And now, for something completely different.

Last Sunday after Epiphany; 23 February 2020; Last Epiphany A (RCL); Exodus 24:12-18; Psalm 2; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9.

The church calendar always gives us an account of the transfiguration on the Sunday before Lent begins, as the collect says, so that we may be strengthened to bear our cross, and at Easter be changed into Christ’s likeness. And the account of the transfiguration does feel like a resurrection appearance retrojected back into the earthly life of Jesus. But it is about much more than nerving us up for Lent.

Continue reading “And now, for something completely different.”

A greater righteousness

16 February 2020; Sixth Sunday after Epiphany; Epiphany 6A (RCL); Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 119:1-8; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-37.

Both the Deuteronomy and Sirach passages use a form of ethical instruction called ‘the two ways.’ The Psalms are replete with examples, beginning with Psalm 1. The Didache is a prime example. Matthew seems to use it for his own purposes. Rather than setting out a contrast between the way of life and the way of death (the usual pattern), Matthew sets out a contrast between the old way and the new way.

Continue reading “A greater righteousness”

Righteousness as salt

16 February 2020; Fifth Sunday after Epiphany; Epiphany 5A (RCL); Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 112; 1 Corinthians 2:1-12; Matthew 5:13-20.

We’re reading in course from Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. We missed the beatitudes last week, because the Feast of the Presentation preempted the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany. And this week, the passage we hear opens with Jesus saying about salt, and ends with him saying that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, we will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. This is a rather serious departure from the way Mark treats the Pharisees.

Continue reading “Righteousness as salt”

Flesh and blood

The Presentation of our Lord; Malachi 3:1-4; Psalm 84; Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40.

We don’t often get to observe the Feast of the Presentation on a Sunday, so we don’t often get to hear these readings. Luke is very careful to tell us that everything necessary under the law had been fulfilled for Jesus. In part, he does this in order to show that, as far as Gentiles are concerned, Jesus has set some aspects of the law aside. The order of the law has been fulfilled, and we now live under the order of the Spirit.

Continue reading “Flesh and blood”

Mending nets

26 January 2020; Third Sunday after Epiphany; Epiphany 3A (RCL); Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27:1, 5-13; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23.

I know it is an accident of the lectionary, but I am always struck by the juxtaposition of the passage from 1 Corinthians and the passage from Matthew’s Gospel. In Corinthians, Paul says, “I appeal to you . . . that there be no tears (schisms) among you, but that you be mended into the same mind and same purpose.” In Matthew, when Jesus encounters James and John, they are in their father’s boat, mending their nets. The verb for ‘to mend’ (katartizein) is the same in both instances. According to Liddell and Scott, it only means ‘to mend’ in the New Testament. It usually means ‘to restore, to adjust, to put in order.’

Continue reading “Mending nets”

Come and see

19 January 2020; Second Sunday after Epiphany; Epiphany 2A (RCL); Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-12; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42.

This is really the first narrative unit of John’s Gospel. Everything up to now has been prologue. This unit sets up what we can expect from John’s narrative. The first words spoken by a character in the narrative belong to John the Baptist: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” This is already stunning.

Continue reading “Come and see”

Behold, my servant

12 January 2020; The Baptism of our Lord; Epiphany IA (RCL); Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 3:13-17

The voice from heaven speaks a phrase that is a conflation of Psalm 2:7 (You are my son; this day have I begotten you) and Isaiah 42:1 (Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am well pleased). This very combination is already asking the reader to make a profound theological move by combining the figure our the King with the figure of the servant.

Continue reading “Behold, my servant”

Ask a sign

22 December 2019; Advent IVA (RCL); Isaiah 7:10-16; Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-25

Ahaz was facing a military threat in the alliance of Israel and Syria, and scrambling to make alliances of his own. The prophet is trying to tell him that God will protect Judah without the help of a foreign alliance. Isaiah tells Ahaz to ask for a sign. Ahaz responds that he will not put God to the test.

Continue reading “Ask a sign”

The King’s High Way

15 December 2019; Advent 3A (RCL); Isaiah 35:1-10; Canticle 15; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11

In St. Louis (as probably in many other cities), there is a street called Kingshighway (all one word). In medieval times, a highway maintained by the crown would have been called the King’s highway. There are African American spirituals that refer to the King’s highway (Walking up the King’s highway). This passage from Isaiah refers to the Holy Way (or road). Early Christians understood themselves as the people on the Way (or Road: see Acts 9:2)

Continue reading “The King’s High Way”

Preaching to vipers

8 December 2019; Second Sunday of Advent; Advent IIA (RCL); Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19; Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12

We often forget that all of scripture is politically situated. None of the prophets, or storytellers, or letter-writers, or poets were writing in a vacuum. Religious hope and political aspiration went hand in hand. This is clear in these readings. Isaiah is likely writing at the beginning of a period of religious renewal (although scholars dispute when this passage was written). It is likely that the Northern Kingdom was waning, or had already been overthrown, and priests from Samaria were showing up in Jerusalem.

Continue reading “Preaching to vipers”