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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost - September 7, 2014



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.

Exodus 12:1-14

Instead of proceeding from warning (see 11:1, 4-8) to plague (see 12:29-30), the tenth plague account has been embedded in a setting of the lengthy description of a festival, thus shifting the time sense of the narrative. [ FoxMoses]

Scholars see the festival depicted in this chapter as the combination of two ancient holy days:

  • One of nomadic people, of herders, to propitiate the gods when they moved from the well-watered winter pastures to the arid summer ones: one in which a lamb was sacrificed to the deity in gratitude and for protection of the flock, and
  • One of agricultural people, of farmers, at the time of the barley harvest, at which time the previous year’s yeast was destroyed and a new yeast culture was started.

Each has parallels in other cultures. Here the two days have been fused together and imbued with historical meaning. Whatever its origin, Passover as described in our text bespeaks a strong sense of Israelite tribal community and of distinctiveness. And it is distinctiveness, which played such an important role in Israelite religion, that is singled out here, with the striking penalty for transgressing the boundaries of the festival – being “cut off” (v. 15, probably death). [ FoxMoses] [ NJBC]

Verses 1-20: Scholars say that these verses are from the Priestly (P) tradition. Vv. 21-39 repeat the story and are from the Yahwist (J) tradition.

Verse 1: “in the land of Egypt”: The text establishes that Passover dates back to the days in Egypt.

Verses 2-3: “month ... months”: Literally new moon(s) . [ FoxMoses]

Verse 2: “This month”: i.e. Nisan (March to April). At least one form of the ancient Hebrew calendar began in the Spring; the birth of the year of nature and that of Israel coincide. [ FoxMoses] In the post-exilic ecclesiastical calendar Nisan was the “beginning of months”: see Leviticus 23:5, 23-25. According to the older agricultural calendar, the year began in the Fall/Autumn: see Exodus 23:16; 34:22. [ NOAB] According to CAB, the new year was in the Fall among nomadic people, but was moved to the Spring when Israel became a settled people.

Verse 3: “congregation”: Both REB and FoxMoses offer community.

Verse 3: “on the tenth of this month”: A parallel important day in the Fall, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is celebrated on the tenth day of the seventh month: see Leviticus 16:29. [ FoxMoses]

Verse 4: “household”: See Numbers 1:2-4: each tribe included a number of clans, and a clan included several “ancestral houses”, family groups, or “households”. [ NOAB] Mention of the household (rather than the individual) shows that the benefits are to the group, and one participates to express commitment to the group. [ CAB]

Verse 5: “without blemish”: FoxMoses offers wholly sound. Later, priests were expected to be “without blemish”.

Verse 6: “at twilight”: This time of day is mentioned elsewhere in connection with sacrifices made by priests (e.g. 16:12; 29:39, 41). Perhaps there is an implication here that the situation is the unusual one in which the head of the household performs a priestly function. [ FoxMoses]

Verse 7: “blood”: The blood was God’s portion of the sacrifice: see Leviticus 1:5. [ NOAB]

Verse 7: “on the two doorposts and the lintel”: The door was the holy place of the house: see 21:6 and Deuteronomy 6:4-9. [ NOAB] Sprinkling the blood symbolizes both dedicating the household to God and the blood protecting the inhabitants from evil powers, “the destroyer” (v. 23), the angel of death: see also 2 Samuel 24:16 and Isaiah 37:36. [ CAB] [ NOAB]

Verse 8: “unleavened bread”: The Hebrew is matzot, the plural form of matza. [ FoxMoses] Served with “bitter herbs”, it is a typical nomadic diet, and thus reminds Israelites of their origins as a land-less people. [ CAB] Later Jewish tradition speaks of bitter herbs as a symbol of the bitterness of slavery in Egypt.

Verse 11: Passover is still observed this way by some Jews originating in Arab lands. [ FoxMoses]

Verse 11: “hurriedly”: FoxMoses offers in trepidation.

Verse 13: “pass over”: The meaning of the Hebrew, paso’ah , is disputed. Some interpret it as protect, but others relate it to the word for limp – suggesting a halting dance performed as part of the ancient festival, perhaps in imitation of the skipping of newborn lambs: God skips over Israelite homes. It is possible that both meanings are intended. [ FoxMoses]

Verse 14: “This day”: Passover is celebrated on the fourteenth day of Nisan, so “this day” is the fifteenth. See Leviticus 23:6 and Numbers 28:17. [ NOAB]

Verse 15: “Seven days”: Of the same duration as Sukkoth, the great Fall festival. See Leviticus 23:24. The festival of unleavened bread is considered as a continuation of the Passover. [ NOAB]

Verse 15: “remove leaven”: The absence of leaven (yeast) is interpreted as due to the hasty preparations for exodus: see vv. 34, 39 and Deuteronomy 16:3. Originally leaven, because of its fermenting or corrupting power (see 23:18; Matthew 16:6; 1 Corinthians 5:7) was regarded as a ritually unclean substance not to be offered to God (see Leviticus 2:11) which contaminates the whole harvest. [ NOAB] In a rural kitchen today, where yoghurt is made, the yeast stock does become contaminated and is replaced from time to time.

Verse 16: The same rules apply to Sukkoth. FoxMoses says that “solemn assembly” should perhaps be translated as proclamation of holiness.

Verse 17: “the festival of unleavened bread”: Probably a separate festival from that of lambs.

Verse 17: “as a perpetual ordinance”: Israelites are to observe the festival forever.

Verse 18: So closely is the festival combined with Passover that it begins on the night of Passover. [ NOAB]

Passover was later reinterpreted as a memorial of Yahweh’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt: see Deuteronomy 16:1-8; Numbers 9:1-14; Ezekiel 45:21-25.

Psalm 149

This psalm is considered to be post-exilic by many commentators, but its many parallels to Psalms 96-98 (which may be pre-exilic) counsel caution in assigning this psalm a late date. [ NJBC]

NOAB sees this psalm as a liturgical event including a drama which has a war-like theme, suggesting that the audience reclines “on their couches” (v. 5) during the play. JBC sees it as a cultic celebration of victory. I find Micah 2:1-5 to be a compelling argument for the interpretation presented in Comments .

Verse 1: “a new song”: This phrase is used at times in other psalms (e.g. 33:3; 40:3; 96:1; 98:1). [ NJBC] It originally referred to an unusual hymn of praise but also to an extraordinary event, as in Isaiah 42:10. In Revelation 14:3, the newness corresponds to the new name given the conqueror ( 2:17), to the new Jerusalem ( 3:12; 21:2), to the new heaven and earth ( 21:1), and to universal renewal ( 21:5).

Certain rituals specify that “new” objects be used: see 1 Samuel 6:7 (a new cart for the Ark) and 2 Samuel 6:3. Analogously it was proper to offer God a “new song” of praise.

Verse 3: “dancing ... tambourine and lyre”: These forms of music are balanced by three instruments of battle: “two-edged swords” (v. 6), “fetters and ... chains” (v. 8). [ NJBC]

Verse 4: “people ... humble”: For the same parallelism, see 72:2 and Isaiah 49:13. [ NJBC]

Verse 5: “glory”: Hebrew: kabod. A title of God, as in 62:7. See also 29:2; 24:7, 10. [ NJBC]

Verse 5: “on their couches”: i.e. in private. This expression forms a merism with “in the assembly of the faithful” (v. 1), i.e. in public, so includes their whole lives. [ NJBC]

Verses 6-7: To be ready to battle the nations. [ CAB]

Romans 13:8-14

Verses 1-7: Though the Christian has no right to punish (see 12:19-21), the state does have that right, and the Christian must respect it. Paul’s confidence that the Roman state (under the despotic emperor Nero!) is on the whole just and beneficent reflects Jewish teaching (see Wisdom of Solomon 6:1-3) and is also found in 1 Peter 2:13-17; 3:13. [ NOAB] Up to the time when these verses were written, there was no official persecution of Christians in Rome, but infighting there (probably between Jews and Christians) had caused the emperor Claudius to expel all Jews from Rome: see Acts 18:2. But here Paul states general principles – based on Proverbs 8:15-16 and as Jesus taught: see Matthew 22:16-21. [ NJBC]

Verse 1: “governing authorities”: i.e. political powers that govern society. [ CAB] Civil authorities is also a possible translation.

Verse 1: “there is no authority except from God”: Though pagan rulers would not recognize its origin.

Verse 2: To Paul, obedience to civil authorities is a form of obedience to God – for the relationship of humans to God is not restricted to the religious sphere. Paul does not envisage the possibility of tyrannical government or one where the rights of the individual are limited or denied. He is only concerned with the duty of subjects to legitimate authority. [ NJBC] I quote this scholar to show the range of scholarly opinion; however, I find it hard to believe that Paul had the same concept of individual rights and liberties that we do in our culture today. It is true that Paul used his rights as a Roman citizen to avoid being summarily flogged (see Acts 22:25), but that is still rather different from our understanding of citizenship rights. (For example, Rome had a law on proscription which effectively stripped a person of his basic rights, including right to life. Anyone could murder a proscribed person with impunity. It was a very effective method of getting rid of enemies of the state.)

In fact, this whole passage (vv. 1-7) is quite problematic in the realm of social ethics precisely because there is no distinction made among legitimate and illegitimate authorities, nor any criterion supplied to make such a distinction. If it says quite plainly that we are to be obedient even to Nero, then to which modern state do we not owe allegiance? North Korea? Nazi Germany?

There are perfectly good reasons to develop criteria for distinguishing among legitimate and illegitimate government, but these are always controversial to some extent, and certainly fly in the face of this passage, which is not easily explained away. Christians of good conscience support either social-democratic or neo-conservative policies, for example. Many conservative Christians would see taxation as an illegitimate confiscatory power exercised by left-wing politicians – a view which neatly ignores v. 6. Other Christians are more likely to support a welfare-state-style program. Both views are espoused in good faith. [Alan Perry]

Verse 4: Paul says that civil authorities, whether good or bad, are placed in their positions by God.

Verse 4: “the sword”: A symbol of the powers of punishment that are possessed by legitimate authorities, which they have to maintain order and avoid strife. [ NJBC]

Verse 4: “It is the servant of God to execute wrath ...”: Civil authorities are able to deliver God’s “wrath”!

Verse 5: “conscience”: In 2:15, Paul says of unbelievers who keep Mosaic law: “They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them”. Christians should obey civil authorities not only because of the fear of punishment for breaking civil law, but also as a matter of conscience.

Verse 7: In Mark 12:17, Jesus says “‘"Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God’s’”. See also Luke 20:25; Matthew 22:21; 1 Peter 2:17. [ CAB]

Verses 8-10: These verses expand on 12:9-13. [ CAB]

Verse 8: In Galatians 5:14, Paul writes: “For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’”.

Verse 8a: Pay every debt; do not stand under any obligation except the obligation to love. [ NOAB]

Verse 8b: The “law” here is Mosaic law.

Verse 9: The commandments are in the order found in the Septuagint translation of Exodus 20:13-17 and Deuteronomy 5:17-21. In Matthew 19:18-19, Jesus tells a “young man” that the commandments to keep are: “‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honour your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbour as yourself’”.

Verse 9: “Love your neighbour as yourself”: As God commanded in Leviticus 19:18. See also Matthew 5:43; 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31, 33; Luke 10:27; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8.

Verse 10: See also 1 Corinthians 13:5-6. In Galatians 6:2, Paul advises: “Bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ”.

Verse 10: “love is the fulfilling of the law”: If Christ is the “end of the law” ( 10:4), where “end” is taken as meaning goal and “the law is Mosaic law, then “love”, which motivated his whole existence and saving activity ( 8:35), can be said to be the Law’s fulfilment. It becomes the norm for Christian conduct and, when properly applied, achieves all that the Law stood for. [ NJBC]

Verses 11-14: Eschatology and morality are often connected in the New Testament: see also Philippians 4:4-7; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, 23; Hebrews 10:24-25; James 5:7-11; 1 Peter 4:7-11; Matthew 25:31-46; Mark 13:33-37. For the concurrency of the era of this world and that of the world to come. see also 1 Corinthians 10:11.

Verse 11: “time”: Greek has several words which are translated into English as time. The one used here, kairos, means decisive time, time of an event or milestone.

Verse 11: “wake from sleep”: Ephesians 5:14, perhaps quoting from an early Christian hymn based on Isaiah 60:1, says “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you”. See also 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8.

Verse 12: “night ... day ... darkness ... light”: The contrast of day and night and of light and darkness is symbolic of good and evil, just as in 1 Thessalonians 5:7-8. These pairs of terms are found in contemporary Jewish writings, especially in the Qumran literature: see 1QS (Rule of the Community) 2:7; 3:20-4:1 and 1QM (War Scroll) 15:9. [ NJBC]

Verse 12: “put on the armour of light”: Christians cannot afford to remain in the unprotected condition of scantily clothed sleepers at a time when the situation calls for “armour”. [ NJBC]

Verse 13: “revelling ...”: A list of vices that are deeds of darkness.

Verse 14: “put on the Lord Jesus Christ”: i.e. to enter fully into the existence (way of being) which God has created through Christ. See 6:1-14 for the effects of baptism.

Matthew 18:15-20

There is a partial parallel in Luke 17:3. See also 1 Corinthians 6:1-6; Galatians 6:1; James 5:19-20. [ NOAB]

Verses 15-20: Members of the community are to take responsibility for reproving erring brothers and sisters, with referral of the case to the whole community (“church”, v. 17) if the counsel is rejected. The group decisions will be confirmed by God, who is present (“there among them”, v. 20) when they gather. [ CAB]

Verse 15: “church”: BlkMt says that this refers to the local group of believers. This is not later structured church.

Verse 15: “regained”: A technical rabbinic term for missionary (re-)conversion. [ NJBC]

Verse 16: “two or three witnesses”: This is the requirement stated in Deuteronomy 19:15. The Qumran community and the rabbis debated whether one witness was sufficient. Jesus seems to reduce the requirement to one, in addition to the plaintiff. [ NJBC]

Verse 17: “tax collector”: Jesus welcomed tax collectors who trusted in him and repented of their misdemeanours: see 9:9-13. In Galatians 6:1, Paul advises: “My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted”. See also Titus 3:10 and James 5:19-20. [ NJBC]

Verse 18: See also 16:19, John 20:21-23 and Clippings for Year A Proper 21. In John 20:21-23, the Church, having received the Holy Spirit, inherits Jesus’ mission of forgiveness. [ NOAB]

Verse 18: “will be bound”: This, says NJBC, is a theological passive meaning God shall bind. Leaders are given the same power as Peter to bind and loose, but not “the keys to the kingdom of heaven” (see 16:19).

Verse 19: “anything you ask ...”: NJBC offers a translation that stresses the legal senses of the terms: any claim that they may be pursuing.

Verse 20: In John 15:7, Jesus says: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you”. There is a parallel, with reference to the Law rather than to Christ, in Midrash ‘Abot 3.2.6; 4.11. So Jesus identifies himself not only with God’s presence (see 28:20: “I am with you always”) but also with the Law. [ NJBC]

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