“Eli and Samuel,” from this week’s Old Testament lesson…
Epiphany runs from January 6 until Ash Wednesday. This year Ash Wednesday falls on February 18, and begins the season of Lent. The day before Lent begins is called Shrove Tuesday, better known as Mardi Gras, or in England “Fat Tuesday.” I.e., church seasons alternate times of penance and celebration, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves…
The Epiphany – this year, January 6 – “is a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God the Son as a human being in Jesus Christ.” More to the point, in the Western Church the feast “commemorates principally (but not solely) the visit of the Magi to the Christ child, and thus Jesus’ physical manifestation to the Gentiles.” See Epiphany (holiday) – Wikipedia.
An epiphany is “an experience of sudden and striking realization:”
Generally the term is used to describe [a] scientific breakthrough, religious or philosophical discoveries, but it can apply in any situation in which an enlightening realization allows a problem or situation to be understood from a new and deeper perspective… Epiphanies are relatively rare occurrences [often] triggered by a new and key piece of information, but importantly, a depth of prior knowledge is required to allow the leap of understanding.
See Epiphany (feeling) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Simply put, the Epiphany on January 6 is a celebration of the point when humankind as a whole came to realize that they – we – have a Savior who loved us so much that He came to live among us and “show us the way…“
That means the Bible readings for Sundays from now until February 15 will be those readings “after the Epiphany.” For example, see Second Sunday after the Epiphany, where you can see the full readings for next Sunday, January 18. Here are some highlights.
The Old Testament reading is 1st Samuel 3:1-10(11-20). It’s about the prophet Samuel, and about Eli, a “High Priest of Shiloh.” (See Samuel, and also Eli (biblical figure) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.) Here Samuel is a young “novice” mentored by Eli. This night Samuel heard God calling him – literally – but thought it was Eli, sleeping in the next room.
Then Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, `Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.'” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
Samuel did what he was told, then heard God say that he was going to punish Eli for the sins of his sons. (The two sons were “Levitical” priests at the church at Shiloh, but among other things “they were having sexual relations with the sanctuary’s serving women… Eli is aware of their behavior but he rebukes them too lightly and is unable to stop them.”)
Samuel tells this to Eli, who responds, “It is the LORD; let him do what seems good to him.” The reading ends: “As Samuel grew up, the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet…”
Some scholars have interpreted this psalm to be a response to an accusation of idolatrous sun worship, something forbidden in the Jewish faith, but incredibly common in rival religions of the time. (See Ancient Egyptian religion…) Through this psalm, the psalmist insists on God being the only true god and challenges anyone to question his faith.
The International Bible Commentary (IBC) uses the sub-title “Honest to God,” and said the setting is best viewed as a religious court. The writer is “protesting his innocence before almighty God who knows him through and through, is never absent from his side and has superintended his life from its beginning.” It begins, “LORD, you have searched me out and known me; you know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar.” It ends:
How deep I find your thoughts, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I were to count them, they would be more in number than the sand; to count them all, my life span would need to be like yours.
Which serves as a reminder that we can never learn all there is to know about God. See also On reading the Bible, which cited Isaiah 55:8-9: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.” (Some folks seem to re-make God in their image, rather than the other way around. See Genesis 1:27, on the possibility of living on “in the spirit.”)
Turning to the New Testament reading, 1st Corinthians 6:12-20, the IBC that said it’s all about fornication and purity. “Fornication, condoned by the average Greek and Roman alike … became a snare to test the moral discipline of the local church.” Paul concluded:
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit … and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.
The Gospel reading, John 1:43-51, tells of Jesus meeting Philip and Nathanael, and about the “fig tree.” See Philip, Nathanael, and the Fig Tree | Sacred Story. After Jesus recruited Philip as a disciple, he went and talked to Nathanael, who apparently was a bit of a “wiseacre:”
Nathanael listened, and made a wise-crack – “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” [He] was always making sarcastic remarks [but] Philip didn’t give up on him… Nathanael dragged his feet. He kicked rocks… But he came… Jesus wasn’t surprised [and even] greeted him with a sarcastic joke. “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” …Nathanael looked up and blurted out, “When did you get to know me?” When Jesus answered that he saw him under the fig tree before Philip called him, Nathanael let go of all his sarcasm and hostile defenses, and believed that what Philip said was true.
As such Nathanael may be patron saint of all such “wiseacres” among us, to this very day!
The upper image is courtesy of Eli (biblical figure) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. The caption: “Depiction of Eli and Samuel by John Singleton Copley, 1780.”
The full “holiday” references include Epiphany (holiday) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, and Epiphany (feeling) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. The latter noted that the term epiphany “originally referred to insight through the divine.”
Re: Genesis 1:27. See So God created mankind in his own image, which noted in the commentaries: “It is the soul of man that especially bears God’s image.” See also What does it mean that humanity is made in the image of God? That site said this:
Having the “image” or “likeness” of God means, in the simplest terms, that we were made to resemble God. Adam did not resemble God in the sense of God’s having flesh and blood. Scripture says that “God is spirit” (John 4:24) and therefore exists without a body.
The lower image is courtesy of Philip, Nathanael, and the Fig Tree | Sacred Story. The full reading ends with Jesus saying to Nathanael, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these… I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
Note too that I changed the wording of the “Sacred Story” emphasized quote, in part using “guile” instead of “deceit.” Sacred Story said of Jesus’ sarcastic joke to Nathanael, “The Israel Jesus referred to was the new name of Jacob, who was well-known as a deceitful trickster who fooled both his father and brother.” Other commentaries have a different – and apparently more “politically correct” – take. See for example John 1:47 When Jesus saw Nathanael (“Biblehub”), which said Jesus was referring to “one who fulfils the true idea of Israel, a prince with God, a conqueror of God by prayer, and conqueror of man by submission, penitence, and restitution.” See also On arguing with God.
Re: Philip. See Philip the Apostle – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
A “wiseacre” is variously defined as: 1) wise guy; 3) “Old person speak for smartass;” and/or a term “essentially synonymous with the terms jerk and jackass…” See Urban Dictionary: wiseacre, and also Define Wiseacre at Dictionary.com. The latter adds the term comes from the M [or] [and/or the]
And finally, “even to this day” is a phrase used repeatedly throughout the Bible. (Or “words to that effect.”) See for example Matthew 28:15. In the Expanded Bible the verse reads, “So the soldiers kept the money and did as they were ·told [instructed]. And that story is still spread among the ·people [L Jews] even ·today [to this day].” The Good News Translation and Living Bible read “to this very day.” For more examples type the term into Bible Hub: Search, Read, Study the Bible in Many Languages.