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written by Constance Morgenstern

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Bible Study for "Out of the Box"

(Epiphany A version)

I’ve realized that, as church seasons go, I especially like Epiphany.
It proceeds directly from Christmas, starting just after those famous “Twelve Days of Christmas.” The festival day of Epiphany itself, January 6th, celebrates how the wise men, with the light of a guiding star overhead, found the child Jesus and offered him kingly gifts. The season of Epiphany, which follows, is also about a light overhead—although it’s less about a star and more about a proverbial lightbulb. Bible readings during Epiphany describe events to help us see how Jesus was much more than an ordinary person!

One of the first of those thought-provoking events, at the beginning of his ministry, is when Jesus asks to be baptized by John the Baptist (e.g. Matthew 3:13-17). At first, John the Baptist is reluctant to baptize Jesus; it seems so backwards! Jesus does get baptized though, and then the phenomenal thing happens: The Holy Spirit descends on him like a dove and a voice from Heaven says, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”


The Revised Common Lectionary pairs this beautifully with an Old Testament prophecy from Isaiah (Isaiah 42:1-9). Read verse 1 twice at least. In Jesus’ baptism, already, this prophecy is fullfilled in a few ways: The Spirit comes upon Jesus, and God is delighted with him. But you also see a servant attitude and humility in Christ's interaction with John the Baptist.

Humility. Who does that anymore???? In a world where money speaks, militaries intimidate, and social competition abounds (don’t think it was any different during Jesus’ time), what can we say about Jesus? He urged his evangelizers not to bring along money (e.g. Luke 9:1-6); he preached turning the other cheek to those who would slap (Matthew 5:38-39); he sought out socially abandoned people and avoided earthly power (keep reading!), …. OUT OF THE BOX. That’s Jesus, the servant decribed in Isaiah 42:1. The power he pursued was not the kind this world usually sees. Holy power is radically different!

One of my favorite church days has always been Maundy Thursday, which includes the story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17) This, too, shows Jesus’ servanthood, but the timing of the action—just before Jesus' agony on Good Friday—suggests so much more. If I’d have been in Jesus’ situation, knowing that abuse and torturous death were coming, I’d have been a huddled, fearful wreck! Instead, Maundy Thursday is marked by extensive words of comfort to the disciples, the foot-washing, final teachings, and the giving of the Lord’s Supper to remember Christ! Jesus, in these hours before his arrest, was still, remarkably, a servant to God, his disciples, and even us (John 17:20-21).

Another aspect of Jesus that always impresses me is how he interacted with individual people. In so many of the encounters, even with people he’s never met before, he seems to read their inner thoughts and hearts (e.g. John 1:43-51 or John 4:1-42, esp. v16-19). Verse 2 of “Out of the Box” mentions a few of his interactions. I don’t know which kinds of interactions will resonate most with you, but here are some Bible references that can help you picture Jesus' care for others:

“You’d touch and heal a leper”—Matthew 8:1-3

“You’d forgive a past”—e.g. Luke 23:39-43 or
Luke 7:36-50 (See a study on this here.)

“You’d eat with those the town did not accept”—
Luke 19:1-10
(see a study here for this as well)
or Matthew 9:9-13 (where Matthew, the tax collector/gospel writer, tells how Jesus ate at his house!).

“Some fishermen, you simply asked, left boats behind, for wider paths”—e.g. Matthew 4:18-22

Now, this last passage about the calling of fishermen Peter, Andrew, James and John as disciples has a longer version in Luke 5:1-11, which involves a fish-catching miracle. Perhaps that miracle helps explain why some of those men came along, but I think there were more reasons than a boat-swamping haul of fish. We don’t know the “call” stories of all 12 disciples, or why they chose to follow Jesus. The simple fact that they left homes/livelihoods to travel and preach with him, however, tells us that there was something compelling about him. Again, holy power.

What moves you about Jesus???

I haven’t even gotten to everything that moves me yet! As a sometime teacher, I am intrigued at his teachings, so often brilliant and jaw-droppingly spot-on (e.g. Matthew 22:15-22). I am also, always, moved by the love he expressed, even while suffering on the cross (John 19:25-27). Beyond those are many individual healings and larger-scale miracles. As regards miracles, I am especially partial to John’s telling of the five loaves and two fish which fed the 5,000 (John 6:1-15), because it shows Jesus slipping away when the crowd wants to make him king by force. Holy power is not earthly power. In fact, Jesus had already specifically resisted the temptation to gain earthly rule for himself (e.g. Luke 4:1-13), setting out to serve God.

Again, who behaves that way??? Who has that holy power???

This is someone I want to know better.


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