- 1 Sam 3:1-10(11-20) & Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
- 1 Cor 6:12-20
- John 1:43-51
First Reading: The epiphany to Samuel
For this week's OT reading, the major lectionaries all converge on 1 Samuel 3.
This is a classic epiphany story. A young acolyte is serving in the temple and receives an epiphany. With advice from his aged mentor, the lad is able to correctly identify the nature of the experience. He then receives a terrifying message about the imminent doom of his master's family.
The early chapters of 1 Samuel seem to have served as a model for Luke as he crafted his infancy narratives concerning Jesus and John the Baptist:
- Samuel is conceived after divine intervention.
- The child born is dedicated to God's service.
- The song of Hannah (2:1-10) is remarkably similar to the song of Mary (Luke 1:46-55).
- The young Samuel displays spiritual prowess in the temple, just as Jesus is portrayed in Luke 2:46-47).
- His growth and development proceeds in a way that impresses others and pleases God (cf. Luke 2:40,52).
The story as we now have it is part of a larger narrative thread that concerns the demise of the traditional priestly families in favor of the Zadokite priests, who were ascendant in later times. The unfolding of that story can be discerned in the following passages: 1 Sam 2:12-36; 3:11-14; 4:11-22; 22:6-23; 1 Kings 2:26-27.
Second Reading: Paul and the Christians at Corinth
Over the next several weeks the major lectionaries will focus on passages from Paul's letters to the Corinthian Christians:
1 Cor 6:12-20
1 Cor 7:29-312 Cor 4:3-6
1 Cor 8:1-13
1 Cor 9:16-23
1 Cor 9:24-27
2 Cor 1:18-22
The RC and ECUSA lectionaries will vary slightly from this list.
Corinth was a major center for Paul's missionary efforts. It seems that he exchanged several letters with the Christian community there, and it is not clear just how many letter fragments are preserved in our two scrolls of Corinthian correspondence in the NT. The traditional labels "1 Corinthians" and "2 Corinthians" refer to the relative length of the scrolls, not their chronological relationship to one another. (In the Greek NT they are simply known as "Corinthians A" and "Corinthians B.")
Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza sums up this week's passage as follows:
This is a transitional section that concludes the argument of 5:1-6:11 and at the same time introduces the theme of 7:1-40. Both 6:12-20 and 7:1-40 articulate problems of holiness/purity and sexuality from the perspective of the male members of the community. (Harper Bible Dictionary, 1081)
In Paul's concern to define and protect ritual purity, we seem to be a long way from the radical practices of Jesus who seems to have intentionally violated traditional purity codes.
Holiness and purity codes tend to function in ways that favor the powerful elites in a society while discouraging the common person from aspiring to full participation.
Paul seems to be seeking to balance Christian assertions of equality and liberty with constraints that spring from concerns about sexual misconduct. However, his perspective is very much that of a male. It could be worth considering how a female perspective might frame the problem and shape a response.
In this passage, Paul cites various axioms: "All things are lawful for me" (6:12), "Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food" (6:13), "The two shall be one flesh" (6:16). This process offers some insight into how he formed and defended his opinions. An axiom drawn from Scripture or attributed to "the Lord" could serve as the basis for an authoritative ruling.
Gospel: Jesus and the disciples of John
The major lectionaries turn to John's Gospel as an alternative to Mark this week, although they select different passages from John 1. Both these passages follow on from the previous Sunday's focus on the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. They both develop the theme of other people beginning to sense the spiritual significance of Jesus. Both also present a distinctive Johannine slant on traditions and issues handled differently in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke).
On a historical level, these stories also remind us of the largely hidden connections between the "Baptist movement" associated closely with John the son of Zechariah and the "open table movement" associated with Jesus of Nazareth. All the sources agree that Jesus was a disciple of John before he went his own way: sometimes said to have have happened after the arrest/death of John, at other times while John was still active in his own mission.
The two stories belong together in John. They form a pair of stories that move the narrative from the baptism (without any reference to the testing of Jesus during 40 days in the wilderness) to the scene of Jesus' first miracle (turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana). In John, such an event is called a "sign" (Greek, semeion) rather than a "mighty deed" (Greek, dynamis). This points to one of the distinctive characteristics of John's account of Jesus: the meaning signified is stressed rather than the historical character of the person, place or event. "What does it mean?" displaces the more basic question, "What did he do?"
Disciples find Jesus
The RC lectionary selects the first of this pair of stories. In this passage we see a couple of indications that John's Gospel has its own way of telling the Jesus story.
In the first place, it is the disciples who find Jesus rather than Jesus who calls them to become disciples. This seems to be a theological development that stresses the inherent divinity of Jesus, compared to the "simpler" stories in the Synoptics. John implies that there is something about Jesus that draws others to him (cf. John 12:32).
Secondly, John presents the naming of Simon as "Cephas/Peter" here at the beginning of the narrative. The synoptic tradition also knows of Jesus' nickname for Simon (we might translate it as "Rocky"), but Mark places it much later in the story. Peter will also feature in a special way in the closing narrative (see John 21:15-23).
The "lamb of God" is an unusual phrase, and seems to have been of particular interest to the Johannine tradition. It is used in John 1:29,36 (both times on the lips of John the Baptist). However, in the Book of Revelation we find "the Lamb" used repeatedly as a code name for Jesus: 5:6-14; 6:1,16; 7:9-10,14,17; 8:1; 12:11; 13:8; 14:1,4,10; 15:3; 17:14; 19:7,9; 21:14,22-23,27; 22:13. While there may be some link between the various writings attributed to John (the Gospels, 3 letters, and the Revelation), the literary characteristics of Revelation make it hard to imagine them coming from the same circle of writers.
Jesus and Nathaniel
The next day seems to be a stylistic feature of John. It is used to introduce several episodes: 1:29,35,43. Then in John 2:1 we have "on the third day." Like Mark's model day in the life of Jesus (Mark 1:21-39), John seems to be creating a sequence using material that was not originally related. This episode is set in the Galilee rather than in the region further south where John the Baptist was active.
Nathaniel occurs only in John's Gospel. Lists of 12 disciples/apostles appear only in the Synoptic Gospels (John never provides such a list): Mark 3:16-19; Matt 10:2-4; Luke 6:14-16; Acts 1:13. While the number is constant (and also independently attested by Paul in 1 Cor 15:5), there is no agreement on the names. The ideal of 12 apostolic leaders seems to have been stronger than the historical memory, with communities in different areas supplementing a core list of well-known apostles with people known to them.
One of the essential criteria for apostolic status in the primitive church was to have seen the risen Lord. In some circles Paul was regarded as an apostle, although others contested that claim and Paul sometimes defended his rights with strong language (cf. 2 Cor 10-12). In other circles, Mary Magdalene was regarded as an apostle. As a woman she was eventually squeezed from the collective memory of the church.
Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth. The Gospel of John represents a fascinating stance on the human origins of Jesus. No NT writing has a higher Christology than John, for whom Jesus is the "only Son" and the incarnation of the eternal Word (Gk, logos). Yet the GJohn has no hesitation in naming Joseph as the father of Jesus (here and in 6:42). Similarly, GJohn seems to challenge the tradition (found in Matthew and Luke) that Jesus was born in Bethlehem (here and in 7:40-44). John's dissenting voice on the human origins of Jesus has been largely ignored in the church.
Jesus' brief conversation with Nathaniel is replete with theological titles: Rabbi, Son of God, King of Israel, Son of Man. As an actual conversation the episode makes little sense, but it may preserve an early meditation on Jesus that draws on the biblical story of Jacob's dream (Gen 28:10-17). Raymond E. Brown has suggested that a number of the discourses found in GJohn seem to have originated as extended meditations on a theme. In some cases a tradition known to us from the synoptic tradition may underlie these Johannine discourses.
As an epiphany text, this story invites us to see Jesus as someone whose origins and significance exceed our initial impressions. He is not what we might expect, given his origins. There is more to this person than meets the eye. But those with spiritual knowledge (Greek, gnosis) will perceive his true identity.
Liturgies and Prayers
For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt's web site
Other recommended sites include:
See the following sites for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre: