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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost - July 13, 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 25:19-34

Abraham has taken another wife, Keturah, who has borne him sons; they found the Arabic tribes (vv. 2-4). He sends these sons eastward: they will not compete with Isaac (v. 6). Abraham has died (vv. 7-10). Ishmael, his son by Hagar, has twelve sons who become the fathers of tribes between Egypt and Arabia (vv. 12-18). Now vv. 19-20 recall Isaac’s Aramean lineage. The story implies that Rebekah was barren for 19 years: see vv. 20 and 26. Isaac, mostly shown as a bridge between Abraham and Jacob, prays for her to conceive (v. 21), but when the pregnancy proves difficult, it is she who visits a shrine, seeking a divine oracle (“inquire of the Lord”, v. 22). Contrary to Israelite custom, “the elder shall serve the younger” (v. 23). A scholar suggests that Esau is ruddy rather than “red” (v. 25). His abundance of body hair is important later when Isaac is fooled into blessing Jacob rather than Esau. The Hebrew for “hairy” (se’ir ) reminds the reader of Seir, the land where Esau later lives. “Jacob” (v. 26) probably means May God protect. Within the name is a syllable which on its own means “heel”. The two boys are indeed “divided” (v. 23) as God has foretold: Esau, like Ishmael, becomes nomadic while Jacob lives a settled life (“living in tents”, v. 27).

Vv. 29-34 are a second story. Jacob may well be cooking up a stew, i.e. stirring up trouble. When Esau returns from hunting “famished” and weary, he wants to gulp down whatever Jacob is cooking. (“Edom”, v. 30, meaning red one, is another name for Seir). But Jacob thinks fast, to his own advantage; he demands Esau’s favoured status (and greater inheritance) as first-born. Esau will give anything for a meal (v. 32). So Jacob is able to extract from him a legal agreement (v. 33). And so we learn how Abraham’s line, the line of God’s people, continues through Jacob and not Esau, and how Israel became a greater power than Edom. God chooses; whom he chooses is his affair.


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 119:105-112

This is the longest of the psalms, being made up of 22 8-line stanzas. Our reading is the fourteenth; in Hebrew, each line begins with the letter nun, the fourteenth letter in the alphabet. This stanza, as do the others, talks about the Law. It is called by several names: “word” (vv. 105, 107), “ordinances” (vv. 106, 108), “law” (v. 109), “precepts” (v. 110), “decrees” (v. 111) and “statutes” (v. 112). Perhaps the dominant idea in this stanza is standing up against “the wicked” (v. 110), those who oppose God’s ways. The affliction in v. 107 may be insults and innuendos the ungodly hurl at the psalmist, as they plot, lay snares, against him. His very life, in which he holds God in awe, is at risk (v. 109). The Law is his guide to living (v. 105). He uses all his faculties, both intellectual and emotional (“heart”, v. 112) to keep the Law, living up to the “oath” (v. 106) he has “sworn” (v. 106) to keep it. The Law comes to him as a “heritage” (v. 111) from his forebears, to be lived throughout his life.


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 8:1-11

Paul has written of the inner conflict which arises within the believer. Whether an adherent to the Law or a Christian, one wills to follow God’s ways, but somehow one does otherwise. Something within one causes one not to follow through from “mind” (v. 6) to action. One’s body, one’s “flesh”, seems naturally inclined to do evil. Paul has thanked God for rescuing us from this state: for we who are incorporated “in Christ Jesus” (v. 1) there are no dire consequences (“condemnation”) of our mistakes. Why? Because God’s “Spirit” (v. 2), in the new way of being, has freed us from the finality of physical death. God has overcome our inclination to sin by lovingly “sending his own Son” (v. 3): he who suffered the effects of human sin in order to do away with it through rising again, thus enabling us to attain oneness with God (v. 4).

There are two mindsets (vv. 5-6): one self-oriented and the other Spirit-oriented, one leading to the finality of “death”, and one to spiritual “life”. Self-orientation is inherently in opposition to God (v. 7). But Christians are motivated by the Spirit (dwells”, v. 9), belong to God. “Spirit” and “Christ” come together. Vv. 10-11 say: if Christ (or the Spirit) is in you, though you may be a corpse because of all the wrong you have done, you are actually very much alive – because of the Spirit. If God's Spirit is in you, God will resuscitate your bodies (from being corpses) through the Spirit, in raising you to new life at the end of time.


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 13:1-9,18-23

The crowd that has come to hear Jesus is so large that he teaches from a boat on the Sea of Galilee. He tells several parables; he explains the first one (vv. 18-23), but only partially. People were familiar with Palestinian farming; sometimes seeding preceded ploughing. The “sower” (v. 3) and the seed are constant; where it lands varies: in three unfruitful places (“on the path”, v. 4, among rocks, v. 5, “among thorns”, v. 7) and in one fruitful place (v. 8). V. 9 tells us (and the crowd) that this is a story with a deeper meaning.

People naturally thought of the sower as God and the various soils as the people of the world; knowing the prophecy of the fate of Jeroboam’s household in 1 Kings, they probably linked “birds” (v. 4) with evil. Perhaps here the sower is anyone who tells the good news. Growth represents receptivity. While Jesus has invited listening (v. 9), understanding (vv. 19, 23) is required in order to be fruitful: reflect on Jesus’ message. Those who brush off the message are seduced by evil (v. 19). Vv. 20-21 also speak of lack of understanding: of superficiality, of reflecting insufficiently to withstand “persecution”. Discipleship is demanding. Then v. 22: following Christ requires undivided loyalty, single-mindedness. Finally v. 23: only those who adequately reflect (thus coming to understanding), who meet the demands of the faith, and who are truly dedicated are fruitful and bring others to Christ.

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