Epiphany 4A (2 February 2014)

Contents

Lectionary

  • Micah 6:1-8 and Psalm 15
  • 1 Corinthians 1:18-31
  • Matthew 5:1-12

Introduction

This week the lectionary serves up a rich feast of readings, with several classic texts all being read in the liturgical community on the one day:

  • Micah 6, with its call to get the basics right
  • 1 Corinthians 1, with its celebration of the centrality of the cross to Christian identity and practice
  • Matthew 5:1-12, the beatitudes

First Reading: What does the Lord require?

With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:6–8 NRSV)

The prophetic focus on the few things that really matter is part of a trajectory in Jewish religious thought, found also in the Jesus tradition and its rabbinic parallels:

This tradition has its parallels in rabbinic traditions about Hillel:

A proselyte approached Hillel with the request Hillel teach him the whole of the Torah while the student stood on one foot. Hillel responded, “What you find hateful do not do to another. This is the whole of the Law. Everything else is commentary. Now go learn that!” (Babylonian Talmud, Makkot 23b-24a)

Second Reading: The foolishness of God

In a kind of ironic reversal of the Wisdom tradition, a trajectory especially at home among the elite scribal classes of ancient Judaism, Paul celebrates the “foolishness of God:”

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor 1:18–31 NRSV)

Not only does Paul reverse the typical religious valuation of “wisdom” over “folly”—he identifies the counter-cultural wisdom of God with the cross.

This is one of the earliest Christian texts to assign such religious significance to the crucifixion of Jesus. Coming as it does from the mid-50s of the first century, this passage provides an insight into the ways that the death of Jesus, including specifically the dishonorable circumstances of his death as a victim of imperial violence, was being transformed from a point of shame to a distinctive element of Christian self-understanding. Much later the cross would become the public symbol for Christanity, but here already it is becoming the point of differentiation from Jews and “Greeks.”

We can see another early expression of this focus on the cross in the Christ Hymn from Philippians 2:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who,
though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death
—even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:5–11 NRSV)

Gospel: Beatitudes

The Jesus Seminar and the Beatitudes

None of the beatitudes in Matthew score a red result, unlike the version found in Luke 6. The Seminar considered the sayings addressed to the gentle, the merciful, the pure in heart and the peacemakers to be inauthentic. While Samuel Lachs offers some textual emendations that provide for a better fit of these sayings with the core beatitudes, it still seems unlikely that these sayings can be attributed to Jesus.

For ease of reference, the Seminar’s voting decisions are shown in the color-coded text that follows:

3 Congratulations to the poor in spirit!
Heaven’s domain belongs to them.
4 Congratulations to those who grieve!
They will be consoled.

5 Congratulations to the gentle!
They will inherit the earth.

6 Congratulations to those who hunger and thirst for justice!
They will have a feast.

7 Congratulations to the merciful!
They will receive mercy.
8 Congratulations to those with undefiled hearts!
They will see God.
9 Congratulations to those who work for peace!
They will be known as God’s children.

10 Congratulations to those who have suffered
persecution for the sake of justice!
Heaven’s domain belongs to them.
11 “Congratulations to you when they denounce you
and persecute you and spread malicious gossip about you
because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad! In heaven you
will be more than compensated. Remember, this is how they persecuted
the prophets who preceded you.
[Scholars Version]

For a wider list of beatitudes in ancient Jewish and Christian texts, see the Beatitudes page.

Jesus Database

Liturgies and Prayers

For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt’s web site

Other recommended sites include:

 

Music Suggestions

See David MacGregor’s Together to Celebrate site for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre.

About gregoryjenks

Anglican priest and religion scholar. Senior Lecturer in the School of Theology at Charles Sturt University. Dean-elect, Cathedral Church of Christ the King, Grafton. Formerly Dean at St George's College, Jerusalem. Currently serving as the locum priest at Byron Bay Anglican Parish.
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