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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Third Sunday after Epiphany - January 26, 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 9:1-4

Isaiah says that a time will come (“the latter time”) when God “will make glorious”, show his power, to three northern regions of Israel made provinces of Assyria after the conquest of 733 BC: “the way of the sea” (Dor), “the land beyond the Jordan” (Gilead) and “Galilee” (Megiddo). (Galilee was known as multi-ethnic, “nations”). The current “anguish” inflicted by God through the Assyrian king upon the Israelites there (the tribes of “Zebulun” and “Naphtali”), will end. The tense of the verbs is mixed perfect and future, so when the “latter time” will be is hard to tell; perhaps it is in the distant future. (In biblical times, northern Israel never regained its freedom.)

As “on the day of Midian” (v. 4), when Gideon led the people of Israel to defeat a vastly superior force of Midianites with God’s help, the people will be freed from oppression. (“Yoke”, “bar” and “rod” are symbols of oppression.) But this conquest will be a holy war; in such a battle, none of the plunder can be kept (“shall be burned”, v. 5), for it is God’s. God will increase the numbers of the Israelites ( multiply the nation, v. 3). They will rejoice before God (“you”) as they do in times of plentiful harvest and of victory in battle (“-when dividing plunder”). Vv. 6-7 are familiar to us from Christmas: “- For a child has been born to us ...”. Originally written to prophesy the continuance of the house of David, we also see these words as foretelling Jesus’ birth.


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 27:1,4-9

The psalmist expresses his confidence in God. “Light” is linked with “life”. When “evildoers” (v. 2) try to destroy him (“-devour my flesh”), they fail to do so. Even if they are many (“army”, v. 3), he is sure that they will fail. He has asked of God that he may worship in the Temple (“live”, v. 4) for as long as he lives, see the “beauty” of what God does, to know more of God; these things he intends to do. God’s “tent” (v. 5) is the Temple, the psalmist’s refuge; there God makes him unreachable by his ungodly foes (v. 6). So he will praise God. He pursues his request in vv. 7-12. May God allow himself to be seen (v. 9); in the past he has seemed hidden from Israel. May God care for him (v. 10). May God guide him in godly ways so that he may not become subject to the “will” (v. 12) of his foes who tell lies about him (“false witnesses”, v. 12). V. 13 is the conclusion: he trusts that he will see the effects of God’s caring, throughout his life. Possibly v. 14 is a later addition: God does not act according to our schedule.


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 1:10-18

Last week we noted Paul’s omission of faith, hope and love for each other as gifts of the Spirit prominent in the Christian community at Corinth. In this reading, we learn of divisions in the church there. Paul appeals for commonality in their thinking about the faith and in their vision for the church. He has heard from “Chloe’s people” ( v. 11), who are either

  • members of, and slaves in, her household, or
  • the church that meets in her home, or
  • those who look to her as leader,
  • – that their factiousness has reached the level of recrimination (“quarrels”). We do not know what the three (or four) factions believed; perhaps those who “belong to Christ” (v. 12) give allegiance to him without the mediation (and the participation) of the church. (“Cephas” is Peter.)

    Last week we noted Paul’s omission of faith, hope and love for each other as gifts of the Spirit prominent in the Christian community at Corinth. In this reading, we learn of divisions in the church there. Paul appeals for commonality in their thinking about the faith and in their vision for the church. He has heard from “Chloe’s people” ( v. 11), who are either

  • members of, and slaves in, her household, or
  • the church that meets in her home, or
  • those who look to her as leader,
  • – that their factiousness has reached the level of recrimination (“quarrels”). We do not know what the three (or four) factions believed; perhaps those who “belong to Christ” (v. 12) give allegiance to him without the mediation (and the participation) of the church. (“Cephas” is Peter.)

    V. 13 presents three rhetorical questions, to which Paul expects a negative answer (as the Greek shows). The sarcasm is biting! (By “Christ” he means the world-wide church.) To put loyalty to a leader above fidelity to Christ is unacceptable. While Paul probably baptised the first converts in Corinth (“Crispus”, v. 14, “Gaius” and “the household of Stephanas”, v. 16), his prime mission is to teach the faith (v. 17). Claims of belonging to Paul are unfounded. All are baptised in the name of Christ, so all “belong” (v. 12) to him. Paul teaches straight-forwardly, relying on the message, the “power” (v. 17) of the “cross of Christ” (Jesus’ sacrificial death) to convince people – not “eloquent wisdom”, appealing to reason with clever arguments and rhetorical prowess. To those who hear the message and do not accept it and trust in it, it is “foolishness” (v. 18) about a man who died an ignominious death; they “are perishing” both now and when Christ comes again. But to the faithful (“to us who are being saved”) it bespeaks how powerful God is.


    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 4:12-23

    Jesus has been tempted by the devil in the wilderness. His responses show his complete dedication to the will and purpose of God. He has refused to use his divine power to his own human ends. Now he withdraws from “Nazareth” (v. 13) to “Capernaum”, so he can begin his mission safe from government interference. (John the Baptist has been arrested. Sepphoris, near Nazareth, was a Roman administrative centre. If the authorities seek to arrest him, he can escape more easily from Capernaum – by boat – than from Nazareth.) Matthew is keen to show Jesus as the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies: he quotes Isaiah in condensed form (vv. 15-16) to show that Jesus is the future ideal king, the Messiah. (In Isaiah, the “sea” is the Mediterranean; here it is the Sea of Galilee.)

    “From that time” (v. 17) marks a milestone: the launch of Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus proclaims: turn back to godly ways, to making God part of your way of thinking, for the completion of God’s plan for all created beings is close! Vv. 18-22 tell of the calling of the first four disciples. (We know “Simon” as “Peter”.) Jesus the teacher invites them to follow him, speaking in their terms (“fish for people”, v. 19) and fulfils Jeremiah 16:16; there the Lord is “ -sending for many fishermen” to Israel. They give up their trade and “immediately” (v. 20) begin a radically different way of life. Jesus expects, and receives, prompt obedience. He proclaims the “good news” (v. 23) in both word and deed (healing). His ministry is to Jews, but people from “Syria” (v. 24), “the Decapolis” (v. 25, Hellenistic towns) and “beyond the Jordan” also come to him to hear his message.

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