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Introduction To The Scripture For The Second Sunday After Epiphany - Year B
I Samuel 3:1-10; Psalm 139;1-6,13-18; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (jlss@sympatico.ca) of the United Church of Canada. John normally structures his offerings so that the first portion can be used as a bulletin insert, while the second portion provides a more in depth 'introduction to the scripture'.

INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE	
The Second Sunday After Epiphany - Year B


1 SAMUEL 3:1-10                        This story of Samuel's call to be 
God's prophet in Israel has the flavor of an ancient folktale.  It was 
told and retold by one generation to another because Samuel was such a 
towering figure in Israel's religious and political history.  The story 
reveals yet another instance when God was believed to have intervened to 
change in the direction of the nation's history.  This was interpreted as 
God keeping the covenant made long before with Abraham and with Moses.


PSALM 139:1-6,13-18                    God's intimate knowledge of all we 
are, all we think and do may be very frightening, but it also gives a 
security which faith can celebrate.  Yet this constant awareness of God's 
presence is both comforting and empowering.


1 CORINTHIANS 6:12-20                  Corinth was a seaport city famous 
for its immoral life.  Prostitution was rampant, even among the Christians 
there it would seem.  As this passage points out, Paul dealt bluntly with 
the problem.  The apostle's counsel is still valid in our own time when 
sexually transmitted diseases are still so prevalent and dangerous.  
Paul's attitude toward sex is based on the faith that our bodies are not 
merely for our own pleasure, but like a temple, to serve and glorify God.


JOHN 1:43-51                           John's Gospel tells of many 
incidents in Jesus' ministry not found in the other gospels.  Some 
actually conflict with what the other gospels say.  The way Jesus gathered 
his disciples in one such instance.  The reason for this discrepancy is 
made clear in this passage.  Those who followed Jesus did so solely 
because they were convinced that he was God's Messiah.  This exchange 
between Jesus and Nathanael established this important motif in the John's 
Gospel.  Starkly evident throughout Jesus' ministry were those who 
believed in him and those who didn't.


A MORE COMPLETE ANALYSIS.

1 SAMUEL 3:1-10   This story of Samuel's call to be God's prophet in 
Israel has the flavor of an ancient folktale.  It was told and retold by 
one generation to another because Samuel was such a towering figure in 
Israel's religious and political history.  Why should it be so important 
in our time as to be included as one of a limited collection of scripture 
passages to be read for worship?

The story reveals yet another instance when God was believed to have 
intervened to change in the direction of the nation's history.  The 
Israelites interpreted this as another instance of Yahweh keeping the 
covenant made long before with Abraham and with Moses.  Hence, it must be 
seen as a confirmation of Israel's faith as the chosen people of a God 
whose revelations came in a variety of ways and on whose providence 
Israel's whole existence depended.  

The passage ends too quickly.  It would have been more balanced to have 
the reason for Yahweh's call to Samuel explained as does the prophecy of 
vss. 11-14.  To make best use of the lesson, this will need to be done in 
an introductory exposition.  Otherwise, the story appears to have no 
relevance to the actual religious situation in Israel.

The Books of Samuel and Kings consist of narrative history written with 
theological purpose.  The story of Samuel as a great spiritual leader and 
theocrat at the time both Saul and David became monarchs of Israel 
probably does contain some historical data, sparse though it be in modern 
terms.  By no means, however, should we that all the details of his story 
are factual.  The narratives about him lead us to conclude how much he 
towered over all the other figures of his time and hence influenced the 
development of Israel as a nation and as the elect people of Yahweh.

For this lesson to be relevant to a congregation more three thousand years 
after the events it narrates, it might be wise to draw a parallel between 
the religious atmosphere so vividly described in vs. 1b: "the word of the 
Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread" (NRSV) and the 
present day spiritual environment.  The whole point of the story, however, 
is to reassure the audience that Yahweh has not deserted those who have 
faith nor forgotten the purpose for the call of Israel as the elect 
nation.


PSALM 139:1-6,13-18   Omniscience and omnipresence may be metaphysical 
concepts, but they were unknown to the Jews six centuries BCE when this 
psalm was probably written.  Yet the psalm still has great meaning and 
power for personal devotion and public worship.  If a devotional type 
sermon is warranted near the start of a new year or century, this surely 
is an appropriate passage to base it on.  God's intimate knowledge of all 
we are, all we think and do may be very frightening, but it also gives a 
security which faith can celebrate.  This constant awareness of God's 
presence can be both comforting and empowering.

It remains puzzling why the intermediary verses (vss.  7-12) have been 
omitted between the two segments of this reading.  Those verses give a 
very personal experience of divine presence, far beyond any theological 
reasoning.  This is what a humble walk with God has shown the poet.  In 
actual use in worship, they could well be included.

The latter segment (vss. 13-18) points to God as creator, but also in a 
very personal reflection.  The thoughts expressed in the whole psalm are 
to be found elsewhere in the prophetic literature, notably Isaiah 55:8-9 
(omniscience); Jeremiah 23:23-24 (omnipresence); and Job 10:8-11 (personal 
creation).  The psalmist appears to be indifferent to the God of history 
and the great acts of salvation during Israel's crises of the past.  
Instead, he concentrates on the present moment which gives the poem a 
sense universalism applicable to every generation.  It conveys a faith 
which many have carried to their deathbeds.

In his *Everyday Psalms* (Wood Lake Books, 1994), Jim Taylor has two 
poignant titles for two segments of the psalm (not the same as in this 
reading).  He calls them "Transparent to God" and "The Inescapable God." 
The Scottish divines, George Matheson and Francis Thomson knew whereof the 
psalmist spoke and penned their faith into such great poetry as Matheson's 
"O Love that will not let me go" and Thomson's "The Hound of Heaven."

Perhaps one has to have been through such trying times as this unknown 
voice from the 6th century BCE had experienced to know the full peace and 
joy comes with knowing and being known by such a loving God.  


1 CORINTHIANS 6:12-20   Corinth was a seaport city famous for its immoral 
life.  Prostitution was rampant, even among the Christians there it would 
seem.  As this passage and preceding verses point out, Paul dealt bluntly 
with the problem.  In vss. 9-10 he had identified the sexually promiscuous 
people who would be excluded from the kingdom of God.  In vs. 11 he 
contrasted promiscuity and drunkenness with the effects of Christian 
baptism, sanctification and justification - undoubtedly a moral revolution 
for many.  Then, in the present reading, he moved on to discuss the 
arguments he had heard against this necessary transformation.  The essence 
of the passage is a comparison of Christian liberty and the moral license 
which many had interpreted it to mean.  The debate continues to this day.  

Paul, a devout Jew and strict Pharisee lived in the Graeco-Roman world 
that did not share the restrictive standards of the Levitical Code.  Was 
he expressing culturally biased attitudes to human sexuality? Or was he 
laying down a moral standard by which Christians are bound? Another point 
of view suggests that Paul was determined to that Christians should life 
exemplary lives so that they would find favour with Roman authorities 
despite refusing to worship the emperor.

In a biography of the noted Canadian physician, Sir William Osler, this 
quotation from the famous doctor is worth noting.  It referred to the 
Greek physician Aesculapius who originated the medical profession: "'In 
the old Greek there was deeply ingrained the idea of the moral and 
spiritual profit of bodily health.' (*William Osler: A Life in Medicine*, 
by Michael Bliss. University of Toronto Press, 1999)  Did Paul not also 
honor
the highest values of contemporary culture is eschewing the promiscuity of 
the Corinthian community to which he had brought a different quality of 
life?

In fact, Paul proposed several bases for his views: 1) utilitarian (vs.  
12a); 2) legal (vs. 12b); 3) spiritual commitment (vss. 13-14).  But 
chiefly, his attitude toward sexuality and other addictions was based on 
the faith that our bodies "are members of Christ" (vs. 15).  We should not 
use them merely for our own pleasure, but like a temple, to serve and 
glorify God.  The in-dwelling Holy Spirit made this possible (vs. 19).  

Finally, he linked these constraints placed upon promiscuous behavior with 
the death and resurrection of Christ.  Because of the price paid for our 
freedom from human sinfulness, we must always live to glorify God.  "Being 
bought with a price" (vs. 20) referred to the practice of purchasing a 
slave or redeeming someone from slavery.  He had used the metaphor again 
in 1 Cor. 1:30; Gal. 3:13 and 4:5.  A slave so redeemed belonged, body and 
soul, to the one who had paid the price.  Thus, the Christian belonged to 
Christ.  William Barclay put this interpretation on that reality: "(The 
Christian) can never do what he likes, because he never belongs to 
himself; he must always do what Christ likes, because Christ bought him at 
the cost of his own life." (*The Letters to the Corinthians*, The Daily 
Study Bible, Edinburgh: The St. Andrew Press, 1954)  It has been said that 
whenever he felt particularly assailed by temptation, Martin Luther would 
drive the storm from his soul and body by repeating, "I have been 
baptized." This is exactly what Paul was saying to the Corinthians.


JOHN 1:43-51   John's Gospel tells of many incidents in Jesus' ministry 
not found in the other gospels.  Some actually conflict with what the 
other gospels say.  The way Jesus gathered his disciples in one such 
instance.  The reason for this discrepancy is made clear in this passage.  
Those who followed Jesus did so solely because they were convinced that he 
was God's Messiah.  

Certain details found in John's Gospel often give us a different synoptic 
view than do the so-called Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.  
The figure of Nathanael stands out in this passage as a disciple who does 
not appear elsewhere yet one who obviously had attracted Jesus' special 
attention.  Inconclusive attempts have been made to identify him with 
Bartholomew, Matthew, James the son of Alpheus, John the son of Zebedee, 
and Simon the Canaanaean.  For good reason he remains unique.  His 
appearance here symbolizes the pious Israelite, who though good as he is, 
is still incomplete.  His confession that Jesus is the Son of God and King 
of Israel is nothing short of a full messianic declaration of faith.  
Despite his deeply sincere religious life and faith as a Jew, he was 
willing to set aside his intellectual doubts and difficulties to put his 
trust in Jesus.  

John's Gospel has frequently been cited as the most anti-Semitic of the 
NT.  Christians may well have so regarded it through the ages and used it 
to motivate violent pogroms against Jews.  The Holocaust of Hitler's Nazis 
in the mid-20th century was only the latest of a long series of assaults 
on Jews cast in the role of a particularly evil people.  No one would deny 
that this author had his sharp edge which meant that Jews were frequently 
depicted as the enemies of Jesus.  But is it as simple as a "good guys vs.  
bad guys" formula we so often use as an intellectual and moral crutch? 

There is a better way to view John's attitude toward the Jews.  At the end 
of the lst century CE, Jews and Christians were seen as distinct religious 
groups.  That was due to nearly fifty years of evangelism by Jewish 
Christians among the Gentiles of the Greek-speaking world beyond the 
limited landscape of Palestine from which the stories of Jesus had 
emanated.  Yet almost all of the personalities who appeared in John's 
Gospel were Jews.  (It is not until John 12:20 that we meet any Greeks at 
all!) While written for an audience of both Jew and Greek, this gospel is 
definitely Jewish in most respects.  From its very first words, it 
declares its Jewishness by referring back to the very beginning of the 
Hebrew scriptures.  It does not denigrate the law in any respect (cf.  
1:17), but makes clear that Jesus as the promised Messiah is the full 
revelation of divine grace and truth.  Judaism may have contributed to the 
world the knowledge of moral right and wrong; but Jesus Christ, the Son of 
God, has made God fully known (1:18).

This is not anti-Semitism, but the declaration of the gospel as believed 
and proclaimed by the apostolic church.  That subsequent generations of 
Christian believers fell victim to a brutal and despicable 
misinterpretation of this gospel is not to be blamed on the messenger or 
the message.  Human sinfulness will find its deceitful ways of doing evil 
where none is required.  Such is the sad history of anti-Semitism through 
the centuries, and should bring prayers for repentance from the hearts of 
faithful Christians today.  Neither should misunderstanding of Christian 
scripture cause anyone to accuse any other person of prejudicial 
xenophobia.  The world of the 21st century needs people who can see beyond 
the narrow confines of such limited thinking and believing to appreciate 
what people of faith from other traditions have given and will yet give to 
a world where there are fewer and fewer barriers to communication
among close neighbors.

This is the future for which Nathanael stands as the gracious symbol.  
This pious Jew turned from his meditative moment under a fig tree to 
confess Jesus as Son of God and Messiah.  Jesus rejoiced and exuberantly 
promised that he would yet see greater things.  Nathanael had caught sight 
of the *eschaton* as clearly as Israel's patriarch Jacob had seen a vision 
of angels (vs. 51).  Nathanael's vision was the fulfillment of Jacob's 
dream at Bethel.  Israel's covenant with God was being fulfilled in Jesus 
of Nazareth, the man who also was the Son of God.  The process of 
fulfillment is still going on as we build toward a global village as 
ordinary as Nazareth and a beautiful as Bethel.

                         
copyright  - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.



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