Archive for January, 2012

Faith, Ethics, Logic, Public discourse

I am inspired to write this note to you as a crisis pregnancy center volunteer because you can’t help but be involved in the abortion debate.  But go ahead and FELP (faith, ethics, logic, rules of public discourse) in other areas as well.


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Gospel, Mark 1:21-28  Capernaum: Capernaum was the most prominent fishing village on the Sea of Galilee.  With a population of around 1,500, Capernaum was home to five of Jesus’ apostles: Peter, Andrew, James, John and Matthew.  Archaeological evidence indicates that Capernaum had a long breakwater (waves coming off the lake during big storms could reach eight feet in height) and several piers with moorings for fishing boats.  Houses were constructed from roughly shaped black basalt rocks leveled with pebbles and mortared over with mud.  An outside wall enclosed the house.  Individual rooms were added along the wall creating one or more courtyards where people cooked, cared for animals, and planted a few grapevines.  Several related families might live in such a house, each adding one more room within the compound.  This style of home with multiple families together within a common outer wall is still common in many countries where I have worked or visited.  Each house of this sort at Capernaum formed its own small block bordered by streets and alleyways. 

Peter’s house: The drawings above are artistic renditions of two houses in the archaeological site at Capernaum under the care of Holy Land Franciscans.  The first, and closest to the lake, is believed to be the house of Peter and his extended family.  The entrance in the upper left of the picture faced the main street coming up from the lake.  The second picture shows the neighboring house in between Peter’s and the Capernaum synagogue.  The synagogue was the finest building in town and the only one constructed of cut stone.        

During a synagogue service, an official of the synagogue invited someone, usually a guest or noted person if present, to do the reading after which he would be first to comment on the passage read.  Others present could then enter the discussion, giving their opinions and commonly quoting various rabbis to back up their interpretations.  Jesus taught with “authority”, meaning he taught without quoting but as the “author” of his teaching.  The proof of his authority to teach was then given as he spoke with the same authority in casting the spirit out of the man possessed.  Jesus, Son of God, is “author” of all good for us as he was that day in Capernaum.

Jairus, whose daughter Jesus later raised from the dead, was head of the synagogue at Capernaum (Matthew 5:22, Luke 8:41).  He may have been present as a witness to Jesus’ show of authority in the synagogue that day. 

Why did Jesus heal on the Sabbath?  Jewish people were not allowed to do any unnecessary work on the Sabbath.  I think a weekly day of rest was unique to the Jewish people.  They could treat someone who needed medical attention or even rescue an animal in danger, but anything that could wait until after the Sabbath was prohibited.  This law guaranteed Jewish people a full day of rest each week (from around 6pm Friday evening until 6pm Saturday evening) on which they could spend time deepening personal relationships with God, family and friends rather than being occupied with everyday tasks.  A bit later in Mark’s gospel (2:27) Jesus is confronted by a group of Pharisees for what they regarded as laxity in keeping the Sabbath law, to which he responds, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”.  They were focused on the letter of the law, Jesus on the spirit of that law.  Still, Jesus’ penchant for healing on the Sabbath (see also Mark 3:1-6, Luke 13:10-17, Luke 14:1-6, John 5:1-18, John 9:1-41) communicated a message which the Pharisees and scribes interpreted as far more serious than breaking a Sabbath law.  Despite the Sabbath regulation being grounded on God’s resting on the 7th day (Genesis 2:2-3), Jewish scholars had reasoned that God did not really rest for, if he did, the sun would not rise and pass through the sky and creation would go out of existence.   God was the only one to do work, the ongoing re-creation of the world, on the Sabbath.  Without actually saying so, something that would certainly result in Jesus being called on trial before the Jewish authorities, Jesus was indicating his divinity through healing on the Sabbath.  The Pharisees and scribes, catching Jesus’ unspoken message, considered his healing on the Sabbath as blasphemy, and it was for that more than anything else that they sought to put him to death.  The closest Jesus came to giving them solid spoken evidence was in Matthew 12:8 when he said, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath”.

Reading 1, Deuteronomy 18:15-20  Moses assembled all Israel together (Deut, 5:1) for an extensive summary of all God’s statutes and decrees.  This text comes in the middle of his speech.  It is best understood in relation to the previous couple verses (Deut. 18:13-14) in which Moses warns them to be wholehearted with the Lord and not resort to fortunetellers, diviners, astrologers, and practitioners of witchcraft as did the people in the lands the Israelites are about to enter and occupy.  God himself will raise up prophets and put his word in their mouth.

The word “prophet” means “one who speaks for another”.  The true prophet does not speak for himself and certainly not in the name of some other god.  Moses was extremely careful to consult the Lord in everything he said relevant to his leadership and prophetic role.  It was clear that the “author” of what Moses said was God.  Any other person whom God will raise up may not command the honor and prestige of Moses but, by being a true mouthpiece of God, he will be, as Moses put it, “a prophet like me” and speak with an authority greater than even the king.  This passage is selected to highlight Jesus’ speaking and acting with authority in today’s gospel reading.

It is worth noting that even true prophets can, at times, forget to consult God and not see God’s will clearly.  The bible gives us two such examples with the great prophets Samuel assessing the qualities of the future king he was to anoint (1 Samuel 16:6-7) and Nathan who initially gave David a green light to build the temple (2 Samuel 7:3-7).  We must recall that good intention and a history of seeking God’s will are not enough.  We do best to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit constantly in every decision of life.

Reading II, 1 Corinthians 7:32-35   Back at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 7, Paul says, “Now in regard to the matters about which you wrote”.  Paul had apparently received a list of questions and concerns from the community at Corinth and decided to respond to them in his letter.  This passage comes in response to a question about whether people should remain single or get married.  “Now in regard to virgins, I have no commandment from the Lord, but I give my opinion…this is what I think best because of the present distress, that it is a good thing for a person to remain as he is” (1 Cor. 7:25-26).  Paul is not anti-marriage but he clearly believed that the responsibility of caring for a wife and family could cause anxieties and compromise the attention and focus one might otherwise give to God.  Why be intent on such things if Jesus would be returning before the kids were even old enough to go to school?  Had Paul known that the second coming was not so imminent, would he have been less emphatic in his encouragement to remain single?  Maybe.  I’ll leave it to those of you who are single to consider if your present state of life is free of anxiety and totally focused on the Lord and maybe consider a vocation to priesthood or the religious life.  Likewise, I’ll leave it to you who are married to consider whether your marriage and family distract you from the things of God or are the very vehicle through which you serve God.

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Gospel, Mark 1:14-20  After last Sunday’s account of the call of Peter from the gospel of John, this Sunday’s gospel provides the more familiar version from Mark. 

After John had been arrested: After the death of King Herod the Great in 4 B.C., the Roman government divided his kingdom into three political divisions, each entrusted to one of Herod’s sons: Herod Antipas became tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea; Archelaus ruler of Judea, Samaria and Idumaea (until being replaced by a Roman governor); Philip tetrarch of the territories east of the Jordan River.  Theirs was the story of a dysfunctional family.  Dad Herod the Great divorced his first wife to marry Mariamme and gain control of her family’s political power.  Eventually, he accused her of adultery and had her and several members of her family executed on grounds of conspiracy.  He likewise executed his own brother and his sister’s husbands.  Antipas and Archelaus were Herod’s sons by his fourth wife, Philip by his fifth wife.  With advancing years, Herod became more paranoid and had two of his older sons killed for allegedly plotting against him and another executed for treason.  Caesar Augustus reportedly said, “I would sooner be Herod’s pig than his son.”  Son Herod Antipas divorced his first wife for Herodias who happened to be the daughter of an older half-brother (thus, his niece) and previously wife of his half-brother Philip (thus, his sister-in-law).  John the Baptist was imprisoned for publicly reproving Antipas for taking his brother’s wife. 

Besides marrying the same woman, Antipas and Philip also competed in trying to demonstrate their importance by building capital cities on the Sea of Galilee.  Philip built up Bethsaida just east of where the northern Jordan flowed into the lake.  Herod Antipas, who had just completed rebuilding his capital of Sepphoris in the hills near Nazareth, took up the challenge and built a new capital city, Tiberias, on the Sea of Galilee. 

All that construction, along with maintaining a full retinue of government officials and troops, required significant cash flow.  To raise revenue, Herod promoted the fishing industry on the Sea of Galilee.  Fishing rights were licensed.  Boats (two large boats were needed to properly work the nets) were expensive, but Herod’s government offered loans with interest to purchase boats and equipment.  Taxes were collected as a percentage of each day’s catch. 

Simon and Andrew were fishermen: Fishermen formed partnerships or syndicates to make a go of the business.  Since the boat is referred to as Peter’s, he probably had a business loan with the government under his name, managed a minimum of eight workers to help with fishing each night and other employees to transport cargo and passengers during the day.  By keeping the boats busy all the time, he could make ends meet.  People depended on him.  Given such responsibilities, what would it mean for him and Andrew to “abandon” their nets?  The word for “abandon” is also translated “divorce”, “leave behind”, or “send away”.  It indicates an intentional separation from a relationship which previously existed.  Peter, along with Jesus and the other apostles, would return to use the boat and nets on several occasions.  Somehow he figured out how to keep the business going, organize the men who depended on the business for their livelihood, and care for his family while dedicating the major portion of his time to following Jesus.  “Abandoning their nets”, then, does not mean leaving them to rot on the beach but, more profoundly, divorcing themselves from being “married” to fishing to become “fishers of men”.  Peter took care of his responsibilities to family, business, and associates while making following Jesus his number one priority.  Christians today, given the same sort of responsibilities, can learn from Peter’s example. 

Jesus came proclaiming the gospel: When we hear the word “gospel” we think of the four written accounts in the New Testament.  What was the “gospel” Jesus proclaimed? The Greek word for gospel is “euaggelion”, most closely written “evangelism”.  Thus, the gospel writers are called evangelists.  See the word “angel” in there?  An angel is a messenger.  Eu- is good.  The gospel is the “good message”.  Jesus proclaimed the good message of God.  We are called to repent and believe in the good message. 

Reading 1, Jonah 3:1-5, 10 Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, was located on the west bank of the Tigris River opposite modern-day Mosul,  the city in northern Iraq which was in the news in recent years. Nineveh was a large and beautiful city with many temples and royal palaces.   Under Tiglath-pilezer III (745-727 B.C.) and his immediate successors, Assyria expanded its empire, defeating various small countries to the west including Israel and Judah.  These countries retained self-rule but were forced to pay huge tributes annually to their Assyrian overlords.  To free themselves from this burden, Syria and Israel, often enemies in the past, joined forces to mount a resistance against the Assyrians.  They tried to pressure Judah to join them, even to the point of invading Judah.  Under pressure, King Ahaz of Judah appealed to Assyria.  Over the course of several years, Assyrian campaigns into the region resulted in the total downfall of Israel in 721 B.C.  In Judah, Hezekiah succeeded his father Ahaz as king in 715 B.C. and reversed his pro-Assyrian policies, initiating a period of political and religious reform.  At some point he quit paying the tribute and prepared Jerusalem and his country for a full-scale resistance against the Assyrians.  Jerusalem withstood the Assyrians in 701 B.C. possibly due to a rat-borne plague or epidemic in the camp of the Assyrian army.  Assyria was eventually defeated by the Babylonians in a series of campaigns ending in 609 B.C.  In the course of the conflicts, Nineveh was conquered and razed to the ground in 612 B.C. and never rebuilt. 

Tobit was a  resident of Nineveh: The book of Tobit in the Old Testament places Tobit as a Jew deported from Israel to Nineveh during the Assyrian conquest in 721 B.C. He was eventually put in charge of purchases for the household of the king, a rather favorable and lucrative position for a deportee.  In that capacity he occasionally traveled to Media (northwester Iran) to buy goods for the king and to deposit his own money with a relative who lived there.  After several years, Tobit sent his son Tobiah to Media collect his money and to find himself a wife.    

The story of Jonah: The book of Jonah is believed to have been written after the Babylonian exile (587-538 B.C.), many years after the destruction of Nineveh.  Although Assyria and its capital no longer existed, they lived on in infamy given symbolic status as the hated overlord and enemy of the Jewish people.  Jonah tried to escape the Lord’s command and buys passage on a ship bound for Tarshish, a Greek colony in SW Spain on the Atlantic Ocean.  When the boat is tossed about for days in a huge storm, Jonah tells the crew to throw him overboard.  He is swallowed by a whale which spits him up on shore with a long hike to Nineveh at least 400 miles inland from the Mediterranean. 

In the post-exilic time, many Jewish people cultivated a very nationalistic mentality.  Freed from exile, they were once again God’s “chosen people”. They expected God to show them mercy and display divine wrath against anyone who opposed them.  The story of the conversion of Nineveh was probably written to make the point that, if a major world city like Nineveh could repent and do the will of God on the word of a single prophet, then they, the people of tiny Judah, should not be presumptive about divine favor, get rid of their petty nationalism, and recognize that the Lord God is lord of the whole earth.

Reading II, 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 Convinced that the return of Christ was imminent, Paul advises the Corinthians to not go about life with a “business-as-usual” attitude.  What does this reading mean for us today?  Don’t get too invested in things that are passing as to lose focus on the ultimate purpose for our existence and our ultimate goal…then, to live each day in relation to that.  What is deemed a reason for joy in the short-term may, in the bigger picture, be an obstacle to fuller blessings and vice versa, suffering in the present moment may be a source of blessing in the bigger picture of time (reminiscent of the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-12).

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Gospel, John 1:35-42  We read a lot about John the Baptist during Advent and again at the Baptism of Christ.  It is probable that a significant number of people throughout the regions the apostles were evangelizing had received the baptism of John, either directly at his hand or through his disciples.  The evangelists used the person and ministry of John as a bridge to Jesus and his ministry.  The fact that the fourth gospel, traditionally believed to have been written at a much later date than the other three, gave so much attention to John, even to having him state directly of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God”, indicates how strong and enduring was the effect of John’s ministry.  Lambs were offered daily in the temple as sacrificial and expiatory offerings (Exodus 29:38-42).  They were specifically prescribed for special feasts: Passover, Feast of Weeks, Feast of Tabernacles, and the Day of Atonement.  The phrase “Lamb of God” appears only in John’s gospel (1:29 and 1:36), but Jewish readers of the gospel…and those who heard John the Baptist…would have understood the symbolism of the lamb as a sacrificial offering with reference to the Messiah in light of the Suffering-Servant prophecy in Isaiah 53:7, “like a lamb led to the slaughter”.  The book of Revelations does not use the phrase but refers to Jesus as the Lamb 34 times as “the Lamb who was slain” (Rev. 5:6), receives the prophetic scroll and breaks open the seals (Rev. 6).

In the gospels of Matthew and Mark (next Sunday’s gospel), Peter is putting his nets in order down at the lakefront when Jesus first encounters him and calls Peter to follow him.  Luke presents a similar lakefront call, but has the initial encounter take place at Peter’s house where Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law.  Here, John’s gospel gives a different scenario as Peter comes to Jesus only after his brother Andrew had spent time with Jesus and, believing Jesus to be the long-expected Messiah, brought Peter to Jesus. “Where are you staying?” Andrew asked, letting Jesus know he wanted to spend time with him, more than just a quick interview on the spot.  In addition to study, prayer is essential.  The gospel says it was about “four in the afternoon”, literally “the tenth hour”.  The hour would have been particularly significant if they were approaching the beginning of the Sabbath which began at sunset or around the twelfth hour.  Since Jewish people were not to do unnecessary work on the Sabbath, Andrew and his companion would spend the day in prayer and conversation with Jesus…a wonderful encouragement for us to honor the Day of the Lord by spending time with Jesus in prayer.  Faith is more than just having the right beliefs based on accurate information.  Faith is a way of life which comes through spending time with Jesus. 

“Simon” is a Hebrew name that means “one who hears”.  “Cephas” is the Hebrew word for “rock”, as is “petros” in Greek.  “Andrew” is from Greek meaning “manly”.  “John” is from Hebrew and means “gift of God”.  The fourth gospel mentions two people named John, the Baptist and the father of Peter and Andrew, both mentioned in this passage.  The fourth gospel never mentions John the Evangelist nor his brother James by name.  They are first mentioned as “Zebedee’s sons” and listed as Jesus’ disciples in John 21:2 in the epilogue, the last chapter of the gospel. Even the phrase “the beloved disciple” does not appear in the fourth gospel until being placed at Jesus’ side during the Last Supper (13:23), next at the foot of the cross (19:26), then running to the tomb with Peter ((20:2), and last of all at Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to the disciples at the Sea of Galilee (21:7 and 21:20).  In 21:24 the author of the gospel identifies himself as the one referred to as the beloved disciple.  The question remains regarding two other references to an unnamed disciple in the fourth gospel…a disciple who had an in at the home of the high priest and got Peter in during Jesus’ trial (18:15-16) and here in today’s reading as the other disciple of John the Baptist who went with Andrew to spend time with Jesus.  Though there is no proof, tradition often places John in both spots, making him one of the first witnesses and disciples of Jesus.

Reading 1, 1 Samuel 3:3b-10,19  Eli and his sons functioned as priests at the sanctuary in Shiloh at which the tabernacle with the ark of the Lord was kept (the ark would not be transferred to Jerusalem until the time of King David).  Hannah, a childless woman getting along in years, had gone to Shiloh to petition the Lord for a child, promising that her child would be dedicated to the Lord’s service.  Eli, observing her emotional sobbing, thought her to be drunk and reprimanded her.  On learning what was actually going on, he blessed her.  Hannah conceived and gave birth to Samuel.  After he was weaned, Hannah and her husband brought the boy and turned him over to Eli’s care and direction.  Thus, Samuel, as a young boy, helped Eli at the sanctuary.  The good-hearted boy must have been a good companion and solace to Eli whose heart was grieved by his own sons who had “respect neither for the Lord nor for the priests’ duties toward the people” (1 Samuel 2:12).  In this beautiful recounting of little Samuel learning to recognize the voice of the Lord, we all would do well to pray in the words old Eli taught the youth: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

Reading II, 1 Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20   What does it mean that “the Lord is for the body”?  In the first part of verse 13 (not included in this reading) Paul refers to a popular saying of the time: “food for the belly and the belly for food”, a rationale for indulging in feasting and partying.  If it tastes good, why not enjoy it.  Undoubtedly some people applied the same logic to sexual license…the body for sexual immorality.  In Greek culture, this  indulgent attitude ranged from Hedonism, a philosophy giving full license to the gratification of natural desires as the highest form of happiness, to Epicureanism, a fondness for luxury and sensual delight in food and drink moderated by morality, temperance, serenity, and cultural development.  Paul corrects such logic with a similar juxtaposition of terms as in the saying about food and belly: “the body is for the Lord and the Lord for the body.”  The purpose of the body, as God has created it, is to give honor to the Lord.  Elsewhere in 1 Corinthians, Paul refers to the body as the “temple of the Lord” (3:16-17 and here quoted in 6:19).  The Lord is for the body as its creator who will “change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body” (Phil. 3:21).  So, glorify God by using the body for the purpose for which it was created.

Imagine someone allowed to live someone else’s house, perhaps watching a house while the owners are on vacation or maybe babysitting.  If the guest is responsible and mindful that the house belongs to someone else, he / she will be sure to take care of it as the owner desired…perhaps better than if the house were his / her own.  The owner may have left a list of things to pay attention to, maybe even a list of people or activities not allowed in the house.  Although I feel that my body is MY body, considering it the temple of God whose care is entrusted to me might make me more attentive to activities God does not want and influences God does not want me to welcome into his house.

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Gospel, Matthew 2:1-12 The Magi were not themselves kings but, rather, a priestly group who sought knowledge from every imaginable source (the word “magic” is derived from their practices)and the ability to apply that knowledge to predict and prepare for the future.  One of those sources of information came from watching the stars. According to the popular cosmology of the time, people believed the earth to be covered by a dome, across which God or gods caused the heavenly bodies to move in patterns thought to contain coded messages.  Such was the logic behind astrology.  From a science acceptable in our day, astronomers tell us that in 6 B.C. Magi in the region of Assyria and Babylonia would have been able to see Jupiter (which represented royalty) pass through Aries (representative of the Jewish people, perhaps due to their history as shepherds).  The Magi would have interpreted this as a divine sign of the birth of a great Jewish king.  On reporting their findings, their own king may have sent them as his representatives bearing gifts, a common way from kings of past to build alliances and secure peaceful relations. 

King Herod ruled as King of Judah from 37 to his death in 4 B.C.  Tyrannical and suspicious to the point of paranoia, he had all actual and presumed opposition eliminated including his wife and several other members of his own family.  He built fortresses, Herodium and Masada, in locations in his kingdom to which he could escape and secure himself in case of a popular uprising.  I have read that he had a list of the most popular people in every town and city of Judah with a standing order that they be killed in the event of his own death…a unique sort of life insurance policy.  His soldiers wisely refused to carry out the order when he did die.  Such a person would be capable of commandeering soldiers to kill babies in Bethlehem on the possibility of one being a future king.  No wonder both he and the people of Jerusalem, for different reasons, were troubled at the news brought by the Magi.  Placing Jesus’ birth a couple years prior to the death of Herod (the family was living in Egypt when they heard of Herod’s death) would put the birth of Jesus around 6 B.C. which aligns well with the appearance of the star.  When the monk Dionysius Exiguus was commissioned by the pope in 525 A. D. to figure out the year Jesus was born and renumber all years accordingly, he was off by those six years…not bad given the information he had to work with.

Many years ago I saw a marquee sign in front of a church in St. Paul proclaiming “Wise men still seek him”.  Matthew’s gospel sets up an interesting contrast between the Magi and the Jewish chief priests and scribes. Non-Jews from a distant land discerned the birth of Jesus and his uniquely important role in God’s plan.  Those most expert in the Jewish scriptures and prophecies missed the signs and then failed to follow up on them once the birth of the long-awaited king had been pointed out to them.  Wouldn’t it seem logical that, on hearing that the Magi were headed to Bethlehem just six miles down the road, at least one or two of them would have thought to ask if they might accompany the Magi?  Of course, knowing King Herod’s ways, they might have thought it better not to have such information.  Whatever the case might have been, Matthew’s account encourages readers with non-Jewish backgrounds to be wise and recognize Jesus as Messiah even though most Jewish people had not come to such belief. 

God, inspire me to be more an active seeker like the Magi than a storehouse of religious information like the chief priests and scribes.   May I respect and be motivated in my own faith by all who honestly search for God, whether or not they do so in the same religious path I follow.  Grant me wisdom and focus to seek out Jesus every day and to offer him the gift of myself…a gift more precious to God than gold, frankincense and myrrh.  

Reading 1, Isaiah 60:1-6  The Midianites were a nomadic group that originally lived in the Sinai desert.  Ephah was a branch of the Midianite tribe.  When Moses fled from Egypt after killing an Egyptian overseer of Jewish slaves, he found shelter with the Midianite chieftain Jethro and eventually married his daughter Zipporah (Ex. 2:15-23; 4:18-23).  Centuries later when the Israelites had settled in the Promised Land, Midianites would raid Israelite camps and villages on their camels and make off with grain and sheep.  Being adept with camels and life on the move, many Midianites became merchants, transporting goods from far-away lands on their camels.  Sheba, located in the SW of the Arabian Peninsula, became prosperous as a port for international trade.  Frankincense is the resin of a variety of rather scraggly desert trees found in the southern area of the Arabian peninsula.  It was used by Jews only for liturgical purposes.  The imagery is of a renewed Jerusalem, prosperous as a center of trade and renowned far and wide in a golden era, resplendent as a brilliant sunny day after the cold cloudy season. 

Old Testament texts, especially those more prophetic or Messianic in tone, are often quoted or referenced in the New Testament to show that Jesus and the new covenant through him are the fulfillment of the old covenant.  The practice of drawing parallels between the Old Testament writings and the Gospel story did not end with the writing of the New Testament texts but, rather, was enhanced as Christians sought to fill out the scriptural story with more and more detail.  This text from Isaiah is a good case in point.  While Matthew’s account in today’s gospel reading clearly indentified the visitors as Magi, popular religiosity promoted them to being kings as a more perfect parallel to this Isaiah text. 

We Christians certainly consider Jesus as the light…“I am the light of the world” (John 8:12)…fulfilling this prophecy, but what does that mean for each of us personally?  It must be more than an intellectually satisfying insight into biblical interpretation.  God, help me recognize the areas of darkness in my life.  Guide me to “walk by your light”.   May faith in Jesus and his word truly enlighten my mind, heart and soul to the extent that I am “radiant” (a great image, radiating the glory of God out to others as a radiator heats a room) at what I see and my “heart shall throb and overflow”.

Reading II, Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6 The word “Gentiles” means “the peoples” and referred to all who were not of the Jewish race or religion.  Such people were allowed to enter the Temple of Jerusalem (the first large area on entering the Temple was called the Court of the Gentiles) and could join the Jewish religion as full members through circumcision or as associates or “God-fearing” members who, short of circumcision, shared beliefs and could attend the synagogue services.  This latter group was rather numerous in the areas Paul visited on his missionary journeys and comprised a high percentage of those who became baptized Christians.  Paul carried their cause to the Council of Jerusalem (c. 46 A.D.) which determined that they could be full members of the Christian community without need to be circumcised and follow the details of the Mosaic law.

Paul clearly understood his ministry as a “stewardship of God’s grace”.  He invested himself 100% in that ministry.  His dedication was more like a person who might be named “employee of the year” than someone striving to become CEO.   My ministry…and the specific ministry given to each of us…is, likewise, a stewardship of God’s grace.  May Paul’s dedication to his ministry inspire us.

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