The Third Sunday after the Epiphany, January 22, 2023

November 27, 2022 | by Bruce Epperly

Reading 1 Reading 2 Reading 3 Reading 4 Reading 1 Alt Reading 2 Alt
Isaiah 9:1-4 Psalm 27:1, 4-9 I Corinthians 1:10-18 Matthew 4:12-23

On this Sunday in the Week of Christian Unity, our scriptures deal with hope, fear, division, courage, and unity.  The Psalm, Isaiah passage, and Gospel all have an element of threat, and in the Corinthians reading, Paul fears that the community will fall apart due to divisions.

Isaiah rejoices that the people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light. The implication is that they have been in darkness – the darkness of idolatry and injustice, the darkness of internal chaos and external threat, the darkness (possibly) of national destruction and exile, or the threat thereof.  Isaiah imagines a time in which darkness will be overcome by God’s light, and the people will rejoice once again.  Darkness is real and it has sapped the nation of courage and confidence. But the light cannot be quenched. God’s light outlasts the machinations of our enemies and our own waywardness.

Psalm 27’s affirmation, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” assumes that threats are real.  Like Psalm 23, it asserts that we cannot go around the fears – or the valley of the shadow of death – but must go through it, realizing that there are enemies all around, and also realizing that God is stronger than anything I fear.  Still, the Psalmist, and persons today, want to see God’s face.  We want something to hold onto.  How do we discover the visible God, the “God with skin” in troubled times. The Psalmist yearns to be in God’s shelter and sanctuary and perhaps he is, but does not yet know it?  We too want the courage to know that we are sheltered by God as the foundations shake in our lives, institutions, and nation.

The Corinthians fear that party and religious spirit and religious rivalries will destroy their fledgling community.  Each one of these leaders, including Paul, is a person of faith and integrity but their followers are letting their differences and the differing personalities of their leaders get in the way of the gospel message. Unity in Christ supersedes any particular approach to Christ.  Like the blindfolded or sight-impaired persons describing the elephant, each movement has its feel for a particular aspect of God or understanding of Christ and the Christian life.  None has the full story.  Each movement experiences enough to be helpful to their followers’ spiritual life.  Each can be destructive if it is viewed as the only way, devaluing other ways.  God is more than our paths of faith.  Christ is more than Christianity.  Revelation is personal and it is also global and many-faceted.  Letting go of our need to be “right” and others “wrong” is essential for the healing of the Corinthian communities and Christian communities today.  As Reinhold Niebuhr noted, we must recognize the falsehood (limitations) of our own truths, and the truth in our neighbor’s falsehood.[i]

Was Jesus ever afraid prior to Calvary?  After he hears of John the Baptist’s murder, he withdrew to Galilee.  Did he go on retreat?  Did he take a time for introspection to formulate the contours of his mission? Or, did he want to get out of the line of fire to figure out his next move, carefully and prayerfully? The inner and outer are one, in the world of the mystic.  Action and contemplation are two sides of the same coin.  From his time of withdrawal, Jesus’ message of light emerges.  He brings light to the chaos following John’s death.  His post-retreat message is a theology in a nutshell: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”  In Jesus call to repentance and transformation, we hear the affirmations:

  • Let go of the past to open to the future.
  • Turn from the old ways that have burdened you and confined your spirit.
  • Turn toward a new path, with a lighter load.
  • Believe the good news of salvation.
  • God’s Shalom is near, in fact, right here.
  • Participate as God’s companions in healing the world.

Filled with the Spirit and brimming with a story to tell and a gospel to proclaim, Jesus begins his own community of companions.  “Follow me.” Did these men know Jesus and his message?  Had they heard him speak?  Did they engage in prior conversations about God’s Realm?  In any event, they said yes, let go of the past, and began a new path with Jesus as they companion and guide.  Together, they embark on a new adventure, companioning Jesus in “teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people”

From the beginning to end of his ministry, the disciples do not fully know who Jesus is, nor will they ever encompass his teaching.  But, in the journey, they find him and themselves and a mission to which they will give their lives.  Albert Schweitzer’s concluding words from The Quest for the Historical Jesus describe the journey of Jesus’ first followers and us as we seek to know Jesus’ way.

“He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside,
He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same words: “Follow thou me!” and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He Is.

[i] see Reinhold Niebuhr, Nature and Destiny of Man, Vol. 2, Section, Having and Not Having the Truth.

Bruce Epperly is a pastor, professor, spiritual guide, and author of over seventy books, including The Elephant Is Running: Process and Open and Relational Theology and Religious Pluralism; Prophetic Healing: Howard Thurman’s Vision Of Contemplative Activism; Mystic’s In Action: Twelve Saints For Today; Walking With Saint Francis: From Privilege To Activism; Messy Incarnation: Meditations On Process Christology, and From Cosmos To Cradle: Meditations On The Incarnation. His latest book is The Prophetic Amos Speaks To America. He can be reached for seminars and talks at