Wednesday, February 6, 2013 — Week of 4 Epiphany (Year One)

The Martyrs of Japan, 1597

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

(Book of Common Prayer, p. 946)

Psalms 72 (morning) // 119:73-96 (evening)

Isaiah 54:1-10 (11-17)

Galatians 4:21-31

Mark 8:11-26

Today we have a lovely convergence. We begin with a beautiful oracle from Isaiah consoling Jerusalem. Using the imagery of a childless mother, Isaiah tells the city that God will be her husband and will grant her many offspring. God’s steadfast love will stay with her, God will have compassion on her, “and my covenant of peace won’t be shaken, says the LORD, the one who pities you.” (Isaiah 54:10, CEB). Finally Isaiah imagines a new Jerusalem built of jewels and precious stones.

We move ahead five centuries and hear Paul’s interpretation of these same verses. Paul takes this same imagery from Isaiah and combines it with the story of Hagar and Sarah to tell the Christian community that there are two Jerusalems and two family lines of Abraham.

Paul argues that there is one inheritance from Abraham that is the inheritance of the flesh, through Hagar, from Mount Sinai for Moses was given the law. The children of this household are children of slavery, children of the law. Paul says that there is another inheritance from Abraham that is the inheritance of the Spirit, children of the promise through Sarah. She “is free, and she is our mother.” (Gal. 4:26)

Paul then quotes the same passage we have just read in Isaiah: “Rejoice, barren woman, you who have not given birth. Break out with a shout, you who have not suffered labor pains; because the woman who has been deserted will have many more children than the woman who has a husband.” (Gal. 4:27) We read Isaiah speaking those lines to a demoralized people in Babylonian exile and to a Jerusalem oppressors by foreign occupiers. And we read Paul’s interpretation of that same passage for his generation five centuries later.

Paul tells his readers that it is our inheritance to be beloved children, not slaves to rules. Paul asks the church to embrace the new inheritance of freedom and to reject the old prison of legalisms.

From time to time I hear people speak of their coming into the Episcopal Church in similar terms. Formerly they lived in religious communities that were based on guilt and moralism. Now they have found freedom and encouragement to claim their place as God’s beloved children and to live freely in the Spirit.

May the promised blessings be embraced: many offspring, steadfast love, the covenant of peace and the compassion of God, fulfilled for all.

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