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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Second Sunday after Epiphany - January 19, 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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Isaiah

This book can be divided into two (and possibly three) parts. Chapters 1 to 39 were written before the exile, from about 740 BC to about 700 BC. These were difficult times for the southern kingdom, Judah: a disastrous war was fought with Syria; the Assyrians conquered Israel, the northern kingdom, in 723 BC, and threatened Judah. Isaiah saw the cause of these events as social injustice, which he condemned, and against which he fought valiantly. Chapters 40 to 66 were written during and after the Exile in Babylon. They are filled with a message of trust and confident hope that God will soon end the Exile. Some scholars consider that Chapters 56 to 66 form a third part of the book, written after the return to the Promised Land. These chapters speak of hope and despair; they berate the people for their sin, for worshipping other gods. Like Second Isaiah, this part speaks of the hope that God will soon restore Jerusalem to its former glory and make a new home for all peoples.


Isaiah 49:1-7

This is the second Servant Song. The servant speaks to Israelites scattered around the Mediterranean (“coastlands”); he identifies himself as chosen before he was born (like Jeremiah, Paul and John the Baptist) and even named (like Jesus). Further, God made him an effective instrument in proclaiming his message (“sharp sword”, v. 2). Perhaps God hid him for protection or in preparation for his mission. V. 3 may tell us who the servant is: “Israel”, the community of the faithful, led by the prophet. They will show God’s power to others (“glorified”). But the servant retorts (v. 4): despite all our/my efforts, no one listens! Surely I minister on God’s behalf and God will “reward” me for it (even if people don’t). The servant’s “strength” (v. 5) is from God; he is to turn “Jacob” (Israel) back to God. God (not the prophet) will gather “Israel” to him. But his mission is to all peoples, not only wayward Israelites and the faithful (“survivors”, v. 6). God continues to speak to the servant, “one deeply despised” (v. 7), hated by many and “the slave of rulers”: God’s fidelity is his surety that all, even rulers, will hold him in awe.

At the first level, in vv. 8-13 God invites the exiles to return from Babylon; this is the servant’s mission (“you”, v. 8). They will travel in safety (“not hunger or thirst ...”, vv. 10-12) from throughout the known world. God gave them a “covenant” (v. 8) at Sinai; perhaps the servant is the new covenant – God will make a new covenant with his people. But note also “a time of favour” (v. 8) and “a day of salvation”: these terms speak of the end times. God saves both now and in the era to come.


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 40:1-11

This psalm may have been two psalms (vv. 1-11 and 12-17) later joined through use in a liturgy. Vv. 1-3 tell of the psalmist’s experience (but not what troubled him). The “desolate pit” (v. 2) may be Sheol, the subterranean abode of the dead; perhaps he was near death, and recovered. This hymn is his “new song” (v. 3) of thanksgiving. The “proud” (v. 4) trust in themselves (not God) or in materialism. The psalmist marvels at God’s innumerable “deeds” (v. 5) and “thoughts” for his people. God prefers people listening to him and doing his will over sacrificing to him (v. 6). (It was thought that God kept a “book”, v. 7, a record of how ethically each person lived.) In thanks, the psalmist has told “the glad news” (v. 9) in the Temple, “the great congregation”. He has not held back (“restrained”) in telling of God’s “faithfulness” (v. 10) to him and all God has done for him, so may God not withhold his “mercy” (v. 11), “love” and fidelity to him.


1 Corinthians

Corinth was a major port which also commanded the land route from the Peloponnesus peninsula to central Greece. An industrial and ship-building centre, it was also a centre for the arts. Its inhabitants came from far and wide. In this epistle, Paul answers two letters he has received concerning lack of harmony and internal strife in the Corinthian church, a church he had founded. Paul wrote this letter from Ephesus (now in Turkey), probably in 57 AD.


1 Corinthians 1:1-9

Paul uses the schema of Greek letters of the time, expanding it to include specifically Christian notions. He is an “apostle”, one sent out by Christ to perform a special mission. (“Sosthenes” may be the “-official of the synagogue” beaten in Acts 18:17.) The church at Corinth is made up of ordinary people “called to be saints” (v. 2), set apart for God’s work in the world, “sanctified” in baptism. Perhaps Paul reminds them that there are Christians elsewhere too. V. 3 is his greeting: he wishes them “grace” (God’s freely given gift of love) and “peace” (the total state of well-being to which we are admitted through Christ): both come from the Father (as source) and the Son (as means or agent). In later chapters, Paul cautions his readers against misuse of spiritual gifts (v. 7), so in v. 5 he may be damning them with faint praise. He praises their eloquence (“speech”) and understanding (“knowledge”) but not (as in other letters) their faith, hope and love for each other and for Christ. In v. 6, “testimony” is bearing witness: God has strengthened them through their telling of the good news. They are indeed richly blessed (v. 7), but (as mentioned later), they tend to dwell on the excitement of the present rather than looking forward to “the revealing of ... Christ”, his second coming. God will help them prepare for that day, so that they may be among those judged worthy of eternal life (“blameless”, v. 8). “God is faithful” (v. 9): he will not abandon what he has begun. He has called them into “fellowship”, union with other believers which is union with Christ.


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 1:29-42

John the Baptist has denied that he is any of the figures expected by Jews to inaugurate a new era: he is neither the Messiah, Elijah, nor the prophet like Moses; rather he prepares people for the coming of the Lord. He has also told some religious authorities that one is already among them who is far more worthy than he.

“The next day” John acclaims Jesus as “Lamb of God”. He is probably thinking of the fourth Servant Song: there the servant is “-like a lamb that is led to the slaughter”. John recognizes that Jesus outranks him (“ranks ahead”, v. 30) and “was” (existed) before him. In vv. 31-33 he recalls his experience of Jesus’ baptism, and justifies what he has proclaimed. He says: I didn’t recognize him as Messiah (“know him”), but I now realize that I baptised with water in order that Jesus might be shown to Jews. The coming of the Spirit showed me that Jesus is the one chosen by God. I am convinced that he is, and I have told others (v. 34). (Later on, on the lips of Martha, “Son of God” and “ -Messiah” are synonymous.)

In vv. 35-42, two of John’s disciples begin to follow Jesus. First, they are curious about Jesus when John tells them who he is. They follow him, recognizing that he is an authority (“Teacher”, v. 38). Jesus invites them to “Come and see” (v. 39), to investigate what he teaches. “Staying” and “remained” are technical terms in this gospel: the two begin to understand the way of life Jesus offers and expects. V. 40 tells us that one of the two is “Andrew”; the other is unnamed. Andrew tells “Simon” (v. 41) the good news and introduces him to Jesus. (The Greek word translated “Anointed” is Christos.) Jesus prophesies that Simon will be nicknamed “Cephas” (v. 42), the Aramaic word for rock. Petros, the Greek word for “Peter”, also means rock.

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