Reflections on the Readings for Sunday 23 January 2011
Isaiah 8:23-9:3; Psalm 27:1,4,13-14; 1 Corinthians 1:10-13,17; Matthew 4:12-23
“The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” These words of confident hope are easy to pray in seasons of calm; they are much more difficult to say with conviction in the midst of the storm. They are probably most beautiful when they are prayed in that breath-taking moment after we have emerged from ‘shipwreck’ amazed and awed at our deliverance.
Imagine the excitement which Jesus’ early ministry generated. The people of God living in Roman-occupied Galilee had suffering the effects of the building of two new Roman cities, with the land confiscations, heavy taxation and establishment of a foreign elite that came with it. Being far from Jerusalem, beyond the pale as it were, they were distant from the nerve centre of the Jewish faith. If God was going to do something, it probably wouldn’t be here. And then a young man comes preaching that God’s Kingdom is at hand. His stories evoke a sense of possibility, of God with them, forgiving and accepting them. What is more, his actions embody the love and the power of God which he proclaims. Suddenly, they are inspired by a sense of hope. And it seems that, instead of having to make the pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem, God has come to them!
In the ministry of Jesus, the words spoken by the prophet Isaiah centuries before are fulfilled. The land that had historically been the trampling ground of invading armies (see e.g. 1 Kings 15:20 and 2 Kings 15:29) is now the place where Jesus walks. Isaiah had harked back to the day of Midian, referring to Gideon’s victory (Judges 7) where a young man with just a handful of courageous and resolute men had put a vast army to flight. As Jesus calls ordinary fishermen to follow him, the hope begins to take shape: once again God’s power and purpose can be worked through a handful of ordinary people with extraordinary faith. The psalmist longed to behold the beauty of the Lord in the Temple. But, in Jesus, God was found unexpectedly in the very place of hopelessness.
To experience the light and salvation of God in Jesus should be a life-transforming experience. But the Christian community in Corinth reminds us how easy it is to forget the wonder of Jesus’ message and the honour of our calling to follow him. The people of God here had degenerated into a bickering group of different factions, playing the power games of competing loyalties to different ‘gurus’, more impressed by fine-sounding theological arguments than by the power of God that was at work in Jesus’ unconventional ministry. Would it be possible to be caught up in such trivialities and ego-trips if they were still struck with amazement and wonder at the light and salvation that dawned in the teaching and actions, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth?