Illuminations on Sunday’s Readings – Epiphany 2B

Thoughts on Sunday’s Lessons for Jan. 14, 2018

Apparition of the spirit of Samuel to Saul

Apparition of the spirit of Samuel to Saul (1668), oil painting by Salvator Rosa (1615–1673). The Louvre, Paris. (Click image to enlarge.)

First Reading: 1 Samuel 3:1-10

Listen for God’s voice in the world, and take care to understand what we hear. We hear this theme resonate in Sunday’s readings as we move into the season after Epiphany. Our first reading introduces young Samuel, puzzled by a mysterious voice that he hears calling him in the night. He thinks that it is his guardian Eli, the high priest and judge of Israel. But Eli, who was sleeping, eventually discerns that Samuel is hearing the voice of God. Eli advises the boy to respond, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Then Eli accepts the words that Samuel hears from God, even though it is bad news for Eli and his blasphemous sons who corrupted the priesthood.

Psalm: Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17

Even if it is not easy for us to be certain what God is asking of us, we can be sure that God fully and completely knows our every thought, the Psalmist sings in verses traditionally attributed to King David. God knows us, God knows when we move forward and when we sit down; God knows every word that we speak and every word that we think. God’s thoughts are more countless than Earth’s grains of sand; it would take an infinity of time to count them.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

At a glance, this reading might make us groan. It’s one of Paul’s occasional rumination on sexuality and sin. Read in its original context, though, he is giving pastoral counsel to a loving but often quarrelsome little church community. They’ve been arguing about all sorts of theological issues. They’re split into factions. Some of them really haven’t been behaving well, fired by an odd notion that having been baptized in the Spirit makes it permissible for them to behave immorally. One of them even wants to marry his own stepmother! Paul’s advice is clear and firm: Listen for God’s voice through the Holy Spirit. Remember that our bodies are parts of Christ’s body and temples of the Holy Spirit, so honor God by doing the right thing.

Gospel: John 1:43-51

Jesus, after a brief encounter with John at the Jordan, begins calling his apostles, one and two at a time. First came Andrew and Simon Peter, and now in today’s Gospel it is Philip who hears Jesus’s call. Then Philip wants to add his friend Nathanael into the growing band, but Nathanael is wary: Doesn’t this Jesus come from Nazareth? That’s not where the Messiah is supposed to be from! But when Jesus tells Nathanael that he had already seen him under the fig tree before Philip introduced them, Nathanael recognizes Jesus’ call and eagerly accepts him as the Son of God and King of Israel.

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