
  • and to contemplate God’s temple.
  • 5. For God shelters me on a day of trouble,
  • hiding me under the cover of God’s tent.
  • God sets me high on a cliff!
  • 6. Now I will lift my head above my enemies surrounding me.
  • In God’s tabernacle I will sacrifice—
  • offerings with shouts of joy!
  • I will sing and give praise to the Lord with music.
  • 7. Hear, Lord, my voice that cries out!
  • Be gracious to me and answer me!
  • 8. About you my heart says, “Seek my face!”
  • Your face, Lord, I seek.
  • 9. Do not hide your face from me.
  • Do not in anger push your servant aside.
  • You have been my helper—
  • do not desert or abandon me,
  • God of my deliverance.

The Second Reading
1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Against Divisions among Believers

When Paul wrote to communities of believers in Corinth in the middle of the first century, he had heard from the circle of one community leader, a woman named Chloe, about divisions pitting one group against another. He decries this contentiousness as based on partisan loyalties rather than shared fidelity to the gospel. Paul attacks this partisanship with the principle that the universal truth of God’s vindication demands a unified community.

Family in faith, I appeal to you by the name of our Lord, Anointed Jesus, that you all speak with one voice, avoid dissensions among you, and be restored in one mind and in one judgment. For it has been spelled out to me by Chloe’s circle that there are quarrels among you, my family in faith. By this I mean that some of you say, “I am Paul’s partisan” or “I am Apollos’ partisan” or “I am Cephas’ partisan” or “I am Anointed’s partisan.” Has the Anointed been carved up? Paul wasn’t crucified for you! Or were you immersed in Paul’s name? I give thanks that I immersed none of you except Crispus and Gaius, lest anyone say you were immersed in my own name—although I did immerse the household of Stephanas. Other than that, I do not remember whether I immersed anyone else. The Anointed, after all, did not commission me to immerse, but to announce victory—not merely with verbal wisdom—so that the Anointed’s cross not be diminished. The word of the cross is, for those who are perishing, foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is God’s power.

The Gospel
Matthew 4:12-23
Jesus’ Appearance in Galilee

Isaiah featured Galilee as part of God’s providential purpose, naming it as the place in which Israel is vindicated from oppression. Matthew’s Gospel takes up this theme, by making Galilee the point of departure for Jesus’ public activity. By citing from the same passage that is this Sunday’s first reading, Matthew relates Jesus’ preaching of God’s kingdom to Isaiah’s forecast of national renewal. In both cases, God’s action on behalf of his people as a whole, despite the modest status of Galilee, lies at the center of attention.

When Jesus heard that John had been apprehended, he went away into Galilee. Bypassing Nazareth, he went to and resided in Capernaum by the sea, in the districts of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was said through the prophet Isaiah would be fulfilled—when he says, “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, Way of the Sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Nations, the people who dwell in darkness have seen great light, and to those who dwell in the region and shadow of death, light has dawned upon them.” From then Jesus began to announce and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has approached.” And walking by the Sea of Galilee he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter—that is, Rock—and Andrew, his brother, casting a net into the sea, since they were fishers. And he said to them, “Come on, after me, and I will make you fishers of people.” They at once left their nets and followed him. He went on from there and he saw another two brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John, his brother, in the boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets, and he called them. They at once left the boat and their father and followed him. And he went around all Galilee, teaching in those synagogues and announcing the message of the kingdom and healing every illness and every ailment among the people.

Second Sunday after the Epiphany – Year A

Epiphany is a season that especially celebrates revelation. The disclosure of God’s Spirit and favor on Jesus at the time of his baptism echoes the people Israel’s disclosure of God by means of their life as God’s people, and reverberates in the continuing witness of those who follow Jesus.

The First Reading
Isaiah 49:1-7
The Restoration of Zion as a Light to the Nations

This reading from the book of Isaiah proclaims the people of Israel to be God’s servants, a light to the nations through whom divine recompense—God’s saving power—becomes available to all peoples. Here as elsewhere, the Hebrew Bible sounds the theme of God’s extending covenantal blessings to gentiles through Israel. In the season of Epiphany, the church takes up this theme to ground its presentation of Jesus as one through whom God likewise makes salvation available to all.

  • 1. Coastlands, listen to me;
  • pay heed, peoples from afar.
  • The Lord called me from the womb;
  • from my mother’s belly God pronounced my name.
  • 2. God made my mouth like a sharp sword;
  • God hid me under the shadow of his hand.
  • God made me a polished arrow;
  • in his quiver God concealed me.
  • 3. God said to me, “You, Israel, are my servant through whom I shall be glorified.”
  • 4. I thought, “For no purpose I have toiled,
  • for nothing and in vain I have exhausted my strength.”
  • But in truth, my just due comes only from the Lord;
  • my reward is from my God.
  • 5. And now the Lord has determined—
  • who created me from the womb as his servant—
  • to restore Jacob to him,
  • so that Israel to him will be gathered.
  • And I have been honored in the eyes of the Lord,
  • and my God has been my strength.
  • 6. For God said, “Is it a trivial thing for you to be my servant,
  • to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the saved of Israel?
  • For I have made you a light to the nations,
  • so that my saving power will reach the end of the earth.”
  • 7. Thus says the Lord—
  • redeemer of Israel, its Holy One—
  • to the despised one, the one abhorred by nations,
  • the servant of rulers:
  • “Kings will see and will stand,
  • chieftains, and they will bow down,
  • on account of the Lord, who is trustworthy—
  • the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

The Psalm
Psalm 40:1-11
Proclaiming God’s Greatness

The psalmist declares the need publicly to extol God’s wonders and mighty deeds that rescue God’s followers from harm. Such public proclamation follows God’s instruction (verse 8) and pleases God even more than animal sacrifice (verse 6). In the verses included for today’s reading, the psalm reflects on God’s past actions in redeeming the psalmist from danger. At the end of the psalm (see verse 11), the psalmist expresses hope that God similarly will offer protection from threats and dangers that the psalmist currently faces.

  • To the director, an accompanied psalm of David.
  • 1. I have eagerly awaited the Lord,
  • and God has turned an ear to me and heeded my cry for help.
  • 2. God lifted me out of the pit of roaring waters,
  • from the muddy bog.
  • He set my feet on a rock outcropping,
  • making firm my footfalls.
  • 3. God placed a new song in my mouth
  • of praise to our God!
  • Multitudes will see and stand in awe;
  • they will trust in the Lord.
  • 4. Happy is the one who makes the Lord the ground of trust,
  • who does not turn to the defiant or those who fall away to falsehood.
  • 5. Many deeds have you yourself done, Lord, my God—
  • your wondrous plans for us!
  • None compare to you.
  • Were I to open my mouth and speak these things,
  • they would be more than can be told!
  • 6. Sacrifice and offerings you do not desire—
  • you have opened my ears.
  • A burnt- or sin-offering you do not demand.
  • 7. Then I said, “Here! I have come!
  • In a book-scroll, it is written for me:
  • 8.      To do your will, my God, is my desire.
  • Your instruction is at my core.”
  • 9. I reported tidings of righteousness in a vast congregation.
  • I will not restrain my lips,
  • you know, Lord.
  • 10. Your righteousness I did not hide within my heart.
  • Your faithfulness and redeeming power I have told.
  • I have not concealed your steadfast love and fidelity for a vast congregation.
  • 11. You, Lord—
  • do not withhold your compassion from me!
  • Your faithfulness and redeeming power will forever protect me.

The Second Reading
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
The Endowment of Grace for All Who Await Jesus’ Final Revelation

In writing to several communities of believers in Corinth, Paul addresses them as a single “assembly” (ekklêsia, which may also be rendered “church”). He does so because he thinks of each community as one part of a collective body, sanctified by the Spirit in their common baptism. All are endowed with what they need for faithful life as they await revelation, which is a future reality as well as an inheritance from the past.

Paul, called to be a messenger of Jesus Anointed through the will of God, and Sosthenes, the brother—to the assembly of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Jesus Anointed, known as holy ones, together with all those calling upon the name of our Lord Anointed Jesus in every place, whether theirs or ours: Grace to you and peace from God our father and the Lord, Anointed Jesus.

I give thanks to God always for you, for the grace of God given you in Jesus Anointed, because in every way you have been endowed by him, with every word and all knowledge. The testimony of the Anointed has been confirmed among you in this way, so that you do not lack in any grace as you await our Lord Anointed Jesus to be revealed. So also he will confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus. God is faithful, through whom you were called into life shared with his son, Anointed Jesus our Lord.

The Gospel
John 1:29-42
Jesus, “the Lamb of God,” and His Followers

The Gospel according to John depicts John the Baptist’s interaction with Jesus differently from the other Gospels. John does not baptize Jesus, but sees the Spirit descend upon him. This correlates with his testimony that Jesus himself baptizes others in the Holy Spirit. Thus the epiphany of Jesus as imbued by Spirit means that his followers will be steeped in Spirit as well.

On the next day John saw Jesus coming to him, and said, “Look, the Lamb of God that removes the sin of the world. This is the one I was talking about: ‘A man comes after me who has priority over me, because he was before me.’ I did not know him, but so that he could be identifiable to Israel—for this reason I came immersing with water.” John testified, “I observed the Spirit descending as a dove from heaven, and it remained upon him. And I did not know him, but that one who sent me to immerse in water said to me: ‘The person on whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining, this is the one who immerses in Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and have testified that this is the son of God.”

The next day again John stood with two of his students; he gazed at Jesus walking by and said, “Look, the Lamb of God.” The two students heard him speaking and followed Jesus. Jesus turned and observed them following and said to them, “What do you seek?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which means “teacher” when translated) “where do you stay?” He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” They came and saw where he stayed, and they remained with him that day; it was about the tenth hour. Andrew—Simon Peter’s brother—was one of the two who heard what John said and followed Jesus. First thing, he found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated “Anointed One”). He led him to Jesus. Gazing at him, Jesus said, “You are Simon, son of John; you shall be called Kayphas” (which is rendered “Rock”).

Baptism of the Lord – Year A

Jesus’ true identity, the disclosure of which is the theme of the season of Epiphany, comes to open expression in his baptism by John. Here a divine voice designates Jesus as God’s son. The Spirit of God appears as the key factor in recognizing who Jesus is. Grounded in the New Testament’s portrayal of the Spirit’s significance in Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit remains the crucial, active factor in baptism as a sacrament.

The First Reading
Isaiah 42:1-9
God’s Servant Israel, a Light to the Nations

The servant whom Isaiah celebrates here and in three other songs remains a figure of some mystery. Perhaps it is the prophet himself, or the people Israel, or some anticipated hero. The possibilities do not settle easily into a clear identity, though in each case the servant’s role in bringing God’s blessing into the world stands out. This aspect of the reading comes to the fore on the Baptism of the Lord, since Jesus will also bring God’s blessing in the world.

  • 1. This is my servant, whom I support,
  • my chosen one, in whom my being delights.
  • I have imparted to him my spirit;
  • he will bring forth justice to the nations.
  • 2. He will not cry out nor raise his voice.
  • He will not make his voice heard in the street.
  • 3. A crushed reed he will not break,
  • and a faintly burning wick—he will not extinguish it.
  • According to the truth he will bring forth justice.
  • 4. He will not grow faint and will not be crushed until he has established justice in the earth;
  • and his teaching, coastlands shall await.
  • 5. Thus says God, the Lord,
  • who created the heavens and stretched them out,
  • who spread out the earth and all that comes from it,
  • who places breath in the people who dwell upon it
  • and respiration in all who walk on it:
  • 6. I am the Lord.
  • I called you in righteousness,
  • and I have grasped you by your hand and protected you,
  • and I established you as a covenant for all people, a light to the nations.
  • 7. To bring sight to unseeing eyes,
  • to release the imprisoned from the dungeon,
  • from the prison those who sit in darkness.
  • 8. I am the Lord. That is my name.
  • The honor due me I shall not give to any other,
  • nor the praise due me to idols.
  • 9. The first things indeed have come to pass,
  • and new things I am proclaiming.
  • Before they spring forth, I shall make all of you hear.

The Psalm
Psalm 29
Nature Reflects God’s Power

Rain, thunder, and lightning reveal the presence of the Lord, depicted here as a storm god whose voice, in the form of thunder and lightning, shakes the land and shatters the forests’ trees. God’s power is recognized by the lesser divine beings who comprise the Lord’s court (verses 1-2) and who proclaim God’s glory from within God’s heavenly palace (verse 9). Of particular importance is God’s power as king over the Flood (verses 2, 10)—that is, the primordial waters that God curbed at the beginning of the book of Genesis. Such power proves God’s eternal control over all creation, a power that God’s people pray God will extend to protecting them and granting them peace (verse 11).

  • An accompanied psalm of David.
  • 1. Ascribe to the Lord, divine beings—
  • ascribe to the Lord glory and strength!
  • 2. Ascribe to the Lord the glory of God’s name!
  • Bow down to the Lord in holy splendor!
  • 3. The Lord’s thunderous voice is upon the waters.
  • The God of glory thunders!
  • The Lord, upon mighty waters.
  • 4. The Lord’s thunderous voice, in strength!
  • The Lord’s thunderous voice, in splendor.
  • 5. The Lord’s thunderous voice shatters cedars!
  • The Lord will shatter the cedars of Lebanon.
  • 6. God makes them dance like a calf—
  • Lebanon and Sirion, like a young wild ox.
  • 7. The Lord’s thunderous voice carves out tongues of flame.
  • 8. The Lord’s thunderous voice makes the wilderness writhe.
  • The Lord makes the wilderness of Kadesh writhe.
  • 9. The Lord’s thunderous voice sends ewes into labor;
  • it strips the forests bare—
  • while, in God’s palace, they all declare:
  • “Glory!
  • 10.    The Lord has taken the Throne over the Flood,
  • and the Lord will hold the Throne as everlasting King!
  • 11.     The Lord will grant strength to God’s people.
  • The Lord will bless this people with peace.”

The Second Reading
Acts 10:34-43
The Power of the Gospel for All who Believe

The book of Acts portrays how the earliest preaching bore witness to Jesus’ resurrection and proclaimed the cleansing of sins for all people who believe. In recounting the message of God’s anointing of Jesus, Rock—that is, Peter—begins with John’s immersion of repentance for the cleansing of sins, continues through Jesus’ ministry of healing and doing good, and culminates in the appearance of Jesus to the witnesses after his death. In that testimony, Rock realizes that, in Jesus, God has sent word to the people of Israel proclaiming that God accepts all people.

Rock—that is, Peter—opened his mouth and said, “In truth, I understand that God is not one who shows favoritism, but in every nation, anyone who fears him and does righteousness is acceptable to him. In reference to the message that he sent to the people of Israel proclaiming peace through the Anointed Jesus—this one is Lord of all: you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the immersion of repentance for the cleansing of sins proclaimed by John. You know how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the holy Spirit and power—who then went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, because God was with him. So we are witnesses of all that he did in the region of the Judeans and in Jerusalem. The one they killed by hanging him on a tree—this one God raised on the third day and caused to appear, not to all the people, but to witnesses who had been chosen beforehand by God, to us who ate and drank with him after he arose from the dead. He commanded us to proclaim to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness: all who believe in him receive cleansing from sins through his name.

The Gospel
Matthew 3:13-17
The Baptism of Jesus

Within the scene of Jesus’ baptism, Matthew’s Gospel uniquely depicts a preliminary discussion between John the Immerser and Jesus. Immersion by John signaled both repentance and the promise of the disclosure of God’s Spirit. Matthew presents John as hesitant to immerse Jesus as he did others. This distances Jesus from the need for repentance, while confirming Matthew’s dedication to baptism within his community as the occasion when Spirit is disclosed.

Then Jesus arrived at the Jordan from Galilee for John, to be immersed by him. Yet John stopped him; he said, “I need to be immersed by you, yet you come to me?” Jesus said to him in reply, “Permit it now, for so it is proper for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he permitted him. When Jesus had been immersed, at once he emerged from the water—and look: the heavens were opened, and he saw God’s Spirit coming upon him, descending as a dove. And look—a voice from the heavens: “This is my son, my beloved, in whom I delight.”

Epiphany of the Lord – Year A

At Christmas, God’s word “became flesh,” in the language of John’s Gospel (John 1:14). Epiphany proclaims the significance of that moment for humankind. Today’s readings from the book of Isaiah and the book of Psalms show that such moments of revelation have long been part of the biblical tradition, punctuating the experience of Israel and, by extension, of the church. The Epistle to the Ephesians takes up the Epiphany theme that the disclosure of Jesus as the Christ, meaning Anointed, is to all the world. Meanwhile the Gospel reading of the day from the book of Matthew recounts the story of wise astronomers who journey from the east to Judea, attracted by hints of the glory that is to be revealed.

The First Reading
Isaiah 60:1-6
God’s Victory over Chaos Glorifies the Holy City, Zion

The prophet Isaiah calls to Israel’s holy city, Zion, announcing victory and calling for celebration. Conquering the chaos that has reigned, the Lord reverses the darkness that has enveloped the world like a storm at sea. In the light of that reversal, Zion gleams. Exiles return, foreign powers take notice, and caravans of tribute arrive at the city gates from far away. Thus the city recognizes and proclaims God’s victory on behalf of God’s people.

Arise! Brighten!—
for your brightness has come and the Lord’s glorious presence has shined on you.
For, look! The darkness blankets earth—and a cloud, peoples—
but the Lord shines on you and God’s glorious presence is seen on you.
Nations make their way to your brightness and rulers to the brilliance of your shining.
Look up around you and see—they have all gathered, they come to you.
Your sons come from afar and your daughters are made secure at your side.
Then you will see and you will glow; your heart will stand in awe and grow large,
for the pandemonium of the sea will be reversed for you,
the power of nations will come to you.
Hordes of camels will cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah:
all of them will come from Sheba.
They will bear gold and frankincense
and so they will proclaim the Lord’s victory in praise.

The Psalm
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
A Prayer for God’s Righteous Justice in the King

This psalm asks God to endow the people’s leader with righteousness and a compelling vision of justice for all, especially for the poor and oppressed who cannot protect themselves. This is as natural as rain on the land and as long-lasting as the sun and moon. The psalmist prays that all nations will acknowledge this embodiment of God’s righteous justice.

  • Of Solomon.
  • 1. O God—give your justice to a king;
  • your righteousness to a ruler.
  • 2. He will judge your people righteously;
  • your poor, with justice.
  • 3. Let the mountains bring forth well-being for the people;
  • the hills, too, through justice.
  • 4. May the king bring justice to the poor of the people,
  • deliverance to those in need,
  • and crush the oppressor.
  • 5. May they hold you in awe while the sun shines,
  • and before the moon, generation after generation.
  • 6. Let the king arrive like rain on cut grass,
  • like showers irrigating the land.
  • 7. In his day, may the righteous flourish,
  • and also abundant well-being, until the moon is no more.
  • 10. May the kings of Tarsus and the islands render tribute,
  • the kings of Sheba and Seba offer gifts.
  • 11. May all the kings bow to him,
  • all nations serve him.
  • 12. For he saves the needy who cry out for help,
  • the poor who have no helper.
  • 13. He is compassionate to the poor and needy;
  • the lives of the needy he rescues.
  • 14. From injury and violence he redeems them;
  • their blood is precious to him.

The Second Reading
Ephesians 3:1-12
The Mystery of Revelation

The Epistle to the Ephesians is set in the time of Paul’s imprisonment, following his arrest in Jerusalem. Having appealed to the jurisdiction of the emperor, he was conducted by ship to Rome. Like several of his last letters, the Epistle to the Ephesians was composed—whether by Paul or by one of his community members—against the background of this experience. The main thrust of this letter concerns God’s extension of divine grace to gentiles together with Israel, which makes them one body. The letter proposes that this has always been part of God’s intention.

I, Paul, am a prisoner for Jesus Anointed on behalf of you gentiles—if you have indeed heard the endowment of God’s grace given to me for you. I have written down a part of the mystery made known to me by revelation, so that you can read and comprehend what I understand within the mystery of the Anointed. This was not made known to earlier generations of people as it is now revealed through the message to God’s holy Apostles and prophets in Spirit: that the gentiles are inheritors together, in one body together, participants together in the promise in Jesus Anointed. Of this message I have become a servant by the gift of God’s grace, given to me according to the exercise of his power. To me, the least of all holy servants, this grace was given to convey the message to the gentiles of the unsearchable wealth of the Anointed, and to illuminate what the endowment is—the mystery hidden from the beginning by God, who created everything. So now the multifaceted wisdom of God is made known to the rulers and authorities in the celestial realms—through the church. God made this plan from the beginning in Jesus Anointed, our Lord, in whom we have confidence and access by being confirmed through his faith. For this reason I ask you not to despair over my afflictions for you: they are your glory.

The Gospel
Matthew 2:1-12
Magi Worship Jesus

Matthew’s Gospel, more than any of the others, presents some of its stories using quotations from the Scriptures of Israel. Micah 5:2, concerning the birth of a ruler who is to come from Bethlehem, validates the wisdom of the magi from the east. In addition, Isaiah 60:5-6, where those from afar lavish offerings in Judea, may stand behind the magi bringing glorious gifts. In this way, Matthew delivers the Epiphany theme of God’s promise to extend divine grace through Israel to the world.

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king—then, magi came from the east to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the one born king of the Judeans? For we have seen his star in the east, and we have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard, he was shaken, and all Jerusalem with him; he gathered all the high priests and scribes of the people and inquired from them where the Anointed would be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written through the prophet: ‘You, Bethlehem, land of Judah—by no means are you least among the governors of Judah, for from you will come the governing ruler, who will shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod called the magi covertly, established from them the time the star had appeared, and sent them to Bethlehem. He said, “Go on, determine accurately concerning the child, but as soon as you find him, report to me, so that I myself will come to worship him.” They heard the king, went away, and then: the star that they had seen in the east led the way before them, until it came to stand above where the child was. They saw the star and rejoiced—exceptionally great joy. They came to the home and saw the child with Mary, his mother; they fell down and worshipped him, opened their treasures and offered him gifts—gold and incense and myrrh. Having been advised through a dream not to return to Herod, they went away by another route into their land.

Holy Name of Jesus – Year A

The Gospel of Luke recounts the naming of Jesus at the time of his circumcision (Luke 2:21), as was the Jewish practice from then until now. The timing of the ritual, on the eighth day of a male infant’s life, is specified in both the book of Leviticus (12:3) and the book of Genesis (17:9-14). The latter explains that circumcision marks God’s covenant in the flesh of the community. Covenantal blessing forms a common theme across the readings for today, the eighth day after Christmas.

The First Reading
Numbers 6:22-27
God Instructs the Priests in Blessing the Israelite Community

As part of the instruction that accompanied the construction of the Israelites’ worship tent in the wilderness, God told Moses the words the priests should speak to convey God’s blessing of the people. Naming the people as the people of God, these words continue today to convey blessing to God’s people in both the synagogue and the church.

Then God said to Moses, “Say to Aaron and to his sons: ‘You shall bless the community of Israel; say to them:
The Lord bless you and guard you.
The Lord smile brightly on you and act graciously to you.
The Lord turn toward you and set you at peace.’
So they will set my name on the community of Israel and I will bless them.”

The Psalm
Psalm 8
Humankind’s Unique Place within Creation

This hymn of praise recognizes God’s creation of heavens and earth and thanks God for the glorious position granted to humankind, which is given responsibility for all that is in the sky, earth, and sea. The psalm’s declaration in verses 1 and 9, “How glorious is your name,” accounts for its place in today’s liturgy.

To the conductor, on the gittith, a psalm of David.
  1. Lord, our master, how glorious is your name throughout the earth,
    for you have placed your splendor upon the heavens—
  2.      from the mouths of children and nursing infants.
    You established a refuge on account of your adversaries,
    to put an end to the enemy and avenger.
  3. When I look at your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
    the moon and stars that you set in place—
  4. what are humans that you are mindful of them,
    mortals that you pay them any heed?
  5. For you made them to lack only a little from divine beings,
    crowning them with honor and splendor.
  6. You gave them control over your handiwork;
    you placed all things under their feet—
  7.      all sheep and oxen,
    and also beasts of the field,
  8.      birds of the heavens and fish of the sea,
    whatever passes through the paths of the seas.
  9. Lord, our master, how glorious is your name throughout the earth!

The Second Reading
Galatians 4:4-7
No Longer a Slave, but an Heir

In a small segment of a longer discussion, the apostle Paul reminds the Galatians that God has adopted them as children. Henceforth, obligations that previously characterized their slavery to sin no longer apply to them.

When the time had fully come, God dispatched the Son, born of a woman, born subject to law, in order to redeem those who are subject to law; so we gain adoption. Because you are now related as children, God has sent the spirit of the Son into our hearts, calling out, “Abba! Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave, but family; being family, you are also an heir through God.

or Philippians 2:5-11
Jesus Receives the Name above All Others

Paul’s Letter to the Philippians ties Jesus’ name as “Lord” to God’s exalting of him. Israel has long acclaimed “the Lord” as God, and now all of creation joins in this by glorifying God.

Have this thinking be among you, which was also in the Anointed Jesus, who, since he was in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to exploit. Instead, he emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, by being in human likeness. And then, being found in human figure, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even the death of a cross. Therefore, God highly exalted him and bestowed upon him the name that is greater than every name, so that at the name of Jesus, every knee would bow in heaven and upon the earth and under the earth, and every tongue would proclaim that Jesus the Anointed is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

The Gospel
Luke 2:15-21
The Shepherds’ Visit in Bethlehem

In Luke’s Gospel, prior to this reading, angels announce to shepherds that Jesus has been born. Luke now depicts the shepherds’ visit to Bethlehem to experience what they heard the angels announce. Luke underscores the truth of the announcement by using its exact words to describe what the shepherds found.

When the messengers went away from them to the heaven, the shepherds started to speak with one another: “Now let us go over to Bethlehem and see this announcement made real, which the Lord made known to us.” They hastened and located Mary and Joseph, and also the baby lying in the feed-trough. As they saw they made known the announcement spoken to them concerning this child. And all who heard marveled concerning what was spoken by the shepherds to them, but Mary safeguarded all these announcements together, turning them over in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all that they heard and saw—just as was spoken to them. When eight days were filled—the time to circumcise him—the child was given the name Jesus, which was given by the messenger before he was conceived in the womb.

New Year’s Observance – Year A

The calendar we use today, with its marking of a new year on January 1, derives from Roman practice. In particular, in the first century BCE, Julius Caesar introduced the month of January as the beginning of the year (named after Janus, the Roman god of transitions). The widely shared application of this calendar throughout the Roman Empire made it the basis for timekeeping in the church when the Empire became Christian. The readings for today address time as a universal experience but also compare people’s limited, temporal condition to God’s eternity.

The First Reading
Ecclesiastes 3:1-13
God Establishes the Rhythms of Life

The book of Ecclesiastes states that, contrary to what we generally imagine, we have little or no control over the world in which we live. Rather, everything that life holds and its opposite has a fixed time, which is determined by God and independent of our own actions and desires. The best we can do, therefore, is to find joy in all we undertake, realizing that everything we achieve is a gift from God, not a necessary consequence of our own labors.

  1. Under heaven, everything has its season; every purpose, its time:
  2. A time to give birth and a time to die.
         A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.
  3. A time to kill and a time to heal.
         A time to tear down and a time to build.
  4. A time to cry and a time to laugh.
         A time to wail and a time to dance.
  5. A time to toss aside stones and a time to gather stones.
         A time to hug and a time to keep far from hugging.
  6. A time to seek and a time to abandon.
         A time to keep and a time to toss aside.
  7. A time to rip and a time to sew.
         A time to keep silent and a time to speak.
  8. A time to love and a time to hate.
         A time for war and a time for peace.
  9. What do those who work gain by their labor?
  10. I have seen the things God gave humans with which to busy themselves.
  11. God makes everything beautiful in its season; God placed in the human heart a conception of the whole, even though no person can discover everything that God does from time’s beginning and until the end.
  12. I know that nothing is better than to be joyous and do good while alive,
  13. and also that, whenever a person eats, drinks, and sees success from labor—this is a gift from God.

The Psalm
Psalm 8
Humankind’s Unique Place within Creation

This hymn of praise recognizes God’s creation of heavens and earth and thanks God for the glorious position granted to humankind, which is given responsibility for all that is in the sky, earth, and sea. The reference to God’s putting an end to “the enemy and avenger” is obscure. The psalm may be referring to God’s conquest of primordial forces of chaos or of the great sea-monsters that are mentioned elsewhere in Scripture and in non-Israelite creation narratives. The focus on creation at the celebration of the new year aligns with ancient Israel’s and contemporary Judaism’s New Year emphasis on God’s creative activity and continuing rule over creation.

To the conductor, on the gittith, a psalm of David.
  1. Lord, our master, how glorious is your name throughout the earth,
         for you have placed your splendor upon the heavens—
  2.      from the mouths of children and nursing infants.
    You established a refuge on account of your adversaries,
         to put an end to the enemy and avenger.
  3. When I look at your heavens,
         the work of your fingers,
         the moon and stars that you set in place—
  4. what are humans that you are mindful of them,
         mortals that you pay them any heed?
  5. For you made them to lack only a little from divine beings,
         crowning them with honor and splendor.
  6. You gave them control over your handiwork;
    you placed all things under their feet—
  7.      all sheep and oxen,
         and also beasts of the field,
  8.      birds of the heavens and fish of the sea,
         whatever passes through the paths of the seas.
  9. Lord, our master, how glorious is your name throughout the earth!

The Second Reading
Revelation 21:1-6a
Vision of a New Heaven and New Earth

John of Patmos sees a new heaven and new earth (in language inspired by Isaiah 65:17 and 66:22), which host the advent of a new Jerusalem. The city is adorned as a bride. It accommodates the people of God, offering the spring of the water of life (verse 6, also referenced in John 4:14) and even—in fulfillment of the promise in Revelation 2:6—the tree of life (Revelation 22:2), because this new Jerusalem is the place of God’s servants alone.

I saw a new heaven and new earth. The first heaven and the first earth had departed, and the sea was no more. And the holy city, new Jerusalem, I saw descending out of heaven, from God, prepared and adorned as a bride for her husband. I heard a great voice from the Throne:
“Look, the dwelling of God is with humanity,
and he will shelter with them,
and they will be his people—
and God himself will be their God.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes,
and there shall no longer be death or mourning
or outcry or pain, because the former things have departed.”

The one who sits upon the Throne said: “Look, I will make everything new.”
He said: “Write, because these words are trustworthy and true.”
He said to me:
“It has happened. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”

The Gospel
Matthew 25:31-46
The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats

Jesus appears as “the human one” within the Gospels in two ways. At the end of days he is the divine figure with human traits that judges all peoples, an identification that comes from the book of Daniel (7:13). In his own humanity, however, Jesus can also be seen as “the human one” alongside other human beings—a way of thinking derived from the book of Psalms (8:5). The following famous parable attributed to Jesus combines the two usages, presenting Jesus as both the judge and companion of all humanity.

“When the human one comes in his glory and all the messengers with him, then he will sit upon a throne of his glory, and all the nations shall be gathered together before him, and he will separate them from one another, just as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will stand the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, those favored of my father: inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the world’s origin! Because I hungered and you gave me to eat; I thirsted and you let me drink; I was a stranger and you gathered me in, naked and you dressed me; I was ailing and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and nourish you, or thirsty and let you drink? When did we see you as a stranger and gather you in, or naked and dress you? And when did we see you ailing or in prison and come to you?’ The king will reply and say to them, ‘Amen I say to you, as much as you did to one of the least of those akin to me, you did to me!’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Go away from me, accursed, into the perpetual fire prepared for the devil and his messengers! Because I was hungry and you did not give me to eat, and I thirsted and you did not let me drink; I was a stranger and you did not gather me in, naked and you did not dress me, ailing and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will reply, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ailing or in prison and not provide for you?’ Then he will reply to them, ‘Amen I say to you, as much as you did not do for one of the least of these, neither did you do for me.’ And the latter will go away into perpetual punishment, but the righteous into perpetual life.

First Sunday after Christmas Day – Year A

Christmas celebrates the birth of a child as a fresh, distinctive moment marking God’s entry into human affairs. The readings call attention to the pattern of salvation in the Jewish people’s return from exile in Babylonia during the sixth century BCE (Isaiah 63), as well as in the providential ordering of nature (Psalm 148). The pattern reaches into Jesus’ role as high priest for the sins of humanity (Hebrews 2), and, in the final reading for the day from Matthew’s Gospel, it is exemplified by the connections between Prophetic texts and the story of Jesus’ birth and early life.

The First Reading
Isaiah 63:7-9
God Is Present to Redeem the Children of God

The prophet Isaiah’s reflection on the return of the Jews from exile in Babylonia gives shape to this proclamation: the Lord is consistently faithful to the House of Israel. Not only in the restoration following exile, but in many praiseworthy deeds and an abundance of faithful acts God has rescued the people over and over again. It has become an enduring hallmark of God’s parenthood: responding with God’s own presence whenever distress comes calling.

  1. The faithful acts of the Lord I will announce—
         the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord:
    according to all that the Lord has accomplished for us,
         and an abundance of good for the House of Israel,
         which the Lord has accomplished in accordance with divine mercies
         and the abundance of faithful acts.
  2. The Lord said, “Surely they are my people, children who are not false,”
         and so became their rescuer.
  3. In all their distress—
         neither an envoy nor a messenger:
         the Lord’s own presence rescued them!
    In divine love and compassion, the Lord has redeemed them,
         restores them, and lifts them up throughout the days of all time.

The Psalm
Psalm 148
All Creation Must Praise God, Lord of All Creation

The entire range of God’s cosmic creation owes God praise. In the Christmas season, the church can celebrate Jesus as the “horn” God has raised up for the people, giving fresh impetus to their praise.

  1. Praise Yah!
    Praise the Lord from the heavens;
         praise God in the heights.
  2. Praise God, all God’s messengers;
         praise God, all divine armies.
  3. Praise God, sun and moon;
         praise God, all bright stars.
  4. Praise God, you highest heavens,
         and you waters that are above the heavens.
  5. Let them praise the Lord’s name,
         for God commanded and they were created.
  6. God established them for eternity;
         God set their boundaries, which no one can violate.
  7. Praise God from the earth:
         the sea monsters and all the ocean depths,
  8.      fire and hail, snow and storm clouds,
         the raging wind fulfilling God’s will;
  9. the mountains and all the hills,
         fruit trees and all cedars;
  10. wild animals and all beasts,
         creeping things and winged birds;
  11. kings of the earth and all peoples,
         princes and all the land’s rulers.
  12. Young men and also young women,
         the old along with the youth—
  13. let them praise the Lord’s name,
         for God’s name alone is exalted.
    God’s majesty is upon the earth and heaven!
  14. God has raised a horn for God’s people;
         praise for all these faithful,
         for the people of Israel, the people who are close to God.
         Praise Yah!

The Second Reading
Hebrews 2:10-18
Jesus’ Suffering and His Role as High Priest

Jesus’ birth made him subject, as is any human being, to suffering and death. The Epistle to the Hebrews contemplates this mortality, meditating on how human identity made Jesus both higher than the angels and akin to people as a whole. God always intended to reach all humanity, and divine concern for Israel had always modeled this intent. Thus the high priesthood of Israel is the paradigm of the priesthood that Jesus will exercise in God’s fulfilled vision for creation.

So it fits that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, brings many children to glory by perfecting the pioneer of their salvation through suffering. The one who sanctifies and those sanctified are all from a single source. For that reason, Jesus is not ashamed to call them family, saying, “I will announce your name to my family; in the congregation’s midst I will praise you,” and again, “I will put my trust upon him,” and again, “Here am I, and the children God has given me.” Since, then, children share blood and flesh, he also took those on himself, so that he could debilitate the one who has the power of death—that is, the devil—and liberate any who, through fear of death, all their lives had been susceptible to enslavement. God definitely does not reach out to angels, but reaches out to Abraham’s seed. Hence, Jesus had to be made similar to the human family in every way, so that he became compassionate, a faithful high priest, conciliating God for the people’s sins. When tested, he suffered, and in that he is able to help those who are tested.

The Gospel
Matthew 2:13-23
Joseph Shepherds the Family to Safety

This reading from the Gospel of Matthew follows the decision of the magi, who had been advised in a dream not to return to Herod with the news of where the King of the Jews had been born. They instead go away directly to their home country. Now, Joseph also follows the warning of a dream-appearance, fleeing with his family to Egypt. Herod reacts violently, but even his senseless rage is depicted as part of the prophecy that Matthew presents Jesus as fulfilling. Just as the people Israel were born as a nation out of Egyptian bondage, Jesus is portrayed as embarking from Egypt on his mission as God’s chosen.

​​As the magi departed, look: A messenger of the Lord made a dream-appearance to Joseph. He said, “Wake up, take the child and his mother and flee into Egypt, and stay there until I speak to you; Herod is about to seek the child to destroy him.” Joseph woke up, took the child and his mother at night and departed into Egypt, and he was there until the death of Herod, so that what was said by the Lord through the prophet was fulfilled: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Then Herod saw that he had been mocked by the magi: he was outraged. He ordered the murder of all boys in Bethlehem and in all its regions, two years old and under, according to the time that he had determined from the magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great lamentation—Rachel weeping for her children, and she will not be comforted, because they are gone.” Then, when Herod met his end, look: A messenger of the Lord made a dream-appearance to Joseph in Egypt. He said, “Wake up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, because those who sought the child’s life have died.” Joseph woke up and took the child and his mother and went into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus reigned in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being advised by a dream, he withdrew into the boundaries of Galilee. He went and resided in a town called Nazareth; thus what was said through the prophets was fulfilled: “He will be called a Nazorean.”