Lectionary Commentaries for January 16, 2022
Second Sunday after Epiphany

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on John 2:1-11

Elisabeth Johnson

When we think of Jesus’ miracles, we usually think of him helping those in desperate need—feeding the hungry, healing the blind and the lame, delivering the demon-possessed, or even raising the dead. These account for most of Jesus’ miracles narrated in the Gospels; they are acts which relieve suffering, which restore life, health, and wholeness.

It is perhaps a bit surprising, then, that the first miracle of Jesus’ ministry in John’s Gospel is one that seems almost frivolous. There is no desperate, life-threatening need in this story, no crisis of hunger or illness. Rather, the crisis in this story is that the wine has run out at a wedding banquet. It is a problem which threatens to cut a wedding celebration short and to cause considerable embarrassment to the hosts, but certainly poses no immediate danger to anyone’s life or health. 

When Jesus’ mother tells him about the situation, Jesus himself seems to dismiss it at first as not worthy of his concern. “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come” (John 2:4). The “hour” of which Jesus speaks in John’s Gospel is the event of his death, resurrection, and ascension to the Father. Certainly Jesus has more important things about which to be concerned than a shortage of wine. But his mother seems to know better, as mothers often do. “Do whatever he tells you,” she tells the servants (John 2:5). She seems to know that despite Jesus’ dismissive response, he will do something to resolve the problem.

What is it that Jesus’ mother (she is not named in John’s Gospel) knows about her son? Why does Jesus perform a miracle after all? And why such an extravagant one at that? John tells us that there were six stone water jars which held 20-30 gallons each. Each of these was filled with water which Jesus then turned to wine, for a total of 120-180 gallons.

Not only was this wine great in quantity, but it was also high in quality. The chief steward comments to the bridegroom, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk, but you have saved the good wine until now” (2:10). The chief steward does not know that it is Jesus who is responsible for this abundant supply of good wine, but Mary knows, the servants know, and we the readers know. Still, our question remains: why such an extravagant miracle? 

In fact, John doesn’t call this act a miracle, but a sign (semeion in Greek). It is the first of seven such signs in John’s Gospel. Signs point us to something beyond themselves, as road signs alert us to something that lies ahead of us or before us. The sign of Jesus changing the water into wine at the Cana wedding points us to something far more valuable than the wine itself, as fine as the wine may be. It points us to the source of all life and joy.

The image of the wedding banquet is used frequently in Scripture as a picture of the restoration of Israel, and wine is frequently used as a symbol of the joy and celebration associated with salvation. Amos speaks of the day when “the mountains shall drip sweet wine. and all the hills shall flow with it,” for example (Amos 9:13). Isaiah speaks of the feast that God will prepare for all peoples, “a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines … of well-aged wines strained clear” (Isaiah 25:6). The abundance of fine wine is a symbol of the abundance of joy that awaits not only Israel, but all peoples on the day of God’s salvation.

Jesus’ extravagant miracle of changing the water into wine is a sign that in him, life, joy, and salvation have arrived. At the beginning of John’s Gospel, the narrator told us that “in him was life, and that life was the light of all people” (1:4). And later in the Gospel, Jesus will tell us, “I have come that they might have life, and have it abundantly” (10:10).

Abundant life is more than mere existence or survival, and certainly more than an abundance of material things. Abundant life is to know and be known by the One through whom all life came into being (John 1:3; see also John 17:3). It is to have an intimate relationship with the One who loves us so much that he doesn’t know how to stop giving. It is the kind of life depicted by the abundance of fine wine in this story.

Of course, abundant life does not mean a life of ease, comfort, and luxury or an absence of sorrow and suffering. But it does mean that in Jesus we have an abundant, extravagant source of grace to sustain us, grace that is more than sufficient to provide where we fall short and to give us joy even amid sorrow and struggle. Abundant life means that in Christ we are joined to the source of true life, life that is rich and full and eternal, life that neither sorrow, nor suffering, nor death itself can destroy.

The Gospel of John does not use the synoptic expression “reign of God” (basileia tou theou) very often, but it certainly shows us what the reign of God is like. It is like a village wedding celebration to which everyone is invited and at which the guests are surprised by the abundance and quality of the wine. This first of Jesus’ signs in John’s Gospel shows us that the true bridegroom has arrived (John 1:29), and he is truly the life of the party!

First Reading

Commentary on Isaiah 62:1-5

Cory Driver

The opening verses of Isaiah 62 contain a hope of a land fully embraced and loved by both humans and God. But they also call for caution as the conditions that will lead to the universal love and acclaim of the land are not yet met. Good news is coming, but it is not here yet. 

The chapter begins with an unnamed speaker asserting that there is work that must be done. Commenters differ on whether the voice is God, a/the messiah or the prophet. In any case, the speaker insists that to cease speaking would be to harm Zion and Jerusalem. Instead, the speaker will keep proclaiming the message until righteousness and salvation shine forth from the land. The implication is, of course, that righteousness and salvation do not yet shine forth from the land, or that they are presently too dim to be noticed. Once the surrounding lands are bathed in the light of righteousness and salvation that shine forth from Zion, the Holy Land will enjoy love and attention from three different sources. 

The first group to respond to Zion’s coruscating righteousness will be other nations and their rulers. As in the pericopes from Isaiah in the last few weeks, Isaiah 62 foresees a time when the light of righteous will be so profoundly attractive that other peoples will chose to make pilgrimage to investigate the practices of a righteous people, dwelling in a Holy Land with their intimate and immanent God. 

Next, God responds to Zion, whose righteousness and salvation beam forth into the rest of the earth. We must notice here, that unlike the preceding lectionary readings, the land, rather than the people, is the recipient of God’s affection in this passage. God will give the land a new name to signify and concretize their new relationship. No longer will the land be forsaken/Azubah or desolate/Shmamah. Instead, God proclaims “My delight is in her”/Hephzibah and that the land is married/Beulah

God has had a complicated relationship with the Holy Land to this point. When looking to understand the experiences of exile, the Children of Israel turned, among other places, to Deuteronomy. The main consequence for systemic and personal sins (see a short, but illustrative list in Deuteronomy 27:15-26) was that the people would be exiled (Deuteronomy 28:36-37, 64-68). 

But before the exile, God would forsake the land (Deuteronomy 28:23-24, 38-42). The sky would become as solid as bronze and the land would be as unyielding iron. Rain would come only as dust and powder. The locust, worm and cricket would consume the harvest. As a consequence of disobedience, God would cause desolation on the land that God was once worried might be dangerously over-productive and too fertile (Deuteronomy 8:7-19). Isaiah 62 foretells a return to type for the Holy Land. Where once God caused it to be forsaken and desolate, it will return to glorious productivity and fecundity. God will rejoice over the land as a groom rejoices over a bride (Isaiah 62:5).

This return of the Holy Land to its graced and favored fruitfulness does not go unnoticed by the Children of Israel. While God is rejoicing over the land as if they were newlyweds, the sons of Israel also marry the land (verse 5). This is no simple return to farming land that has laid fallow for a period. Instead, humans will love and care for the land, seeing their performance of righteousness with and in the land as intimately connected to the blessedness of their harvests, God’s rejoicing and their own happiness. 

It is not difficult to see parallels with our own times. Systemic sins and individual greed have led to desolation of land. Failure to love our siblings and our progeny has led to neglect of the environment, and this brought about global climate change. How can this blight on the land be reversed? Simply not shutting up about the problem seems to be the first step, according to Isaiah 62:1. For Cairo’s sake I will not be quiet, for Egypt’s sake I will not stop speaking. 

Today, the environment has been so degraded by damming upriver that the Nile is insufficient to water crops in the Delta, and so farmers are forced to use sewage water to irrigate, making themselves and their customers sick. We cannot stop calling for righteousness until just solutions are found that provide water for Sudan and Egypt, as well as electricity for Ethiopia. When righteous and just solutions come, the land and people will no longer be poisoned. Instead, we willand more importantly, God willdelight in the goodness of creation. The light that shines forth from Zion will testify that the land is being used for and with righteousness.


Commentary on Psalm 36:5-10

Jerome Creach

Psalm 36:5-101 contains some of the most beautiful language of any psalm in the Psalter, as many readers have long recognized. Verse 9 has rightly garnered the most attention: “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” These words profess faith in God alone as the source and foundation of life, security, and goodness. Since the profession of faith appears within a prayer for deliverance that sets the righteous and wicked in sharp contrast, many scholars classify the psalm as a prayer for help by an individual. An individual voice appears in verse 11 in the petition, “do not let the foot of the arrogant tread on me.” But the psalm as a whole has more the character of a liturgy in which the worshipping community speaks. The righteous comprise that worshipping community and speak together in verse 9b: “in your light we see light.” 

The lectionary reading focuses on the testimony to and prayer for God’s steadfast love. Yet, the division at verse 10 is not altogether logical, and the verses that precede and follow the lectionary reading help put verses 5-10 in context. Therefore, it is helpful to consider the larger context of the reading. 

The psalm begins with a description of the wicked, their character bent toward evil (verses 1-4). This description starts with a blanket declaration to the effect that the wicked are guided by a voice that tells them to transgress (verse 1a). The result is that they have no “fear of God” (verse 1b). Following this characterization of the anti-God character of the wicked is a series of more specific statements concerning their actions and activity: they act as though God does not notice their evil deeds (verse 2); their speech is full of mischief and evil plots (verses 3, 4a). The section ends with another general portrait of the wicked in a pair of statements: their way is not good; they do not reject evil (therefore, they embrace and continue it; verse 4).  The psalm returns to the subject of the wicked at the end with the declaration that destruction is their destiny (verse 12). 

The lectionary reading, therefore, presents a confession of God’s goodness (verses 5-9) that provides a foundation for a petition for protection against the wicked (verse 10). 

Despite the troubling picture of the wicked and their bent toward evil in verses 1-4, the psalmist expresses confidence in God that overtakes any concerns about the threats of the wicked (verses 5-9). The key term that describes God’s character is “steadfast love” (verses 5, 7, 10).  The Hebrew word hesed refers at once to God’s faithfulness and graciousness as well as to God’s caring and protective presence. It is love that is doggedly sure and unfailing. The certainty of God’s provision and care is described in two distinct ways. First, God’s steadfast love is presented as the stabilizing force in the universe and the key to the world’s cosmic order (verses 5-6). Here hesed is linked with “faithfulness,” “righteousness,” and “judgment” (or justice). In ancient Near Eastern cosmology, the heavens, mountains, and great deep represented parts of the world that had to be held in place for the world to be safe and stable. God’s steadfast love was like the glue that held them together. As a result, all living things (“humans and animals alike,” verse 6b) are kept safe.

Second, God’s hesed is more specifically the source of God’s goodness from which humans may find life and blessings. Verse 7 describes what humans may receive as “refuge,” a term for God’s sheltering care (see Psalms 2:12; 7:1). “In the shadow of your wings” may refer to the presence of God known symbolically by the outstretched wings of the cherubim on the ark of the covenant in the temple. Whether or not that is accurate, the refuge of God is here linked undeniably to God’s house, the place of worship in Jerusalem (verse 8). Also, refuge is more than just protection or shelter (more than a hiding place from an enemy); it refers to the joy of fellowship with God who is the source of goodness and life (verse 9). 

The lectionary reading ends with a petition in verse 10 for God’s steadfast love to continue, but verse 11 expands on the plea by asking God not to allow the wicked to threaten the righteous. God’s faithfulness, in essence, is God’s protection against those who mean to harm the vulnerable. The psalm then ends with a word of assurance that indeed the doers of evil (the wicked) will not continue to make trouble for the righteous (verse 12). The wicked are “thrust down,” which may refer to their going down to Sheol for punishment. What is certain is that their fate, and their place of destiny, is opposite that of the righteous, who “feast on the abundance of” God’s house (verse 8a).


  1. In Hebrew, the verses for Psalm 36:1-12 are numbered 36:2-13. Verse number references in this commentary correspond to the English version, not the Hebrew versification. 

Second Reading

Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

Melanie A. Howard

Emerging out of a holiday season of gift giving, the New Testament text for today provides a different take on the concept of giving and receiving gifts. Where popular stories about Santa Claus depict a magnanimous giver doling out longed-for presents for the sake of individual enjoyment, Paul’s discussion of spiritual gifts imagines a divine giver who bestows gifts based on what will most contribute to the common good of a whole community. 

Ultimately, this distribution of gifts serves to make the Spirit itself manifest among the community of believers. This manifestation of the Spirit makes for a fitting theme to explore during the season of Epiphany when attention may otherwise be given solely to the revelation of the Second Person of the Trinity.

Situating 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 in literary context

First Corinthians 12 begins with a formula that Paul has used several times already in the letter: “Now concerning…” (see also 7:1; 8:1; 16:1). While this formula indicates that Paul is beginning a new subject, it also appears to be signaling that he is responding to issues that were raised by the Corinthians themselves. Here, it is helpful to be reminded that we are receiving only one side of the dynamic communication that was occurring between Paul and the congregation in Corinth. So, while we do not know precisely what questions and concerns the congregation was raising, Paul’s response suggests a few possibilities.

It is also helpful to situate this passage within the context of the larger letter. Though Paul takes on several knotty theological problems throughout the epistle, his thesis in 1:10 sets the stage for everything that the letter will address: “Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.” Paul’s appeal for unity and the abolition of divisions provides an important backdrop for reading this text in 12:1-11 where he will explore how unity can still be achieved even in the midst of radical difference.

Speech gifts

One of the central points of 12:1-11 seems to be a celebration of diversity and difference. That is, while it seems likely that several in the Corinthian congregation were upholding the supremacy of speaking in tongues (glossolalia), Paul is at pains to illustrate that all spiritual gifts are worthwhile and are inspired by the same Spirit that distributes the gift of glossolalia to some. In fact, despite the Corinthians’ emphasis on glossolalia, Paul notably saves this gift until close to the end of his list of possible giftings in verses 8-10. Such a placement could suggest that Paul is attempting to downplay the hype that the Corinthians have attached to this one particular gift.

With this potential purpose in mind, Paul’s introduction to his topic in verses 2-3 may seem a bit more fitting. That is, Paul will be addressing a certain type of speaking (speaking in tongues). So, his reference to the Corinthians’ previous behavior of following idols who could not speak (verse 2) and his instruction that the Spirit inspires the speaking of the phrase “Jesus is Lord” sets the stage for the ways in which he will be addressing speech issues in what follows. 

Beyond merely setting the stage for further conversation about issues of Spirit-inspired speech, the phrase “Jesus is Lord” is a central claim worth pondering on its own. Appearing also in the famous “Christ Hymn” of Philippians 2:5-11, the phrase “Jesus is Lord” is, perhaps, the central kernel of the early Christian kerygma (see also Philippians 2:11). 

Though deceptively simple on its surface, this claim makes a radical political statement. That is, to claim that Jesus is Lord is also to claim that Caesar and other human leaders are not lord. Such claims would have surely been viewed with suspicion, and Christians who made such claims publicly may have faced any number of potentially negative consequences. Thus, Paul’s statement that this phrase can only be spoken through the Holy Spirit makes more sense. Paul seems to be asserting that only the Holy Spirit can offer the courage necessary to make such an incendiary proclamation considering the potentially fatal results.

Just as the Spirit inspires the courage necessary to proclaim Jesus’s lordship, so too does that Spirit distribute several other giftings. In verse 11, Paul reasserts his claim from verse 4 that the same Spirit is responsible for activating all gifts. Intriguingly, the verb that Paul uses in verse 11 to describe the Spirit’s distribution of gifts (diaireo) is the same verb used in Luke’s Parable of the Prodigal Son to describe the father’s division of his estate between his sons (Luke 15:12). While Luke’s account had not yet been written at the time that Paul is penning his epistle, the image of bequeathing an inheritance seems fitting for Paul’s larger argument here. That is, the Spirit is envisaged as doling out gifts for the sake of the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7). 

Reading 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 with the lectionary

This passage makes for an intriguing companion to the lectionary’s Gospel text for today, John 2:1-11. In that text, the Fourth Gospel recounts Jesus’s first miracle of turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana. Here in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, Paul describes the ways in which the same Spirit (see also 12:4) empowers Christians with a variety of comparable abilities. In John, Jesus’s miracle is identified as the first of his signs (John 2:11) and serves as a revelation of his identity and power. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul suggests another sort of revelation: the revealing of the Spirit. Indeed, the term that Paul uses in 12:7 (phanerosis) might best be translated as something like “disclosure” or “revelation.” That is, even as Jesus’s miracle reveals him as a wonder-worker, so too do the Corinthians’ use of their gifts reveal the work of the Spirit in their midst. This is an epiphany indeed!