Lesson: Isaiah 6:1-13
1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2 Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
4 The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7 The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” 9 And he said, “Go and say to this people: `Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.’
10 Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.”
11 Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is utterly desolate;
12 until the Lord sends everyone far away, and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land.
13 Even if a tenth part remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak whose stump remains standing when it is felled.” The holy seed is its stump.
The Book of Isaiah is a composite of writings from three distinct periods in Ancient Israel’s history. The writings were compiled from about 700 BCE to about 300 BCE.
Chapters 1-39 are called “First Isaiah” and are the words of a prophet (one who speaks for YHWH – translated as “LORD” in all capital letters in the NRSV) who called for Jerusalem to repent in the 30 years before Jerusalem came under siege by the Assyrians in 701 BCE. “Second Isaiah” is Chapters 40 to 55. In these chapters, a prophet brought hope to the Judeans during the Exile in Babylon (587 to 539 BCE) by telling them they had suffered enough and would return to Jerusalem. “Third Isaiah” is Chapters 56 to 66 in which a prophet gave encouragement to the Judeans who had returned to Jerusalem (which was largely destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BCE) after the Exile had ended.
Today’s reading is usually referred to as “the Call of Isaiah.” To identify years in which events occurred, it was common to use the year of a particular king’s reign. Isaiah’s call is dated to the year King Uzziah of the Kingdom of Judea died (v.1). This was 742 or 733 BCE (scholars are not sure of the chronology), but it was clearly a time when the Assyrian Empire was becoming more dominant. The Assyrians conquered the Kingdom of Israel (the Northern 10 Tribes) in 722 BCE. The ”call” served as an introduction to the prophet’s comments on Judean politics and treaties in chapters 7 and 8.
The scene of Isaiah’s Call was intended to inspire awe and used hyperbole (the hem of the Lord’s robe fills the temple) (v.1) to create that sense. The LORD was surrounded by angels – seraphs (literally, “burning ones”) with six wings, two of which cover their faces (so as not to look upon God), two of which cover their “feet” (a customary euphemism in Hebrew Scriptures for one’s private parts), and two of which to maintain their position around the throne).
Using a customary literary device (and as Moses did when he was called by YHWH), Isaiah protested that he would not be able to speak for the LORD. Isaiah said he had “unclean lips” (v.5). In a metaphorical response, a seraph touched Isaiah’s lips with a live coal (v.7). After this purification, just as Samuel responded to the LORD’s call in 1 Sam. 3, Isaiah responded with the same words: “Here I am, send me” (v.8).
The refusal of persons to listen and understand the prophet’s message (vv. 9-10) “explains” the failure of the people and kings of Judea to change their behaviors. It also assumes (as much of the Hebrew Bible does) that the LORD controls all that happens, including the refusal of people to hear a prophet’s message.
The LORD’s sending “everyone far away” (v.12) is regarded by scholars as a post-exilic addition that referred to the Babylonian Exile from 587 to 539 BCE. The “stump” (v.13) was also a post-exilic reference to the “remnant” – the Judeans who returned to Jerusalem after the Exile.
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
1 I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, 2 through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you — unless you have come to believe in vain.
3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them — though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.
Corinth, a large port city in Greece, was among the early Jesus Follower communities that Paul founded. Its culture was diverse and Hellenistic, and Corinthians emphasized reason and secular wisdom. In addition to Paul, other Jesus Followers also taught in Corinth, sometimes in ways inconsistent with Paul’s understandings of what it means to be a Jesus Follower. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was written in the 50’s (CE) (likely while Paul was in Ephesus) and presented his views on several issues.
It is one of Paul’s most important letters because it is one of the earliest proclamations interpreting Jesus’ death as being on behalf of sinners (v.3), proclaiming his resurrection (v.4), and because it contains the basic formula for celebrating the Lord’s Supper (11:17-34).
In today’s reading, Paul presented an early creed about the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. In saying that “Christ died for our sins,” (v.3) the word “for” can be understood as “on account of” or “because of” or “to atone for.” The phrase that the Christ was raised “in accordance with the scriptures” (v.4) became part of the Nicene Creed.
In discussing the appearances of the risen Christ, Paul asserted that the risen Christ appeared first to Cephas (Peter) and the twelve (v.5) — rather than to women as presented in Matt. 28:9, or Mary Magdeline (Mark 16:9 and John 20:14), or to two disciples at the inn on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:31).
Paul then said the Christ appeared to James (presumably the brother of Jesus) and then to “all the apostles.” (v.7), which seems to contradict his earlier statement about the appearance to “the twelve.” Finally, Paul listed himself as a person to whom the Christ “appeared” though there is no suggestion in the Epistles (or in Acts 8, 22 or 26) that this appearance (presumably Paul’s Damascus Road Experience) was a physical appearance of the Christ.
Although Paul described himself as “the least” of the apostles (v.9), he made clear to the Corinthians that his authority arose from the fact that he was an “apostle.” He asserted that he “worked harder” (v.10) than any of the other apostles.
Today’s reading also served as an introduction to Paul’s extended discussion of “resurrection of the dead” in Chapter 15. The Corinthians were Hellenists who generally accepted the Platonic division between the body and the “immortal soul.” Paul emphasizes that not only the body is resurrected, but the entire person, and Paul used the “resurrection of the dead” to encompass the entirety of resurrection.
Gospel: Luke 5:1-11
1 Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
The Gospel According to Luke is generally regarded as having been written around 85 CE. Its author also wrote the Acts of the Apostles. Both books were written in elegant and deliberatively crafted Greek and presented Jesus of Nazareth as the universal savior of humanity. Both emphasized the Holy Spirit as the “driving force” for events.
The Gospel followed the same general chronology of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as the Gospel of Mark, and more than 40% of Luke’s Gospel was based on Mark. The other portions of Luke include (a) sayings shared with the Gospel According to Matthew but not found in Mark and (b) stories that are unique to Luke such as the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Presentation in the Temple, the Prodigal Son, and the Good Samaritan.
Today’s reading has a number of elements that appear in other gospels. Teaching by the Sea of Galilee (or Gennesaret) appears in the other Synoptic Gospels, as does the call of the fishermen to become “fishers of people” (v.10). The huge draught of fish appeared in the Fourth Gospel in an Epilogue (21:4-7) as a post-resurrection event.
Hearing the “Word of God” (v.1) means hearing the Torah as interpreted by Jesus, and “Master” (v.5) is the word Luke uses for “Rabbi.” The decision to “leave everything” (v.11) included one’s home, business, and family. This decision to leave fishing and follow Jesus also appears in the other Synoptic Gospels.