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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

First Sunday in Lent - March 9, 2014



Saint Dominic contemplating the Scriptures

Saint Dominic
contemplating the Scriptures

Comments have been prepared by Chris Haslam using reputable commentaries, and checked for accuracy by the Venerable Alan T Perry, of the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton. While not intended to be exhaustive, they are an aid to reading the Scriptures with greater understanding.

Comments are best read with the lessons.

Feedback to is always welcome.


Lessons for this week from the Vanderbilt University web site

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Genesis

Genesis is the first book of the Bible. It begins with two versions of the creation story, neither of them intended to be scientific but telling us why we are on earth. In the story of Adam and Eve, it tells us that we are responsible, under God, for the care of all creation. It then continues with the stories of the patriarchs: Abraham (who enters into a covenant (or treaty) with God), Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.


Genesis 2:15-17;3:1-7

Our reading is excerpts from an epic tale about the creation of humanity, beginning from after the creation of “the heavens and the earth” ( 2:4), a time when the earth was semi--arid. Ancient peoples thought that there were waters under the earth. Seepage of this water was insufficient for cultivation; as yet there was no rain and “no one to till the ground” ( 2:5). At that time, God formed human (Hebrew: adam) “from the dust of the ground” ( 2:7) and gave him his spirit of life. God put human (as yet androgynous) in Eden ( 2:8), his earthly domain, to cultivate and care for it. God tells him he may eat the fruit of the trees there, except for two:

  • that of “the knowledge of good and evil” ( 2:17), of complete knowledge and understanding (or of moral choice); and
  • that of “life” ( 2:9, 3:3), of eternal life, of becoming divine.
  • If he does, he will “die”, i.e. be separated from God. God provides human with an equal “partner” ( 2:18) of human’s flesh. Thus the tale explains sex, of “Man” ( 2:23, Hebrew: ish) and “Woman” (isha).

    Our reading is excerpts from an epic tale about the creation of humanity, beginning from after the creation of “the heavens and the earth” ( 2:4), a time when the earth was semi--arid. Ancient peoples thought that there were waters under the earth. Seepage of this water was insufficient for cultivation; as yet there was no rain and “no one to till the ground” ( 2:5). At that time, God formed human (Hebrew: adam) “from the dust of the ground” ( 2:7) and gave him his spirit of life. God put human (as yet androgynous) in Eden ( 2:8), his earthly domain, to cultivate and care for it. God tells him he may eat the fruit of the trees there, except for two:

  • that of “the knowledge of good and evil” ( 2:17), of complete knowledge and understanding (or of moral choice); and
  • that of “life” ( 2:9, 3:3), of eternal life, of becoming divine.
  • If he does, he will “die”, i.e. be separated from God. God provides human with an equal “partner” ( 2:18) of human’s flesh. Thus the tale explains sex, of “Man” ( 2:23, Hebrew: ish) and “Woman” (isha).

    At this point, the couple do not see shame in nudity, for their relationship to God is guiltless. Now the snake, a mischievous creature, (also a character in other ancient epics) appears. He sows doubt in the woman’s mind about what God has commanded, and she responds inaccurately ( 3:2): she adds “nor shall you touch it” ( 3:3). The snake suggests that God is trying to fool her: rather than dying , she will attain mastery of knowledge, and become divine (“like God”, 3:5). She finds this irresistible; she eats of its fruit and gives some to the man. Nudity is now embarrassing, for the couple has lost its innocent trusting relationship with God ( 3:8). In 3:8-19 God metes out punishment for disobeying his order:

  • to the snake: it will lack legs and eat dust;
  • to the woman: (a) despite the great pain of child--bearing, she will seek to bear more children; (b) (in an ancient society) man “shall rule over you”;
  • to the man: (a) cultivation will be labourious; (b) he will die, returning to “dust”; and
  • to all three: humans and snakes will be enemies.
  • Thus are explained some basic facts of life. But sin has not changed God’s intent: Eve is “mother of all living” ( 3:20) and God protects the couple by making “garments” ( 3:21) for them. To protect them from exceeding human limitations and becoming like gods, he expels them from Eden, into the ordinary world.


    Psalms

    Psalms is a collection of collections. The psalms were written over many centuries, stretching from the days of Solomon's temple (about 950 BC) to after the Exile (about 350 BC.) Psalms are of five types: hymns of praise, laments, thanksgiving psalms, royal psalms, and wisdom psalms. Within the book, there are five "books"; there is a doxology ("Blessed be ... Amen and Amen") at the end of each book.


    Psalm 32

    The psalmist tells us what he has learned in life: happiness is having one’s sin forgiven and taken away (“covered”) by God, and enjoying a clear conscience (v. 2). In vv. 3-5, he states his experiences: he was seriously ill (“your hand was heavy upon me”) and was in pain (“groaning”), both signs of his alienation from God. (Illness was commonly regarded as punishment for sin.) He acknowledged his sin and did not continue his waywardness (“I did not hide ...”, v. 5); he confessed to God, and God forgave him. Now v. 6: those who are faithful to God are not in danger of dying when gravely ill (“distress”, v. 6). (The “waters” are a symbol of death.) He is now protected by God (v. 7). Perhaps God speaks in vv. 8-9: he will lead the psalmist in his ways, through instruction and counsel. Don’t be like “a horse or a mule” (v. 9) who must be coerced into action: use your initiative in being open to God. V. 11 is spoken to the congregation in the Temple: rejoice in the Lord!


    Romans

    Romans is the first epistle in the New Testament, although not the first to be written. Paul wrote it to the church at Rome, which included both Jews and Gentiles. His primary theme is the basics of the good news of Christ, salvation for all people. The book was probably written in 57 AD, when Paul was near the end of his third missionary journey around the Eastern Mediterranean. It is unusual in that it was written to a church that Paul had not visited.


    Romans 5:12-19

    Paul has said that Christians, reconciled to God, will be saved, sharing in the risen life of Christ. Two notions are important here:

  • the punishment for Adam’s sin was to die both physically and spiritually (“death came through sin”); and
  • we both sin ourselves and share in his sin (“spread to all”).
  • Paul contrasts Adam and Christ, both inaugurators of eras. Adam foreshadowed Christ as head of humanity (“type”, v. 14, precursor). Adam disobeyed God’s direct command (“the transgression”, v. 14, “the trespass”, v. 15). The “free gift”, i.e. Christ, is unlike Adam’s sin:

  • “many died” before Christ’s coming but even more so are “many” (indeed all) saved through Christ;
  • Adam was condemned to separation from God but Christ brings union with God (vv. 16, 18);
  • Adam’s sin allowed “death” (v. 17) to rule through the Devil (“that one”) but we let good rule our hearts (“dominion in life”); and
  • Adam’s action led to the sin of many but Christ’s will lead many to godliness (v. 19), to “eternal life” (v. 21).
  • (Vv. 13-14b are an aside: before God gave Moses the Law, humans were not held accountable for their sins; even so they died.)


    Symbol of St Matthew

    Matthew

    This gospel is the first in the New Testament, but it was probably the second to be written. Scholars recognize that it borrows material from Mark, and from a sayings source containing sayings of Jesus and known as Q (for Quelle, German for source). The author shows an understanding of Jewish culture and religion not found in the other gospels. It was probably written about 60 to 70 AD, possibly for a largely Jewish audience.


    Matthew 4:1-11

    In Mark, only the essential historical facts are recorded: those in vv. 1, 2 and 11c. The disciples probably knew none of the details of Jesus’ trials, for temptation is essentially a personal inner battle with one’s conscience. “Forty days” (v. 2) reminds us of Moses and Elijah, both of whom also fasted for forty days as they prepared for their roles as God’s agents to Israel – as does Jesus. All three of the temptations the Devil (“the tempter”, v. 3, “Satan”, v. 10) presents to Jesus are ways of sinning against the great commandment in Deuteronomy 6:5: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, ... soul, and ... might”. The “heart” was the seat of will, of moral choice; “soul” means life; “might” means possessions. (All Jesus’ answers are from Deuteronomy 6-8.) To change “stones” (v. 3) into bread would be to use his power for his personal benefit. Jesus says that the “word” (v. 4) of God is the chief nourishment. The “holy city” (v. 5) is Jerusalem; a “pinnacle” probably overlooked the temple courts and the deep Kidron Valley. Jesus answers: testing God’s protection by unnecessarily risking life is a mockery of real martyrdom – and of his sacrifice to come (v. 7). The Devil, evil forces personified, invites Jesus to prefer personal wealth and power over love of God (vv. 8-9). Jesus answers: God is the only god to be worshipped and served (v. 10). The details make the point that Jesus is the perfect lover of God, the ideal Israelite, the founder of a new way of being human.

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