Last Epiphany B/Transfiguration

Thoughts on Sunday’s Lessons for Last Epiphany B/Transfiguration

Transfiguration of Jesus

Transfiguration of Jesus (c.1437-1446), fresco by Fra Angelico (c.1395-1455). Museum of San Marco, Florence, Italy. (Click image to enlarge.)

First Reading: Kings 2:1-12

As the season after the Epiphany comes to its end on Sunday, we see the light of God revealed in shining glory. In the Gospel we will hear Mark’s account of the Transfiguration of Christ, the culmination of the series of epiphanies that have revealed Jesus as the Son of God. In those verses we will see a glowing Jesus meet the patriarchs Elijah and Moses on a mountaintop. Our first reading from the Second Book of Kings sets the stage with the ancient story of Elijah, who was taken up into heaven in a chariot of fire led by horses of fire.

Psalm: Psalm 50:1-6

We hear only the first six verses of Psalm 50, but even this snippet gives us a good sense of its resounding worship and praise. The Psalmist calls out to the people who have joined in covenant to come together in worship: Come near and hear the God of gods speak, revealed in glory, calling the the people of the earth together from sunrise to sunset. God will speak and not keep silence, we hear. God stands before a consuming flame, surrounded by a raging storm, calling the heavens and the earth to witness God’s judgment.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:3-6

God, who brought light into the world, shows us the glory of God’s image in Christ. In his second letter to the early Christian community in Corinth, Paul tells his flock that, because they believe, they see the light which those who do not believe can not see. For those who don’t believe, the light is veiled by worldy concerns, Paul writes. As Christians we are called to proclaim Jesus, not ourselves, Paul declares. We are to serve others humbly in service for Jesus’s sake.

Gospel: Mark 9:2-9

Just a few short weeks ago at the beginning of the Epiphany season we saw John baptizing Jesus in the Jordan. Now on the last Sunday of Epiphany we come to the Transfiguration, and Jesus is revealed as Messiah. With his friends Peter, James, and John looking on in awed amazement, Jesus’s clothes suddenly glow an unearthly dazzling white as he meets the patriarchs Elijah and Moses. Now God’s voice rings out again, as it had at his baptism: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him.”

Epiphany 5B

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Christ Healing the Mother of Simon Peter’s Wife

Christ Healing the Mother of Simon Peter’s Wife (1839). Oil painting on canvas by John Bridges (1818–1854). Birmingham (Alabama) Museum of Art. (Click image to enlarge.)

First Reading: Isaiah 40:21-31

The season of Epiphany is coming to an early end this year because Easter comes early, on March 31. Ash Wednesday and Lent are only about two weeks away. In our first reading we hear the Prophet Isaiah reassuring the people in exile that though God may seem far away, they have not been forgotten. Isaiah poetically portrays a transcendent God who is far beyond our imagining. And yet, the prophet proclaims, this mighty, eternal and all-powerful God lifts up on eagle’s wings those who wait patiently for God. God provides the power and the strength to wait and to follow God’s ways.

Psalm: Psalm 147:1-12, 21c

Sunday’s Psalm portion, excerpted from one of the six exuberant hymns of praise that bring the book of Psalms to its end, sings harmony with our Isaiah reading as it celebrates the glory of a God who is powerful and all-knowing. God is large enough to count and name even the stars of heaven, the Psalmist sings; yet God is close to the people too, guiding them home from exile and binding their wounds. God is unimpressed by strength and might, yet cares deeply for the weak and lowly, gently tending the broken and the brokenhearted.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Pretending to be something we are not is a morally dubious action, even when we do it for a worthy purpose. But that’s not really what Paul writes in these verses when he claims to have been “all things to all people,” presenting himself in a voice separately tuned to the ears of Jews and Gentiles, believers and pagans, the strong and the weak. Following up on the advice in last week’s reading, Paul offers simple counsel to the fractious, often battling believers of Corinth: Get over your divisions. Love one another. And finally, work together in spite of any differences in order to share the Gospel’s blessings.

Gospel: Mark 1:29-39

Immediately after the events in last Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus goes from the synagogue at Capernaum to the home of his friends Simon and Andrew. There he cures Simon’s mother-in-law’s fever. Healed of her weakness, she gets up to serve them. The Greek word Mark uses for “she served” is “diekonei.” That’s the same word that Luke uses to describe those who came forward to support the Apostles as they spread the Gospel. And, of course, it is the word from which we derive our modern “deacon.” Just as Jesus cared for Simon’s mother-in-law and all who came for exorcism or healing, deacons vow to serve all people, particularly the poor, the weak, the sick, and the lonely.

Epiphany 4B

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Jesus Drives Out an Evil Spirit

Jesus Drives Out an Evil Spirit (Mc. 1412-1416), from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, a French Gothic illumination for the Book of Hours by the Limbourg Brothers, Herman, Paul and Johan, now in the Musée Condé, Chantilly, France. (Click image to enlarge.)

First Reading: Deuteronomy 18:15-20

The ongoing theme of listening for God’s voice and trying to discern what God is calling us to do continues in our readings for the Fourth Sunday of Epiphany. Our first reading is a passage from Deuteronomy, the fifth and final book of the Torah. We open the book as the story of God’s covenant with Israel is drawing to its close. Moses is in his last days. He will not live to enter the Promised Land. But then, the people wonder, how will they know God’s wishes once their longtime prophet is gone? Moses reassures them that God will raise up another prophet like him from among the people: a prophet who will speak God’s words and whom God will hold accountable.

Psalm: Psalm 111

Psalms, the hymns and worship poetry of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, offer many forms of prayer. Some ask God’s favor. Some cry out in lament. Others sing thanks for blessings. Yet many of the most joyous Psalms – like the familiar verses of Psalm 111 as a resounding example – exultantly sing God’s praise. God’s work, God’s majesty, God’s splendor, God’s justice, all last forever. God feeds us. The fear (meaning awe) of God is the beginning of wisdom.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

These verses offer us a fascinating insight into Paul. This pastoral question about eating meat that had been sacrificed in pagan temples might not seem to say much to us as inhabitants of a modern technological society. In his context, though, Paul understands the Corinthian Christians’ notion that pagan gods aren’t God at all, so sharing temple food – their primary source of meat – could be morally neutral to believers who are strong in their faith. The rest of Paul’s conclusion transcends time: Even if we do nothing wrong, Paul asserts, our actions may influence others, and Christ calls us to be mindful of that.

Gospel: Mark 1:21-28

We continue following Mark’s account of Jesus’ early ministry in Galilee. Baptized, returned from his time in the wilderness, and having chosen his disciples, Jesus now steps up and speaks for the first time during Sabbath services in Capernaum, the small Galilean town where he was active. Two remarkable things happen: First, this stranger amazes the community with bold teaching that reveals him as one “having authority.” Then Jesus further astounds the people by commanding a noisy unclean spirit to come out of a troubled man. Unclean though the spirit may be, it shouts wisdom, declaring Jesus “the Holy One of God.”

Epiphany 3B

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Call of the Sons of Zebedee

Call of the Sons of Zebedee (1510), oil painting on panel by Marco Basaiti (1470-1530). Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice, Italy. (Click image to enlarge.)

First Reading: Jonah 3:1-5, 10

As we continue through the Epiphany season, our readings again this week speak to us of God’s call and our response. Even after we do wrong, when we repent and return, God is quick to forgive and to welcome us back. Our first reading is a brief passage from the familiar story of Jonah, the reluctant prophet, who ran away when God called him to prophesy to the people of Nineveh. Just before this passage, Jonah had been spewed out on the beach by the giant fish that God sent to bring the fleeing prophet back. Jonah is ready to cooperate after this experience, and his concise prophecy has great effect: The people of this huge city all put on sackcloth, fast and repent; whereupon God shows mercy and forgives them.

Psalm: Psalm 62: 6-14

We enter Psalm 62 at Verse 6, joining a narrator who has been assailed, battered, and defamed by foes who seek to bring him down. Can this troubled person turn to God for refuge and stability in a world gone fearsome? Yes, the Psalmist asserts: Wait, hope, trust in God. Do not be shaken: when all else fails, God remains our strong rock and our refuge. Our faith and hope in God’s power and steadfast love will be rewarded. Trust in God alone, the Psalmist tells us over and over again. No one else can be trusted. God is always there, always holding the power, always ready to repay us according to our good deeds.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 7: 29-31

No marriage, no mourning, no joy? No things? What in the world is Paul going on about this time? Paul’s letters can sound very confusing to modern ears, but we can usually hear the voice of the Spirit when we understand them in the context of their time and place. Paul was convinced that Christ was coming back very soon, bringing God’s kingdom and a new way of life. Nothing was more important than that, Paul preached. Not husbands and wives, not mourning or joy. All that is passing away, Paul assures his fractious flock; but God abides.

Gospel: Mark 1:14-20

The Gospel according to Mark is moving along very quickly, as Mark’s Gospel does. We are only 14 verses in, and already Herod has arrested John the Baptist, and soon will have John killed. Jesus has just returned from the 40-day fast in the desert that he took on immediately after John baptized him. Now Jesus has taken over John’s call to proclaim repentance from sin and to declare the good news of God’s kingdom. Then, just like that, Mark’s narrative shifts again as Jesus calls his first disciples from fishers working on the Sea of Galilee: Two pairs of brothers, Simon and Andrew, and James son of Zebedee and John. Without any discussion or question, they all get up, leave their former lives behind, and follow Jesus.

Epiphany 2B

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Nathaniel Under the Fig Tree

Nathaniel Under the Fig Tree (c.1886-1894), gouache drawing over graphite on gray paper by James Tissot (1836-1902). Brooklyn Museum, New York City. (Click image to enlarge.)

First Reading: 1 Samuel 3:1-10

Listen for God’s voice in the world, and take care to grasp the reality that we hear. Listen for this theme as it resonates through Sunday’s Lectionary readings. Our first reading introduces young Samuel, puzzled by a mysterious voice as he lies near the Ark in the Temple in Jerusalem. Samuel thinks the voice is his guardian Eli, the high priest and judge of Israel. But Eli, who is elderly and nearly blind, was sound asleep. After a few repetitions, Eli realizes 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, although they are harsh and stern: God plans to punish Eli and his blasphemous sons who have corrupted the Temple priesthood.

Psalm: Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17

It is rarely easy for us to be certain of what God is asking of us. But 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, the Psalmist continues. It would take an infinity of time to count them.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

At a glance, this reading might reinforce our modern doubts about Paul’s occasional ruminations on sexuality and sin. Read in its original context, though, we see a kinder and gentler image. As he so often does in 1 Corinthians, Paul is offering 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 being baptized in the Spirit allows them to behave immorally without sin. Paul’s advice is not angry but 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 behaving well.

Gospel: John 1:43-51

We are called to respond to Christ in faith through the revelation of his divinity in the gospels of the Epiphany season. In the first chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus calls his disciples, one and two at a time. In the verses preceding Sunday’s gospel, Andrew, Simon Peter and now Philip have joined Jesus. Now we learn that Philip wants his friend Nathanael added to the growing band. Nathanael, though, is wary at first. This Jesus comes from Nazareth? That’s not where the Messiah is supposed to come from! But when Jesus speaks to Nathanael in words that seem to echo the Psalm’s “Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb,” Nathanael accepts Jesus’s call and declares him the Son of God and King of Israel.

Epiphany 1B/Baptism of Our Lord

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The Baptism of Christ, with donors and their patron saints

The Baptism of Christ, with donors and their patron saints (1505), oil painting on wood, altarpiece of Jean des Trompe, by Gerárd David (c.1450/1460–1523). Groeninge Museum, Bruges, Belgium. (Click image to enlarge.)

First Reading: Genesis 1:1-5

Now we turn to the season of Epiphany and visualize how Scripture reveals Jesus as Christ and Messiah. Week by week, we celebrate the various manifestations, or epiphanies, of Jesus’s divinity, beginning with the coming of the Magi on the Epiphany, January 6, and now his baptism. All four readings this Sunday speak of creation and new life through God in Word and Spirit. Our first reading begins with the opening words of the ancient creation story in Genesis. God’s Word rings out, and light shines in the darkness. Then God’s spirit breath sweeps over the face of the waters. In the beginning God creates heaven and earth. In the beginning was the Word.

Psalm: Psalm 29

“Ascribe due honor to God’s holy name.” This striking psalm, perhaps a call to worship at the ancient temple, uses the metaphor of a majestic storm to portray God’s powerful spirit wind. Such a damaging storm, breaking mighty cedars, shooting flames, and shaking the wilderness, might scare anyone into running for shelter. But it also has potential to lure us outside to feel the rain and the wind on our faces as the storm rolls through. After such an event, anyone would surely cry out in worship, thanking the God who gives us strength and peace.

Second Reading: Acts 19:1-7

The Acts of the Apostles continues the narrative of Luke’s Gospel, following the evangelist’s account of the early church after Jesus’ death. In this passage we find Paul in Ephesus, introducing a dozen followers to the Holy Spirit. They tell Paul that they have already been baptized through John’s baptism. But when Paul explains that John himself told the people to believe in Jesus, the one who was to come after him, they eagerly accept baptism again, this time in Jesus’s name. Then, like the apostles at the first Pentecost, they joyfully begin speaking in tongues and prophesying as the Holy Spirit comes to them.

Gospel: Mark 1:4-11

Last month, on the second and third Sundays of Advent, we heard Matthew’s and John’s accounts of Jesus’s baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. Now here we are again, this time reading Mark’s version of the familiar story. John has been telling the crowds that one more powerful is coming, whose sandals John is not worthy to untie. In Mark’s typical brisk, no-nonsense style, we hear that Jesus arrives, is baptized, and emerges from the water to see the heavens torn apart and the Spirit coming down, while God’s voice rumbles from heaven, saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Last Epiphany A/Transfiguration

Illuminations on the Lectionary readings for Feb. 19, 2023 (Last Epiphany A/Transfiguration)

First Reading: Exodus 24:12-18

The gradual revelation of Jesus as Messiah, which began last month with his baptism by John in the Jordan, draws to a close as Transfiguration Sunday concludes the season of Epiphany.

The Transfiguration

The Transfiguration (1308-1311), tempera painting on wood altarpiece by Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255=1319). National Gallery of London. (Click image to enlarge)

Midway between Christmas and Easter, we will now turn toward the penitential path of Lent. Sunday’s readings show us the awe and fear of humans encountering the divine. Our first reading from Exodus describes Moses going up Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments from a fearsome God cloaked in clouds and fire. This scene is a surprising contrast with the verses that came just before, in which Moses, Aaron and the leaders of the people apparently dine and drink with a more accessible divine being.

Psalm: Psalm 2

Earthly kings may have wielded vast temporal power in biblical times, but even they must submit with fear and trembling to the mightiness of God, King of Kings. So sings the Psalmist in Psalm 2. Those who would seek to break away from God’s power and that of God’s anointed, the Messiah, will earn only divine derision and terrifying rage. God’s anointed, however, will be set on the holy hill of Zion – site of the temple. Then these verses of anger and divine threats turn to a note of promise: Happy are all who take refuge in God.

Alternative Psalm: Psalm 99

In verses that hark back to Moses and Aaron following God’s sign through the desert and receiving God’s law, this hymn of praise shows us an image of God as a powerful king, before whom the people tremble and even the earth shakes. But this is a fair God, who may have punished the people when they were evil, but who also answered their prayers and rewarded them. This is a forgiving and kind God who provides equity, justice and righteousness.

Second Reading: 2 Peter 1:16-21

Here’s something to know about the New Testament’s Letters of Peter: The Apostle Peter didn’t write either of them, and this one was probably written 100 years or more after the Crucifixion, long after Peter’s death. Still, it opens a window into the second-century church, when believers were trying to understand why Jesus had not returned as soon as they had hoped and prayed. All that they have heard about Jesus is true, the letter insists. Speaking in the first person as Peter, it reminds them that Peter himself had been present at the Transfiguration. Trust in God, it urges, and wait for the dawn and the morning star.

Gospel: Matthew 17:1-9

“This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased.” In almost identical words, we heard the voice of God coming from above to declare Jesus his beloved Son at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan at the beginning of Epiphany. Now we hear it again at the end of Epiphany in the Transfiguration. We see Jesus meeting Old Testament prophets on a mountaintop, glowing in dazzling light, revealed to the apostles Peter, James and John for the first time as both human and divine. The three, witnessing all this, are terrified to hear the voice of God, but Jesus reassures them with a loving touch and, for the first time, speaks of his coming resurrection.

Epiphany 6A

Illuminations on the Lectionary readings for Feb. 12, 2023 (Epiphany 6A)

First Reading: Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Our Lectionary readings for recent Sundays have followed a consistent theme: In the Gospels we are hearing Matthew’s account of Jesus’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.

Moses Shown the Promised Land

Moses Shown the Promised Land (1801), oil painting on panel by Benjamin West (1738-1820). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. (Click image to enlarge)

In our Hebrew Bible readings we have glimpsed the roots of Jesus’s wisdom in God’s firm commandments to be righteous, to care for the poor and the oppressed; the widow, the orphan and the stranger in our land. Our first reading shows Moses instructing the people at the end of their long journey in the desert, as they prepare to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land. They hear the core of the covenant at Sinai: Follow God’s commandment to be righteous, and inherit the land. Defy God’s commandments, fail in that covenant, and – as the prophets will foretell – lose the land and die.

Alternate First Reading: Sirach 15:15-20

In this optional alternative for the first reading we hear a passage from Sirach (also known as Ecclesiasticus), one of the books known as Apocrypha that were originally written Greek, not Hebrew, and that come at the end of editions of the Hebrew Bible that choose to include them. Consistent with the day’s other readings, it sums up God’s teaching in brisk, memorable advice: We are given free will. God does not force us to keep the commandments – we may choose either fire or water – but God, all-knowing and wise, does not wish us to sin.

Psalm: Psalm 119:1-8

Psalm 119, the longest of all the Psalms, devotes its 176 verses to a consistent message: God’s decrees, God’s law and teaching given in the Torah, are wonderful, and following them brings joy. The ideas that the Psalmist expresses in these first eight verses of the Psalm will continue throughout. They echo the covenant between God and Moses at Mount Sinai: Those who follow God’s teaching and walk in God’s ways will be rewarded. The Psalmist calls on God’s help to stay steadfast in following this teaching, and begs in turn not to be forsaken.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 3:1-9

We continue working through the opening chapters of First Corinthians this week, listening in as Paul writes pastorally to a bickering church that has split into factions. In last Sunday’s portion Paul might have seemed to be praising the Corinthians for a spiritual maturity that enabled them to understand the ways of God that aren’t so clear to those less mature. But now Paul makes it clear that the Christians of Corinth have a long way to go. Their quarreling factions show that they aren’t ready for spiritual food, Paul warns, adding that we are all God’s servants. When we work together, God uses us to build and grow.

Gospel: Matthew 5:21-37

In the Sermon on the Mount, which occupies three full chapters of Matthew’s Gospel, we learn much about discipleship, the hard work of following Jesus toward the Kingdom of God. Last Sunday we heard Jesus assure the crowd that he did not come to change the Law and the Prophets (that is, the Hebrew Bible). But now he begins interpreting the Law – as rabbis do – in new and challenging ways. Considering the commandment, “Do not kill,” Jesus says to go beyond that. Not only must we do no harm but we must even respond to our enemies in peace. We are not merely bound to not commit adultery, but to treat women with respect. We must do more than simply avoiding false witness: We are called to be honest, be true, say exactly what we mean!

Epiphany 5A

Illuminations on the Lectionary readings for Feb. 5, 2023 (Epiphany 5A)

First Reading: Isaiah 58:1-12

Two important ideas run through Sunday’s Lectionary readings: righteousness and light. “Righteous,” in biblical understanding, may not mean quite what we think it does in modern times.

Sermon on the Mountain

Sermon on the Mountain (1896), oil painting on canvas by Károly Ferenczy (1862-1917). Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest. (Click image to enlarge)

It speaks of God’s call to God’s people to practice justice, as Isaiah insists and as Jesus, too, asks of us; by going beyond mere fasting and ritual practice to stand against oppression, feed the hungry, house the homeless, clothe the naked. Righteousness will heal our souls and light up our lives, as the light of Epiphany that shines in the deep winter darkness will illuminate the way of our God.

Psalm: Psalm 112:1-9, [10]

Sunday’s Psalm portion, titled “Blessings of the Righteous,” echoes Isaiah’s call: The righteousness of those who follow God and delight in God’s commandments will endure forever. Those who are gracious and merciful, who deal with others generously and act with justice, the Psalmist sings, will “rise in the darkness as a light for the upright.” By living justly, we become an example for others and show the way to God.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 2:1-16

We continue our journey through the opening chapters of 1 Corinthians, listening in as Paul offers pastoral guidance for the quarreling community. He turns their thoughts toward humility, reiterating the advice that – even if following the crucified Jesus may make us appear foolish to the world – in fact we share God’s secret wisdom. The Holy Spirit gives us new life through Christ.

Gospel: Matthew 5:13-20

Sunday’s Gospel picks up in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, just after Jesus has given the crowd the Beatitudes, promising God’s kingdom to the poor, the hungry, the thirsty; those who mourn, the meek; the humble, and all who are persecuted and oppressed. Now the crowd hears that, as God’s people, they are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. With that comes the responsibility to let the world see God through your good works. Jesus says he has not come to change God’s law that calls us to righteousness: Love God, and love our neighbors as ourselves. But in fulfilling the law, Jesus will show us new ways. We will hear more about that next Sunday in the next verses of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus counts the ways: “You have heard that it was said … but I tell you …” That which was old becomes new again in Jesus.

Epiphany 4A

Illuminations on the Lectionary readings for Jan. 29, 2023 (Epiphany 4A)

First Reading: Micah 6:1-8

How are we called to walk in God’s way, and what does that look like? Listen for wisdom on this question through Sunday’s Lectionary readings, culminating in the Beatitudes in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

Sermone della Montagna (Sermon on the Mount)

Sermone della Montagna (Sermon on the Mount, 1481-1482), Fresco by Cosimo Rosselli (1439-1507), Sistine Chapel, Vatican City, Rome. (Click image to enlarge)

In our first reading we hear the prophet Micah, who prophesied to the people of Judea and Samaria as they faxed an existential threat from Babylonia. Micah imagines all humanity standing before God like a defendant in a trial, pleading our case before the almighty Judge. God “has a controversy with us,” the prophet warns, reminding the people that God has done so much for them since bringing them out of Egypt to the promised land. How are the people to respond? Not with burnt offering or sacrifice, but, in Micah’s memorable words, simply by doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God.

Psalm: Psalm 15

Who among us can claim the high honor of living in God’s sanctuary? The Psalmist’s instructions bear a marked resemblance to Micah’s prophecy: Those who do right, speak truth, don’t slander or reproach and do no evil, comes the reply. Those may dwell in God’s tabernacle and abide on God’s holy hill. Honesty, kindness, and love of neighbor all make a difference. The way we live matters.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

Paul, continuing his lecture to the quarreling factions in the church at Corinth, repeats the verse that concluded last Sunday’s reading: Jesus’ death on the cross – a horrific form of execution reserved by Rome for the worst criminals – “is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Yet, Paul goes on, God chose this way to celebrate the weak, the poor and the despised and to shame the powerful and the strong. This comes to us through Jesus, who gives us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption.

Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12

Ah, the Beatitudes! Jesus’ loving verses in the Sermon on the Mount are central to Christian thinking, so much so that it is easy to hear them with more affection than deep reflection. But beatitudes – a Scriptural genre found also in Psalms and Proverbs – reward deeper thought. In eight quick phrases, Jesus turns the world upside down: The poor are blessed, not the rich. Mourners, the meek, the hungry; the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the oppressed win God’s blessing. This should come as no surprise to those who follow Jesus and remember the words of his mother’s song: “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”