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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost - July 6, 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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Genesis

Genesis is the first book of the Bible. It begins with two versions of the creation story, neither of them intended to be scientific but telling us why we are on earth. In the story of Adam and Eve, it tells us that we are responsible, under God, for the care of all creation. It then continues with the stories of the patriarchs: Abraham (who enters into a covenant (or treaty) with God), Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.


Genesis 24:34-38,42-49,58-67

Isaac has grown up, and Sarah his mother has died in Hebron. Abraham has insisted that his son marry a woman of his own clan, of his choosing. He has therefore made a pact with his head servant (v. 2): to return to “Aram-naharaim” (v. 10, Haran) to find a wife for Isaac. The servant has come to the well at Haran, where he has prayed to God that he will give a particular sign to identify the woman God has chosen. Rebekah, daughter of “Bethuel” (v. 15), has shown that she is the one (by offering water to both the servant and his camels); she has said that she is kin to Abraham, and has offered hospitality. When she has told her brother Laban, he has welcomed the servant and his party and has offered them a meal. But first, the servant insists, he must state the purpose of the trip. Here our reading begins.

It seems that the family worships Abraham’s God (v. 50), although they also have household gods (see 31:19, 30). “Bethuel” (Abraham’s nephew) and his son “Laban” recognize the servant’s mission as divinely inspired; they decide that Rebekah shall become Isaac’s wife, but they will ask her for her consent. She concurs (v. 58). Laban and Bethuel bless her: may she become the mother of many; may they be politically and militarily powerful (“gain possession ...”, v. 60): a blessing given to Abraham earlier ( 22:17). Isaac now lives at an oasis in the Negev Desert, in southern Canaan (v. 62). (“Beer-lahai-roi” means well of the living one who sees me ; it was so named by Hagar when she saw God, appearing as an angel, there.) That Rebekah notices Isaac before she knows who he is shows that God brings them together. The servant calls Isaac “my master” (v. 65), so it seems that Abraham has died while he was away. Custom forbade a bride seeing her future husband’s face before marriage, so she dons a “veil”. Isaac welcomes her to his house (“tent”, v. 67) and they are married.


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 45:10-17

The psalmist, a court scribe, feels inspired to write an ode for a royal wedding. In vv. 2-5, he lists the admirable qualities of the king: he is “most handsome”, full of God’s grace, splendid (“glory”, v. 3), a conqueror “for the cause of truth” (v. 4) and of justice. “Your throne ...” (v. 6) probably speaks of God rather than the king (although the word translated “God” can mean superhuman being, so it may say the king is superior to all other humans.) God has made the king greater than the kings of other nations (v. 7). His robes are perfumed with fragrance: with “myrrh” (v. 8, an aromatic gum from Arabia, Ethiopia or India), “aloes” (a fragrant wood) and “cassia” (a tree native to India and the Far East). Stringed instruments play music in his palace which is decorated with “ivory”. The ladies of the court include daughters of fellow kings (v. 9). The bride’s dress is ornamented with gold from Arabia or east Africa (“Ophir”). She is a foreigner, perhaps from “Tyre” (v. 12). She is to forget her people, to please and honour the king, her master. The rich seek her favour with expensive gifts. A glorious sight (v. 13), she enters, followed by bridesmaids (v. 14); it is a joyous occasion. May the king have male heirs who will be “princes” (v. 16, rulers over all peoples); may his reign be celebrated for ages; may the peoples praise him for ever.


Song of Solomon

This book is also known as the Song of Songs (the opening words of the book) or Canticle of Canticles. Song of Songs is the Hebrew idiom for the superlative, the greatest song. It contains poems, or songs, of Israel. The poems are about love and devotion, and are set as a dialogue between a woman (the bride) and a man (the bridegroom). It is possible that some poems date back to Solomon; however, the occurrence of Persian and Greek words in others suggests a later date. Such poetry was in vogue in the Near East in the 400s and 300s BC.

Judaism has seen these songs as having another level of meaning: the love between God and his people; the man and woman are then the Lord and Israel. Christians have also allegorized mutual love: in our case, between Christ and the Church. But the basic meaning is literal: love, including sexual love based on human instincts, is blessed, a part of God's creativeness, and creation, to be valued and enjoyed.


Song of Solomon 2:8-13

This book is a collection of love songs, dialogues between a man and a woman. In our passage, the woman (the bride) speaks first. She sees and hears her beloved approaching, coming powerfully, swiftly and gracefully, “like a gazelle” (v. 9), until he reaches “our wall”, the enclosure within which the “daughters of Jerusalem” (his harem, v. 7) are. He peers within. In vv. 10-13, the bridegroom speaks to her, his “love”, his darling (in another translation). It is Spring; he celebrates creation and nature. He invites her to “come away” with him, (as can be deduced from the sexual symbols in the book), to enjoy sexual intercourse. In v. 14, the bridegroom beseeches her, “my dove”, to let him see her and hear her voice. She responds (v. 15): she is not as inaccessible as he thinks. In vv. 16-17, she invites him to be with her “on the cleft mountains”, i.e. mountains with narrow openings.

Judaism has seen these songs as having another level of meaning: the love between God and his people; the man and woman are then the Lord and Israel. Christians have also allegorized mutual love: between Christ and the Church. But the basic meaning is literal: love, including sexual love based on human instincts, is blessed, a part of God’s created-ness, to be valued and enjoyed.


Romans

Romans is the first epistle in the New Testament, although not the first to be written. Paul wrote it to the church at Rome, which included both Jews and Gentiles. His primary theme is the basics of the good news of Christ, salvation for all people. The book was probably written in 57 AD, when Paul was near the end of his third missionary journey around the Eastern Mediterranean. It is unusual in that it was written to a church that Paul had not visited.


Romans 7:15-25a

Paul has written of two ways of being:

  • the old, where being subject to the Law, people continually contravene it (sin), are dependent on God’s love to restore them to harmony with him, and in sinning ensure that they have no spiritual life after death, and
  • the new,
  • attained through baptism, where through Christ sin is no more, and physical death leads to eternal life. But we have not yet fully attained the new, so we are still influenced by evil. Now Paul asks: how could sin (personified) use the Law, which is good, to destroy humans? Humans are at fault, not the Law. He endures conflict between what he does, his “actions”, his exterior, and his “inmost self” (v. 22), his “mind” (vv. 23, 25). His true self abides by “the law of God” (v. 22), by God’s ways; it sees that what he does is not what he wills, and is what he hates (v. 15). Vv. 17 and 20 seem to say that sin, not he, is responsible for his actions, but realize that the “sin” is his sin. He is caught up in sin; he wills to obey God, but he can’t! (v. 18). So it seems to be a principle of life (“law”, v. 21) that whenever he wills good, the devil is never far away. His body is “at war” (v. 23) with his being. It is God, through Christ, who “will rescue” (v. 24) him from this sorry estate.


    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 11:16-19,25-30

    John the Baptist has sent his disciples to ask Jesus whether he is the expected Messiah. Jesus has invited John to decide for himself: does he not do deeds of healing as foretold of the Messiah in Isaiah? John, Jesus has said, is indeed a prophet, the “messenger” (v. 10) sent to prepare for the Messiah (foretold in Malachi, and there named as Elijah), and the greatest human. For people of faith, John heralds the dawn of the time of fulfilment of God’s promise.

    Vv. 16-19a are a parable in which the “children” are John and Jesus; the people of Israel ignore their message, whether it be told austerely (by John, as at a funeral, “mourn”) or in merriment (by Jesus, as at a wedding). But God’s “wisdom” proves them right by their results. Then vv. 20-24: people in Jewish towns, where Jesus has invited conversion through miracles (“deeds of power”), have ignored his message and will be condemned at the Last Day, while people of Gentile towns would have been much more receptive. In vv. 25-26, Jesus thanks his Father for choosing the simple, uneducated (“infants”) over the religious leaders (“the wise ...”). He is totally the Father’s representative; only the Father knows him, and only he and those he chooses know the Father. He invites the downtrodden to accept his “rest” (v. 28). Rabbis spoke of the “yoke” (v. 29) of the Law, with its many regulations. Jesus’ way is “easy” (v. 30): love God and each other! He is both teacher and the one to emulate.

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