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This lectionary covers the next thirty days. For full lists, see the seasons and years below.
Sunday, January 23, 2022
Third Sunday after the Epiphany—Epiphany, Year C
Jesus announces his ministry publicly by invoking the messianic prophecy in Isaiah 61:1-2 and 58. Luke reminds frequently that same Spirit that inspired Isaiah is in Jesus (cf. Lk 4:1, 4:14), emphasizing the continuity of God’s words in the Old Testament scriptures with Jesus’ teaching ministry. This claiming of the messianic mantle was misinterpreted--both in Jesus’ day and in ours, as political liberation--as a statement of political liberation. But the jubilee promised by Jesus is not immediate liberation from temporal powers but from the power of death itself. However, the gospel does have immediate temporal consequences. “The poor” are not an abstraction here, and the preacher must not spiritualize the idea. The poor are those with unfulfilled physical needs. Jesus habitually reserves special blessings for the poor, and it is to them that the gospel is primarily addressed. This does not restrict the good news from the comfortable and well off--since all are ultimately subject to the same corruption and death--but it does establish God’s focal point for his work on earth. If the message preached and ministry enacted by our churches is not good for the needy then it is good for nobody.
Sunday, January 30, 2022
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany—Epiphany, Year C
The people of Nazareth marvel at Jesus’ teachings yet they minimize his person as the “son of Joseph.” The parallel passage in Mark 6:1-3 gives more context: the people are indignant at worst, patronizing at best toward an uppity hometown boy taking up the voice of the divine. There are two lessons to be taken from Jesus’ reply: first that one’s home and family can often be the hardest mission field. Familiarity is a longtime enemy of faith: reducing the transcendent to the immanent and manipulable (Ps. 50:21). If the truth of the Word of God breaking into our immediate lives cannot be resisted then it can be minimized ad hominem by focusing on the foibles of the speaker of the word. One may hear and appreciate the word, but fail to follow the speaker since, after all, isn’t he just Joseph’s son?
The second point follows from Jesus’ rebuke of his countrymen: his mission to the Gentiles. Jesus puts himself in the line of the Old Testament prophets and highlights the several places where God blessed foreigners instead of the Jews to whom they were sent and who had rejected them. The violent reaction to this mirrors the same persecution given to the prophets, proving Jesus’ point.
From this the preacher may point out that the gospel is never comfortable with the familiarity that staid church life often brings. Home, family, and stable community are blessings and offer comfort, but the true Christian yearns to bring the gospel to strangers and those outside the glow of hearth and home. Indeed, that is where one often finds those who are eager to receive it.
Sunday, February 6, 2022
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany—Epiphany, Year C
The great catch of fish is a common image for the capacity of evangelism to bring about revival. What is not often remarked on is the way the disciples bring in the fish. The haul is too large for Peter’s single boat. It takes James and John’s vessels to help bring in the catch. Here we have an image of the unity of the church in the work of evangelism. The need for unity of thought, doctrine, and fellow feeling is a well-worn topic in today’s scattered denominational landscape. But the church is most effectively unified around its work for the sake of the lost and the poor. The formal causes of church unity should not be understated—especially doctrine, sacrament, and the historic hierarchy—however the work of the church on behalf of the lost and needy is the material cause of unity, and it is the place where divided believers may find the possibility for unity in other respects. The church is the only institution that exists for the sake of those outside of it and it cannot subsist without the pursuit of that primary purpose.
Sunday, February 13, 2022
Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany—Epiphany, Year C
There is a division nowadays between those preachers who consider Jesus’ beatitudes in Luke to be validating people in the real social condition of poverty and misery, and others who read the same as a spiritual condition. The correct answer is both. The moral exhortations in the following verses (27-38) reveal that Jesus has personal virtuous conduct in mind—and Matthew’s more popular “poor in spirit” harmonizes. However, Luke’s account is left unglossed for a reason: that the pursuit of godliness is helped, not hindered, by material poverty and suffering. This would have been news to any ancient person for whom the path to divinization was marked by those things which were like God and the gods: blessings, wealth, and long life. We are, today, similarly tempted to regard the rich and successful with the same quasi-religious admiration: as paragons of humanity since, after all, the proof of their lifestyle is plain. But Jesus reverses the typical signs of divine favor—It is poverty, hunger, mourning, and friendlessness that are the markers on the pathway to God. It is surprising and counterintuitive, but it makes sense because the lack of worldly goods makes space for God. Indeed, present worldly pleasures easily become obstacles to faith and connection with God (cf. the rich young ruler in Luke 18). For this reason, the gospel is good news to the poor and concerning news—at best—for the rich who had looked to their wealth also for eternal security, since they supposed it to be a marker of God’s favor. In reality, however, the materially poor are better off in the pursuit of godliness, and are therefore to be imitated and blessed instead of avoided and ignored.