Weekly Liturgy booklets
Notes on the Service for January 17, 2021
1 Sam. 3:1–10 • Ps. 139:1–5, 12–17 • 1 Cor. 6:12–20 • Jn. 1:43–51
The season “after Epiphany” will run until Ash Wednesday, February 17. The liturgical color has changed to ordinary green and the festive notes are reduced, but the theme of Epiphany, Christ’s manifestation to the world, will be sustained. For instance, today’s collect, adopted from the Church of South India, calls Christ the Light of the world, and prays that God’s people may shine with Christ’s glory, so he will be known to earth’s ends.
The call of Samuel to lead Israelites came during the late phase of their settlement of Canaan, about 1070 BCE, but before their seizure of Jerusalem, while Shiloh was still their religious headquarters. At age twelve, Samuel is an acolyte of Eli, priest of Shiloh’s shrine of the ark which they had carried through the Sinai desert after the Exodus. In the night, a voice tells Samuel that because of Eli’s sons’ evil-doing he is to be replaced; eventually Samuel will rise to be Israel’s judge, prophet, and king-maker.
Like Samuel, the author of Psalm 139 hears God’s voice in the night. Omitted from today’s excerpt is v 11, “Yea, the darkness is no darkness with thee, but the night is as clear as the day; the darkness and light to thee are both alike.” Badly translated as “...my life span would need to be like yours,” v 17b is better read, “... when I wake up, I am present with thee.” This Job-like poem is a masterpiece of introspection and of meditation on God’s omniscience. The psalmist yearns for God. His last verse, “seek the ground of my heart... and lead me in the way everlasting,” one might imagine pious Nathanael in today’s Gospel reciting.
From now through February 7, epistles will be serial readings from I Corinthians 6–9, a section of Paul’s practical advice to his converts in the young church in Corinth, Greece. Today Paul is warning them against sexual immorality, a warning especially needed in a city notorious in the ancient world for its vice. The Church over the centuries has not agreed with Paul that every coupling, however casual, constitutes a spiritual union.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus calls Philip and Nathanael after he has called Andrew, John and Peter. Next Sunday’s Gospel will be those earlier calls. Nathanael (probably the same disciple as the other Gospels name Bartholomew) is at first skeptical about any religious figure from the “wrong” district of Israel. However, when Jesus shows that he has searched him out and known him (as in the psalm) and contrasts him favorably with the original patriarch Jacob/Israel, who was a deceiver, then Nathanael drops his skepticism and calls Jesus the “King of Israel.” Jesus commends him: he will see a vision like Jacob’s vision of a “ladder” into heaven. Peter’s similar conclusion on another occasion is celebrated on Jan.18 as his “Confession.”
—Rev. Stephen Weissman | St. Louis, Missouri
Reprinted with permission.
January 17, 2021