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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany - February 2, 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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Micah

Micah was the last of the eighth-century prophets. He was from south-western Judah, west of Hebron. He is preoccupied with social justice and is totally independent of political and religious leaders. Times are bad: Assyria has captured Damascus and Samaria. Jerusalem was besieged in 701 BC. But danger was internal too: leaders accepted bribes; merchants cheated their customers; pagan gods were worshipped along with the Lord. Micah preaches about sin and punishment; people have rejected God. The coming punishment is due to their sin. Even so, there is hope for the future: a remnant will form the nucleus of a new Israel, and its leader will be a true shepherd, one who brings peace.


Micah 6:1-8

Micah was roughly contemporary with Isaiah. He was a fearless champion of the oppressed and under-privileged, who attacked the socio-economic injustice of his day: wealthy capitalists oppressed peasant landowners. The scene for today's reading is a lawcourt (“plead your case”). Israel is on trial for contravening the Sinai covenant; the witnesses are the whole cosmos: the “mountains ... hills” and “foundations of the earth” (v. 2). (The earth was thought to stand on pillars.) God has a bone to pick (“controversy”, lawsuit) with Israel (“his people”) for forgetting that he has saved her in the past and for not walking in his ways. He speaks in vv. 3-5: what more could I have done? I cared for you and protected you. I delivered you from slavery in “Egypt” (v. 4); I gave you great leaders. Recall how when, during the Exodus, after you defeated the Amorites, I stymied Balak’s (v. 5) devious scheme: he hired the prophet “Balaam” to curse you, but he blessed Israel! I gave you safe passage across the Jordan. (“Shittim” was Israel's last camping place before crossing and “Gilgal” the first on the west bank of the river.) I saved then, and I will do so again.

In v. 6, Israel, the defendant, pleads her case: God, what can we do to make amends for our infidelity? Will you be pleased with sacrifices, especially “burnt offerings” (which were total, because nothing was left for consumption by the priests) of “calves” (which were especially valuable)? Would repeated offerings of rams and of oil (used in the liturgy for lamps, sacred anointings and purification) satisfy you? Should we sacrifice our eldest sons (as Canaanites do)? Perhaps Micah speaks in v. 8: no, God requires internal conversion and a proper spiritual attitude. He has told you what he expects: to be godly, (“to do justice ... to love kindness”), to hold him in proper respect and to walk in his ways.


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 15

This psalm was likely used in a liturgy of admission to the Temple. An inquirer or pilgrim asks God: who may come to Mount Zion (“hill”) to worship in the Temple (“your tent”)? Who is acceptable to you? Vv. 2-5a are the answer spoken by an officiant: those who

  • are ethical (“walk blamelessly”) in their words and deeds;
  • do not wrong other Israelites (“friends ... neighbours”, v. 3) by what they say and do;
  • despise evil-doers and honour those who hold God in awe (v. 4); and
  • charge no “interest” (v. 5) on loans to the needy and accept no bribes.
  • They will never be hindered by obstacles (“moved”) in their lives.


    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 1:18-31

    The “message” of Christ crucified, risen and alive is God’s power to us, but to those who hear the good news and reject “the cross” it is nonsense. This, Paul says, God prophesied through Isaiah (v. 19). He has decried divisions in the church at Corinth; he now recognizes two groups of humans: the “wise” (v. 19) and “those who believe” (v. 21). Are, he asks rhetorically, the Jewish “scribe” (v. 20) and the rationalist (“debater”) – both possessors of worldly wisdom – truly wise? Through the coming of Christ, God has shown worldly wisdom to be folly, for (v. 21) one can’t “know God through wisdom”, i.e. in a philosophical way. Knowing God is experiential. In fact, God chose to save believers through the apparent folly of what Paul preaches (“our proclamation”). To “demand signs” (miracles, v. 22) is to refuse to trust in God; “Jews” refused Christ due to their particular expectations in a messiah. To “desire wisdom” is to construct a religion whose demands one is prepared to accept. (The “Greeks” in v. 22 are unbelieving non-Jews.) God’s ways are not human ways (v. 25).

    Consider yourselves, Christians at Corinth (v. 26): few of you are what the world would have chosen: few are worldly wise, “powerful” or aristocratic. But God’s way is to choose those of apparently little account (“foolish”, “weak”, v. 27) to show the apparently important that they are wrong, to “shame” them. This is God’s paradoxical way (v. 28); he does away with boasting. Christ’s living in human form started a new way of being human (v. 30): we are set apart for his purposes (“sanctification”) and no longer controlled by evil (“redemption”) so that we become one with God (“righteousness”) – so that we can (as God commanded through Jeremiah) “boast in the Lord” (v. 31). Christ is true wisdom.


    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 5:1-12

    Jesus ascends a mountain in Galilee where he speaks to his “disciples”, his followers, in the Sermon on the Mount – but the “crowds” hear too: see 7:28, the end of the Sermon. He speaks of the new era he has come to initiate. Vv. 3-12 are known as the Beatitudes, from the Latin for blessed. To be “blessed” is to be happy. All the qualities are expected of the faithful, for the consequence is the same: they will enjoy God’s end-time rule. In fact, the Kingdom has already begun, but is not yet completed. They will attain (and are attaining) eternal life.

    The “poor in spirit” (v. 3) are probably detached from wealth and dependant on God alone. Those who “mourn” (v. 4) the reign of evil forces on earth will be “comforted” and strengthened in the Kingdom. The “meek” (v. 5), people who do not press for personal advantage, will share in God’s rule. Those who “hunger” (v. 6, who ardently pursue God’s will and purpose for his people), and do so single-mindedly and sincerely, “the pure in heart” (v. 8), will come to know God intimately (“see God”). The “merciful” (v. 7) are those who pardon and love others (especially the poor). The “peacemakers” (v. 9), those who seek shalom, the total state of well-being God provides through Christ, “will be called children of God”, for they share in God’s work. Finally vv. 10-12: those spreading the good news, striving to reconcile the world to God, will be persecuted because of the message they carry (as were Old Testament “prophets”). They too should “rejoice and be glad” for God will reward them. Jesus tells his audience that the values for admission to the Kingdom are the reverse of those valued by materialists.

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