Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: Seventh Sunday after Epiphany - February 19, 2017

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.

Leviticus 19:1-2,9-18

This chapter represents a fine blending of cultic requirements and ethical obligations, as expressed classically in the Ten Commandments. [ NOAB] Holiness extends to virtually all areas of life: family, calendar, cult, business, civil and criminal law, social relations, and sexuality. Most of the laws deal with relationships among people, i.e. ethics. As such, they have become an exemplar and a cornerstone, at least in idealized form, in Western thinking about these issues. [ FoxMoses] The laws in this chapter are of particular interest as a mirror of cultic and social life before the Exile. It is an important link between the earlier and later stages of Israelite law, the earlier being the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21) . [ NJBC]

Verses 1-36: This is the priestly equivalent of the Ten Commandments. The range of social and moral demands here is more extensive than in Exodus 20:1-20.

Verse 1: “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying”: The laws in Exodus 25-31 are introduced in similar words.: they are put on Moses’ lips, thus giving them authority. While ascribing a book to a hero or spiritual leader is abhorrent to us today, it was a common practice in the ancient world. The first four books of the Bible (Genesis to Numbers) were originally one book. [ HBD]

Verses 5-8: The rules regarding the peace offering (“sacrifice of well-being”) are substantially the same as in 7:15-19; however here the connection between oblations and consumption is emphasized. Eating of the offering after the set time makes the whole sacrifice unacceptable. [ NJBC]

Verse 10: “strip ... bare”: FoxMoses renders the Hebrew as glean.

Verse 10: “you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God”: A pre-Israelite custom was to leave something of the harvest to honour the god’s responsibly for the soil’s fertility, a motive clearly excluded by v. 10b. [ NJBC]

Verses 11-18: These verses are centred on one’s responsibility to practice justice and charity in social dealings. [ NJBC]

Verse 11: “steal”: FoxMoses offers kidnap, deprivation of another’s personal liberty, as is meant in Exodus 20:15 and Deuteronomy 5:19. Exodus 21:16 begins “Whoever kidnaps a person”. See also Deuteronomy 24:7. [ NJBC]

Verse 11b: “you shall not lie to one another”: This law is broader than that in Exodus 20:16 and Deuteronomy 5:20.

Verse 12: The prohibition against profaning God’s name is more restricted than the general law of respect for God’s name in Exodus 20:7 and Deuteronomy 5:11, a commandment that is only concerned with testimony in court. [ NJBC]

Verse 14: “revile”: i.e. curse, insult. The curse, once uttered, was irrevocable, whether heard or not. [ NJBC]

Verse 15: Court proceedings, presided over by the elder or senior members of the clan, were to be marked with strict adherence to the interests of justice, which forbade favouring both the mighty (“great”) and “the poor”.

Verse 16: “slanderer”: The individual Israelite must refrain from any falsification made to members of a judicial body [ NJBC]

Verses 17-18: Previous ethical injunctions come to a climax in this law, the source of the second commandment quoted in Mark 12:31. [ NOAB]

Verse 17: “you shall reprove your neighbour, or you will incur guilt yourself.”: FoxMoses offers rebuke, yes, rebuke your fellow, that you not bear sin because of him!. You would bear his sin because you did not alert him to the consequences of his behaviour. See also Ezekiel 3:18-19; 33:8-9. In Matthew 18:15, Jeus counsels: “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one”. [ NJBC]

Verse 18: “you shall love your neighbour as yourself”: Here “neighbour” means a fellow Israelite; however this law is extended to include resident aliens in vv. 33-34. [ NOAB] This proposes self-love as the measure for love of others. Jesus takes “neighbour” in its widest possible meaning. He says that this precept, with Deuteronomy 6:5, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might”, sums up the whole of the Law and the Prophets. See Matthew 22:37-39 and Mark 12:30-31. [ NJBC]

Psalm 119:33-40

Verse 33: “I will observe it to the end”: REB translates this as and in keeping them I shall find my reward.

Verse 34: “understanding”: The psalmist prays for wisdom to see how all things in God’s creation work together. See also vv. 73, 125, 144, 169. [ NJBC]

Verse 37: “vanities”: all that is futile [ REB]

Verse 39: “disgrace”: taunts [ REB]

1 Corinthians 3:10-11,16-23

Verse 11: A parenthetical allusion to a claim of the Cephas party that the church should be founded on Peter (see Matthew 16:18). [ NJBC]

Verse 13: “the Day ... with fire”: Fire is also associated with the Judgement Day of Yahweh in Isaiah 26:11; Daniel 7:9-11 and Malachi 4:1. The Day is described in Isaiah 2:12; Jeremiah 46:10 and Amos 5:18. Here Paul uses “fire” to denote the second coming of Christ, an event he also mentions in 4:5 and 5:5. [ NJBC]

Verse 14: “reward”: This is God’s approval; for the full use of one’s talents in contributions appropriate to the nature of the church. [ NJBC]

Verse 15: To give mistakenly (e.g. the attempt of the Cephas party to impose Jewish customs on the church) or inadequately in terms of one’s talents will merit salvation – but only just.=, as one who runs out of a burning house. [ NJBC]

Verses 16-17: The community comprises the true “temple” of God, where God dwells among his people, as in ancient Israel. See 2 Chronicles 6:20-23 and Psalm 18:6. [ CAB]

Verse 16: “you”: In the Greek, this is in the plural. [ NOAB]

Verse 18b: “If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise”: Blk1Cor translates this as If any one among you supposes that he is wise by the standards of this age, let him become foolish by the standards of this age, in order that he may become truly wise. See 1:18-25 (Christ and the cross). [ NOAB]

Verse 19: The quotation is from Job 5:13, but not from the Septuagint translation. What the Corinthian Christians think of as wisdom is only craftiness. [ NOAB] [ NJBC]

Verse 20: The quotation is from Psalm 94:11, but he substitutes “the thoughts of the wise” for “our thoughts”. [ NOAB] [ NJBC]

Verses 21-22: “For all things are yours ... all belong to you”: God has given them leaders (“Paul ... Apollos ... “Cephas”) and in Christ they have been granted understanding of “all things”: “life ... death ... present” and “future”. [ CAB]

Verse 22: “Cephas”: From the Aramaic kepa, meaning rock, Paul’s habitual name for Peter. He also uses it in 1:12; 9:5; 15:5; Galatians 1:18; 2:9, 11, 14. Peter may have visited Corinth. If not, Judeo-Christians may have invoked his name to legitimize a more law-observant form of Christianity than Paul found palatable. [ NJBC]


Matthew 5:38-48

Our reading is part of the Sermon on the Mount ( 5:1-7:29). Matthew has included portions of Jesus’ teaching given on other occasions. [ NOAB]

Verses 38-42: Rather than demand equal compensation for what others have taken, God’s people are to overcome greed by generosity toward the wrongdoer. [ CAB]

Verse 38: This law is in Exodus 21:23-24, Leviticus 24:19-20 and Deuteronomy 19:21. [ NOAB] The rule is called talion from the Latin talis meaning such, the same. This rule is also found in the Code of Hammurabi and Roman law. While it sounds barbarous today, it did limit revenge. When first introduced, it constituted genuine moral progress. [ NJBC]

Verses 39-42: See also Luke 6:29-30, 1 Corinthians 6:7 and 1 Peter 2:19; 3:9. [ NOAB]

Verse 39: “Do not resist an evildoer”: While physical violence is prohibited, the possibility of psychological or moral resistance, as exemplified by Gandhi and Martin Luther King, is open. The parallel in Romans 12:17, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all” (which is based on Proverbs 25:21-22) shows that Jesus’ teaching is a strategy for winning, not for passive resignation nor for indifference to evil.

Comments: To strike the right cheek with the back of the hand was particularly dishonouring: NJBC found this in the Mishnah. A right-handed person could strike the right cheek of an opponent in two ways:

  • weakly, a slap with the back of the right hand, and
  • forcefully, with the left fist or hand, but in Jesus’ time in Palestine, the left hand was only used for unclean tasks, e.g. toilet cleaning. [Milavec, Aaron The Didache: faith, hope, & life of the earliest Christian communities, 50-70 C.E. New York: Newman Press 2003]
  • forcefully, with the left fist or hand, but in Jesus’ time in Palestine, the left hand was only used for unclean tasks, e.g. toilet cleaning. [Milavec, Aaron The Didache: faith, hope, & life of the earliest Christian communities, 50-70 C.E. New York: Newman Press 2003]

Verse 40: See also v. 25 [ NJBC]

Verse 41: “forces”: The Greek word, which can be translated compel, is a Persian loan word reflecting the imperial messenger service like the old Pony Express, but without paying for the horse. [ NJBC]

Verse 42: “Give”: The theme of giving to beggars and borrowers goes beyond the scope of non-resistance to evil to advocate general kindness, forbearance, generosity and an open attitude towards people. [ NJBC]

Verse 43: “You shall love your neighbour ...”: This quotation is from Leviticus 19:18 but it is incomplete: it leaves out “as yourself”. Further, “and hate your enemy” is not in the Bible. These words restrict love to one’s own ethnic group. It is unfortunate that the NRSV (and other translations) place these words within the quotation marks. Jesus attacks a false interpretation. [ NJBC] There was debate as to who was one’s neighbour, a widespread assumption being that outsiders were enemies and thus they were targets of hatred, although no scripture directly states this. Psalms 58:6-11; 68:21-31; 83:13-15 call for the punishment of one’s enemies. Deuteronomy 7:2 hints at hating the enemy. 1QS (Rule of the Qumran Community) 1:3-4 calls for hatred of them. [ CAB]

Verse 43: Jesus calls for responding to enemies with love, which can transform them. [ CAB] It is unfortunate that the NRSV (and other translations) include “and hate your enemy” within the quotation marks, for it is not in the Bible. [ NJBC]

Verses 44-48: See also Luke 6:27-28, 32-36. [ NOAB]

Verse 44: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”: This is not hopeless idealism but a wise strategy for overcoming the persecutor. The heroic stance of the martyr gives the persecutor a bad image and is hard for governments to control. Christianity is not introverted aggression, but aggression transmuted into a strategy for winning through the wisdom of love. [ NJBC]

Verse 45: “children of your Father”: Paul mentions being adopted as children of God in Romans 8. [ NJBC] The words “children of” commonly mean people who show the quality named or trait of character implied. See also Luke 6:35; 10:6 and John 8:39-47. [ NOAB]

Verse 46: See also Luke 14:12-14. [ NJBC]

Verse 46: “reward”: If you love those who love you, your reward is an increase in their love. If you love those who hate you, your reward is an increase in God’s love. In 5:3, the reward is “the kingdom of heaven”; in 5:8 it is that “they will see God”. [ NJBC]

Verse 46: “tax collectors”: They could keep the excess funds over the contracted amount. Their work involved assessing goods in transit through Palestine. This put them in contact with ritually unclean items. Accordingly, they were considered by pious Jews to be sinners. [ CAB] In Luke 19:1-10, Jesus befriends them but he never approves of their sins. Tax collectors are symbols of low morality. [ NJBC]

Verse 47: “Gentiles”: Use of this word suggests that Matthew was written for a Jewish Christian audience. [ NJBC]

Verse 48: “perfect”: The Greek word teleios is often translated as mature (in following Christ’s example). In the Qumran literature, a perfect person is one who observes the whole law. [ NJBC] Colossians 3:14 advises “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony”. See also 1 John 4:19. [ NOAB]

A five-stage evolution in biblical thinking on retaliation and love of enemies can be traced:

  • unlimited revenge. See Genesis 4:15, 24
  • talion or limited revenge. See Deuteronomy 19:16-21
  • the silver rule, “... what you hate, do not do to anyone” (Tobit 4:15) or Do not do to others what you would not have them do to you
  • the golden rule, “do to others as you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12): more positive than the silver rule, reaching out to do good, taking the initiative to create an atmosphere of good will
  • loving one’s enemies, an invitation to moral heroism and sanctity.

The last stage is the loftiest level. Is it lacking in ethical sobriety, as its critics have suggested? It can be quite effective, e.g. in Gandhi. It can be no more un-sober than a general strike is. Two questions that remain are:

  • Is it the only legitimate rule of conduct for Christians in conflict situations?
  • Are the earlier stages of biblical teaching cancelled out?

No, the earlier stages represent a permanent resource for believers when appropriate. Which level of biblical ethics should be employed depends on the moral level of the opponent. Given this range of options, you can govern with the Sermon on the Mount, provided you also include the earlier moral stages which it presupposes. The Sermon is not the whole of biblical revelation but does represent a summit of moral wisdom whose validity proves itself in daily life when wisely applied. [ NJBC]

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