Lesson: Isaiah 40:21-31
21 Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in,
23 who brings princes to naught and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.
24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows upon them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble.
25 To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because he is great in strength, mighty in power,
not one is missing.
27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God”?
28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless.
30 Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted,
31 but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
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 from the first chapter from “Second Isaiah.” This chapter that told the Judeans they had “paid their penalty” (v.2) and reassured them that YHWH is the creator of the universe and has power over all nations (vv.22-23). Accordingly, YHWH will restore them to Jerusalem.
YHWH also has power over the heavenly bodies because they are not divine beings and are created by YHWH (v.26). This presentation of YHWH as a cosmic god for all peoples is a shift from the understanding of YHWH as a “national god” only for Israel.
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 9:16-23
16 If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel! 17 For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.
19 For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.
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.
In today’s reading, Paul emphasized that his preaching of the gospel was an “obligation laid on me” (v.16) – just as prophets were “required” to speak the word of God. He then continued to urge the Corinthians to rise above their own sense of “liberty” (freedom from the constraints of ordinary human affairs through “secular wisdom”) so that the Corinthians would participate fully in the gospel of love and enable others to participate also. For Paul, being able to proclaim the gospel was its own reward (v.18).
Paul said that to spread the gospel he became “as a Jew,” “as one under the law,” and as one “outside the law” (v.20-21). Paul – who was a Jewish Jesus Follower — was referring, respectively, to Jews, to “God Fearers” who were not Jews but who observed some of the Jewish Law, and to Gentiles. Paul stated, in effect, that he presented the gospel in terms with which each group might resonate.
His statement that he “became weak” and “became all things to all people” (v.22) reflects his empathetic presentation of the gospel. The reference to “the weak” also related back to the last part of Chapter 8 in which Paul urged the Corinthians not to eat meat sacrificed to idols if this would cause someone whose conscience is weak to fall (8:10-13).
In Paul’s view, the gospel transformed the exclusively Jewish Torah covenant into the Gentile-inclusive Christ’s law. The freedom vis-à-vis the Jewish law that had been transformed into the law in Christ was not a license to immorality but rather a freedom to live righteously.
Gospel: Mark 1:29-39
29 After Jesus and his disciples left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32 That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
The Gospel According to Mark was the first Gospel that was written and is generally dated to the time around the Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. Mark’s Gospel is the shortest gospel and forms the core for the Gospels According to Matthew and Luke (both of which were written around 85 CE). Over 50% of the material in those two Gospels is based on Mark. Because these three Gospels follow similar chronologies of Jesus’ life and death, they are called “Synoptic Gospels” for the Greek words meaning “Same Look/View.”
In today’s reading, there is the story of the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law, which is repeated verbatim in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. She is not encountered again.
With his customary hyperbole, the author says “all” who were sick or possessed by demons were brought to Jesus (v.32) and the “whole city” gathered around the door (v.33).
Scholars are not sure what kinds of ailments are encompassed within “possession by demons” but they might (in today’s vocabulary) include any form of mental illness or aberration.
The reference in verse 39 to “their” synagogues is an anachronism. During Jesus’ lifetime, his followers would have (as Jews) regarded the synagogues as their own just as any other Jews. In last week’s gospel, Jesus was teaching in a synagogue in Capernaum (Mk. 1:21).
It is not until after the Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE and the “Parting of the Ways” in the next 30 years that Matthew and Luke began to refer to the synagogues as “theirs” – meaning the Pharisees, the predecessors of Rabbinic Judaism (for example, Matt. 23:34).