THE FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY
30 JANUARY 2011
The LORD’s Lawsuit against Israel
From the superscription (1.1) it appears that the prophet Micah was a younger contemporary of Isaiah; like Isaiah and Hosea he prophesied at the time of the Assyrian threat against Israel and Judah in the late eighth century BC. Unlike Isaiah, who was of noble descent and a man of Jerusalem, Micah was born in the village of Moresheth in the foothills s-w of Jerusalem. The introduction to the NOAB suggests that for this reason he ‘looked on the corruptions and pretensions of the southern capital through different eyes’, and that this difference accounts for his prophecy of the fall of Jerusalem (3.9-12), something his contemporaries never did (see Jeremiah 26.18).
The sixth chapter of Micah contains a series of oracles directed against Israelites of all classes and opens with a dramatic lawsuit that brings the people to face the greatness of their sin.
1-2. Address. The Lord summons Israel to plead its case (see also Isaiah 3:13; Hosea 4:1-3; 12:2.); he is both accuser and judge; the whole of nature (mountains, hills, foundations of the earth) witness the action.
3-5: The Mighty Deeds of the LORD. This text has been used in Christian liturgy, especially on Good Friday. It resumes Israel’s confession of faith, such as Joshua 24.2-13. “Past events are recalled in order to bring the listener to repent” and properly consider “the promised faithfulness. The mighty deeds of God are recounted from the exodus … to the conquest and the entry into the land.” What more could the LORD have done? [NJBC]
For the story of Balak and Balaam son of Beor, see chapters 22-24 of Numbers. For Shittim see Numbers 25.1-5, 27.23 and 33.48-49, on Gilgal, see Joshua 5.2-12.
6-7: True Religion: the Question. The remembrance of these mighty acts of redemption evoke the questions: how shall I come before the LORD? That is, what is the religion expected of me? There are four questions here, one general, three specific building up to the climax of a terrible offering in the hope of wiping away great sin:
With what shall I come before the LORD ….?
Shall I come with burnt offerings ….?
Will the LORD be pleased with repeated offerings (thousands of rams) or streams of the oil used in worship and anointing?
Shall I give my firstborn?
The climax the abomination of the Canaanites (see Leviticus 20.2-3; Deuteronomy 12.31; Ezekiel 20.26) which the LORD has rejected (see 1 Kings 16.34; Jer 7.31, 19.5; cf Genesis 22, Exodus 11, 13). Such a dreadful question shows that the gravity of the sin is realized. But the Lord‘s answer is definitely negative: he demands inward conversion and a right spirit. This was called for by the law and all the prophets (see Isaiah 1.10-17; 7.9; 30.15; Amos 5.21-27; Hosea 2.19-20; 6.4-6; Jeremiah 6.16-20; 7.21-24).
8. True Religion: the Answer. So Micah says, He has told you : the right answer is to do justice. Kindness or mercy translates the Hebrew hesed, חֶסֶד, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, favour, among people or grace, as shown by God to people, also, human piety towards God. What the Lord demands is an expression of love in response to his love. It is all summed up in the image of walking humbly with your God. The themes here are also echoed in Christ’s Beatitudes.
Domine quis habitabit?
On the prohibition of interest (v. 5), see Exodus 22.25; Leviticus 25.35-37.
The power of the Cross
In reading for this Sunday, take vv 27 and 28, But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, and compare those who are called ‘blessed’ in the Gospel reading. How the Gospel of God would turn the world upside down is we only embraced it with all our hearts!
THE HOLY GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST MATTHEW 5.1-12
Parallel: Luke 6.20-23
Chapters 5-7: Blessings, Entering the Kingdom
Chapter 10: Mission Discourse
Chapter 13 Parables of the Kingdom
Chapter 18: Communuity Discourse
Chapters 24-25: Woes; Coming of the Kingdom
Luke\s Gospel conatins a parallel discourse known as the Sermon on the Plain It is not necessary to think that this ‘sermon’ was delivered at one time as it stands in the text of the Gospel; a comparison shows that the Gospel according to Luke has used much of the material in different ways and at different points in the narrative.
The dominant themes of the Sermon are the kingdom of God and justice. It opens with the series of declarations ccalled the Beatitudes, from the opening words of each verse, in Latin Beati, ‘blessed’. Matthew’s Gospel gives eight beatitudes; in Luke four beatitudes are accompanied by four ‘woes’ (6.24-26). Our purposes do not require us to take a position on the relations between the two versions, or whether one is more authentic; it is enough to note that the questions exist and may be pursued in many good studies and commentaries. We hear in these verse as they stand in scripture the voice of our Lord showing us the character and condition of person that is blessed by God. They challenge us to examine our lives and character.
Verses 1 and 2 are a brief introduction. The mountain is not identified; from 1.23 we gather it is in Galilee. A gently-sloping hillside on the north shore of the sea, not far from Capernaum is pointed out as the site of the sermon; a chapel was built there in 1939. See http://www.bibleplaces.com/mtbeatitudes.htm
3. Blessed (Gk makarios) has been rendered by ‘happy’ in some modern versions; and there are some senses of the word ‘happy’ that are appropriate here. However, at the root of the word ‘happy’ is the idea of chance or luck (‘hap’), which invites the objection that ‘happiness’ is an emotion often dependant on outward circumstances but ‘blessed’ refers to the well-being and joy which belongs to those who share in the kingdom. Furthermore, ‘blessed’ involves the idea of approval by God. Thus the poor and all the others are ‘blessed’ not because they are better than others but because of God’s speracial care for them. The poor in spirit: Luke simpy has the ‘poor’. At the time of Jesus the poor of the land were those who preferred divine service to any financial gain. By adding ‘in spirit’ the moral dimension of voluntary detachment from wealth comes into the picture. In truth everyone is poor, for no one has anything that is not from God, not even self; the blessed are the ones who know this.
4. Those who mourn; we think of mourners at a funeral, but the word is wider; it originally mean to be anxious, but came to mean to sorrow, grieve, lament. Here the major sense is sorrow for sin and for the trials and difficulties of this life.
5. The meek. See Psalm 37.11; the word means ‘slow to anger’, ‘gentle with others’. The earth; in both Hebrew and Greek the word can also mean ‘the land’.
6. For thirst as spiritual longing, see Psalm 42.2, Isa. Iv. i.
7. The merciful: Slater notes: lit. shall experience mercy not only now, but in the final triumph of the kingdom, Jas. 2. 13 (cf. Heb. 4. 16, ‘receive mercy’). Matthew frequently refers to mercy: 9.13, 12.7, 18. 33, 25.35. The higher righteousness which justifies forgiveness can only be attained by those who submit to be governed by this supreme law of the universe, i. e. love. This is taught in the parable of the ungrateful servant, 18.23 ; and in the Lord s Prayer, 6.12. Mercy characterizes the true High Priest, Heb. 2.17 ; its absence condemned the Pharisees, Matt. 23.23.
10. persecuted for righteousness’ sake, ‘The cause, not the pain, makes the martyr’ (Augustine). See 1 Peter 3.14, 4.14.
11. falsely, or, because they are speakers of falsehood.
12. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven is perhaps the most difficult saying in the whole passage. Christian joy abounds in adversity ; so the apostles sang in prison, Acts 16 25 : cf. Rom. 5.3.