Expanding Joy

Friday, January 18, 2013 -- Week of 1 Epiphany (Year One)
Confession of Saint Peter the Apostle

[Go to http://www.missionstclare.com/english/index.html for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]

Today's Readings for the Daily Office
(Book of Common Prayer)
EITHER the readings for Friday of 1 Epiphany (p. 942)
Psalms 16, 17 (morning) // 22 (evening)
Isaiah 42:(1-9) 10-17
Ephesians 3:1-13
Mark 2:13-22

OR the readings for the Confession of St. Peter (p. 996)
Morning Prayer: Psalms 66, 67; Ezekiel 3:4-11; Acts 10:34-33
Evening Prayer; Psalms 118; Ezekiel 34:11-16; John 21:15-22

I chose the readings for Friday of 1 Epiphany

Mark continues the theme of Jesus' work to bring good news to a wider circle of God's people -- connecting heaven to earth and overcoming human barriers to connect people together. Today Jesus invites Levi, a tax collector, into his table fellowship and discipleship. Tax collectors were despised as Roman collaborators and extortionists, but Jesus sees potential and goodness in Levi and his friends. Jesus sits at table with sinners. We think of everyone as sinners today. Not so in Jesus' culture. Sinners were those who deliberately did not follow the laws and observances of the Torah. They were outsiders who had deliberately chosen to be outsiders.

Jesus sees what he is doing as an expansion of joy. He uses wedding imagery to suggest how his disciples live in a joyous, inclusive and celebratory way. Often he compared the Kingdom of God to a great feast or party.

And he recognizes how much strain his new way of life places on convention and custom. It is like new wine being put into old wineskins. His way will cause tradition to burst apart.

When we read Isaiah, we see a vision that is as broad and as expansive as what we see Jesus inaugurating centuries later. Isaiah presents Israel as God's servant, gently and faithfully bringing forth justice. Willingly embracing suffering from time to time. Called "as a light to the nations, to open blind eyes, to lead the prisoners from the prison and those who sit in darkness from the dungeon. ...Sing to the Lord a new song!" (42:6c-7, 10a CEB). No wonder Jesus identified with this prophesy. It carries his spirit.

The promise that Isaiah offers is not restrained by the limits of Jewish religion or by Israel's boundaries. It is for all the nations. Isaiah's praise is for the God who is the creator of all. A few chapters later, God will say: "It is not enough, since you are my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the survivors of Israel. Hence, I will also appoint you as a light to the nations so that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth." (49:6)

Many have seen this universalism in Isaiah and Jesus in a triumphalistic and even imperialistic way -- our religion will defeat the other religions, and everyone will become Christian, eventually even Jews. I don't see these visions that way. What I see is a challenge to superficial boundaries and an invitation to a more expansive way of life grounded in the very being of God -- a life characterized by love, compassion and justice. Religions, including Christianity, that cannot embrace such a living Spirit are like old wineskins and carved images. They have form without life. God has witnesses and servants everywhere. There is light throughout the world. There is light among tax collectors and sinners and outsiders. Therefore we are commanded to sit at table in fellowship with them and to welcome them to our table. We can recognize the potential and goodness present in every person, in every place and in every religious tradition. That light is God's salvation reaching to the end of the earth.

Connecting us together by breaking boundaries and expanding friendship is Christ's work. It is joyful work of celebration.

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