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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Second Sunday in Lent - March 4, 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 17:1-7,15-16

Sarai is childless and advanced in years; she has not provided Abram with an heir. A covenant is between two parties, each of whom have benefits and obligations; it is made by both, and can be terminated by either. God’s covenant with Abram is different:

  • God makes (vv. 2,6) and establishes it (v. 7);
  • most of the obligations are God’s and benefit Abram (making him “the ancestor of a multitude of nations”, v. 4, with “numerous”, v. 2, descendants; giving him Canaan, v. 8);
  • how God benefits is not clear;
  • Abram has one obligation: to “walk before me [God], and be blameless” (v. 1); (5) God will never break the pact (v. 7);
  • it applies to Abraham and his descendants (but not to all humans).
  • Abram’s change of name in v. 5 is significant: the gift of a new name signifies a new relationship, a new status, a new stage in life. It was believed that such a change altered one’s personality and fate. In v. 8, God promises the land of Canaan, where Abraham is now an “alien”, to Israel for ever; he will be God of Israel. As a sign of this agreement, all males will be circumcised, soon after birth. (Egyptian and Canaanite practice was to circumcise at puberty.) Being circumcised as infants, Abraham’s descendants will bear this mark of identity, showing them to be members of the covenant community, throughout their lives. Sarai shares in God’s blessing, as shown by her change in name (v. 15). She will be blessed with fertility; she too will “give rise to nations” (v. 16) and kings. In v. 17, Abraham laughs in incredulity at the idea of Sarah bearing a son (who will be named Isaac, meaning May God laugh in delight).


    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 22:23-31

    This psalm, as a whole, is a prayer for deliverance from illness. The psalmist, gravely ill, feels that God has forsaken him. In the past, God has helped his people (vv. 4-5): may God help him now. His detractors laugh at him for trusting in God (vv. 6-8); his suffering is worse because they think that his illness is proof of God’s displeasure. But, he says, God helped me when I was an infant, so I trust in him (v. 9). I will offer thanksgiving in assembly of the community in the Temple: v. 22 is that vow. God does hear, even the “poor” (v. 26, or afflicted); he provides perpetual life for the “poor” those who live in awe of him. May all people everywhere turn to God and worship him (v. 27). God is Lord of all (v. 28). All mortals, all who die (“go down to the dust”, v. 29) worship him. I, the psalmist says, will live following his ways, and so will my offspring: they will be God’s for ever, and will tell future generations about God’s saving deeds.


    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 4:13-25

    In Chapters 2 and 3, Paul has argued that through the gospel, it is faith that brings humans into harmony with God. Now he considers Abraham as an example. At the time, rabbis argued that God’s blessings came to Abraham because he kept Mosaic Law (which, they said, he knew in advance – before Moses received the tablets on Mount Sinai.)

    In v. 13, Paul argues against this rabbinic lore: Abraham was blessed because he believed, had faith, that he would be father of a nation and a source of blessing for “all ... families” (Genesis 12:3). If only those who keep Mosaic Law are God's people, faith is meaningless (“null”, v. 14) and God's “promise” of universal godliness is nonsense – because the Law is a contract; in a contract, each party has responsibilities, each knows what he will receive (e.g. “wages”, v. 4), but a promise is a gift, and is therefore an object of faith: faith that what is promised will be received. Paul now notes: because we all deviate from God’s ways at times, sinning does happen. For those under the Law, a penalty (God’s “wrath”, v. 15) ensues, but for us, not living under the Law (“no law”), there is no contract to violate. Paul now returns to his main argument: so rather than the human relationship being legally based, “it depends on faith” (v. 16), on God’s freely given gift of love (“grace”). Were it legally based, continually breaking the pact would make a nonsense of it, but being faith-based, the relationship is “guaranteed” to all peoples in every age - not just to Jews but also to others. Per Genesis 17:5, Abraham is spiritual father of us all (v. 17). Sarah’s bearing of Isaac when beyond child-bearing age (“gives life to the dead”) was due to his faith; it had been promised to him by God. Isaac was called into existence. So Abraham is a model for the Christian. Contrary to expectation, in hope (“Hoping against hope”, v. 18) he believed. He had every reason to doubt that he would become a father, but believe he did – because of the hope given by God's promise – in God's creative power. Abraham's faith grew stronger as he thanked God for his gift (“gave glory to God”, v. 20). He attained a right relationship with God (“was reckoned to him as righteousness”, v. 22). Our faith in God’s promises will also be considered worthy by God when Christ comes again (“our justification”, v. 25).


    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 8:31-38

    Jesus has asked his disciples: “‘... who do you say that I am?’” (v. 29); Peter has answered him: “‘You are the Messiah’”. Jesus now predicts his Passion for the first time. He teaches them something unexpected: that the Messiah (“the Son of Man”, v. 31) will suffer, be rejected, killed, and rise again was contrary to contemporary (and their) expectation. When Peter impetuously rejects Jesus’ teaching, he is told that he is under the influence of the devil: he is relying on human values, not divine ones (v. 33). Jesus then describes true discipleship: first, a disciple must renounce self-centeredness (“deny themselves”, v. 34) and follow him. Those who are prepared to give even their lives (“take up their cross”) for his sake and for the sake of spreading the good news (“gospel”, v. 35) will have (eternal) life. Those who seek worldly well-being and deny their true selves will be the losers (vv. 35-37). View things from a divine, rather than human, viewpoint! At the Last Day (“when he comes in ... glory”, v. 38), Christ will not stand up for those who shirk from being identified with him and the good news.


    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 9:2-9

    Jesus has foretold his death and resurrection; now he takes the inner circle of disciples up a mountain, where he is “transfigured”, changed in form, metamorphosed. He appears in “dazzling white” (v. 3), a sign of God’s presence. “Elijah” (v. 4) was taken up into heaven. Moses’ burial place was unknown (see Deuteronomy 34:6); he was also thought to have been taken up. (Others suggest that Elijah represents the prophets and Moses the law, the basic authority in Judaism.) Peter rejoices in this experience (“good”, v. 5): it is a preview of Jesus’ glorification as God’s Son. He wishes to prolong the event by making “dwellings”, temporary shelters as erected at the Feast of Tabernacles, a joyous festival of God’s presence. V. 6 may say that he was so dumbfounded by the experience that what he said was irrational. The “cloud” (v. 7) is a symbol of God’s presence. The proclamation spoken by the divine voice is like that at Jesus’ baptism (1:11). The Son of Man is revealed to be Son of God. The vision ends “suddenly” (v. 8). Then v. 9: only when Jesus has risen will the vision make sense to others.

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