The Collect for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany directs us in asking God to “set us free from the bondage of our sins and to give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in Your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ…” There is abundance of life in Jesus Christ and that abundance should actually set us free. Sadly, as it happens in contemporary society, especially in western culture, we are in bondage precisely because there is so much that life has to offer.
The Epistle Reading for last Sunday (the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany) had Paul telling the Corinthian Christians that he was free as to what he chose to eat or not to eat. There is complete freedom. Yet, in spite of such freedom his choices would aim at bringing glory to Christ rather than his own gratification (1 Corinthians 8:1-13). This Sunday’s Epistle Reading (1 Corinthians 9:16-23) continue from there, pointing out, “Though I am free… I have made myself a slave to all”. Why? So that Christ would be lifted up.
Indeed that is the meaning of his claim that, “to those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law)…To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law)”. Why? So that Christ would be lifted up. He has made choices, becoming one of the weak, among the weak, a slave, among slaves, “for the sake of the gospel” – for a cause greater than himself and his freedom.
We can by now see that this is essentially, humility. It is only through humility that we can abandon the sin of pride, power, prestige, and security, to be weak and vulnerable for the sake of the Gospel.
When we surrender to God’s sovereignty – which is what humility is all about – then we are truly strong and secure, as the First Reading from Isaiah 40:21-31 asserts: “God gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint”.
This is the same theme that runs through the Psalm for this Sunday (Psalm 147: 1-12, 21): “The Lord is not impressed by the might of a horse, He has no pleasure in the strength of a man. But the Lord has pleasure in those who fear him, in those who await his gracious favor”.
In the Gospel Reading from Mark 1:29-39, when Jesus retreated to a secluded place to pray after miraculous deeds in Capernaum, “in the morning, while it was still very dark…Simon and his companions hunted for him” and when they found him they informed him that everyone was searching for him? Why do you think they were looking for him? Elsewhere in the synoptic gospels we are told they wanted to make him king.
Yet, according to the Gospel, Jesus said to his disciples: “Let us go to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do”. Is that humility or what!