Previously I have provided a brief introduction to the Sunday readings, with context and background (example). I am experimentally trying something new here: You can add your insights, reflections, sermon suggestions, hymn suggestions – anything positive and useful (even layout and web organisational ideas) – in the comments box. I will choose to publish from what is sent here. Do not send anonymous comments. This is in the nature of community lectio divina. If you know anywhere else on the internet where the Sunday readings are being discussed, please send that URL as a resource. I think we will look about two weeks ahead. Hence we begin with

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 5th Sunday after Epiphany – 3rd Sunday before Lent

Text of the readings

Isaiah 40:21-31

“Second Isaiah” Chapters 40-55 addresses those living in exile in Babylon towards the end of the Babylonian exile (597-539 BCE). “Deutero-Isaiah” builds on the eighth century prophet Isaiah’s message of holiness, with words of consolation. Whilst some Judean exiles would have thought their God had been defeated by Babylonia’s gods, the argument from 40:12 highlights the LORD is the only true God, leading to the conclusion in today’s text.
(Roman Catholics use Job 7:1-4, 6-7)

Psalm 147:1-11, 20c

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

The Macedonians were in fact supporting Paul as he wrote this (2 Corinthians 11:7-9), so his claim that the gospel is free is primarily to make a point. In this early Mediterranean world people understood there to be a limited total amount of goods. So if I give you something – then I have less. Furthermore, my giving to you would demand that you give something to me. This text cuts across this cultural expectation.

Mark 1:29-39

Simon’s mother-in-law would be expected to be with her husband, or if she is a widow, with her sons. This story is suggesting that within her culture she is suffering far more than a physical illness. Jesus, as so often in his healing stories, is not merely healing her physically, the story indicates he restores her to her meaningful place within the community.

St Peter's HouseThe floor-plan of the first century house of St Peter in Capernaum (illustrated from The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide (Oxford Archaeological Guides)

“The city’s basalt houses are grouped around two large courtyards, one to the north and the other to the south. One large room in particular, near the east side and joining both courtyards, was especially large (sides about 7.5 meters long) and roughly square. An open space on the eastern side contained a brick oven. A threshold which allowed crossing between the two courtyards remains well-preserved to this day.” Wikipedia (link off this site) In such a complex lived Jonah, his sons Andrew and Simon (Peter), Simon’s wife, possible children, and today’s mother-inlaw. The patrilocal practice of marriage meant that the bride moved in to the home prepared by the groom in or adjacent to that of his father.

Reconstruction and excavation

The image (left) shows a reconstruction of this house as it may have appeared in Jesus’ day, and the excavations. This is drawn from this Bible Encyclopaedia.

Richard Bauckham Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony argues (following Cuthbert Turner’s 1925 suggestion) that the plural-to-singular narrative device seen here (“they…they…they…he…) characteristic in Mark (and turned to singulars in Matthew and Luke’s parallels!) indicate Peter’s telling of this story behind Mark’s account. The awkward Markan phrasing could be a reworking of “We left the synagogue and came into our house with our fellow-disciples James and John. My mother-in-law was in bed with fever, and he is told about her” (page 159 – quoting Turner).

Don’t forget: each week I also publish a reflection on the collect/opening prayer.

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