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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: Second Sunday in Lent - March 4, 2012



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.

Genesis 17:1-7,15-16

This account from the Priestly (P) tradition is a parallel version of the covenant with Abraham given in the early, Yahwist (J), tradition in 15:7-21. [NOAB] P gathers the major motifs of the story so far and sets them squarely within the covenant.

Verses 1-14: The primary response expected to God’s covenant with Abraham is circumcision as a visible sign of participation in the covenant. This parallels the institution of the sabbath in the covenant with Adam (see 2:1-3) and the prohibition of eating blood in the covenant with Noah (see 9:4-7). [CAB]

Verse 1: “ninety-nine years old”: Thirteen years have passed since the birth of Ishmael (in Chapter 16). [FoxMoses]

Verse 1: “God Almighty”: The Hebrew is El Shaddai, possibly meaning God, the One of the mountains. This was a divine name in the pre-Mosaic period (see Exodus 6:2-3), possibly brought from Mesopotamia into Palestine. [NOAB] In Genesis, this name is most often tied to promises of fertility. [FoxMoses] It is the Priestly (P) tradition’s favourite designation of God in patriarchal times: see also 17:1; 28:3; 35:11; 43:14; 48:3. In P’s scheme, God is revealed to humankind in Genesis 1-11 as Elohim, to the patriarchs as El Shaddai, and to Israel as Yahweh. Thus P divides history into periods. [NJBC]

Verse 1: “walk before me, and be blameless”: There is a link here to Noah: “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God” (6:9). [NJBC]

Verse 4: “multitude”: The Hebrew word, translated as throng by FoxMoses, suggests the sound of a crowd rather than merely a large number.

Verse 5: “Abraham”: This is a dialectical variant of Abram. The name means ancestor of a multitude of nations: see v. 4. See also 28:3 (Isaac to Jacob); 35:11 (God to Jacob); 48:4 (Jacob recalls God’s words to him). [NOAB]

Verse 7: God establishes an eternal covenant like the eternal throne of David in 2 Samuel 7:13 (he speaks through Nathan).

Verse 11: “circumcise”: In many societies, circumcision has been connected directly to puberty and marriage, usually taking place (as it does here to Ishmael, v. 23) at around the age of thirteen. By moving the rite back essentially to birth defuses the act from any sex content while at the same time suggesting that the covenant, a lifelong commitment, is nevertheless passed down biologically through the generations. The males of the tribe are not simply made holy for marriage; they bear the mark upon their bodies as a sacred reminder of their mission. [FoxMoses] Exodus 4:24-26 explains that the rite of circumcision entered the Israelite culture through Moses’ Midianite wife, Zipporah. Joshua 5:4-5 tells us that those Israelites born in Egypt were circumcised but that those born in the wilderness were only circumcised, at God’s command, after they entered the Promised Land. [NOAB] Circumcision became an important rite of the chosen people in exile, denied other symbols of identity (the Temple, land and king). [NJBC]

Verse 12: The entire household, as an extension of Abram’s personality, is to be brought into the covenant. [FoxMoses]

Verse 15: Sarai is the only woman in the Bible to have her name changed by God. [FoxMoses] “Sarah”, meaning princess, is a dialectical variant of “Sarai”. [NOAB]

Verse 16: Sarah shares the blessing of God. She is not merely the biological means for its fulfilment. [FoxMoses]

Verse 17: “Abraham fell on his face and laughed”: 18:11-15 tell of Sarah’s incredulity when she and Abraham are told by the divine messengers that she will conceive a child in her old age. [NOAB]

Verse 18: Abraham suggests to God, given the seeming impossibility of Sarah giving birth, that Ishmael be his heir. [CAB]

Verse 20: “twelve princes”: Perhaps intended to equal the twelve sons/tribes of Israel. [FoxMoses] The twelve princes are named in 25:12-18. [NJBC]

Verse 21: “at this season next year”: Sarah does not immediately become pregnant. [FoxMoses]

Verse 23: “that very day”: Underlines Abraham’s customary obedience to God. [FoxMoses]

Verse 23: “as God had said to him”: Like Noah in 6:22; 7:5, 9 Abraham scrupulously follows God’s commands without question (as he also does in 21:4 and 22:3). [FoxMoses]

Psalm 22:23-31

Verses 1-2: Cry for help. [NOAB]

Verse 1a: Jesus quoted this half verse on the cross: see Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34. [NJBC]

Verse 2: In 18:41, a psalmist says of his enemies: “They cried for help, but there was no one to save them; they cried to the LORD, but he did not answer them”. [NJBC]

Verse 3: NJBC suggests either You sit enthroned among the holy ones [the divine council] or in the holy place [the divine council].

Verses 12-18: A description of the psalmist’s condition.[NOAB]

Verses 12-13: The detractors behave like savage wild animals. [NOAB]

Verse 12: “bulls of Bashan”: Bashan was a fertile area, northeast of the Sea of Galilee, famous for its fine livestock. “Cows of Bashan” are mentioned in Amos 4:1. [NOAB]

Verses 14-15,17-18: A vivid account of the poet’s fever and resulting weakness. [NOAB]

Verse 16: “dogs”: i.e. enemies. They are called “lion” and “wild oxen” in v. 21. [NOAB]

Verse 16b: The meaning, in the context of the psalm, is unknown. NJBC says that the Hebrew literally means like a lion my hands and feet. He suggests either they have pierced my hands and my feet or they have picked clean my hands and my feet or the NRSV translation.

Verse 18: The psalmist is so near death that his neighbours have already begun to divide his property. [NOAB]

Verses 19-21: A prayer for healing and deliverance from slanderers. [NOAB]

Verse 21: Note that the animals whom the detractors emulate in vv. 12-13 are those from which God saves the psalmist in this verse – in reverse order.

Verse 22: For formal thanksgiving in the liturgical assembly, see also v. 25 and 7:17. The psalmist’s thanksgiving will probably include a sacrifice. [NOAB]

Verses 23-31: The hymn that will be sung in the Temple on this occasion. [NOAB]

Verses 29-31: God will not only rescue the psalmist but also all nations and those who have died. [CAB] The psalmist’s call to all Israelites to join him in praising God now widens to include all humankind. [NJBC]

Romans 4:13-25

As an introduction to this reading, I offer a Comment on 4:1-12:

Paul has written that one can attain a right relationship with God through faith, without living by Mosaic law. Now he takes Abraham as an example; he asks: what can we conclude about faith vs. Law by looking at Abraham’s life? Judaism claimed that Abraham kept the Law before it was given, that he was godly (‘justified”, v. 2) because his “works” were per the Law. Paul rejects this claim; rather, it was, as Genesis shows, Abraham’s faith which counted for him (“reckoned”, v. 3) as godliness. God “justifies the ungodly” (v. 5). For the worker, “wages” are expected, but for one who trusts (with no certainty of reward), such trust counts with God. In vv. 6-9 Paul quotes a verse from Psalm 32, interpreting it jointly with a verse from Genesis as showing that those who trust in God obtain his favour, whether they be keepers of the Law or trusters in God. Paul then argues that, because Abraham trusted in God’s pact before he was circumcised, Abraham’s faith (and not his keeping of the Law) was what counted for him with God (v. 10). Indeed, he says, circumcision was a confirmation of the right relationship he had attained through faith. It made Abraham “ancestor” (v. 11) of all who trust in God, both Jews (v. 12) and non-Jews (v. 11).

See also Galatians 3:1-18.

Verse 1: “our ancestor”: Descent from Abraham was a source of pride among Jews. In Matthew 3:9, Jesus says to some Pharisees and Sadducees: Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham”. See also Luke 3:8.

Verse 2: “justified by works”: i.e. keeping the law in advance. Sirach 44:20 (a midrash on Genesis 26:5) and Jubilees 6:19 both speak of Abraham’s deeds (namely the defeat of kings in Genesis 14 and his trial, the near-sacrifice of Isaac, Genesis 22:9-10) as a source of his godliness. See also Wisdom of Solomon 10:5 and James 2:21. However 1 Maccabees 2:52 says that Abraham’s godliness is a result of his faith. [NJBC]

Verse 3: The quotation is from the Septuagint translation of Genesis 15:6. In Galatians 3:8, Paul writes: “And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you’”. See also James 2:23. As Paul understands Genesis 15:6, Abraham’s faith gained him credit with God. [NJBC] [CAB]

Verse 3: “reckoned”: The Greek word, elogisthe, is a book-keeping term. Deuteronomy 24:13 says: “... it will be to your credit before the L ORD your God.” (where “it” is the return of a pledge). See also Psalm 106:31. [NJBC]

Verse 5: See also 5:6-11: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die ...”. [CAB]

Verses 6-9: By a Jewish principle of interpretation, that identical words appearing in two different places in Scripture are the basis for mutual interpretation, the blessedness of Psalm 32 can also be applied to those who trust but are not circumcised. [NJBC] [NOAB]

Verses 7-8: The quotation is Psalm 32:1-2 in the Septuagint translation. Like his contemporaries, Paul considers David to be the author of Psalms. Actually this psalm was written long after David’s time. [CAB]

Verse 10: “before he was circumcised”: Genesis 17:24 tells of the circumcision of Abraham. [NJBC]

Verse 11: “He received the sign of circumcision”: In Genesis 17:11, circumcision is called “a sign of the covenant” between God and Abraham’s family. See also Acts 7:8. Later rabbis regarded Genesis 17:11 as a sign of the Mosaic covenant, for it served to distinguish Israel from other nations. [NJBC]

Verses 13-25: The true descendants of Abraham are those who have faith in Christ, whether Jews or Gentiles. To them the benefits promised to Abraham belong. In Galatians 3:29, Paul writes: “if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise”. [NOAB]

Verse 13: “the promise”: The promise of an heir to be born of Sarah (see Genesis 15:4; 17:16, 19) and of numerous posterity (see Genesis 12:2; 13:14-17; 17:8; 22:16-18) was extended in Jewish tradition on the basis of the universality of “all the families of the earth” (Genesis 12:3) to mean that “the [whole] world” was Abraham’s inheritance. [NJBC]

Verse 14: Paul continues this thought in Galatians 3:15-20. [NJBC]

Verse 15: “violation”: Literally, transgression. In 3:20, Paul writes: “For ‘no human being will be justified in his sight’ by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin”. (He approximately quotes Psalm 143:2.) In 5:13, he says: “sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law”. [NJBC]

Verse 17: The quotation is Genesis 17:5 in the Septuagint translation. [NJBC]

Verse 18: “So numerous ...”: In Genesis 15:5, in a vision, God brings Abram outside and says to him: “‘Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them ... So shall your descendants be’”. [CAB] [NOAB]

Verse 19: See Genesis 17:17; 18:11. Hebrews 11:11-12 includes Sarah: “By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old – and Sarah herself was barren – because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, ‘as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore’”. [NOAB]

Verse 20: “he gave glory to God”: An Old Testament expression for giving grateful recognition to God found in 1 Samuel 6:5 and 1 Chronicles 16:28. Per 1:21, unbelievers cannot do this. [NJBC]

Verse 21: “do what he had promised”: i.e. the conception of Isaac.

Verses 22-23:Paul writes in v. 3, quoting the Septuagint translation of Genesis 15:6: “For what does the scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’”. [NOAB]

Verse 24: A feature of midrashic interpretation, which Paul uses here, was to modernize or actualize the Old Testament by applying it to a new situation. Note Midrash Genesis Rabba 40:8: “All that is recorded of Abraham is repeated in the history of his children”. See also 1 Corinthians 9:9-10; 10:6-11. In a unique sense, God raises Jesus from the dead. [NJBC]

Verse 25: This verse alludes to Isaiah 53:4-5, 11-12 (part of a Servant Song). Jesus suffered to take away human sin and to achieve our oneness with God. [NJBC]

Mark 8:31-38

The parallels are Matthew 16:21-27 and Luke 9:22-26.

Jesus is outside Jewish territory in “the villages of Caesarea Philippi” (v. 27). [CAB]

Verse 31: Jesus clarifies the nature of his identity as the Messiah/Christ by means of the first passion prediction. Jesus’ fate has implications for his followers. [NJBC]

Verse 31: Jesus also predicts his Passion in 9:30-32 and 10:33-34. [NOAB]

Verse 31: “Son of Man”: Clearly this term here means Messiah/Christ. Jesus nowhere discloses fully his understanding of the term. He could intend both meanings to apply to him. His way was to oblige his hearers to determine their own personal attitudes to him, as part of the process of understanding his words

Verse 31: “must”: The Greek word, dei, has the sense of compulsion in accordance with God’s plan, per Malachi 3:1; 4:5; and Psalm 118:22 (Septuagint translation). [NJBC]

Verse 31: “undergo great suffering”: Jesus identifies himself with the Suffering Servant of Isaiah.

Verse 31: “rejected”: The sense is repudiated religiously. Fools who rely on human wisdom repudiate God (see Jeremiah 8:9). God repudiates Israel for her folly or infidelity (see Jeremiah 6:30; 7:29; 14:19). Here Jesus is repudiated by people, as is the Servant in Isaiah 53:3.

Verse 31: “by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes”: Note the omission of the Pharisees. In this gospel, they have no explicit role in Jesus’ condemnation and death. [NJBC]

Verse 31: “three days”: For the third day as the decisive turning point, see Hosea 6:2; Jonah 1:17; 2:10. [NJBC]

Verse 32: “He said all this quite openly”: Up to this point, Jesus met speculations about his identity with commands to silence. [NJBC]

Verse 33: “Get behind me, Satan!”: Jesus sees in Peter’s words a continuation of Satan’s temptation (in Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13). [NOAB] Jesus indicates that the false view of his messiahship is a temptation: see Job 1-2 and Zechariah 3:1-2. [NJBC] Having grasped that Jesus is the Messiah, Peter sees messiahship in a contemporary Jewish way: the Messiah was not expected to suffer. Peter’s impetuous action is consistent with his character elsewhere in the gospels.

Verse 34: “take up their cross”: A “cross” was a Roman means of execution; it was carried by the condemned person to the scene of death. Jesus sees that acceptance of his message with its promise also brings seeming destruction. Only those who in faith accept the threat of destruction will find life. See also Matthew 5:11-12; 10:39; 16:24; Mark 10:29-31; Luke 14:27; 17:33; John 12:25. [NOAB] The image may express submission to the divine authority on the analogy of the condemned criminal’s submission to Roman authority. [NJBC]

Verse 35: “life”: The Greek word is psyche: one’s very being, true self. The value of the true self is described in vv. 36-37. In following Jesus, disciples can find their true selves, and nothing is more important. [NJBC]

Verse 38: Jesus suggests that his Second Coming will be during the lifetime of some of his followers. [CAB]

Verse 38: “adulterous”: A term used by Old Testament prophets to describe Israel’s turning away from God: see Jeremiah 3:8; Ezekiel 23:37; Hosea 2:2-10. [NOAB]

Mark 9:2-9

The first incident, vv. 1-8, establishes Jesus’ glorious identity as the beloved Son of God , and the second (vv. 9-13) places his divine sonship in the context of Jewish expectations about the kingdom and resurrection. [NJBC]

Verse 1: The most convincing explanation of the Transfiguration is that Mark presents it as a preview or anticipation of the final coming of God’s kingdom, and thus as a commentary on this verse. [NJBC]

Verses 2-8: The parallels are Matthew 17:1-8 and Luke 9:28-36.

Verses 2-8: By this narrative the author means to describe a vision of Jesus as the Messiah. The Lucan version says that the purpose of ascending the mountain was to pray. The exact nature of this intense religious experience is uncertain. In Matthew, it is described as a “vision”. The aura of unnatural brilliance is associated with mystical experiences elsewhere: In Exodus 34:29-35, after descending Mount Sinai, “Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God”. See also Acts 9:3 (Paul’s vision). [NOAB]

Verses 2-8: Like the transforming experiences of Moses and Elijah, Jesus receives heavenly confirmation of his special role in God’s purpose for his people. [CAB]

Verse 2: “Six days later”: Peter’s confession of Jesus as Messiah is in 8:29: “‘You are the Messiah’”. [NOAB] NJBC suggests that this may be linked to Israel’s preparation and purification at Sinai (see Exodus 24:15-16) or, since the seventh day occurs after six days, this may be an anticipation of the passion week in Jerusalem.

Verse 2: “a high mountain”: Some traditional identifications are Mount Tabor and Mount Hermon. Mountains are the usual settings for supernatural revelations and theophanies. [NJBC]

Verse 2: “transfigured”: i.e. having a non-earthly appearance. [NOAB] The Greek word indicates that the form of Jesus was changed. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that the glorious state in which the three disciples see him is to be his eternal state after death and resurrection. [NJBC]

Verse 4: “Elijah with Moses”: If these two Old Testament figures are meant to represent the Law and the Prophets, the order is strange. Matthew 17:3 has them in the reverse order. There may a reference to their being taken up into heaven or to their expected roles in the coming of the kingdom. [NJBC] Deuteronomy 18:15 says “the LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet”.

Verse 4: “Elijah”: He was expected to appear on earth before the Messiah appeared: Malachi 4:5-6 foretells: “I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents”. [NOAB]

Verse 4: “Moses”: In late Judaism, he was also thought to be taken up into heaven.

Verse 5: “Rabbi”: Addressing Jesus in this way is strange. Matthew has “Lord” and Luke has “Master”. [NJBC]

Verse 5: “Moses”: He was then thought to be the author of the Pentateuch. These five books formed the basic authority in Judaism. [NOAB]

Comments: Feast of Tabernacles: The commandment concerning this feast is found in Leviticus 23:39-43. [NJBC]

Verse 7: In Matthew 3:17, the voice from heaven says “‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased’”. A voice from heaven also speaks in John 12:28-29. See also 2 Peter 1:17-18.

Verse 7: “a cloud overshadowed them”: Given the allusions to Exodus in this account, it is best to take the cloud as a vehicle of God’s presence as in Exodus 16:10; 19:9; 24:15-16; 33:9. The “voice” is the divine voice. [NJBC]

Verse 7: “‘This is my Son, the Beloved”: To NJBC, the heavenly voice corrects Peter’s confession (see 8:29) and alludes to the identification of Jesus at his baptism (see 1:11).

Verse 7: “listen to him!”: The command to hear Jesus may point to his passion predictions: in 8:31 we read: “he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again”. See also 9:31 and 10:33-34. [NJBC]

Verses 9-13: The parallel is Matthew 17:9-13.

Verse 9: “he ordered them ...”: Unlike other commands to silence, this one has a good chance of being obeyed (because only three disciples are involved) and has a definite time limit. [NJBC]

Verse 10: The disciples were unable to associate resurrection with the Son of Man. [NOAB] The issue for the disciples was how Jesus could be raised from the dead before the general resurrection (which in contemporary thought was to occur at the coming of God’s kingdom). [NJBC]

Verse 11: In Malachi 4:5, Elijah’s return will precede the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord. The disciples ask: how can you be raised from the dead unless Elijah comes first? [NJBC] In Matthew 11:14, Jesus says that if John the Baptist’s message were accepted, his activity would be that foretold in Elijah’s name. John was treated much as Elijah had been treated: see 1 Kings 19:2, 10. Jesus seems not to have expected the literal return of Elijah. [NOAB] Luke 1:17 predicts that John the Baptist will go before Jesus “with the spirit and power of Elijah ... to make ready a people prepared for the Lord”.

Verse 12: “he is to go through many sufferings and be treated with contempt”: Jesus concedes that Elijah must come first; he also insists that his own passion and death will precede his resurrection. [NJBC]

Verse 13: “Elijah has come”: This statement indirectly identifies Elijah as John the Baptist. The fate he met prefigures that of Jesus, Son of Man. [NJBC]

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