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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

First Sunday in Lent - February 26, 2012



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 Rev'd Alan T Perry, of the Anglican Diocese of Montreal. 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 9:8-17

In the first creation story (1:27-28), “God created humankind in his image ... and ... said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, ... and have dominion over the fish ... birds ... and ... every living thing ...’”, but all are to be vegetarian. Deviation from God’s ways increased over time until “the earth was filled with violence ... all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth.” (6:11-12). So God decided to eliminate humans by means of the Flood, but (in his mercy), he saved a remnant. The waters have receded; Noah, his family and the remaining animals have set foot on dry land. In 9:1-3, God renews the promise of Genesis 1; he again commands, “Be fruitful and multiply”. He now permits humans to eat meat: they now have complete dominion over all creatures, but they must have a greater respect for human life: because humanity is made in the image of God, wilful bloodshed must be accounted for to God.

God makes a “covenant” (v. 9) with Noah, his sons and “every living creature” (v. 10). Because it is from his sons that “the whole earth” (v. 19) shall be “peopled”, the agreement is between God and all humanity. He will never again destroy humankind (vv. 11, 15, 16). Being with all creatures and with “the earth” (v. 13) itself, this contract speaks of ecology, and it is an “everlasting covenant” (v. 16). Ancient people imagined a rainbow as a divine warrior’s weapon, his “bow” (v. 13); his arrows were lightning. God gives the “bow” as a visible “sign of the covenant”. That God’s “bow” is “in the clouds” (and not on earth) shows that God is no longer angry with humans. (The repetitions in vv. 13-17 may show that various versions of the story were merged.) When rains come, they will end – with a rainbow; there will be hope. The story of the Flood teaches that God judges the world according to human behaviour, punishes evil, and rescues the worthy.


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 25:1-10

The psalmist prays that God will show him his way (vv. 4, 8, 9), his “paths” (vv. 4, 10). He trusts in God (v. 2), and hopes that therefore God will deliver him from personal enemies. May none who trust in God be shamed or be subject to treachery. Those who follow God’s ways will be saved (v. 6). The psalmist trusts that God will forgive his sins through his “mercy ... and ... love”; may God remember his present fidelity rather than his youthful deviances (v. 7). God “instructs sinners” (v. 8), “leads the humble ... and teaches the humble” (v. 9, i.e. those who hold him in proper respect) in how to be godly.


1 Peter

An elder in Rome wrote this pastoral exhortation to those in charge of churches in Asia Minor. ("Babylon" is a common code-name for Rome; see Revelation 17:5-6.) The opening greeting claims that Peter is the author, but today most scholars agree that it was written in his name, to give it authority (a common practice at that time.) The addressees appear to be Gentiles, rural folk, both resident aliens and household slaves, in Asia Minor. Christians can expect to suffer, to be ostracized, to be "called names": they are in the midst of a pagan culture. Though they are "aliens" in this world, God has given them "a new birth ... into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading" (1:3-4).


1 Peter 3:18-22

In vv. 15-16, the author has written: “Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you ... Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.” We are called to do more than defend ourselves: we are to respond to any request for explanation of our “hope”, engage the outsider in conversation, with the goal of converting him or her. This may entail suffering, for which Christ is the example.

Christ suffered for the sins of us all (v. 18); he is “the righteous”. (In Acts 7:52 he is called the “Righteous One”.) He brings us to God. He really died (“in the flesh”), but he overcame death; he rose to new life. Now vv. 19-20: in Genesis 6:1-4, angelic beings had intercourse with women, thus breaking the boundary between heaven and earth. In late Judaism, people believed that the action of these beings provoked the Flood. In 1 Enoch, a popular book when 1 Peter was written, Enoch, on God’s behalf, goes to tell these beings that they are confined to prison. In v. 19, the story of Enoch is applied to the risen Christ: the “spirits in prison” are these bad angels. During the building of the ark, “God waited patiently” (v. 20) for humankind to turn to him, but none did. The “eight” are Noah, his wife, their three sons, and their wives. Then v. 21: baptism also involves water, but differently. Its role is not ritual cleansing (“removal of dirt”); baptism saves us, putting us in a condition to be found worthy by God at the Last Day (“appeal”), sharing as we do in Christ’s death and resurrection. Christ has gone to heaven, and is in God’s place of honour (on his “right hand”, v. 22), and has angelic beings (“angels, authorities, and powers”) subject to him. God saved people in the past; now he saves us through baptism.


Symbol of St Mark

Mark

As witnesses to the events of Jesus life and death became old and died, the need arose for a written synopsis. Tradition has it that Mark, while in Rome, wrote down what Peter remembered. This book stresses the crucifixion and resurrection as keys to understanding who Jesus was. When other synoptic gospels were written, i.e. Matthew and Luke, they used the Gospel according to Mark as a source. Mark is most probably the John Mark mentioned in Acts 12:12: his mother's house was a meeting place for believers.


Mark 1:9-15

John the Baptist has come, “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (v. 4). Many have taken the opportunity to start new lives in God. Jesus, too, is baptised by John – Mark does not tell us why. The opening of the heavens symbolizes the start of a new mode of communication between God and humankind. Perhaps “like a dove” (v. 10) is an allusion to the spirit hovering in Genesis 1:2. To Mark, the “voice ... from heaven” (v. 11) confirms the already existing relationship between God and Jesus. Matthew and Luke describe Jesus’ temptation in some detail, but Mark mentions it only briefly: all three say that Jesus overcame tempting, enticement, by the devil. “Satan” (v. 13) is the supreme demon whose kingdom is now ending. “Forty” recalls Israel’s 40 years in the “wilderness”; it echoes the 40 days of testing Moses endured when the covenant was renewed after the gold calf incident (Exodus 34:28). Elijah too spent “forty days” on Mount Sinai (1 Kings 19:8). In the “wilderness” (probably the Judean desert, the home of demons), “wild beasts” may attack him, but “angels” protect him. The word Mark uses here for arrest (v. 14) also occurs in the story of Jesus’ passion and death: John’s fate foreshadows Jesus’ fate. Jesus returns to Galilee. His message begins with “the time is fulfilled”: the time appointed by God, the decisive time for God’s action, has arrived. “The kingdom of God has come near”: the final era of history is imminent. Jesus calls people to start a new life in God’s way, to “repent, and believe in the good news.”

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