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Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Today, we focus on the first discourse in the Sermon on the Mount with a reading from Discourses in Matthew: Jesus Teaches the Church.

Scripture Readings

Isaiah 58:3–9a
Psalm 112:1–9
1 Corinthians 2:1–16
Matthew 5:13–20

Read the propers for today on lutherancalendar.org.

Introduction

Just as the apostles were catechumens of Jesus, we, too, are students of the Lord as His Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts. May the Holy Spirit guide you as you share the Gospel with others, planting seeds of faith that He may grow into fruit.

Devotional Reading

Like the salt used in the temple sacrifices, catechumens will be offered up with Christ. Should they be unwilling to suffer with him, they will be trampled underfoot, one of Matthew’s graphic references to eternal condemnation (5:13). Through their acts of mercy, especially amid persecution, catechumens are the world’s light (5:14–16). Sharing Christ’s humiliation promises a great reward, but a heavy price will be extracted from those who avoid doing so. Unlike the students of the Greek philosophers or of the rabbis who dominated Jewish society in the first half of the first century, catechumens have come not to debate Jesus’ teaching but to submit to it and to attain the higher righteousness found in him (5:20).

Jews were “people of the book,” and some of their leaders followed the dictates of the Hebrew Scriptures to the letter, an approach that led them to criticize the conduct of Jesus’ disciples (12:2). This religious climate forced Jewish catechumens to face the question of what role the older Scriptures would have among Jesus’ followers. At the beginning of the First Discourse, an answer is provided: “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them” (5:17; cf. 9:16–17). Jesus’ arrival brought about a fundamental change in how the Old Testament would be interpreted. The Old Testament would remain authoritative for the church but only as it was fulfilled in Jesus. It could not stand by itself. Its authority was no longer autonomous. Catechumens could understand the Old Testament only if they recognized that Jesus was its real content, an insight that escaped Jesus’ enemies, whose successors were determined to destroy the community of his followers as they had destroyed him. . . .

Accordingly, in Jesus, catechumens will constitute the new Israel. To those who will be catechists like him, Matthew warns that those who teach contrary to his record of Jesus’ words will be least in the kingdom of heaven. If, like the scribes and Pharisees, these catechists teach that people merit God’s righteousness by works, they commit the worst of errors by making null and void the higher righteousness that God accomplished in Jesus. Those who believe and teach the “higher righteousness” will be great (5:19–20; cf. Dan 12:3). This is the first place in which Matthew speaks of a special office of teaching.

Devotional reading is from Discourses in Matthew: Jesus Teaches the Church, pages 218–20 © 2004 David P. Scaer. Published by Concordia Publishing House.

Prayer

O living and eternal God, You have kindled in my heart the light of true and saving faith. . . . Preserve and confirm me in this faith, kindest Father, so my spiritual harvest and dwelling will not suffer injury. Strengthen my faith so it overcomes the world and the prince of the world. Brighten the light of my faith so daily it spreads brighter beams ever further (Matthew 5:16). Preserve it amid the darkness of death so it may light before me the path to true life. Govern me by Your Holy Spirit so faith will not be lost by consenting to the lusts of the flesh and by indulging in sins against conscience. Confirm in me the good work that You began so, persevering in faith, I may obtain the inheritance of eternal life (Philippians 1:6). Amen.

Prayer is from Meditations on Divine Mercy, pages 98–99 © 1992, 2003 M. C. Harrison. Published by Concordia Publishing House.

 

Written by

Anna Johnson

Deaconess Anna Johnson is a marketing manager at Concordia Publishing House. After graduating from the deaconess program at Concordia University Chicago, she continued her studies at the University of Colorado—Denver in education and human development. She has worked as a church youth director and served a variety of other nonprofit organizations, such as the Lutheran Mission Society of Maryland. Anna loves playing video games and drinking a hot cup of tea almost as much as she loves her cat and her husband.

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