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Lectionary Resources

Fifth Sunday After Epiphany

February 6, 2011

Psalm Reading OT Reading Epistle Reading Gospel Reading
Psalm 112:1-9 (10) Isaiah 58:1-9a (9b-12) 1 Corinthians 2:1-12, (13-19) Matthew 5:13-20

Commentary on the Texts

Matthew 5:13-20

There is no Lectionary Commentary for this reading, but there is available a
Voice Bible Study on Matthew 5:1-48.

1 Corinthians 2:1-12, (13-19)

There is no Lectionary Commentary for this reading, but there is available a
Voice Bible Study on First Corinthians: 2:6-3:23

Isaiah 58:1-9a (9b-12)

Isaiah 58 is well used in the Lectionary. Verses 1-9a, with the option of reading through verse 12, are used in Year A for the fifth Sunday after Epiphany. These same twelve verses are used as an alternate Ash Wednesday reading in all three years, while verses 9b-14 are read in Year C for Proper 16 (third week of August). The same commentary will be used for all three readings, with different suggested emphases for the season in the Preaching Paths.

The Context

This reading is from the third section of the Isaiah traditions. Many, especially from conservative and evangelical quarters, have wanted to make the book of Isaiah the battleground for various ideas about the inspiration and interpretation of Scripture. That has sometimes led to bitter divisions about the various sections or authors of Isaiah, and that in turn has led to difficulties in hearing the message of the book itself apart from those ideas or doctrines. It will not be profitable here to enter those debates since our goal is to hear the message of the book. For the purposes of this commentary, we will work from the perspective that this section of the book, chapters 56-66, comes from near the end of the sixth century BC or the first half of the fifth century BC, sometime between 515 and 450 BC. For a survey of the debates, as well as the rationale for placing this section of the book in this time period, see The Unity and Authorship of Isaiah.

The beginning and end of this section's opening chapter set its tone and theological theme.

56:1 Thus says the LORD: Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed.

56:12 "Come," they say, "let us get wine; let us fill ourselves with strong drink. And tomorrow will be like today, great beyond measure."

It is obvious from these verses that the prophet was facing a serious spiritual crisis in the community of Faith at this time. Three things seem clear from these verses. First, there is a problem with the people's ethical actions or seen in the injunction to "maintain justice" (in Hebrew, "keep justice" or "guard justice"). In our modern thinking "justice" tends to be a legal term, but in the prophets and much of the Old Testament justice involved the basic needs, requirements, or even rights of people living together in community. To "keep justice" implies a diligence in seeing that those in positions of power as well as the people themselves did not deprive some members of the community of the basic needs, requirements, and rights that would allow them to function as part of the community. That seems to be at risk here.

Second, there is the promise of the action of God "soon." This implies a discouragement that had set in among the people. This stands in stark contrast to the high expectations and lofty promises of the second section of the book (chs. 40-55). There repeatedly, the prophet had proclaimed a day of new things and a glorious future because God was at work in the world (e.g., 41:17-20, 42:5-9, 43:18-21, etc.). That was in the context of the return from exile that was portrayed as the beginning of a new golden age for Israel.

But it hadn't happened that way. The Israelites had been allowed to return home after 70 or so years of exile in Babylon (538 BC). They had expected God to come and establish his dominion over all the earth. But times were hard and the future was anything but certain (see Persian Period and Return from Exile). It had been nearly 100 years now, and there was no new kingdom and no golden age (see comments on Isaiah 65:17-25). These people had never seen God's work in history and had begun to wonder whether it was worth serving God (cf. Mal 3:14-15). Apathy and discouragement had dimmed their vision of the future.

The third feature of this text reveals the next step beyond apathy. There was a spirit of cynicism beginning to replace hope. The final verse of the chapter (58:12) is a derisive and cynical mocking of the prophetic promises of a better future. They had heard those promises all their lives, and no longer believed them. This is the real reason for the ethical problems and the heart of the crisis. The people were going through the motions of religion expecting God to reward their external piety. Yet they no longer really believed that it made much difference and therefore saw no connection between their ethical behavior and their forms of piety. It is in this crisis of apathy and cynicism that our reading has its impact.

The Text

The passage can be understood in various arrangements of subunits, as reflected by the expanded reading that adds verses 9c through 12. Also, verses 13 and 14 are directly tied to this passage in context although not included in the reading. However we divide the passage for analysis, the flow of thought is clear and can be followed by the shift in speakers and addressees. The expanded reading (vv. 9c-12) fleshes out the major points, but does not add anything substantial to the basic theological perspective of the unit.

The passage opens with God giving instructions to someone. While the person is not named, the simile of a trumpet and shouting suggest that the metaphor is of God speaking to a prophet in the role of a king's herald (cf. Isa 40:1-2, 9, 1 Sam 13:3). The topic is the sin and attitudes of the people (vv. 1-2). The people respond to God with a complaint (v. 3a). God then addresses the people directly, first by challenging their actions (vv. 3b-4), then by pointing to what they should be doing (vv. 5-10), and finally concluding with a future promise as the result of their faithfulness (vv. 11-12). In the larger unit, the final verses of the chapter (vv. 13-14) reiterate a particular example of their faithfulness as the necessary conditions for a future restoration.

There are two major shifts in the use of pronouns in the passage that do not appear well in English translation. The first is important for understanding some of the overtones of the passage. The first four verses, as expected, use mostly first and second person forms, singular when used of God (I, you [sing]) and the herald (you [sing]), and plural (we, you [pl], your [pl], they, their) referring to "my people" ("people" is a collective singular in Hebrew, referenced by plural pronouns, e.g., Isa 62:12).

However, in verse 5c the plural second person pronouns shift to singular (you [sing]) throughout the rest of the passage with the exception of verse 6a ("you [pl] will break every yoke," changed to singular in the Greek Septuagint). Some have suggested a change in the person addressed, the first verses directed to the people and the later verses to a particular leader, perhaps Persian. However, since there is no indication of another person in the passage, this shift should be seen as indicating something else.

Verse 5a is often translated in a way that obscures the origin of this shift in pronouns. For example, NRSV translates the phrase "Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself?" However, the Hebrew uses a singular noun here that, in context, replaces "my people" of verse one as the main referent. The verse in Hebrew reads, "Would not this be the fast I would choose, a day for a man [Heb: 'adam, generic, "human being"] to humble himself." This term 'adam becomes the referent for the singular pronouns following verse five.

Idiomatically, 'adam also means "people," but in much broader scope than "my people" of verse one. It widens the scope to all humanity, not just God's people. That suggests that while the first part of the reading is directed specifically to Israel as "my people," the last part of the reading places this message before the world. It is not quite a universalizing of the message or abstracting it into timeless truth, and we will need to be cautious at this point. But it does place the question of what is pleasing to God that forms the heart of this passage into a much broader view of the world.

The second shift in pronouns is much more typical of prophetic passages, and so does not carry any special meaning here. The first person pronouns of God speaking directly (I) give way to third person pronouns that refer to God by someone else (he, 8bff; cf. 2b). The prophet, speaking or writing this message for God, can move back and forth between first and third person pronouns because the idea behind prophetic authority is that the prophet's speech is God's speech through the prophet, a theological confession not a literal statement about who is speaking.

The passage begins with strong words about the people's rebellion and sins (v. 1), and continues with accusations of unrighteousness and disobedience (v, 2). This announcement clearly defines the gravity of what the people are doing. Yet, the first part of verse two seems to portray the people is a positive light. They seek after God, ask for his justice, and "delight" to know his ways and to draw near to God. They fast and claim to humble themselves before God (v. 3). We are immediately faced with the question around which this passage revolves. How can a people who seem so intent on serving God be considered so rebellious and sinful? One key to this question is the interplay of several words throughout the passage that serves to direct the answer. We will return to these in a moment.

The immediate context is the issue of fasting. The people had called a fast, and wondered why it seemed to have no effect on God (v. 3). While we sometimes associate fasting with personal acts of piety and devotion, in the OT fasting was usually associated with negative circumstances, such as in morning or in the face of some calamity from which the people needed deliverance or God's presence (for example, Jud 20:26; 7:6; 2 Sam 12:16, etc.; note v. 9b). Jeremiah even equated fasting with crying out to God (Jer 14:2).

From this perspective, fasting could be easily perverted into a way to manipulate God into doing what the worshipper wanted. In a formula that reduced worship of God to the level of magic, they apparently assumed that if they fasted, God should respond and addresses the situation that prompted the fasting. And so they were willing to challenge God because he had not performed in response to their fast (v. 3).

Zechariah had already confronted this very problem as the people regularly fasted in commemoration of the destruction of Jerusalem and the murder of Gedeliah (Zech 7:5; cf. Jer 52:12-13; 2 Kng 25:23-25):

Say to all the people of the land and the priests: When you fasted and lamented in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted?

The implication is clearly that they were not fasting as part of devotion to God, but for their own interests. They expected God to improve their situation because they had fasted (Zech 7:2). That seems to be the case in Isaiah as the prophet makes nearly the same observation: "you serve your own interest on your fast day" (v. 3c). They may have been encouraged by aspects of the tradition that seemed to support this way of thinking, for example Psalm 37:4-6:

Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. He will make your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your cause like the noonday.

Yet, even as this psalm suggests, there is a contingency to this promise: "commit your way to the Lord." As will become more evident in this passage, and addressed directly in the following chapter (see comments on Isa 59), the problem does not lie with God but with the people even as they are "delighting" in their own religious actions.

But there is even more to the problem than just magical thinking. The use of the word "delight" (Heb: haphets or chaphets, pronounced with a hard ch as in chord) in this context highlights a different dimension of the issue. While that term could be used for genuine reverential piety, as in the psalm above, it could also be used in negative contexts to describe what displeases God (e.g., 1 Sam 15:22, Isa 1:11, Ezek 24:21) or what pleases humans beings in opposition to God (for example, Gen 3:6, Prov 7:18, Mal 2:17).

In this sense, this passage uses the word delight sarcastically to illustrate that the people only delight in God because it makes them happy. They have a vested interest in the fasts, and so enjoy them as part of their own religiosity that is unconnected to being the people of God in the world (cf. Am 4:4-5). They enjoy the fast, not because it expresses devotion and service to God, but because it serves their own interests. To use a modern phrase, theirs is a "feel-good" religion. The question surfaced earlier: How can a people who seem so intent on serving God be considered so rebellious and sinful? The answer is beginning to unfold here. They are not really serving God at all, even though all the trappings of service to God are there. They are serving themselves in the guise of serving God.

The response from God is a clear and unequivocal rejection of such an approach to God (vv. 3c-4). He will not be manipulated by magic, and he will not accept their "delight" as righteousness (v. 2). They cannot delight in religion and assume that their own pleasure and self interest fulfill the obligations of righteousness and justice. While they think that fasting will get the attention of God and motivate him to meet their expectations, God will simply ignore such crude attempts at manipulation (v. 4).

A second important dimension of their sin is introduced in verses five and six by the double use of the term choose. In contrast to the fast that the people practiced for their own interests, God would choose (Heb: bachar) a different kind of fast, expressed in two dimensions of attitude and action. This moves to the theological heart of the passage. It is obvious here that while the immediate context of the passage is about fasting, it is not really the issue. It is only a symptom, a symbol, of something far more important.

The "fast" that God chooses is not a fast at all in any traditional sense of the term. Yet the fast that God chooses moves to the very kind of religious devotion expressed in action that the people pretended they were carrying out in the fast. God's choice of religious devotion is not what "delights" the people and meets their own needs, acceptable to them but unacceptable to God. God's choice of religious devotion is what meets the needs of others and is therefore acceptable to him.

At stake here is the very nature of what it means to be God's people in the world. They have not understood that truth. First, God chooses an attitude of humility before him, a willingness to prostrate oneself before God in obedient faithfulness (v. 5). They had claimed to be humble (v. 3b). But they could not have been humble when they were delighted in acting in ways that were not acceptable to God. The very fact that they seem so blissfully unaware of God's displeasure with their delight in God reveals that their humility is false.

While there is certainly a place for joy and rejoicing in being God's people, unless it is grounded in humility, celebration rings empty, arrogant, and pretentious. To "delight" in God, and yet not choose the same things for devotion that God would choose is to redefine what it means to be God's people in terms of human goals and ends. In reality, it is to redefine God himself in terms of human self-interest. There can be no humility in delighting in what pleases them if it does not please God. That is nothing more than the "original" sin, wanting to become God and set their own agenda and rules in the world (Gen 3:5). It is only in God's choice of religious devotion that their response to God can become acceptable.

God's second choice is for the practice of justice in the world (vv. 6-7). This is not an abstract appeal for cosmic justice nor is it to support the cause of justice as an undefined principal. This is a call to practice on a daily basis, in the nitty-gritty of life, the kind of justice that meets the most basic human needs of the powerless and oppressed and hurting of the world.

There can be no mistaking the language in which this "fast" that God chooses is cast. This is the language of the exodus, when Israel was the people suffering under injustice, bound under the yoke of slavery, oppressed by the lords of the land. And when they had cried out to God for relief, he had heard their cries and had entered human history to bring freedom and deliverance as an act of grace.

But this is even more than the language of the exodus. This is also the language of the return from Babylonian exile. Israel had failed once before as God's people and faced annihilation at the hands of a foreign oppressor. They had suffered horribly at the hands of invaders and been taken to the very brink of extinction as a people. Yet again God's grace had entered human history and brought them back to the land and given them a second chance at being his people (see OT History: The Persian Period and Return from Exile).

In both historical circumstances God had dealt with the people in terms of grace, choosing them as his people. And then he had chosen them to respond to that grace by acting in the world in a way that reflected that same grace. They were called by the torah, God's instructions for living in the world as his people, to treat each other and other people as God had treated them.

When they were treated unjustly and cried out, God had responded to their cries (cf. Psa 137). When they were slaves and exiles God had freed them. When they were bound under the yoke of oppression, God had loosed their bonds. When they were hungry and thirsty in the wilderness God had provided them food and drink. When they were naked God had provided them clothes that did not wear out. When they were homeless and wandering in the wilderness and exiled in Babylon God had brought them into the land. They had experienced all of these things in their history. And God had expected the Israelites to learn from all those experiences as he revealed himself through them the nature of the God whom they served. It was the nature of that God that defined who they were to be as his people.

So they were expected to live out in the world the same mercy and grace that they had received from God. To be his people in the world was not really about taking delight in fasting, nor even in taking delight in God, if that only meant to do what pleased them without considering whether that fulfilled who they were as God's people. As clearly as any place in Scripture, this passage declares that to be God's people in the world means to demonstrate that relationship with God by living in the same grace relationship with others.

Here, being God's people is clearly defined both in terms of specific acts of grace toward the needs of others (food, clothing, shelter), as well as in terms of the larger issues of oppression and injustice that God's people were actively to oppose (loose the bonds of injustice, undo the thongs of the yoke, let the oppressed go free). To those two aspects the prophet also added the obligations of relationship within families (v. 7d), as if to suggest that being God's people was not just something "out there" for the needy stranger or member of the community. It also applied in the closest of relationships with family and kin (cf. 9:20-21). There was no aspect of life that fell outside of what God would "choose" to be an "acceptable" response to his grace and faithfulness to him.

If this were not compelling enough to define the role of God's people in the world, the prophet picks up a significant metaphor used earlier in the book of Isaiah. Drawing on the imagery of light, this passage turns to the purpose for which the Israelites existed as God's people in the world. While we must be careful here not to introduce alien concepts into the text, in a real sense this moves to the mission of Israel as God's people in the world.

Isaiah of Jerusalem had earlier used the contrast of darkness and light to describe the threat of the Assyrian invasions and the hope for a secure future beyond. As the northern territories of Israel fell to Assyria, and indeed the Northern Kingdom was about to be swallowed up, Isaiah spoke of the gloom and deep darkness that had fallen over the land (Isa 5:30, 8:21-22; see OT History: Assyrian Dominance, especially the reign of Ahaz). And yet Isaiah could envision a new act of God in history, a new act of deliverance and restoration consistent with the God of the exodus, in which he would deliver his people and open up new possibilities for them. So Isaiah spoke of a new light dawning, a new day coming in which God would be revealed to the world and Israel would be vindicated as his people (9:1-5; cf. 29:18).

After the destruction of Jerusalem and the Southern Kingdom, a later prophet of the Isaiah tradition picked up the same metaphor of light and expanded it. He included not only God's grace coming into a dark and seemingly hopeless situation, but also God's purpose in the world for his people in the figure of the servant of God (42:6-7).

I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.

This reflects the seminal promise to Abraham that his "descendants" would be the means by which all people of the earth would be blessed (Gen 12:3). Israel's purpose in the world had never been to be delighted in God, but to be the means by which God would be shown to the world. Israel was to be God's light to the rest of the world, reflecting to them the light of God's mercy and grace (note the warning in 50:10-11 against trying to make their own light!).

It is a too easy to allegorize the darkness and blindness of Isaiah 42:6-7 (cf. 58:10c) into the "darkness of sin" and move the whole mission of God's people into a spiritual realm. But we must first hear this for what it says, especially in light of the consistent emphasis in the Isaiah tradition on meeting the immediate physical needs of humanity and actively seeking justice for the oppressed. In this sense, darkness and blindness have in view both physical blindness (for example, 35:5) as well as other aspects of human suffering that need attention (for example, Isa 1:16-17, 3:14-15, 5:7, 20-23, etc.). In Isaiah and elsewhere, both darkness and blindness are frequently metaphors for lack of understanding (for example, 29:9-10, 42:16; cf. Jer 5:21) , so there are also overtones of Israel's own darkness in not knowing who they are as God's people (cf. 42:18-20).

It is against this background in the Isaiah traditions that our reading has its strongest impact. The following verses (vv. 8-12, actually extending past the reading through vv. 13-14) use the metaphor of light in much the same manner as chapter 42. After first rejecting the "delight" of the people in their own fast as self-centered and empty, God chooses a different "fast" that reflects more nearly the nature of God and what they should be as his people.

Verse 8 begins with a strong temporal adverb (Heb: 'az) that has the force of "when this has been done." That is, when the people have responded to God and his grace properly by living appropriately in the world as his people, when that has been done their light will break forth in the world. On one level, this could be a reference to the light of God's deliverance, as in 9:1. But the immediate issue in chapter 58 is not that the Israelites are being oppressed, but that they are the oppressors. They do not need the light at this point, they need to become the light! The mission of God's people as light to the nations is to live as God's people in ways that mirror the nature of God.

That does not eliminate the need for their own vindication in the world (v. 8b). But it shifts the emphasis from what they expect to be done for them (v. 3) to what they should be doing for the world (vv. 5-6). They can only be the light to the nations, can only fulfill their mission as the people of God, as they live out God's grace in the world. There is clear indication that the only real future they can have as God's people is to be faithful to that mission. They have complained that God has not seen and has not noticed them and their worship (v. 3). In a direct correspondence, the prophet, in a second use of the same temporal adverb, affirms that when that has been done, God will answer and will make his presence known among them (v. 9).

The concluding verses (vv. 9c-12) reiterate in similar language the same points already made. The grammatical construction in these verses is an "if . . .then" form (Heb: im . . . ve): "If you remove . . .if you offer . . . then your light . . ." This same "if-then" construction is repeated in vv. 13-14 (note the use of a different word for "delight" in v. 14, Heb: 'abag). Again, the metaphor of light speaks of their mission to the world (v. 10c). Unlike the preceding section, here there is direct contrast of their light with the gloom and darkness around them. However, unlike this contrast made earlier in the book, the darkness is not a reference to external threat from invading armies. Here the darkness is the injustice and suffering in the world, a darkness that they could help dispel as God's people by exercising humility and practicing justice. They have been created as a people to shine light into that darkness!

The concluding verses (vv. 11-12) clearly connect Israel's own future as a people, their wants and needs and dreams for a better day for themselves and their nation, with carrying out their mission as people of God. If they want security and prosperity, if they want the city and its walls rebuilt, if they want normalcy to return to their lives, then they need to return to their mission. We should not read this as an absolute promise that if they do certain things, then God is obligated to respond with certain actions. That would be the very "fast" thinking that God had already rejected. But it is clear that their future lay not in what delighted them, but in what God chose for them. And the entire context suggests that would begin with hearing the cries of the oppressed, hungry, homeless, naked, poor, powerless, voiceless, anyone bound by injustice and hopelessness, and then responding out of their own experience of grace. To look at it from the other direction, their treatment of the least powerful and most needy people in their midst would be a revealing testimony of their faithfulness to God.

Preaching Paths

The season of the church year between Epiphany and Lent focuses on the mission of the church in reaching others by "showing" Jesus as the Savior of all people. As the old man Simeon held the infant Jesus in the Temple, he said that the child would be "a light of revelation to the nations" (Lk 2:32; cf. John 1:9, 8:12). God had again entered history to bring light to a darkened world. And yet Jesus also told his disciples that they were to be a light to the world (Matt 5:14). They experienced the light of God's grace in history and were commissioned as his people to take the light to others.

In this context, the Preaching Paths for this reading lead us to hear the message of Isaiah as a definition of what it means to be the people of God in the world in light of Jesus' commission to the church. To do so, we do not have to "Christianize" the Old Testament passage, only to hear what it tells us about God and being God's people in the world, for that mission has not really changed between BC and AD!

The negative dimensions of the text need to be heard from the beginning as a warning about misconstruing what is pleasing to God. The idea of a "feel good" religion is not confined to ancient Israel, no more than was the failure of Israel to practice justice. The message of Isaiah 58 is not for the sinners "out there." It is for the rebellious sinners who are part of God's people, and yet who have not yet understood what that means and the responsibilities it carries.

We who claim to be people of God need to hear this text soberly and humbly. A sure sign that the text is directly applicable to us is our immediate reaction that it does not really apply to us because we are already righteous. It is that very kind of elitist thinking that this text challenges. We cannot claim that we are already doing the things of religion, that we are already "fasting," whatever dimension of religious devotion that might entail, and so that excludes us from being the ones to whom this message is directed. If we are to hear this text as Scripture for us today, we need to acknowledge that it clearly connects what we do in the world as God's people, with how we treat others in the name of God, with our own welfare as his people. It is a sobering thought that somehow our actions in the world affect our own spiritual welfare.

We as Christians want to speak a lot about grace. And we should, simply because so much of Scripture and our own community history speak of it. We should never allow any legalisms of religiosity or the dogmas of the institutional church to limit the abounding grace of God available to any and all no matter their merit.

And yet, there is more than unconditional grace. To stop there, as some religious traditions have done, simply does not take seriously enough why that grace is given to us. We sometimes settle too quickly for being "delighted" in God, without going on to realize that being delighted in God because it makes us happy may be its own form of sin. We have a reason for being as God's people in the world! That grace of God calls us to respond. This text calls us to lay aside our own delight in God, and move on to allow God to choose for us what is acceptable to him rather than delighting in what pleases us.

And yet for this season of the year, we need to hear this text not as a condemnation but as a challenge, as a clear definition of what we are to be about as the people of God in the world. We have encountered God in our own history as a people and as individuals. Having experienced God's grace, we are eager to proclaim the unconditional love of God that we cannot earn, that we do not deserve, and that we cannot repay!

But at this point if we are not careful we will slip back into the same feel-good religion even in the way we proclaim the good news. We have tended, especially in the evangelical traditions, to define proclamation as preaching and revivals and altar calls. Those are important. But that is not what this passage calls us to do as God's people. This passage suggests that there is more to being the people of God in the world than convincing other people to "do church" like we do it, or to get people to experience God like we have experienced him. In fact, there is no demand in this text that we convince people to do anything. There is only the call that we fulfill in the world on the level of human need what we have experienced of God's grace.

No more than in ancient Israel can we simply spiritualize this and say to the hungry and the poor and the naked that we will be praying for their souls. We are called as God's people to meet the needs of a hurting world on the level of those needs, now. If we have really experienced the love and grace that we want so loudly to proclaim, how could we turn a deaf ear to the cries of oppressed slaves while "delighting" in the God who himself hears those cries? It is simply not enough to rejoice that our name is written in heaven, as important as that is. We are called to more. We are called to nothing less than being the light to the world in all aspects of life.

It is too easy to simply see the magnitude of the task and despair of doing anything. It is true that we will probably never change the world for the good, simply because evil is so prevalent and human beings tend to love the darkness more than the light (John 3:19). But that does not alter what God has called us to do in the world. We cannot turn our backs on the needs around us simply because there is so much need! As the old saying express so well, "It is I better to light one candle than to curse the darkness."

That is what this text is about as it is heard in this season of the year. It is a call for us to stop being delighted with the small circle of light in which we sit while we cover our ears to the cries of those who suffer in the darkness. This text calls us to take our light into the darkness, as God has sent his own Light into the darkness. And it is not enough to bring the light if we are not willing to minister to the needs that we find in the darkness, even if those needs are as simple as food and clothing!

If we want to have a future as his people, then we will choose what is acceptable to God and find delight not in our own fasts, but in those "fasts" that God chooses. God's choice of religious devotion is what meets the needs of others and is therefore acceptable to him.

-Dennis Bratcher, Copyright © 2011, Dennis Bratcher, All Rights Reserved
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This Sunday in the Church Year

Year A

Epiphany 5

February 4 to 10

Season:

Ordinary Time,
Sundays after Epiphany, or
Epiphany Season

Color this Sunday:

Green or Church Colors;
if Last Epiphany and celebrated as
Transfiguration Sunday: White/Gold

OT Reading also used:

Isaiah 58:9b-14:
Year C, Proper 16
Isaiah 58:1-12:
Years ABC, Ash Wednesday

Related Pages: