Bible Tuesday for Epiphany 5, 2018
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? 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; who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing. 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. To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One. 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.
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”? 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. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; 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.
We hear parts of Psalm 40 throughout the church year, from “Comfort, comfort ye my people”, “O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion”, and “and He shall feed his flock like a shepherd” of Handel’s Messiah in Advent and Pentecost, to “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength…” now in Epiphany.
The “Messiah” passages that come earlier in the chapter proclaim the mercy and love that God will show the captive Israelites as they return from exile in Babylonia. The middle passage of the psalm, between the Messiah passages and this week’s pericope, are reminiscent of the final chapters of Job. Many questions such as, “Who measured the waters the with hollow of His hand?” are asked and followed by many statements of the inconsequential and incredibly short lives of people and nations, compared with the eternity of God. This is the setting for today’s pericope. It is a response to all of those questions of Theodicy.
One of the main issues addressed in the prophecy of Isaiah is the complaint of the Israelites that God has abandoned them to captivity and turned His back on them. In this pericope’s verses, God once again establishes supremacy over all that exists (as opposed to the idols that Israel had turned to), and God proclaims that all who wait for God’s actions will be renewed.
“wings like eagles” – might better be translated “Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, just like eagles who grow new feathers…” This is an idiom based on the belief that birds lose their strength when they go into molt but regain it when they grow new feathers.
Praise the Lord! How good it is to sing praises to our God; for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.
The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names.
Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.
The Lord lifts up the downtrodden; he casts the wicked to the ground.
Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; make melody to our God on the lyre.
He covers the heavens with clouds, prepares rain for the earth, makes grass grow on the hills.
He gives to the animals their food, and to the young ravens when they cry.
His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner;
but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love. Praise the Lord!
This psalm praises God for bringing the exiles home from Babylonia and rebuilding Jerusalem and Israel.
God’s might is illustrated in numbering and naming the stars. In many ancient cultures, to name something is to have power over it and intimate knowledge of it. Thus, for God to name the stars suggests that God created the stars and knows them as individuals.
While we might read the various attributes of God tending to weather events, crops, and animals as quaint, the author lists these things specifically. Each of these various attributes was given to a different god in both Cannanite and Babylonian religions, but the psalmist reminds Israel that Yahweh/God is God of everything because God made everything and knows every piece of creation intimately.
God does not take delight in who rides the fastest racehorse or who wins the Olympic track events, but rather who looks to God in awe, trust, and love.
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
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! 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. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.
Although the apostle, Paul, starts out this passage by saying that preaching the gospel is not something to boast about, he does a fair amount of boasting, nonetheless. Despite the boasting, there is plenty of meat to feed upon in this passage.
First, we are to follow Paul’s example and proclaim the gospel, which Paul defines as “Christ crucified and risen for the sake of all.”
Second, Paul explains that he become a Jew among the Jews in order to have them hear the gospel. Paul becomes a Gentile among the Gentiles (those outside the Law) in order that they might heard the gospel. Paul becomes weak (as explained last week, that in part means not eating meat offered to idols) in order that the weak might hear the gospel. If we walk around in white, goin’ to meetin’, clothes, knocking on doors with Bibles tucked under our arms and proclaim to whoever answers the door that God will judge them according to their deeds and they best drop on their knees and confess their sins right now before the world comes to an end, do we actually think people will hear Christ crucified and risen for them? Is this, “The Kingdom of Heaven is drawing near. Repent and believe in the good news” the gospel Jesus himself preached?
Paul sets forth a great idea for evangelizing: get to know the people to whom you hope to proclaim the gospel. When Paul found a receptive audience, he stayed with them for many days or weeks or months. Sharing the gospel takes time, trust, love, and mutual respect.
As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. 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. In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 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.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
Two weeks ago, we read in the gospel of Mark that Jesus called Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Nathanael as disciples. Last week they all went into the synagogue on the sabbath where Jesus preached “as someone having authority, not like the scribes” and healed a man of an unclean spirit.
In this text, it is still the sabbath but the worship service is ended so Jesus is invited by Simon and Andrew to their house. Notice that the brothers live together with their wives and at least one mother-in-law. Let’s just contemplate how well that living arrangement might work in modern American society.
Peter’s mother-in-law is ill with a fever. The family is worried about her (as there are no medicines for infections so fevers can mean imminent death) so they tell Jesus about her. “If he can heal the guy in church, maybe he can help Mom.” Jesus responds and violating social custom, “takes her by the hand”, which may mean, “helps her up off her bed.” She is restored to health so resumes her household tasks, waiting on the family and guest.
News of free healthcare, especially of the miraculous type, spreads like wildfire. Once the sun was down, signifying that the sabbath was over, the people came to Simon Peter and Andrew’s house in droves. There were other itinerate healers in that time, but they charged money, and, of course, their “cures” were merely placebos, or worse. Jesus was very different in that he didn’t seem to be about this for the attention, as evidenced by Jesus repeatedly telling everyone he healed to keep quiet about it. Also, Jesus heals for free.
It is exhausting, though, spending so much time with clamoring, pleading people, and dense disciples. So much so that Jesus wanders out into the dark and silence of the wee hours of the morning to pray. Of the many times the gospels tell us Jesus went off alone to pray, the only recording of these prayers is in the Garden of Gethsemane. We don’t know what Jesus prayed, or if he used words at all.
The Greek is a unique language in that words have both tense and “mood”. The word “searching” for Jesus has a negative and somewhat ominous mood to it which we miss in English translations. Taking that mood into consideration, Jesus’ reaction to Peter’s words makes sense; Jesus wants to keep moving. Jesus goes throughout the rural region of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and healing all comers.