Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
There has been a big build up to this Sunday – four weeks of waiting for the birth of Jesus, two weeks celebrating it, marking the Epiphany with the magi and the baptism of Jesus, the performance of Jesus’ first miracle of water turned to wine and finally his reading from the scroll of Isaiah in his home congregation to announce the arrival of God’s jubilee and of God’s Messiah. All eyes are on him now as he launches into his ministry. We have this Sunday only to contemplate what Jesus is up to in this part of his ministry before we leap ahead five chapters and a few years to the Transfiguration, Ash Wednesday and the preparation of Lent for the Paschal and Resurrection. This year, the season of Epiphany is about as short as it can get.
Much as a small section of a hologram contains all that is in the whole, we have such rich texts this coming Sunday that there is enough, more than enough, for our contemplation.
We begin in the first chapter of Jeremiah with his call as a boy. Not included by the Revised Common Lectionary in the set text are the first few verses, which tell us that Jeremiah is “of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin,…” Walter Brueggemann, in Journey To The Common Good, reminds us that 400 years earlier, in his house cleaning to consolidate power, Solomon had banished the priest, Abiathar (I Kings 2:26) there. Once near the centre of power, now on the distant sidelines, this line of priests watches from afar as Solomon and most of his successors lead the people astray. I am reminded that the work of God is often slow – over generations – on the periphery, unnoticed.
But then, God’s own time arrives and Jeremiah is consecrated, called and branded with the word of the LORD to pluck up, pull down, destroy and overthrow before building and planting. Verse 17, also not included in the set lectionary text, makes explicit that Jeremiah, though strengthened by God, has little choice in the matter. God’s time has come, the task is at hand and must be done. With poetic prophecy, God seeks through Jeremiah to speak the truth and, as Walter puts it, to help us imagine the world differently.
We have also Paul’s address to the church at Corinth in I Corinthians 13. Paul too uses poetic speech in an appeal to the Corinthian congregation to focus on what is truly enduring – agape love that rejoices in the truth. Rejoicing in the truth seems, in reality, to be almost an oxymoron. There is a Turkish proverb that states if you are about to speak the truth, have one foot in the stirrup. Jeremiah does at one point end up dumped in a well. The truth is often not well received, let alone rejoiced in. It can seem like a hard, graceless place to be.
In the text from Luke we have the second part of Jesus’ visit to his hometown and we quickly see that, like Jeremiah, Jesus has come to tell the truth, the truth of what he is up to and that truth will pull down old expectations. Like quicksilver, the crowd’s mood of wonder and admiration turns to rage. Their expectations of the Messiah as the political solution to free them and bring a return to the old glory are overthrown with Jesus’ aim to go, not to the top, but to the bottom, and eventually even to Golgotha, the garbage heap of humanity. Jesus effortlessly passes through their attempt to silence him. The Truth has come to stay. Even death will not contain nor silence it. This is Emmanuel, God-with-us.
From Jeremiah to Jesus, our story shows us that we should not be surprised that confrontation and challenge by the truth will be a regular part of our discipleship – the truth of who we are, the truth of what God is up to, the truth of our nature and our need for God, the truth that does not change, as Flannery O’Connor stated in a 1955 letter, “according to our ability to stomach it.”
Jesus bids us to follow him and, in agape love, to rejoice in the truth. Thanks be to God.