Epiphany 5 (February 8, 2009)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Is. 40:21-31; Ps. 147:1-11,20c; I Cor. 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39
Again this week, we were unable to travel to Gaza because Israel is allowing few humanitarian organizations to enter.
In the region this week, militants in Gaza fired rockets into Israel and Israel retaliated by bombing tunnels that serve as supply routes from Egypt to the Gaza Strip. Some fear a serious escalation in fighting.
Israel’s navy intercepted a Lebanese ship bound for Gaza carrying medical supplies, food, clothing and toys for children. Meanwhile, the United Nations accused Hamas of raiding one its warehouses in Gaza and taking 3,500 blankets and 400 food parcels. The U.N. has temporarily suspended aid shipments to Gaza.
Israel will hold elections, Feb. 10, and Benjamin Netanyahu, is expected to become the next prime minister. His Likud party’s charter says, “The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river. The Palestinians can run their lives freely in the framework of self-rule, but not as an independent and sovereign state. Ironically, Israel and much of the international community refuse to negotiate with Hamas because Hamas does not recognize the State of Israel.
Iraq held largely peaceful elections in 14 of its 18 provinces, with some 14,000 candidates vying for 440 seats. Unlike the previous election, a significant number of Sunni Muslims participated this time.
In Iran, former President Khatami announced that he will again seek election as president in the June 2009 elections.
The Common Lectionary readings this week are about God’s concern for the vulnerable and his opposition to those who are proud and do harm to others.
The Old Testament reading declares that God “brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing” (Is. 40:23). “Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows upon them, and they wither” (v. 24), Isaiah warns. By contrast, God “gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless” (v.29).
The psalmist writes that God “gathers the outcasts” (Ps. 147:2), “heals the brokenhearted” (v.3) and “lifts up the downtrodden” (v.6a), but “casts the wicked to the ground” (v.6b).
In the Epistle reading, Paul goes to great lengths to proclaim the gospel of peace to all who are not yet experiencing the fullness of God’s blessing (I Cor. 9:16-23).
In the Gospel reading, Jesus cures the sick (Mark. 1:31, 34a) and proclaims a message of good news, while opposing and casting out demons who oppress the people (vv. 34b, 39b).
As we are witnessing in the Middle East and around the world, political leaders come and go. Isaiah’s words spoken nearly 3,000 years ago still ring true. God continues to bring princes to naught, while giving power to the faint. In caring for vulnerable people, sometimes God works through the world’s rulers, sometimes God works in spite of them.