Fourth Week of Epiphany

& archive, Year C.

Lord Jesus Christ,
You see how bent over we are
Under the weight of the world’s habits.
Unburden us
Clear the path within our soul
Lift up our heads to see you
Our hearts to love you
And welcome You.

Fourth Week in Epiphany

The lectionary reading this week takes us into two places of listening and worship: first, we return to the temple in Jerusalem, and then we are brought back into the synagogue in Nazareth where we were listening as Jesus first reads a passage he has chosen – from Isaiah – and then begins to speak.

So why this interruption – to be in Jerusalem? Because as we make our way into the temple with Mary and Joseph as they present Jesus to God – offering him to God for God’s call and purposes on his life – we are led behind the scenes of this priestly ritual into the realm of God’s great reality, and how we struggle to embrace God’s ways.

First, be present in the temple. Just as this parental couple are making the prescribed offering of two birds, an old man and woman shuffle toward them. Who invited them to be present at this service of dedication? We are let in on the movement and work of God here – the Holy Spirit prompted them to come. The old man, Simeon, has waited a lifetime for this moment – for God had assured him that he would see the Messiah before he died. And now, here is this promised One. Simeon sees, knows, and with great tenderness and gratefulness takes the little baby in his arms. Listen as he speaks to God over the child. And then listen again as he blesses Joseph and Mary, and leads them behind the scenes into the realm of God’s work: where God’s light shines – and where God’s revelation will be both loved and opposed. Where our thoughts are brought out into the open to be seen for what they are in the presence of God. And where opposition will bring pain, suffering – in an attempt to shut down, to hide the truth this child carries. To do away with him.
The elderly widow, Anna, now speaks words of comfort to Mary and Joseph – and to us: this child will bring redemption – will bring us back, will usher in the new and gracious Order of God in the world. This is what the resistance is about.

As we return to the synagogue in Nazareth, we also bring this greater awareness with us – the bigger picuture of God’s purposes and the knowing that within ourselves we both long for peace and home-coming, and we resist. Now we hear the conversation between the Nazareth congregation and Jesus. The people gathered here knew Jesus as a boy: “Joseph’s son.” As Jesus speaks they wonder at what he says: such gracious words coming from within this local boy–now become man. But the wonder soon turns to astonishment and indignation: “This fellow is nothing more than a son of Joseph ! He may be a fine preacher, but he is presuming to speak as a prophet!” The acrid smoke of contempt begins to fill the air.

Jesus is aware of their reaction and speaks what the townsfolk are thinking: since in their eyes he is just a common man like them. If he makes a claim to be the Messianic prophet, he may not make that boast unless he can perform miracles—they are clamoring for a sign. If no such miraculous sign is given, then surely he cannot be God’s chosen one. Jesus reads their thoughts, discerns the way in which contempt is taking control of the group reaction. In response he says, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his own town.”

In the face of growing rejection by the persons he knew from childhood in this town of Nazareth, people who had known him and his family, children-now-adults whom once he had played with, Jesus leans into a deeper place of identity and being known: God’s direction for his life and ministry. The scripture he had read from Isaiah is not just words, but a core reality of who he is and what his life is about – even if people fail to recognize him and to validate God’s call and work through him.

And so Jesus chooses God’s call and direction for his life. God sends him. God anoints him. His call and his acts of ministry are shaped and empowered by God.

As we walk among the crowd from Nazareth, and then notice how Jesus simply slips through their midst, we are invited to ponder some deeper questions:

Who gives us our deepest sense of identity?
Who calls us?
Who leads us?
Who helps us discern what is happening around us—and offers us help in responding?

Be prayerfully within the gospel narrative this week, and with the questions of your own soul in the presence of God.

Dear Lord,
Help me to listen
Free me from being blind to who you are
Release me from captivity to the world’s ways
Help me to listen

1/28 Monday: Luke 2:22-40
1/29 Tuesday: Luke 4:21-30
1/30 Wednesday: Psalm 71:1-6
1/31 Thursday: Malachi 3:1-4; Jeremiah 1:4-10;
2/1 Friday: I Corinthians 13:1-13
2/2 Saturday: Presentation of the Lord — Luke 2:22-40; Hebrews 2:14-18
2/3 Sunday: Luke 4:21-30