Year A — Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Commentary for January 30, 2011

Click here for today’s readings

Micah 6:1-8

“What can I say?”

We’ve all either been caught dead-to-rights in some sort of transgression, or we have been the catcher; there is very little doubt as to our guilt and probably no shortage of evidence against us. (“No, hon, I don’t know how the chips and dip got left in front of the big screen after the game on Saturday.”)

There’s that moment of truth when our only admission is, “What can I say? Guilty as charged.”

That’s pretty much what is going on in the climactic chapter of Micah; God has placed the people of God on trial, as it were, and has laid out all of the evidence. The stirring conclusion even dares them to place God on trial if they would like! “What have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me!” (v.3)

As the people of God, we really don’t have much of answer for ourselves. We may have tried all sorts of solutions to please God, or offered any number of excuses for our inaction and unconcern. But, all we really have is: “What can I say?”

That’s when v.8 makes such magnificent sense. “Look, it’s not that hard or complicated: do some justice, love some kindness, and take a walk on the God-side of the street.” No excuses needed.

Psalm 15

One of the young men in my church came up to me this week, excited to tell me about his first outdoor “real” camp-out as a Cub Scout. Brought back fond memories of my own experiences, both as a Scout and as a parent. Nothing like getting outdoors in that tent, cooking over the campfire, swatting bugs all night! (Well, okay…I could do without the bugs.) What makes it all work is the camaraderie, the friendship, the relationships with one another and with the great outdoors.

Not unlike the opening line of the psalm text: “Who may abide in the Lord’s tent? Who gets to live on the holy hill?” The words of Micah are echoed in the response; walking justly, doing what is right, speaking the truth…those kind of things. It is kind of like the Cub Scouts, when you think about it!

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

The Apostle reminds us of the relative foolishness of our wisdom when compared to God’s. We can think that we’ve learned all we need to learn and experienced all we need to experience– and then, almost certainly, life intervenes and reminds us that we — ANY of us — can become foolish in an instant and mess up the careful planning and work of a lifetime.

Best to trust the wisdom of God, which seems in itself a foolish choice to some. A man who died on a cross? This is who you want running your life? What was it Jonathan Edwards sang in the 70’s…”He can’t even run his own life, I’ll be damned if he’ll run mine!” (catch the full lyric here)

The call to follow Christ is a call to radical reorientation and re-commitment of our lives. Nowhere is the statement clearer than in vv.30-31: “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.'” Yeah, well take that, Sunshine!

Matthew 5:1-12

There’s no way I have anything significant or new to add to the vast commentary on “The Beatitudes.” They are classic; read ’em and enjoy and learn. 

What I do often do with a very familiar passage like this one (at least for my own preparation, if not for the hearing of the congregation) is to check out a new translation. I find The Message by Eugene Peterson to be helpful in situations like this. Gives me a “fresh set” of ears, a different cadence by which I might find a glimmer of new understanding.

Here’s just an excerpt of his translation; you can find the whole passage here.

 3“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
 4“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
 5“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

All parents have things they say so often that, eventually, their children can predict what Mom or Dad will say before they say it.
My Daddy’s was; “Is that absolutely necessary?” “Can I go with you?” “Is that absolutely necessary?” “Can I buy a new toy truck?” “Is that absolutely necessary?”
When Daddy said that, I usually wanted to say, “No daddy, I just thought it would be fun; after all, I am a kid,” but because my Daddy was severely sarcasm-challenged, I usually just with the time-honored, “Please, please, can I, can I, pleeeease!?”
The trouble with this parental line, and others like it, is that after hearing them a few hundred times, you stop listening; you no longer really pay attention to what is being said.
We all have the same problem with the Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount. We have heard these words of often that we think we know what Jesus is saying before he says it, and really, we most of us have come to some peace with ourselves that he is calling us to a standard higher then we believe to be humanly possible.
Yes, we accept our forgiveness for our inability to live up to the Sermon on the Mount and occasionally wonder if, after all, such high standards are absolutely necessary.
It’s all well and good to say that the hungry will be blessed but what the hungry really need is to be fed.
The last century has seen more death by cruelty and violence than the previous 19 combined; there are many more who mourn than ever before and heavenly reward is cold comfort in the face of today’s hot pain.
The last time I looked, the meek were still being trampled underfoot, and the strong and unscrupulous were still in possession of most of the earth.
As for those hungering and thirsting after righteousness; well, we see very little of it; most people seem to be hungering and thirsting after the rewards of the flesh, better known as creature comforts, or “a certain lifestyle.”
So we hear what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount and it appears to be far removed from the world as we know it; and we nod our heads and listen politely and think nice thoughts about being meek and hope that reading a 2 minute devotional every morning counts as hungering and thirsting after righteousness; then we go out the door and into the world and about our business.
Our mistake is to think that the Sermon on the Mount is about US, that it is kind of like a graduation speech in which a wise and witty famous person explains to us the 9 secrets of lifestyle success; or “How to Be a Happy Christian.”
Well, the Sermon on the Mount is not Jesus’ Little Instruction Book. It is, rather, a proclamation of the coming of the Kingdom of God. It is a rallying cry aimed at those called by God to become a part of that Kingdom.
Notice where it is in the Gospel of Matthew. Chapter 1 and 2, Jesus is born and grows up. Chapter 3 he is baptized, Chapter 4 he goes into the wilderness and clarifies his mission through the temptations and now, in chapter 5, he comes out of the desert and begins to preach.
In these opening words, Matthew shows Jesus announcing his plan, his program, his priorities for everyone to hear, for everyone to either accept or reject.
Here, Jesus divides the world into two categories: FIRST: the have-nots, those whom the world has beaten up and beaten down, those who have lost both their dignity and their hope.
There is no need to spiritualize these things; this is about cold hard facts. The world is full of poor people, the world is full of people who mourn; the world is teeming with the meek, those whom the powers that be have pushed under and held under so long that they can’t remember up, much less see it.
The world is full of those who seek justice, of those who have been deeply, deeply wronged by pure injustice. These are the people Jesus is talking about.
And the next four verses refer to the rest of us, the haves, and they tell us where we count in this new kingdom.
In a world full of war, we are called to make peace.
In a world full of injustice, we are called to do justice with a pure heart.
In a world full of oppression, we are called to stand with the oppressed and to help them find mercy.
In a world full of people being treated unjustly, we are being called to stand with them and to allow ourselves to be untreated unjustly with them in hopes of relieving their distress.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus unveils, reveals, the Kingdom of God. It is a kingdom that includes all of us.
If we are down, it seeks to pull us up. If we are up, it seeks to pull us into the battle on behalf of the least of these, the brothers and sisters of Christ.
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is not an unreasonable, unattainable, idealistic pipe-dream of a higher standard.
No, it is a clear and unmistakable call for us to join the battle for the Kingdom of God.
This Day Jesus calls us to a life of service and sacrifice, to a life of caring and compassion.
In the words of Micah: we are called to do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with our God.

3 thoughts on “Year A — Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

  1. For such a familiar gospel passage, you have both given me some new insights. I, too, like looking at The Message. I don't always completely agree with his interpretation (and this case is no exception), but it always makes me think and that's good.

  2. Pingback: Year A: The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany (February 2, 2014) | The Lectionary Lab

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