FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY
Isaiah 40: 21 – 31
Our reading is from the first chapter of “Second Isaiah,” the poet who sang of the return of the Babylonian exiles to Jerusalem and their new nation, Judea. The first twenty verses are joyful, but our reading picks up at the point when God, as Isaiah represents him, speaks to skeptics and doubters. He begins by pointing out his astounding creations and his vigilant providence. But lest we think of God as a sort of engineer, Isaiah reminds us of his mystery: “his understanding is unsearchable.” And well might it be for as Isaiah says next, the world is full of suffering. I admire Isaiah for facing the problem of evil; but what does his answer amount to? At one level it is simple: God will not forget the sufferer and will give him the strength and wherewithal to get on with life. But anyone who looks at the world realistically will find this inadequate: everyday masses of people, including people of faith, are not upheld, but die in pain or terror. Isaiah seems to understand this, for he frees us to take the lines as symbolic of some sort of transcendence. The weak are going to “mount up with the wings of eagles.” That suggests an unsearchable mystery far beyond physical rescue.
First Corinthians 9: 16-23
In the second part of our reading Paul explains one of his techniques for winning people to the Word. He makes himself temporarily a member of the group he is addressing. All is clear. But the first part is confusing. Paul is trying to explain why he spends his life proclaiming the gospel. I can make little sense of it in our translation, the New Revised Standard Version. It is much more understandable in the translation that is my personal favorite, the New English Bible. Let me transcribe it for you:
Even if I preach the Gospel, I can claim no credit for it; I cannot help myself; it would be misery to me not to preach. If I did it of my own choice, I should be earning my pay; but since I do it apart from my own choice, I am simply discharging a trust. Then what is my pay? The satisfaction of preaching the Gospel without expense to anyone; in other words, of waiving the right which my preaching gives me.
Other preachers make use of their right to accept money for preaching. Not Paul. He is paid in “satisfaction.”
© Arthur H. Cash