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Introduction To The Scripture For The Second Sunday After Epiphany - Year C
Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; I Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (jlss@sympatico.ca) of the United Church of Canada. John has structured 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 C

     
ISAIAH 62:1-5       The return of the exiles and the rebuilding of
Jerusalem is the constant theme of Second-Isaiah, as scholars have named
the unknown poet-prophet of Israel's exile in Babylon.  He either composed
or inspired his disciples to write the poetry now contained in Isaiah 40-
66. 

This is part of the last of a trilogy of poems in Isaiah 60-62 emphasizing
the promised return and reconstruction resulting from Israel's special
relationship with God.  Vss.4-5 of this passage likens this relationship to
a renewed marriage covenant.  This special, intimate relationship with God
motivates much of the tenacity of many Jews have for the modern state of
Israel today


PSALM 36:5-10       The steadfast love of God for Israel and for the whole
of creation brings praise to the lips of the faithful and a prayer that
this love with continue for "the upright of heart."


1 CORINTHIANS 12:1-11    Paul had many difficulties teaching the new
converts in Corinth just what it meant to believe in Jesus as Lord and
follow his way of life.  A major disagreement had arisen as to which of the
gifts of the Spirit were the more important.  Here Paul points out that all
gifts come from the same Spirit of God, serve different purposes in the
Christian community, and yet contribute to the common good.

The issue still has relevance for our modern congregations. Each member may
have a different role to play depending on his or her particular talents.


JOHN 2:1-11         John's Gospel took its shape from a series of signs
revealing Jesus as the Messiah, Son of God, and Saviour of the world.  This
miracle story described the first of these signs. 

The marriage feast at Cana symbolized that the messianic age had begun. 
The changing of water for ritual purification to wine for the marriage
feast indicated that Jesus would reinterpret Jewish religious tradition for
the new age he inaugurated.

************

ISAIAH 62:1-5   The themes of return of the exiles from Babylon and the
rebuilding of Jerusalem resound through all the writings of Second-Isaiah,
as scholars have named the unknown poet-prophet of Israel's exile in
Babylon.  Much of the latter part of the Book of Isaiah (chs. 40-66) are
believed to have come either from him or from a coterie of his disciples,
sometimes called Third-Isaiah in scholarly circles.  This brief passage
joyfully reiterates this promise of return and reconstruction. 

The trilogy of poems in Isaiah 60-62, of which this excerpt formed the last
part, emphasized the promised return and reconstruction resulting from
Israel's special relationship with God.  This stands out in vs.1 where the
prophet, speaking for Yahweh, declares Yahweh's passion as the initiator of
this historic event.  This further divine action in Israel's faith-history
occurred so that Israel might fulfill its divinely appointed mission. Vs.2
clarifies this special role among the nations as ordained by Yahweh.  The
returning exiles will receive a new name indicative of a renewed
relationship with Yahweh in accord with Yahweh's eternal purpose.  Since
names in the prophetic tradition had special significance and tended to
define the nominee's character and purpose, the giving of a new name was,
in effect, a confirmation of this purpose. (Cf. Gen. 32:28; Is. 7:3; 9:6,
etc.) 
     
The mission was to be messianic in the monarchical rather than a messianic
sense, as "the crown of beauty ... a royal diadem" in vs. 3 states.  The
image is that of Israel as the crown in the hand of Yahweh, sovereign of
the nation, in much the same way that the protective patron deity of
ancient cities crowned the city walls.

Vss.4-5 introduce a different image, likening the relationship of Yahweh
and Israel to a renewed marriage covenant. (cf. Hosea 2 and similar
metaphors in Jeremiah and Ezekiel.)  Though all the names in Hebrew in this
passage ended in 'AH,' representing Yahweh, the new relationship was
represented by the new names Hephzibah, "My delight is in her," and Beulah,
"Married."  These names revealed Yahweh's love for Israel above all other
nations. 

The passage had relevance for the current crisis in the Middle East.  The
special, intimate relationship with God motivates much of the tenacity many
Jews have for the modern state of Israel today.  Yet it has to be admitted
that most people, even in Israel itself, do not share a similar view.
History is rarely kind to such religious ideologies.  Is democratic
idealism always the will of God for every nation?

The issue in the Holy Land today has become one of a geopolitical conflict
between a strong religious nationalism and the rights of Palestinian Arabs.
The Arabs moved aggressively into a vacuum left by the decline of Roman and
Byzantine empires.  But most Jews had been driven out of  the land to
become a global diaspora long before that.  Twentieth century geopolitics
recreated and has sustained Israel as a viable state.  Both Arabs and Jews
now claim the right to live where their ancestors settled long ago.  After
more than half a century this conflict still festers as both parties serve
as pawns in much larger geopolitical struggles. 

Christian churches have not helped by taking one side or the other in this
conflict.  Most have been motivated by differing theological stances.  Even
when one believes fervently in God as Lord of history, events in the world
are always the result of human interaction.  On the other hand, it is never
easy to discern where justice lies or how one position or the other relates
to the divine will.  The debate regarding the involvement of Christians in
political issues between Karl Barth and Reinhold Niebuhr has never been
satisfactorily settled.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one who struggled with
this issue in a very personal and sacrificial way.


PSALM 36:5-10   The steadfast love of Yahweh for Israel and for the whole
of creation brings praise for the goodness of Yahweh to the lips of the
faithful.  The psalm concludes with a prayer that this love with continue
for "the upright of heart." 
     
This abbreviated reading provides a fascinating counterpoint to the first
four verses of the psalm which have been excluded from the lectionary. 
Most commentators agree that the two parts probably represent two
originally separate compositions which a later editor brought together. 
Yet the two complement each other in such a way that two conflicting ways
of life are cast in bold relief.  The first (vss.1-4) is said to belong to
the category of Israel's Wisdom literature, especially Proverbs.  It
emphasizes the way in which people of lesser moral character flatter and
deceive themselves, and secretly plot mischievous misbehavior.  This theme
appears to have been picked up in the concluding verses (vss.11-12).  The
part included in this reading  (vss.5-10), reflects the sovereignty and
universalism of divine providence characteristic of the later prophet-poets
like Second Isaiah and Job.

Vss.10-12 raise a question that still troubles many modern Christians. 
Does God love only the faithful and morally upright?  Is divine love
exclusive?  The covenant motif of the OT did have a strong ethical
component which finds wide expression in the psalms.  The opening verses of
this psalm exhibit this aspect of the Hebrew tradition.  The second part of
the psalm reveals a more tolerant view found in the prophecy of Second
Isaiah.  Vs.6, for instance, extends Yahweh's steadfast love to animals as
well as humans.  Vs.7 includes all people, not just Israel, within the
purview of divine protection and providence.

The New Testament goes much farther.  The Gospels in particular show
unequivocally that God's love extends even to those most alienated from God
and immoral in their behavior.  However, God loves sinners like us so that
we may respond to that love by changing our ways and seeking to follow
Jesus in all we say and do.  Jesus came to reconcile us all to God by
revealing just how much God does love us and wants us to learn from Jesus
how to live in a loving relationship with God, with all other people, and
with the planet Earth on which we pass our years.


1 CORINTHIANS 12:1-11   The New Testament has a great many references to
the body of Christ and many different meanings to that phrase.  In general
the phrase connotes the many-faceted relationships between Christ and those
who believe in and belong to him, their relations with him as members, and
with one another in the wide fellowship that bears his name.  It is,
perhaps, the most prevalent metaphor in the NT, in the Pauline corpus
especially, for what was to become within a few decades of his death and
resurrection the institution which has endured for the past two millennia.
An examination of the many texts, however, would show how the understanding
of the various authors changed from decade to decade.  The unique aspect of
its usage, however, is that the NT Greek word *soma* which normally
translated the Hebrew *basar* had no counterpart in classical Hellenistic
Greek.  Furthermore, contrary to Hellenistic and most modern thinking, in
OT and NT usage, there was no distinction between the true self and the
flesh or body.

While the word *soma = body* does not appear in this passage, that is
certainly the metaphor toward which this passage points.  It also speaks to
our time as forcefully as to the middle of the 1st century AD when it was
written.  Today, secular paganism challenges us as it did the apostle Paul
and his Corinthian converts.  Here the apostle almost seems to wring his
hands at their obstinacy and obtuseness.  He had a great many difficulties
teaching them just what it meant to believe in Jesus as Lord and follow his
way of life.  The chief problem cited in this passage was a disagreement as
to which of the gifts of the Spirit were the more important.  Paul points
out as plainly as possible that all gifts come from the same source, the
Spirit of God.  They may serve different functions in the Christian
fellowship, yet all contribute to the common good.
     
The issue still has relevance to our modern congregations.  Each member may
have a different role to play depending on his or her particular talents.
It needs to be noted, however, that the use of these gifts in not to be
exercised exclusively within the institution.  The mission of the church is
to the world, not to itself.  Perhaps that was the main reason why the
Corinthians had so much trouble with the great variety of gifts they
brought to the apostolic church.  Like so much of our contemporary gifting,
it concentrated on themselves and their own fellowship rather than
equipping them for the ministry of love for the world.  They were in it for
themselves and for their own little community, not for what Christ could do
for the world through them as part of the wider Christian fellowship.

Another important feature of this lesson is the role the Spirit plays
within the community.  The word *Spirit* occurs no less than ten times in
these few sentences.  This tells us most poignantly that nothing beneficial
can happen within the community or in carrying out its mission to the world
except by the activation of the Spirit (vs. 11).  That was the fundamental
issue with which Paul had to deal so forcefully.  What really did control
the witness of Christians in Corinth, or, for that matter, in any of our
cities, towns and villages today?  At the heart of the matter was the
lordship of Jesus without whose Spirit none of the gifts of individual
believers were of any value.  As Paul states so clearly in vs.3, even
confessing that Jesus is Lord is the work of the Spirit.  A contemporary
leader of the World Community for Christian Meditation, Laurence Freeman
OSB, reaffirmed this simple truth in saying that the Holy Spirit runs
though every instant of time and every cell of life.


JOHN 2:1-11   John's Gospel takes its shape from a series of signs
revealing Jesus as the Messiah, Son of God, and Saviour of the world.  This
miracle story is the first of these signs. 

In the NT, a sign designated an outward manifestation of a hidden and
usually divine purpose.  Jesus himself was a sign that, as in the past,
Yahweh had again taken redemptive initiative in the Israel's history.  We
meet this concept first in the birth narratives (Luke 2:12,34).  So also
the miracles of Jesus were themselves signs that the dynamic reign of
divine love was in process of being fulfilled in human affairs.  Not only
the person of Jesus and all his works, but also his death and resurrection
were signs that the prophesied Day of the Lord when all history would be
consummated was at hand. 

The marriage feast at Cana symbolized that the messianic age had begun.
Behind it lay the whole panoply of purification rites so prominently
described in the Torah.  Wine too had liturgical significance included in
the daily sacrifices offered as victuals for the deity, although never
offered alone.  This custom had undoubtedly been adopted from earlier
Canaanite and other non-Israelite traditions.  In the Hebrew tradition, it
may have substituted for blood sacrifice.  Wine had a major place in
religious feasts celebrated in every home as well as in the temple cult as
a libation.  However, it was not used in the Passover feast until
Hellenistic times. 

The changing of water for ritual purification to wine indicated that Jesus
would reinterpret Jewish religious tradition for this new age he had
inaugurated.  For John, it was nothing less than an open declaration that
Jesus is the Messiah.  Hence his curious reluctance to follow his mother's
off-hand information that the ordinary wine for the wedding feast had run
out.  Immediately, she told the servants standing-by to do whatever he told
them.  This almost insignificant aside can be seen as the way for Jesus to
differentiate himself from his closest human relationships.  He appeared to
reject his mother's counsel and yet also as indicated that she did believe
in him as the Messiah.  The steward supervising the serving of the feast
and the bridegroom were quite ignorant of what had happened.  This served
to establish the pattern so obvious throughout of John's narrative that
there would always be some who believed and would follow Jesus and some who
would not.
     
Our post-Enlightenment Age minds have yet to grasp that biblical miracles
cannot be explained in terms that exclude the supernatural.  As Tom Harpur
has pointed out in a column in The Sunday Star (Toronto, January 4, 2004)
symbols and metaphors have power.  It is what they stand for and the power
they represent that is important.  John and his contemporaries had no
difficulty combining such spiritual and material realities as metaphors of
divine initiatives in ordinary human affairs.  This was especially true of
the Hebrew minds who penned the Old and New Testaments.  Because spiritual
realities were as obvious to them as the water with which they washed and
the wine they drank at their festivals or ordinary meals, the
transformation Jesus effected appeared as a perfectly natural, though
surprising and pleasing event.
     
Behind the miracle, however, was the messianic message John sought to
convey to a later generation of Jews and Gentiles at the end of the 1st
century.  This was the spiritual truth that lay beyond the materialism of
the event.  The Messiah/Christ had come to change everything, to
reinterpret for them in their particular time and place, the great
traditions which God had initially revealed through the chosen people
Israel.  For Jews recently thrust out of their synagogues and for Gentiles
eager to find a new, fulfilling life of faith, this was indeed Good News. 

                         
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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