14 January 2018
Second Sunday after Epiphany
Epiphany 2B (RCL)
1 Samuel 3:1-20
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
The first reading and the Gospel passage both have to do with stories of call; but the epistle reading sticks out like a sore thumb. Prostitution and fornication are not always happy topics for sermons! I realize we are now in “ordinary time” and the epistle is not chosen thematically, but perhaps we could have started at some other point in 1 Corinthians?
However, there is more of a connection than at first sight appears. Unfortunately, English has lost the distinction between the second person singular and second person plural. In Jacobean English, thou (thee, thine, thy) was the singular form and you the plural form. Also, we need to know that prostitution often happened in the worship of fertility gods and goddesses. To go to a prostitute was to worship another god. Likewise, prostitutes were probably foundlings raised for the purpose, or slaves or prisoners of war – they had not made a career choice. When we hear this passage of 1 Corinthians, we hear it as an admonition to avoid sexual immorality. In fact, the situation was (and is) much more complicated.
Paul tells us that every other sin a person can commit is ‘outside the body,’ but that the fornicator sins against the body itself. Notice that the fornicator does not sin against his or her own body, but against the body itself. Paul intends a dual meaning to body here. He goes on to make his meaning explicit. “Did you not know that your (plural) body (singular) is a temple of the Holy Spirit among you?” Visiting a temple prostitute entangles the whole community in the sin. We could extend that line of reasoning to any other sin seen systemically.
The word Paul uses for Temple refers to the inmost chamber where the god dwelt. Both the reading from Samuel (directly) and John (indirectly) refer to God’s dwelling. Samuel is sleeping in the Lord’s house when he receives his call. He doesn’t recognize his call at first — it takes three tries. And when he does hear, what he hears is not happy. In John’s Gospel, Philip calls Nathaniel to ‘come and see’ – the same invitation Jesus issued to the two disciples of John the Baptist when they asked him where he remained. Jesus tells Nathaniel, “truly I say to you (all) that you (all) will see greater things than these. You will see the angels of god ascending and descending on the son of man.
We, the readers of the Gospel are invited to come and see; and the only place we see angels in John’s Gospel is when Mary Magdalene sees the two angels in the empty tomb. These are the cherubim from the inner sanctum of the Temple. In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ community replaces the Temple as the meeting place between God and humanity.
Taking that insight along with Paul’s insight that the act of any one of the community implicates the entire community, the way we live in the world serves as the meeting place between God and humanity. Our living and worshiping as the Body of Christ entangles all the economies and communities in which we live with the divine presence. Nathaniel is the anti-Jacob (Israel) as he is guileless while Jacob tricked everyone he met. Nathaniel (and we) shall see Jacob’s vision, but without guile. Scrappy Jacob was always self-interested and wrestled with God and was not overcome, a perfect type for the scrappy nation that bore his name. Nathaniel (gift of God) will see the angels of God ascending and descending on all of humanity.