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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: Fifth Sunday in Lent - April 6, 2014



Saint Dominic contemplating the Scriptures Saint Dominic contemplating the Scriptures
Author's note:
Sometimes I have material left over when I edit Comments down to fit the available space. This page presents notes that landed on the clipping room floor. Some may be useful to you. While I avoid technical language in the Comments (or explain special terms), Clippings may have unexplained jargon from time to time.

A hypertext Glossary of Terms is integrated with Clippings. Simply click on any highlighted word in the text and a pop-up window will appear with a definition. Bibliographic references are also integrated in the same way.

Ezekiel 37:1-14

Ezekiel’s mission is to preach the word of God to bring new life to dead Israel. [ NJBC] This reading summarizes Ezekiel’s mission to the exiles.

See also Hosea 6:2: “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him”. [ JBC]

This passage never mentions the resurrection of individuals, but the concept is not far removed: see also Isaiah 26:19 (“Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise. O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a radiant dew, and the earth will give birth to those long dead”) and Daniel 12:2 (“Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt”). [ JBC]

Verses 1-28: Two vivid images depict the reconstitution of Israel. The second (vv. 15-28), the joining together of two sticks, is a symbol of the reuniting of the divided peoples of Israel (“Joseph”, vv. 16, 19, and “Ephraim”) and “Judah” (also vv. 16, 19). [ NJBC] There will a single Davidic ruler over the united kingdom, and the people will be joined in a “covenant of peace” (v. 26), worshipping their God at a single sanctuary. [ CAB]

Verse 1: “valley”: NOAB sees this as the same “valley” as in 3:22 (Ezekiel’s fifth commission from Yahweh) and in 8:4. The “valley” is the southern Tigris--Euphrates valley.

Verse 1: “bones”: The exiles have no more hope of resuscitating the kingdom of Israel than of putting flesh on a skeleton and calling it to life. Bones are often associated with the stamina a person needs to stand up to difficulties: see Job 4:14; Psalms 6:2; 102:5; Isaiah 38:13. [ NOAB] [ JBC]

Verse 3: “‘Mortal, can these bones live?’”: One scholar says that because the resurrection of the nation was never in doubt, this vision must be about individuals. In 18:25ff, Ezekiel emphasizes individual responsibility as key to life with God, whose ways are fair. [ JBC]

Verse 9: The “four winds” may indicate God’s universal presence. [ NOAB]

Verses 12-13: In later Judaism, when a person died, his soul was believed to rest, uneasily, in the grave. Either these verses are the source of that belief, or they were written later. Matthew 27:52 speaks of the bodies of godly people who have died being “raised” when Jesus dies, and in John 5:28-29 Jesus says that “those who are in their graves” will hear Christ and “come out”.

Verses 12b-13: These verses may be a later addition. [ NJBC]

Verse 14: This vision is indirectly an anticipation of the doctrine of resurrection. [ NOAB]

Verses 15-28: The Oracle of the Two Sticks envisions the reunification of the long--divided land and the establishment of a united Israel, ruled by one king. Then the situation predicted earlier (see 34:28) will prevail: law--abiding living (see 11:20) in the Promised Land (see 28:25) under a Davidic king (see 34:23-24), “a covenant of peace” (see 34:25), and re--establishment of the central sanctuary (see 45:1-8). See also Zechariah 11:7-14. [ NOAB]

Verse 16: “Ephraim”: The two largest tribes, Ephraim and Manasseh, were sons of Joseph. The area of the north left after the Assyrian attacks of 732 BC were known simply as Ephraim. Hosea also uses this name. [ NJBC]

Verses 23-28: These verses expand the implications in three areas:

  • The people will be made ritually clean (vv. 23-24)
  • They will once again be under one king in the Promised Land (vv. 24-25), and
  • The covenant will be reaffirmed as eternal. [ NJBC]

Verse 25: “Jacob”: References to the patriarchs, meaning Israel, are occasionally found elsewhere: see Hosea 12:2; Ezekiel 39:25. [ NJBC]

Verse 25: “their prince”: i.e. the king. See also 12:10 and 34:24. [ NOAB]

Verse 26: “an everlasting covenant”: See also 16:60. In the Priestly (P) tradition, God made unconditional covenants with Noah and Abraham. [ NJBC]

Verses 27-28: “dwelling place ... the Lord sanctify Israel ... my sanctuary”: These expressions prepare for chapters 40-48, as does God sanctifying Israel. [ NJBC]

Psalm 130

The next psalm also includes both personal and community--oriented verses. Psalm 22 also starts as an individual lament and ends in counselling the nation: in vv. 23-28.

Verse 1: “depths”: The Hebrew word is only found in four other Old Testament texts: Isaiah 51:10; Ezekiel 27:34 and Psalm 69:2, 14. [ NJBC]

Verse 2: See also 1 Kings 8:39-40 (Solomon’s prayer of dedication of the Temple). [ NJBC]

Verse 3: “who could stand”: The Hebrew is similar in sound to “out of the depths”. In Amos 7:2, we read: “When they [the locusts] had finished eating the grass of the land, I said, ‘O Lord God , forgive, I beg you! How can Jacob [Israel] stand [survive]? He is so small!’” . [ NJBC]

Verse 5: “in his word I hope”: Hope in Yahweh’s word is also mentioned in Psalm 119:74, 81, 114, 147. [ NJBC]

Romans 8:6-11

Verse 1: “There is ... no condemnation”: Christians do not live under the threat of judgement, doom and death: see also 2 Corinthians 3:7-9. [ NOAB]

Verse 2: “law”: The Greek word, nomos, qualified by “Spirit” (and later by “sin and death”) does not mean Mosaic law. [ NJBC]

Verse 2: “you”: The Greek word is singular. Some important manuscripts have me rather than you. While this fits better with the foregoing (especially 7:24, “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”), scholars believe that me is a copyist’s correction. The principle here is lectio difficilior potior, Latin for the more difficult reading is the stronger (i.e., more likely to be original). The logic is quite simple: it is more likely that a copyist would correct a difficult or improbable phrase to make it more straightforward or more accurate, than that the copyist would intentionally make a text more difficult. So the more difficult is likely to be original, while the less difficult is most likely a copyist's correction. [ NJBC]

Verse 2: “free from the law of sin and of death”: A summary of the discussions in chapters 5-7: the tyranny of sin and death is broken. [ NJBC]

Verse 3: “law”: Here, Mosaic law. [ NJBC]

Verse 3: “weakened by the flesh”: The good the Law might have achieved was rendered ineffective by the human self dominated by indwelling sin (see 7:22-23). The Law told humans what to do, and what not to do, but it supplied no power to surmount the opposition to it coming from human inclination to sin. [ NJBC]

Verse 3: “by sending his own Son”: Note the emphasis: this implies the bond of love between the Father and the Son that is the source of human salvation. See also 2 Corinthians 5:19-21 and Romans 3:24. [ NJBC]

Verse 3: “the likeness of sinful flesh”: Paul is careful in his wording. Jesus was truly human, but he did not commit sins; however he did suffer the effects of it. [ NJBC] [ CAB]

Verse 3: “to deal with sin”: A footnote in the NRSV notes that sin offering is another translation. The reasoning of the translators is probably that the Greek word, hamartia, meaning sin, occurs in the Septuagint translation in the sense of sin offering in Leviticus 4:24; 5:11; 6:18. “Deal with” sin means take it away, expiate it. [ NJBC]

Verse 3: “he condemned sin in the flesh”: The Father passed definitive judgement on the force that Adam’s transgression unleashed in the world ( 5:12), and thereby broke its dominion over humans – in making Christ a human, and in his resurrection. [ NJBC]

Verse 4: In this way, through the principle of new life, the uprightness that Mosaic law demanded is finally obtained. [ NJBC]

Verse 6: “death”: i.e. total death, including spiritual death. Definitive separation from God.

Verse 9: “since”: The Greek words, ei per, can be translated if, in reality.

Verse 10: The same idea is found in Galatians 2:20 and Ephesians 3:17. [ NOAB]

Verse 10: “if Christ is in you”: See also 2 Corinthians 5:17. For the Spirit being in you, see v. 9. [ NJBC]

Verse 10: “the Spirit is life”: A scholar translates this as your spirit is alive: in contrast to the “body”. [ NJBC]

Verse 11: “him”: i.e. the Father. This verses stresses the essential oneness of God. See also John 5:21. [ NOAB]

Verse 11: “will give life to your mortal bodies”: i.e. the resurrection of Christians. See also 1 Thessalonians 4:14; Philippians 3:10, 21; 1 Corinthians 6:14; 2 Corinthians 4:14. [ CAB] [ NJBC]

Verse 11: “his Spirit”: i.e. Christ’s Spirit. It is the spirit as related to the risen Christ that is the life--giving principle. [ NJBC]

Verses 12-17: The Holy Spirit does not make slaves of us, but rather “children of God” (v. 14). [ NOAB]

Verse 13: It is still possible for a baptised Christian to be tempted to live immorally, “according to the flesh”. We should make use of the Spirit: this is the debt (in an accounting sense) that we owe Christ. [ NJBC]

John 11:1-45

The raising of Lazarus is the crowning miracle or sign (see 12:17-18), revealing Jesus as the giver of life (see 5:25-29), and precipitating his death (see 11:53). To one scholar, this is the third (and last) of the second group of signs. As such, it corresponds to the healing of the man at Beth--zatha (see 5:2-15). To other scholars, it is the seventh sign. [ NOAB]

Verse 1: “Lazarus”: A common name at the time. [ JBC]

Verse 1: “Bethany”: Separated from Jerusalem by the Mount of Olives. There was also another Bethany across the Jordan, as 1:28 tells us: “This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing”. [ JBC]

Verse 1: “Mary and ... Martha”: In Luke 10:38-42, Mary and Martha live in an unnamed village near Jerusalem. [ NJBC]

Verse 2: “anointed the Lord ...”: 12:1-8 tells us of Mary anointing Jesus feet. [ NJBC]

Verse 4: “‘This illness does not lead to death’”: Jesus is clairvoyant, but to what extent? The story tells us that Lazarus did die, but not in a terminal way.

Verse 4: “God’s glory”: John tells us in 2:11: “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him”. [ NJBC]

Verse 5: “loved”: The Greek word, egapa, has the sense of response to human need. John shows that Jesus is not indifferent to the sisters’ plight. [ BlkJn]

Verse 8: For the stoning of Jesus during his previous visit to Jerusalem, see 10:31, 39. [ JBC]

Verses 9-10: 9:4-5 say: “‘We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world’”. [ JBC]

Verse 11: “has fallen asleep”: A common New Testament description of death: see Matthew 9:24; Mark 5:39; Acts 7:60; 1 Corinthians 15:6; 1 Thessalonians 4:14; 5:10. (In several of these verses, the NRSV has died; however, the Greek can also be translated fell asleep.) [ NOAB]

Verse 12: “he will be all right”: BlkJn translates this as will get better. If Lazarus is over the worst of his illness, the disciples see no need to hazard a visit to Judea. The Greek word, sosthesetai, also means will be saved: see also 10:9. (Our word salvation comes from a Latin word meaning health .) The disciples have stumbled on the truth that the raising of Lazarus is an acted parable of the saving power of Christ.

Verse 15: The disciples already have some faith acquired through the showing of God’s glory – at the wedding feast at Cana (see 2:11). [ JBC]

Verse 16: “Thomas”: He is mentioned in the synoptic gospels only in lists of the twelve: see Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13. He emerges in this gospel especially in connection with the great mysteries of Christ’s glorification: see also 14:5; 20:24-29; 21:2. [ JBC]

Verse 17: Comments: Bodies were buried on the day of death: See Acts 5:5-6, 10 (Ananias and his wife).

Verse 19: Jewish mourning ceremonies were elaborate. They were attended by many and lasted about 30 days. [ NOAB]

Verse 19: “Jews”: John writes from outside Israel.

Verse 20: As in Luke 10:38-42, Martha is active and an organizer, while Mary is quieter and more contemplative. [ NOAB]

Verse 22: “whatever you ask of him”: This anticipates what Jesus tells his disciples about prayer: in 15:16, he tells them “You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name” and in 16:23: “Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you”. [ BlkJn]

Verse 24: Note that Martha speaks only of resurrection, and not of judging and judgement. Popular belief (especially among Pharisees) was that all Jews (and, for some, Gentiles as well) would be raised. [ JBC] Their fate would depend on their state of integrity from God’s viewpoint.

Verse 24: “on the last day”: This phrase occurs in the New Testament only in John: see also 6:39-40, 44, 54; 12:48. [ BlkJn]

Verse 25: Jesus modifies Pharisaic doctrine. His words are not only about resurrection but also about the fate of those faithful to him. Jesus is not only the agent of final resurrection but also gives life now: see also Romans 6:4-5; Colossians 2:12; 3:1. Mere physical death can have no hold over the believer. [ NOAB]

Verse 26: The believer has passed from the death of sin into life: see also Revelation 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8. [ BlkJn]

Verse 27: “‘I believe’”: BlkJn translates this as I am convinced.

Verse 27: “‘the Messiah’”: An affirmation made by Andrew in 1:41. [ BlkJn]

Verse 27: “‘the Son of God’”: An affirmation made by Nathanael in 1:49. [ BlkJn]

Verse 27: “‘the one coming into the world’”: An affirmation made by those present at the Feeding of the Five Thousand in 6:14. [ BlkJn]

Verse 28: We aren’t told that Jesus has committed to raising Lazarus. In faith that he will, Martha simply goes to fetch Mary [ CAB] as does Andrew, in fetching his brother to Jesus (see 1:41) and as does the Samaritan woman in fetching men from her city (see 4:28-30). Martha, the organizer, assumes that Jesus wishes Mary to be present.

Verse 33: “moved”: Another translation is troubled. Jesus is stirred with indignation, probably at the power of death. In 12:27, he says “"Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say – ‘Father, save me from this hour'? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour’”. [ NOAB]

Verse 34: “laid”: i.e. buried. [ NOAB]

Verse 35: Jesus realizes that the miracle he is about to perform will precipitate a final clash with the authorities, and so bring about his own death – a prospect from which he instinctively recoils.

Verse 35: A sign of Jesus’ humanity. [ NOAB]

Verse 38: “cave”: Tombs were carved out of the limestone rock, either out of the ground or out of a rock face. A stone formed a slab or door to cover the entrance. [ BlkJn] The NRSV translation assumes that Lazarus was placed in a tomb in a rock face.

In Israel, spices were used to arrest the odour caused by decay but not, as in Egypt, to arrest decay.

Verse 40: Actually, Jesus has told the disciples, but not Martha, that they “would see the glory of God”; however revelation of his glory is implied in Jesus’ conversation with her in vv. 23-26. God will act to reveal his power as life--giver. [ NOAB]

Verse 42: “I knew”: It is helpful to make an insertion here, so the reading becomes I, for my part, knew. [ BlkJn]

Verse 42: “always”: BlkJn translates this as every time.

Verse 42: Comments: to help the crowd understand that his power is from God, and not magic: See also 3:17; 5:36, etc.

Verse 43: “cried with a loud voice”: 5:28-29 says that the hour is coming when all in the tombs (as Lazarus is) will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done what is good to resurrection life. The raising of Lazarus is a fulfilment of Jesus’ words in Chapter 5. [ NJBC]

Verse 44: The resurrection of the body is not the same as resuscitation of corpses, as Paul shows: see 1 Corinthians 15:42ff. This is not the resurrection and not a resurrection – it is resuscitation, a foretaste of the resurrection.

Verse 44: Corpses were completely bound up, with the feet bound at the ankles, so Lazarus could not possibly walk. He might have been able to shuffle to the entrance – so he would need to be unbound. [ BlkJn]

Verses 46-53: Members of the Sanhedrin meet, fearing that the Jesus movement may provoke Roman intervention, which could lead to the destruction of the temple and of the Jewish state.

The stories in the synoptic gospels in which Jesus restores life to a person concern one who has just died, but this miracle is a sign that Jesus really is the power of life evident in resurrection: he calls to life a person already buried in a tomb.

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