1 Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The LORD called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb, he named me.
2 He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away.
3 And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
4 But I said, “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the LORD, and my reward with my God.”
5 And now the LORD says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the LORD, and my God has become my strength–
6 he says, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
7 Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers, “Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”
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 Judeans who had returned to Jerusalem (which was largely destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BCE) after the Exile ended.
Today’s reading is from “Second Isaiah” and repeats many themes from last week’s reading (42:1-9). Today’s reading is sometimes called the second of the four “Servant Songs” that are in Isaiah from Chapters 42 to 53. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary notes that chapter 49 represented a significant shift in the preaching of the prophet. No longer mentioned are Cyrus, the foolishness of idols, or YHWH’s being in control of history. The prophet now addressed Zion and Jerusalem instead of Israel and Jacob.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible points out that the servant in today’s reading (like Jeremiah) was predestined to service before birth (v.5) and will fulfill his mission by the spoken word. The servant therefore received a prophetic call and, though conscious of the potential for failure, is confident of final vindication.
The overarching themes of the Servant Songs are that Israel had suffered but will be restored and reunified. Israel will be a “light to the nations [pagans, foreigners, Gentiles]” (v. 6). The reading concluded with statements that YHWH is faithful and chose Israel for a special role (v.7.
Although the text identified the servant in this Servant Song as Israel (v. 3), the word “Israel” is not present in verse 3 of some Hebrew manuscripts and may be an addition. If so, in this Servant Song, the “servant” (who has a mission on behalf of Israel) may be the prophet himself or an individual or group within Israel that will work for the restoration of Israel.
The author of the Gospel According to Mark adopted many of the motifs of Psalm 22 and of the Suffering Servant Songs (particularly the 4th Servant Song in Chapters 52 and 53) to describe the sufferings of Jesus of Nazareth in the Crucifixion.
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,
2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, 5 for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind – 6 just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you – 7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8 He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Corinth, a large port city in Greece, was the heart of Roman imperial culture in Greece. It 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 meant to be a Jesus Follower. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was written in the mid-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 of Jesus’ death on behalf of sinners (“for our sins” 15:3) and his resurrection (15:4-5). The letter also contains the basic formula for celebrating the Lord’s Supper (11:23-26).
Today’s reading from the opening chapter includes a salutation that was customary in ancient Greek letters (vv. 1-3). The Jewish Annotated New Testament points out that referring to God as “Father” (v.3) had become an increasingly common Jewish usage.
The salutation was followed by a thanksgiving for the grace of God given to the Jesus Followers in Corinth through Christ Jesus (vv.4-7). Ever mindful that he was not one of the original 12 apostles, Paul asserted (again) that he also was called to be an “apostle” (v.1). Using a clever rhetorical device, Paul praised the Corinthians for their speech and knowledge (v.5) and spiritual gifts (v.7) as a prelude to discussing these qualities more critically in the body of the letter. In the same verse, Paul noted that they were waiting for the “revealing” (apocalypsis in Greek) – an anticipation of an eschatological revelation. In a call for unity, Paul reminded them that they were called into “the fellowship of the Son” (v.9).
Having praised the Corinthians and reminded them of the gifts they had received from God, then Paul launched into his arguments in the verses that follow today’s reading and appealed that “there be no divisions among you” (v.10).
29 John saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).
The Fourth Gospel is different in many ways from the Synoptic Gospels. The “signs” (miracles) and many stories in the Fourth Gospel are unique to it, such as the Wedding at Cana, Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, and the Raising of Lazarus.
The chronology of events is also different in the Fourth Gospel. For example, the Temple Event (“Cleansing of the Temple”) occurred early in Jesus’ Ministry in the Fourth Gospel, rather than late as in the Synoptic Gospels. In the Synoptic Gospels, the Last Supper was a Passover Seder, but in the Fourth Gospel, it occurred the day before the first day of Passover so that Jesus (who was described as “the Lamb of God” in the Fourth Gospel) died at the same time lambs were sacrificed at the Temple for the Passover Seder to be held the night he died.
Most scholars agree that the Gospel was written by an anonymous author around 95 CE, at a time when the “parting of the ways” between the Jesus Follower Movement and Rabbinic Judaism was accelerating.
Today’s reading is John’s version of the Baptism of Jesus. It is not a description of the Baptism itself but is presented as John the Baptist’s recounting of the event. Following the Gospel’s theme of calling Jesus the “Lamb of God,” the author has JTB use this appellation twice (v.29 and v.36). This imagery was taken from the Passover lamb that was sacrificed in Exodus, the blood of which was sprinkled on the doorposts and lintels of the Israelites so that the Angel of Death would pass them by (Exodus12). The Passover Lamb was not a sacrifice to obtain remission or forgiveness of sin; it was a symbol of freedom and one of the central events that led to the freedom of the Israelites from slavery.
The Fourth Gospel dealt with the “embarrassment” of Jesus’ Baptism by JTB by having JTB declare that Jesus “ranks ahead of me” (v.30).
It is not clear if the author of the Fourth Gospel knew the story in Luke’s Gospel about the family relationship between JTB and Jesus, because JTB says twice that “I did not know him” (v. 31 and v.33). Consistent with the high Christology of the Fourth Gospel, JTB’s testimony about Jesus goes further than any of the Synoptic Gospels in JTB’s saying: “this is the Son of God” (v.34).
Unlike the accounts in Matthew 11 and Luke 7 in which JTB sent disciples to Jesus to ask if he was “the one who is to come,” in the Fourth Gospel, JTB saw that Jesus is the Messiah when the Spirit/Dove descended upon Jesus and remained (v.32), symbolizing Jesus’ permanent relationship with the Father.
The second part of the reading described two of John’s disciples (Andrew and another) leaving JTB to follow Jesus, and Andrew’s telling his brother, Simon, that he had found the Messiah (v.41). The parenthetical translations by the author of the words “Rabbi” (v.38) and “Cephas” (v.42) show that the author’s intended audience was Gentile.
The New Jerome Biblical Commentary notes that the term “Rabbi” was not common in Jesus’ time (the early part of the First Century CE), and The Jewish Annotated New Testament notes that “rabbi” originally meant “my master” and later became known as a person qualified to pronounce on matters of Jewish law and practice.