The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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 Seventh Sunday After Epiphany - Year B
ISAIAH 43:18-25 This excerpt from one of the many
prophetic poems contained in Isaiah 40-66 conveys a remarkable message
from God to the Jews exiled in Babylon. Despite Israel's sin, especially
their unwillingness to worship, God was not only going to forgive them,
but also return them to their homeland. This message still rings true for
our time more than 2500 years after it was written by the unknown prophet
of Israel's exile in Babylon.
PSALM 41. This trustful prayer by someone who is seriously ill expresses
the assurance of the psalmist that God will continue to bless him and
restore his health. Everyone else expected him to die, but he is
reassured by his faith that God was pleased with him no matter what may
have caused his illness.
2 CORINTHIANS 1:18-22 Scholars believe that over some
considerable time several difficult pieces of correspondence had been
melded into what we now know as First and Second Corinthians. In this
passage Paul tells the Corinthians that he had always been straightforward
in sharing the gospel with them. Proof of this, he claims, is the gift of
the Holy Spirit which is God's down payment on the life eternal which is
yet to come because they are "in Christ".
MARK 2:1-12 This delightful incident brings
together several elements in Mark's story of Jesus' early ministry.
Crowds followed Jesus everywhere. Seeing the faith of a paralyzed man's
friends, Jesus forgave the man's sins. When the man walked away cured of
his illness, everyone was amazed. The scribes, experts in the Jewish law,
were appalled at what they regarded as blasphemy. This story confronted a
critical issue in the Jewish tradition. Only God can forgive sin. Mark's
purpose was to challenge his audience to believe the evidence this
incident presents. He told this incident to further his theme that Jesus
only very gradually revealed who he really was, the Messiah/Christ, the
Son of God.
A MORE COMPLETE ANALYSIS
ISAIAH 43:18-25 This excerpt from one of the many prophetic poems
contained in Isaiah 40-66 conveys a remarkable message from Yahweh to the
Jews exiled in Babylon. Despite Israel's sin, especially their
unwillingness to worship faithfully, Yahweh was not only going to forgive
them, but also return them to their homeland.
Although it is never mentioned, this startling reversal of fortunes for
Yahweh's chosen people came about due to the ancient covenant between
Yahweh and Israel. Despite Israel's repeated transgressions, Yahweh
remained faithful. Yahweh did not overlook Israel's sins. In fact, vss.
22-24 reiterates their indictment. In this poem the prophet does not
minimize those sins. Instead he proclaims that the grace of Yahweh
transcends them. On this basis he calls on Israel to turn from memory to
In ancient times, as in the case today for people, who have been exiled
from their homelands, there was very little hope of ever returning.
Indeed, many had become quite comfortable in their new surroundings. This
had happened to such an extent that many had turned from Israel's
traditional mission to worship Yahweh. Forbidden to offer the sacrifices
of the temple, they had adopted other religious practices from their
Babylonians masters. These were the "iniquities" referred to in vs. 23.
The prophet's hopes for the future and condemnation for the realities of
the present stand out in sharp contrast. Perhaps more surprising is the
way they are juxtaposed: first the promise, then the censure. This only
serves to heighten the emphasis in vs. 25 on the true nature of Yahweh who
is "blotting out your transgressions for my own sake." The only motivation
for this dramatic change in the exile's circumstances comes from the
character of Yahweh whose nature is to forgive.
This message still rings true more than 2500 years after it was written by
the unknown prophet of Israel's exile in Babylon. Time and again in
recent centuries, one so-called Christian nation or another has turned to
practices totally inimical to the Christian mandate to love God and
neighbor. Wars of mass destruction, genocide, racial apartheid,
exploitive greed, environmental destruction - sins too numerous to mention
- have carried humanity into distant exile from God. And still God
forgives, so that we can always start again on the new path that leads
through the wilderness and the desert to a providential future.
PSALM 41 Does anyone ever use the reading from the Psalms as a preaching
text? Most of the time these readings are no more than an antiphon to the
Old Testament lesson. These two do not often have the same theme at all.
It would have been better for this psalm to have been associated with last
week's OT lesson. This trustful prayer could well have been Naaman's song
after he had been cured of leprosy. It is likely, however, that it was
composed several centuries later in the postexilic period.
As it stands, the psalm shows distinctive characteristics of wisdom
literature where sin and sickness were thought to have a direct cause and
effect relationship. Indeed, some of its phrases reflect attitudes found
in Job's antagonists. For example, the psalmist's confession in vs. 4
finds a parallel in Elihu's charge in Job 36:7-11. The mischievous
visitor in vs. 6 has a counterpart in Job's erstwhile comforters in Job
On the other hand, this prayer by someone who has been seriously ill
expresses the assurance of the psalmist that God will continue to bless
him and restore his health. Everyone else, especially his enemies (vs. 7)
and even his closest friend (vs. 9), expected him to die (vs. 8).
Nonetheless he is reassured by his faith that God is pleased with him no
matter what may have caused his illness (vs. 11).
It is not clear whether "my enemy" in vs. 11b is the illness from which he
suffered or some opponent who wished for his demise. At the end of his
ordeal, he is convinced that his integrity has saved him, not divine
grace. The closing benediction probably does not belong to the psalm. It
is an editorial conclusion to Book I of the five in the Psalter added for
2 CORINTHIANS 1:18-22 Scholars believe that over a considerable period
of time several difficult pieces of correspondence between Paul and the
Corinthian community had been melded into what we now know as First and
Second Corinthians. The sorting out of the various excerpts from the
different letters is an on-going scholarly problem. Theories abound as to
the way in which these excerpts can be fitted together. On the whole,
however, the early part of 2 Corinthians (chs. 1-7) appears to deal with
the resolution of a worsening relationship between Paul and the Corinthian
It would seem that Paul had made a second visit to Corinth after writing 1
Corinthians. This visit is not reported in the version of Paul's journeys
recorded in Acts. The reason for the second visit is also unclear, but it
would appear to have been an unsuccessful attempt at reconciliation with
those who had questioned his apostolic authority.
However it may have come about through extensive redaction, the main focus
of the second letter as it now stands in the canon can be discerned. The
main contents of the letter as a whole deal with Paul's opponents, a
defense of his apostleship and the eschatological hope believers have
because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Reconciliation between the
apostle and the Corinthians community dominate the early chapters. This
reconciliation reflects the eschatological reconciliation Christ himself
effected between God and the world and thus gives both shape and purpose
to the role of Christians as ambassadors for Christ in the world. Paul's
apostleship and his relationship with the Corinthians thus acquires its
authority from the essential relationship of Christ to the world as
reconciling Savior and Lord.
In opening words of the letter prior to this passage Paul affirms the
reconciliation that had ended the conflict he formerly had with the
Corinthians. In this brief excerpt he tells them that he had always been
straightforward in sharing the gospel with them. Proof of this, he
claims, is the gift of the Holy Spirit that is God's down payment on the
life eternal which is yet to come. The guarantee has been given to them
because they had been baptized and anointed to symbolize that they are now
The key phrases in this passage are in vss. 21-22, "by anointing us,
putting his seal on us." This may refer to the practice of anointing a
baptismal candidate with oil after he or she had been baptized. This
practice later became a significant part of the sacrament's symbolism,
especially in the Eastern Orthodox Church. This anointing confirmed that
baptized person now belonged to Christ and had received the gift of the
Holy Spirit through the church.
A seal was also an important instrument in an age when few people could
read or write. By means of a seal, usually of wax impressed with an
embossed signet or ring, a document or other artifact could be
authenticated. A deed of property bore a seal, as did an imperial order.
According to Matthew 27:66, the tomb where Jesus as buried had been
sealed. A seal identified the authority of the person who had given the
order or owned the particular article. Slaves were often branded with the
seal of their master. Baptismal anointing revealed that the Christian now
belonged to Christ.
Another key word in vs. 22 is the Greek work *arrabon* translated in
various versions of the NT as "earnest" (KJV), "guarantee" (RSV) or "first
installment" (NRSV). Putting those three English words together,*arrabon*
meant a guarantee by the payment of a first installment that a person was
in earnest in making a commercial deal such as the purchase of a property
or a cow. In this instance, Paul assured the Corinthians that the gift of
the Holy Spirit to the church was God's guarantee that the full, eternal
and spiritual life promised in Christ would be available to all who
The metaphor still has considerable power, for our baptism identifies us
as belonging to Christ and the gift of the Spirit guarantees that we shall
receive eternal life. This does not mean, however, that baptism
automatically assures us of eternal life. There is no such thing as
baptismal regeneration. That is another subject in itself to which this
passage does not make reference. The presence of the Holy Spirit,
however, is the guarantee that this regeneration (sanctification) can take
place, preparing us here and now for the fully sanctified life to come.
MARK 2:1-12 A childhood memory of a picture in old Sunday church school
materials came back to me as I read this story. Time and familiarity with
the story may have elaborated the scene in my mind. The artist may also
have taken considerable liberties in depicting the house and its
Jesus was seated under the overhanging roof shading the door of a house in
Capernaum. The crowd gathered around him was so closely packed that no
one could approach. Two of a group of four men had climbed up on the roof
and were removing the tiles. Another stood on the ground receiving the
tiles passed down from above. The fourth stood beside their friend, rigid
with paralysis, as he lay on a pallet watching intently. His face bore a
look of hope mingled with fear.
This delightful incident brings together several elements in Mark's story
of Jesus' early ministry. Crowds followed Jesus everywhere. Seeing the
faith of a paralyzed man's friends, Jesus forgave the man's sins. When
the man walked away cured of his illness, everyone was amazed. The
scribes, experts in the Jewish law, were appalled at what they regarded as
Vs. 10 contains the significant words of the passage: "But so that you may
know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins ...."
This declaration, addressed to the scribes, confronted a critical issue in
the Jewish tradition. Only God could forgive sin. Jesus had claimed the
divine prerogative. Mark told this incident to further his theme that
Jesus only very gradually revealed who he really was, the Messiah/Christ,
the Son of God. Mark's purpose was to challenge his audience to believe
the evidence this incident presents.
This story ends a whole series of healing miracles which began and ended
in Capernaum (1:21-2:12). Without telling us why, Mark shows us that
Jesus had relocated his ministry to this fishing village on the northwest
shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was from there that Jesus called five of
the disciples. We might well wonder why. There were several possible
Through Capernaum ran a major highway, the Via Maris, from the seacoast to
Damascus and on to the east. Yet it was far enough away from Tiberias,
the new, mainly Gentile city to the south where in 25 CE Herod Antipas had
set up his capital. Perhaps as a carpenter he had been forced to work on
the building of that city. This could have caused Jesus' antipathy toward
Antipas evident elsewhere in the gospel narrative. Capernaum also had a
fairly mixed and stratified population of fishermen, farmers, skilled
artisans, merchants, tax collectors, etc. These people struggled to make
a living from the water and the land, and also from the commerce that the
trade route yielded. This location also gave Jesus access to nearby
villages and to the hill country to the north and west where he could
carry on his ministry among receptive listeners without too much
interference from political and religious authorities.
Mark made it plain that the scribes and Pharisees were never far away.
They were the antagonists who created the conflict that gave Mark's story
power. That is not to say that their opposition to Jesus was fictitious.
Mark was a good storyteller, however, and the movement of his gospel
depended on the continual and growing presence of those hostile to what
Jesus sought to do in proclaiming by word and deed the inauguration of
God's reign of love. It was this conflict that led eventually to
Jerusalem and the cross. Behind this story lay the prophetic message of
Second Isaiah and the figure of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 52:13-
copyright - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006
please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.