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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Third Sunday in Lent - March 23, 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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Exodus

Exodus is the second book of the Old Testament, and is part of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. Jews refer to these books as "The Torah". At times, they are referred to as "The Law", although "Torah" means teaching. Exodus centres on the rescue of God's chosen people from captivity in Egypt and the making of the great covenant, or agreement with God, at Mount Sinai.


Exodus 17:1-7

The Israelites travel “by stages” towards the Promised Land. As God showed his power during their slavery, winning their freedom by inflicting ten plagues on the Egyptians, he now tests the Israelites’ faith in him, as provider and ruler, ten times. If they trust in him, he will save them. This reading is about one of the tests, but who tests whom? (vv. 2, 7). Earlier, at Marah, the people had water but it was bitter; here, at “Rephidim” (v. 1, an oasis in the Negev or Sinai) there is no water at all; the well has run dry. The Israelites are serious: the Hebrew translated “quarrelled” (v. 2) is a legal term. They bring a case against Moses, but to him, their charge is against God: they doubt that he can feed them, be their god, in this hostile desert environment. As in other tests, God simply grants the people’s request, without rebuking them. He orders Moses to take representatives of the people, “some of the elders” (v. 5) to the “rock at Horeb” (v. 6). The elders see his show of power. The parallel with Egypt continues: the “staff” (v. 5) is the same one Moses used to poison the Nile. (“Massah and Meribah”, v. 7, come from words for test and quarrel.) In giving manna, bread from heaven, earlier, and now water (from an earthly rock), God shows his mastery over creation.


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 95

This psalm is known as the Venite, the Latin for “come”. Vv. 1-7a are an invitation to worship God. In early Israelite times, God was seen as the supreme deity, “above all [other] gods” (v. 3). He is master and ruler of the universe, for he is creator (vv. 3-5). (“Great King” was a title of emperors in the ancient Near East.) Worship him, for he is saviour, creator, ruler and protector! But worship without obedience is worthless, so “listen to his voice” (v. 7). Failure to adhere to God’s ways will have dire consequences, as it did for the Israelites during their “forty years” (v. 10) in the “wilderness” (v. 8): the Promised Land was God’s “rest” (v. 11, his permanent earthly dwelling place), but none of the “generation” (v. 10) that left Egypt entered it. Lifespans were shorter in those days.


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 5:1-11

Paul has already demonstrated that “we are justified by faith”. He says that there are three consequences of being justified (found worthy in God’s court):

  • “peace with God”, a state of harmony with him,
  • “hope” (v. 2) of sharing his power and eternal life, and
  • being reconciled with him.
  • It is through Christ that we have “access to this grace”, this blessed state of harmony. We also bask in the glory (“boast”) of “our sufferings” (v. 3, and not our accomplishments). Through a progression from them to patient “endurance” under spiritual duress, to maturity in the faith (“character”, v. 4) we come to hope. This is hope of a certainty (“does not disappoint”, v. 5) for God’s love enters our very beings “through the Holy Spirit” (which is also God’s gift). “For while we were still weak” (v. 6, i.e. before we knew Christ), at the appropriate time in God’s plan, “Christ died for the ungodly”. It would be rare enough for anyone to die for a pious (“righteous”, v. 7) person, and perhaps a bit more likely for a particularly “good person”, but Christ sacrificed his life for us when we were neither: we were unredeemed sinners then! This proves God’s love for us. So even more certainly, having been made worthy through his death (“blood”, v. 9), will we evade adverse judgement (“wrath”) at the end of time. Then we were against God (“enemies”, v. 10), then we were restored to favour with God by Christ’s death. Even more certainly will we be given eternal life (“saved”) by the risen Christ (“by his life”). We even bask in God’s glory through Christ, being now reconciled (v. 11).


    Symbol of St John

    John

    John is the fourth gospel. Its author makes no attempt to give a chronological account of the life of Jesus (which the other gospels do, to a degree), but rather "...these things are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name." John includes what he calls signs, stories of miracles, to help in this process.


    John 4:5-42

    Jesus enters Samaria en route from Judea to Galilee. Exhausted by the heat, Jesus rests; his disciples go for food (v. 8). Rabbis did not speak to strange women in public and Jews considered Samaritans ritually unclean, so the woman is surprised by Jesus’ request (v. 9). Jesus answers her: if you knew that God gives to those who ask (“‘the gift of God’”, v. 10) and that I am his agent, you would be the one asking for a drink, “‘and he would have given you living water’”. She misunderstands, thinking that he asks for bubbly spring water. (A legend about Jacob: for him water rose to the top of this well and overflowed.) Are you counting on such a miracle, for “you have no bucket” (v. 11). This water was good enough for Jacob, so are you greater than him? Jesus contrasts the well water with “water gushing up to eternal life” (v. 14). (In John, living water is the vehicle of the gift of the Spirit in baptism.) While she still doesn’t understand, she at least now asks (v. 15). Vv. 16-18 are difficult, but they do show that Jesus has insight, so he must be “a prophet” (v. 19), and can therefore resolve a religious dispute: the common ancestors of the two peoples worshipped on Mount Gerizim (“this mountain”, v. 20) but Jews claim that the only proper worship site is Jerusalem. Jesus replies (v. 21): “the hour” of God’s intervention in the world “is coming”; then cultic sites will be irrelevant. Samaritans, by accepting only part of the Bible, denied themselves access to the part of God’s end--time plans given through the prophets (“what you do not know”, v. 22); “Jews” are at least on the right track. The time is both “coming, and ... now here” (v. 23) to worship God spiritually, discerning “truth”, the reality revealed in Jesus. God is “spirit” (v. 24, life--giving power). She decides to wait to understand until the “Messiah” (v. 25) comes, but Jesus tells her: “‘I am he’” (v. 26). In her haste to tell others about this amazing man, she leaves her “water jar” (v. 28) behind. Come, she says, judge for yourselves! Jesus tells his disciples that the food that sustains his life is obeying the Father and completing his task (v. 34). There is no time for delay (v. 35a) for God’s harvest, “gathering fruit for eternal life” (v. 36, conversion to Christ) is ready now. Others have already begun to sow, have preached the good news. Meanwhile, after hearing the woman’s witness, many hear for themselves and come to belief in Christ. Jesus is “truly the Saviour of the world” (v. 42).

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