Third Sunday after Epiphany (January 23, 2011)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Is. 9:1-4; Ps. 27:1, 4-9; I Cor. 1:10-18; Matt. 4:12-23
We are happy to be back in Amman after a two-month home leave in the United States. We are enjoying the opportunities to reconnect with colleagues at work, to listen to call to prayer, to savor the smell of falafel sizzling in hot oil, and even to negotiate Middle East traffic again!
While we ended up doing too many work-related tasks while in the U.S., the times with family and friends were relaxing and nurturing. We were also able to reflect on our first three and a half years in the Middle East and to ask questions about changes we’d like to make in the coming years:
- How can we increase the amount of face-to-face interactions with partners, while setting healthy boundaries on the amount of time we spend on paper work, reports and email traffic?
- How do we better pay attention to taking Sabbath?
- How do we maintain an attitude of hope, while working on issues that sometimes feel intractable?
In the region this week, more than 5,000 Jordanians took to the streets to protest rising prices and unemployment rates.
In Iraq insurgents orchestrated bombings in several cities, killing more than 100 people. At least 50 Shia Muslim pilgrims were killed near the holy city of Karbala.
Meanwhile, in Istanbul, Iran and five nuclear weapon states, including the U.S., began a new round of talks about Iran’s nuclear program. Iran insists that its nuclear program is only for civilian energy purposes. Many other countries are pressing Iran to stop enriching uranium, fearing that Iran’s real intent is to develop a nuclear weapon.
A new book offers sobering eye-witness accounts from Israeli soldiers who have served in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
The Common Lectionary readings for this week offer assurances that God shows the way.
In the Old Testament reading, Isaiah writes: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” (Is. 9:2a). God replaces darkness with light (v.2), gloom with joy (vv. 1, 3) and burdens with freedom (v. 4).
The psalmist declares, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” (Ps. 27:1)
In the Epistle reading, Paul argues that, in Christ, God has shown us the way – the way of the cross. This path of humility, sacrifice and service to others is “foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (I Cor. 1:18)
In the Gospel reading, Jesus calls ordinary disciples – fishermen – and offers to fill their lives with new purpose. “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people,” promises Jesus (Matt. 4:19)
Surrounded by economic hardship, violence, nations in conflict and occupation, it is sometimes difficult to see how God is making a way. And yet Scripture is clear on this. God has offered light in place of darkness. God has revealed the way of the cross. God has demonstrated, in Christ, how humans are to live. The problem is not with God, but with our stubborn human refusal to walk in God’s light.