Friday, January 7, 2011

Third Sunday after the Epiphany Year A

Third Sunday after the Epiphany A
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27;1,5-13; I Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23

Isaiah acknowledges past setbacks, when the areas occupied by the tribes of Zebulum and Naphtali were lost to enemies, and a past victory at Midian to arouse expectation for a new era filled with light and joy. The closest analogy to the anticipated joy is at harvest or dividing up plunder after a battle when there is more than people need.

The psalmist affirms his trust in God. He pushes further: God's love exceeds that even of parents for their children!

Paul makes two distinct but complementary points at the beginning of his letter: the experience of Christ exceeds any one faction in the Church; the message of the cross can be stated directly but its meaning is never fully grasped in our understanding or the way we live.

Matthew moves Jesus from his hometown to Capernaum "so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled." Jesus announces "the kingdom of God has come near." Jesus invites four fishermen to join him.

According to Matthew, Jesus is clearly present-- walking on the beach around the lake of Galilee-- but his presence also acknowledges an absence, the kingdom of God has come near. "Near"-- close, perhaps very close, but not there yet.

In fruitful exchanges Jacques Derrida and Jean-Luc Marion explored the different conclusions drawn from their mutual acceptance of the limits of human capacity and language. (See especially God, the Gift and Postmodernism edited by conference leaders John Caputo and Michael Scanlon.) "Were the Messiah ever to show up... Marion would take this an event of excess and joy, a matter for prayerful praise-- Hallelujah!-- whereas Derrida, approaching him cautiously, would ask, 'When will you come?' " p.219) Derrida dwells on the absence of final meaning while Marion finds that experience always exceeds human imagination and language. Perhaps both are bibilical. At times God is present, such as the transformation of Jesus on Mt Tabor (with which the season of Epiphany always concludes), other times God seems painfully absent, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" However, it is also true that when God is present, human senses are overwhelmed, dazzled, and when God seems absent, there are traces of past presence or longing for future certainty. Nearness and absence of God are intertwined in actual human experience, according to the biblical texts. And that leaves room for each person to know God in her unique life. All are invited; any can follow.