Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: Sixth Sunday after Epiphany - February 12, 2023

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.

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Our reading is the final part of Moses’ third (and final) address. It begins in 29:1. [ NOAB]

Comments: the laws given in Chapters 12-28 are updated versions of those in earlier books: These books are Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers.

Chapter 30 is usually considered to be a late addition. Note that “live” occurs six times. [ FoxMoses]

Verses 1-10: This passage presupposes that Israel is already in exile and anticipates the time when Yahweh will restore his people. [ NOAB]

Verse 2: “Return to the Lord ”: i.e. repent, an act that involves turning away from unworthy loyalties and turning the heart to God (see v. 10). Here the heart is the mind and will. [ NOAB]

Verse 3: “gathering you ...”: The theme of the ingathering of the dispersed occurs frequently in exilic and post-exilic texts. See, for example, Jeremiah 29:14; 32:37; Ezekiel 20:34, 41; Isaiah 43:5; 54:7; 56:8. [ NJBC]

Verses 4-5: Even if they should go into exile for their disobedience, God is confident of their turning back to him, and in consequence will eventually return them to their land and prosperity. [ FoxMoses]

Verse 6: “circumcise your heart”: Open the mind, direct the will towards God. He will work the inner change that makes it possible to fulfill the law of love. [ NOAB] 10:16 says “Circumcise ... the foreskin of your heart”, meaning figuratively to peel away the thick part, enabling one to love, be loyal to, God. [ FoxMoses] This way of speaking emphasizes the necessity of a new covenant written on the heart, a radicalization and interiorization of the whole covenant tradition, as in Jeremiah 31:31-34. [ JBC]

Verse 9: See also 28:3-6. [ NOAB]

Verse 10: “this book of the law”: i.e. Deuteronomy. This phrase also appears in 28:58, 61; 29:19-20, 26-27. [ NJBC]

Verses 11-20: A particularly moving appeal to the people. [ FoxMoses]

Verses 11-14: The covenant demand is not beyond human reach or understanding but has been graciously revealed (see 29:29) and, in the service of covenant renewal (see 29:1), “the word is very near to you”. [ NOAB] The law is not esoteric knowledge requiring a chosen intermediary like Enoch to ascend to heaven in order to communicate it. It is recited at the covenant festival, and God has now put the disposition to obey it in the heart. Ezekiel 36:26-27 says “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances”. [ NJBC]

Verse 13: “cross to the other side of the sea”: An especially daunting proposition for the Israelites, who were not coast dwellers. [ FoxMoses]

Verse 14: The commandments are no longer to be thought of as carved on the stone tablets only, but as located in the “mouth”, where they will control speaking, and in the “heart”, where they will influence the will. [ CAB]

Verses 15-20: The challenge to choose between the two ways formed a climactic moment in the ceremony of covenant renewal: see 26:16-27 and Joshua 24:14-15. [ NOAB] These verses correspond to 11:26-28, forming an apt conclusion to the address. This form of words was probably actually used at covenant-making and covenant-renewing liturgies. [ NJBC]

Verse 19: “I call heaven and earth to witness”: They are also called as witnesses in 4:26. [ NJBC]

Verse 20: “life” is not the mere extension of days. It is loving, obeying, and cleaving to Yahweh instead of pursuing the ways of idolatry. [ NOAB]

Verse 20: The address ends appropriately with an allusion to the ancestral promise, a major theme in Deuteronomy. [ NJBC]

Comments: now they are farmers and shepherds: Also FoxMoses points out that the Israelites are now governed by kings, and worship has been centralized (in Jerusalem).

Comments: It is a time of religious revival, of new commitment to God : Under King Josiah, in the late 600s BC.

Sirach 15:15-20

Verses 11-12: James 1:13 says “No one, when tempted, should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one”. See also Wisdom 11:24. [ NJBC]

Verse 11: “he does not do”: The Masoretic text and the Septuagint translation render this as you ought not to do. [ Nlsn]

Vers 14: “free choice”: In view of the history of the term inclination (in books roughly contemporary with Sirach), the translation of the Greek as “free choice” is inadequate. Sirach does indeed emphasize free choice in the following verses, but the exercise is conditioned by the inclinations with which human nature is fitted at creation. Sirch stops a long way short of teaching of two spirits that is found in the Qumran Rule of the Community, but we can see that he is wrestling withe the same problem, in attempting to explain the presence of evil while preserving the sovereignly of the creator God. [ OBC]

Verse 14b: The Hebrew says and set him in the power of his plunderer, and placed him in the power of his inclination. This is a doublet: the Hebrew word for plunderer and that for Inclination sound somewhat similar. The plunderer is most probably Satan, and this verse is probably inserted as a theological connection. It has no equivalent in the Greek version. [ OBC]

Verses 15-17: The two choices are also mentioned in Deuteronomy 30:15-19. [ NJBC]

Verse 17: See also Deuteronomy 30:19 and Jeremiah 21:8 (“... Thus says the Lord : See, I am setting before you the way of life and the way of death.”) . [ NOAB]

Verse 18: “the Lord ... sees everything”: That God is omniscient is also stated in Proverbs 15:3 and Job 34:21-22. [ NJBC]

Verse 20: This verse forms an inclusio with v. 11 (“Do not say, ‘It was the Lord's doing that I fell away’; for he does not do what he hates”).

Psalm 119:1-8

The predominant mood of lament suggests that it may have been composed as a prayer for deliverance from trouble, though the language may be merely imitative and the whole a purely literary exercise in honour of the written law. It is a very late composition. [ NOAB]

Verses 1-8: A prayer for help in observing the Law. [ NOAB]

Verse 2: “with their whole heart”: This phrase also occurs in vv. 10, 34, 58, 69, 145. Devotion to God with one’s “whole heart” is demanded in Deuteronomy 6:4. The idiom is probably derived from covenant or treaty language. [ NJBC]

1 Corinthians 3:1-9

The Christians at Corinth lack the real community to which God’s servants like Apollos and Paul each contribute, as their party slogans show. In 1:12-13, Pauls says “What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”; in 3:4 he writes “For when one says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ and another, ‘I belong to Apollos,’ are you not merely human?” [ NOAB]

Verse 1: “And so”: Blk1Cor offers As far as my own experience of you goes, a paraphrase. He admits that it may be an over-translation.

Verse 1: “people of the flesh”: Those still dominated by the standards of a fallen world, [ NJBC]

Verse 3: By accepting envy and strife as normal they betray their acceptance of the common judgement of what is possible for humanity. [ NJBC]

Verse 4: “are you not merely human?”: Through the use of party slogans, they show themselves to be ordinary and not the enlightened spiritual leaders they claim to be. [ NJBC]

Verse 5: “What”: One would expect who, but Paul uses the neuter deliberately here and in v. 7 to underline that the ministries of Paul and Apollos are as God’s instruments. [ NJBC] The natural answer is Nothing! but as the rest of the verse and section show, they are far from insignificant in God’s Plan. [ Blk1Cor]

Verse 7: God does not need human instruments, but in his wisdom has decided to use them. [ NJBC]

Verse 8: “have a common purpose”: In view of their effect, Paul and Apollos form a single complex instrument. How silly, then, to set them against each other! [ NJBC]

Verse 8: “each will receive wages”: Even though all credit must go to God, this acknowledges the reality of the ministers’ contribution. [ NJBC]

Verse 9: “God's servants, working together”: For divine-human co-operation, the mode of divine activity inaugurated in Christ, see also 1 Thessalonians 3:2. There the “co-workers” are Paul and Timothy. [ NJBC]

Verse 9: “field ... building”: In stony Palestine, rocks from clearing fields were used to build walls. [ NJBC]

Matthew 5:21-37

I am indebted to TMJ for an understanding of this reading.

Verses 17-20: The relation of Jesus’ message to the Jewish law was a great concern for followers with a Jewish background. [ NOAB]

Verse 17: “abolish ... fulfill”: In the background are two rabbinic expressions:

  • one meaning to confirm or establish the law by putting it on a better base for interpretation , and
  • another meaning to void, abolish, suspend, neglect, cancel a law.

Paul says in Romans 3:31: “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law”. Here in Matthew, Jesus replaces establish with fulfill, thus extending the question beyond the purely legal to his whole mission. [ NJBC]

Verse 17: “the prophets”: In the Hebrew Scriptures, these comprise the books of Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve minor prophets. Many Jews esteemed the prophets less than the Law; hence the word “or” here. [ NOAB]

Verse 18: In Mark 13:31, Jesus says “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away”. In Luke 16:17, he says “... it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one stroke of a letter in the law to be dropped”. [ NOAB] NJBC says that the Law still bound the Jewish Christian followers of Jesus.

Verse 19: “breaks”: Or sets aside. [ NOAB] NJBC sees this verse as part of the argument between Christians who felt themselves obliged to keep the Law and those who did not (particularly Paul and his followers). It reflects a delicate, ecumenical way of fighting: you make your point but do not damn your opponents.

Verse 19: “teaches”: James 3:1 says “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness”. [ NOAB]

Verse 20: “righteousness”: One’s acceptance of God’s requirements and one’s being accepted by God. See also Luke 18:10-14 (the Parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector). [ NOAB]

Verse 20: “the scribes and Pharisees” : They were the official teachers of the first century. [ CAB]

Verses 21-22,27-28,31-32,33-34,38-39,43-44: “You have heard that it was said ... But I say”: This is a technique much like that used in rabbinic schools. [ NJBC] Jesus speaks by his own authority. [ CAB]

Verses 21,33:: “to those of ancient times”: i.e. to those who first heard the Law at Mount Sinai. [ NJBC]

Verse 21: “‘'whoever murders shall be liable to judgment’”: This statement is based on Mosaic law and was known in aural tradition. [ BlkMt] This is case law, and was a traditional interpretation of the commandment. [ NJBC] See also Exodus 21:12 and Numbers 35:16-33. [ JBC]

Verses 21-26: More basic than prevention of murder or punishing culprits are:

  • avoidance of anger or insults towards others, and
  • efforts to effect reconciliation. [ CAB]

Verses 21-22: “judgement ... the council ... the hell of fire”: The punishments escalate:

  • “the judgement”: a local Jewish court established in every town or city in accordance with Deuteronomy 16:18.
  • “the council”: the Jerusalem Sanhedrin, composing 70 members
  • “the hell of fire”: literally the Gehenna of fire , the place of God’s final punishment of the wicked. The image is of the Jerusalem garbage (rubbish) dump where fires were always burning [ NOAB] [ BlkMt]

Verse 21: “You shall not murder”: A quotation from the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17. [ NJBC]

Verse 25: There is an escalation in the penalties: “the judge”, “the guard”, and “the prison”. [ NJBC]

Verse 27: “You shall not commit adultery”: A quotation from the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:14 and Deuteronomy 5:18

Verses 29-30: The parallel is Mark 9:43-47. There is no parallel in Luke, perhaps because of the extremely exaggerated (Near Eastern) way in which they are expressed. Jesus calls for a radical reordering of priorities. [ NJBC] Eyes and other bodily members are to be kept under strict self-control. [ CAB]

Verses 31-32: “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce”: Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 24:1-4 in compressed form. This law governs the case where a man divorces his wife, she remarries, and her second husband divorces her or dies. It forbids the first husband to marry her again. This is the only law on divorce, so it was legal but it was unregulated. It does protect a wife to a degree: a husband could not simply tell her to go. The two principal rabbinical schools, those of Hillel and Shammai, differed regarding the gravity of misdemeanour that was sufficient for a man to divorce his wife. Wives could also divorce husbands. [ TMJ] Jesus’ strict rules on adultery are explained more fully in Matthew 19:1-12. Jesus says that men are as responsible as women for marriage breakdown. This was not the case in Jewish law. [ CAB]

Jesus does here permit divorce “on the ground of unchastity”, i.e. unlawful sexual behaviour. This exception is neither found in 19:9 nor in Mark 10:11 nor in Luke 16:18 nor in Paul’s epistles. [ BlkMt] Paul writes about marriage and divorce in 1 Corinthians 7:10-16. Jesus’ intention was not to cause pain but to set out a clear and high ideal of human relations. [ NJBC]

Verse 32: “adultery”: An adulterous woman could in principle be stoned to death per Leviticus 18:20; 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:20-21, but whether Jewish courts had this authority during the Roman occupation is unknown. [ NJBC] [ TMJ]

Verses 33-37: Rather than determine one’s responsibility to meet an obligation by deciding the sincerity and authority of one’s oath, it is essential that all one’s statements be reliable and unequivocal. [ CAB]

Verse 33: Jesus summarizes Leviticus 19:12; Numbers 30:2; Deuteronomy 5:11; 23:21. The problem with oaths is that they introduce a double standard of truth and honesty. The use of solemn-sounding oaths instead of simple, truthful speech is a concession to a double standard. [ BlkMt]

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