Bible Study: 4 Epiphany (C)

February 3, 2013

Will Stanley, Berkeley Divinity School at Yale

“And Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town.’” (Luke 4:24)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; 1 Corinthians 12:1-13; Luke 4:21-30

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Here in the first words of the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, we hear God calling and commissioning the young boy into his prophetic vocation. Like Moses (and others) before him, Jeremiah’s first response to God’s call is one of trepidation. He fears he is not up to the task, due in large part to the fact that he is “only a boy.” And notice that God does not deny the fact that Jeremiah is “only a boy.” But with this, God seems to delight in this young age and assures Jeremiah that as he grows and matures, God “will be with him.” God assures Jeremiah of this by reminding him that God has, in fact, known him and formed him from the very beginning.

In this season of Epiphany, when we walk with Jesus as he too grows into his public ministry, what are places in our own lives that are in need of some growth?

How are we like Jeremiah, at times, initially resistant to growth with God? And how does seeing God as forming us in our mothers’ wombs possibly change how we look at God’s interaction with us on a daily basis?

Psalm 71:1-6

These words remind me of that peaceful bedtime service called Compline. Having been formed in communities that said this office on a regular basis, the words seem for me to instantly conjure up notions of rest and quietness at the end of the day. Here the psalmist is also honest about the reality of the “wicked” and the “evildoer.” However we may articulate what that exactly means in our own day, nonetheless, I think we all can acknowledge that daily we are confronted with powers that seek to disrupt the life God yearns for us to live. Each day we awake, pledging to take refuge in God, and each night we give thanks to God for all that has been done and all that has not been done. Our hope, our confidence, rests in that sustaining presence of God. For it is God who knew us in our mother’s womb, alluding to our first reading from the prophet Jeremiah. And this same God continues to be our strength each day.

In this season of manifesting growth that is Epiphany, what are some daily practices that you could continue or begin afresh in order to live deeper into the mystery of God as refuge, as protector, as sustainer?

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

This powerful and rich passage from the First Letter to the Corinthians may be familiar to many from the context of weddings. Here Paul is reflecting upon what he sees as the three great virtues of faith, hope and love, with love as the greatest. Obviously important for a budding marital couple, it is also wise to recall the audience Paul first meant to heed these words. The church community in Corinth is rather infamous among Paul’s letters as one particularly adept at not getting along very well! Here Paul implores the community – as well as each of us today – toward a sense of humility and empathy in all our doings. For in this life we all “see in a mirror, dimly,” only in part, and as such we are wise to head Paul’s plea that we ground our daily decisions in the enduring love of God and neighbor.

What are the “noisy gongs” or “clanging cymbals” that each of us tends to boast these days? How could the abiding and humble love to which Paul speaks be a healthy alternative to these actions?

Luke 4:21-30

The lectionary texts for this Sunday come to their climatic end with this passage from the Gospel of Luke. Our reading comes just after Jesus has begun his public ministry. He has returned first to Nazareth, to the place where he was brought up. After reading a portion from the writings of the prophet Isaiah, Jesus declares that “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” He points to himself as the fulfillment of the prophetic vision first outlined by Isaiah. The puzzled and contentious reactions of the crowd foretell many of those that will soon meet Jesus along his road to the cross. For here he is driven out of the town and narrowly escapes death.

Each of us, like Jesus, has a hometown. Each of us has a specific place where we were nurtured and formed. Even if we were lucky enough to grow up in a loving and supportive home community, oftentimes it is difficult to return later in life to these places. Through no fault of their own, it is often difficult for people who knew us at an early and formative age to appreciate the growth and maturity we have undergone through the simple process of growing up.

How could your relationship with Jesus grow closer and deeper through the shared difficulty of being fully understood upon returning home? In this season of Epiphany, how is God calling you to be a prophetic witness in your current community?

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