Introduction to the readings for the fifth Sunday in the season of Epiphany,
February 5, 2017.
Our first reading from the ancient texts this morning comes to us from the third portion of the book of Isaiah. Its audience is one thought to be composed of folks returning home to their beloved Jerusalem after some 50 years in exile. Picking up the threads of the past, in what is now a radically changed context, they take up the practice of fasting once more. Listen with care to how Isaiah’s prophetic voice challenges his listeners to think about the practice from the perspective of justice.
A reading from the prophet Isaiah, Chapter 58, verses 1-12
“The fast that God chooses”
Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgements, they delight to draw near to God. “Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast-day, and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?
Is this not the fast that I choose: “to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free? And to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house: when you see the naked, to cover them, and not hide yourself from your own kin?” Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help and he will say,
“Here I am.”
If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.”
Here ends the first reading from our ancient texts this day.
Our responsive hymn this morning is found at More Voices #79 “Spirit Open My Heart”
The gospel reading this morning picks up from where we left off last week. Once again, we are exposed to the growing momentum of Jesus’ ministry with those we might view as the last and the least. Here, on the mountaintop, Jesus offers more teachings to those he calls blessed, how they are called to become partners in the building up of God’s vision of shalom, the Kingdom of Heaven, and how all of that is connected to the golden rule. Listen for where you find yourself in this familiar and beloved reading.
Reading from the fifth chapter of the gospel according to Matthew, verses 13-20
“You are salt; you are light.’’
(Jesus said): “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?
It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.
No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
“Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly, I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Listen to what the Spirit is saying to the Church. Thanks be to God.