Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: Fifth Sunday in Lent - March 21, 2021

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.

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Verses 23-40: Chapters 26-35 foretell the restoration of Israel. These verses, occurring after a section on the restoration of northern Israel and before one on the restoration of Judah (the south), contain a number of short oracles (prophecies) on a similar subject. Here both Israel and Judah are included. [ NJBC]

Verses 31-34: Using the oldest expression for covenant making (“to cut a covenant”) and opposing what was an increasingly limited concept of the Sinai covenant, the prophet affirms that God “will make a new covenant” (see also 32:38-40; Hebrews 8:8-12; 10:16-17) inscribed in the hearts of his people (see also 17:1; Ezekiel 11:19; Hosea 2:20). [ NOAB]

The old and new covenants have much in common: both were initiated and concluded by Yahweh; both are centred on God; both are with the Israelites; in both, human response is in terms of the Law. So the newness is not in the essentials of the covenant but in the realm of its realization and of its means. It will not be broken (as the old one was often), for all will be faithful to it. This will be so because of a fundamental change in the very being of humanity: humans will be created anew. Recalling that the Israelites saw the heart as the seat of intelligence and will power, we see that the newness is in God making them able to fulfil God’s plans. This prophecy had a great influence. Ezekiel and Deutero-Isaiah wrote of an eternal covenant which cannot be broken (see Ezekiel 16:60; 34:25; 37:26; Isaiah 55:3; 61:8), possible because a new heart is created in people; a new spirit is given to them: see Ezekiel 11:20; 18:31; 36:36; Isaiah 59:21. [ NJBC]

Verse 31: “new covenant”: The only occurrence of this phrase in the Old Testament. It occurs in the Qumran literature, but there it means nothing more than the Mosaic covenant, with strong legalistic tendencies. It is reinterpreted in the New Testament: see Luke 22:20 (the Last Supper); 1 Corinthians 11:25 and Hebrews 8:8-12. [ NJBC]

Verse 31: “house of Judah”: Because only the “house of Israel” is mentioned in v. 33, it appears that “house of Judah” was added by a later editor to make clear that the new covenant extends to the entire people. [ NJBC]

Verse 32: See Exodus 19:1-24:18 for the Sinai covenant. For it being written on stone tablets, see Exodus 31:18; 34:28ff; Deuteronomy 4:13; 5:22. Exodus 24:7 and 2 Kings 23:3 speak of it being written in a book. [ CAB] [ NJBC]

Verse 33: “after those days”: An expression frequently found in Jeremiah (see, for example 7:32; 9:24; 16:14). It has an eschatological tone, speaking of a discontinuity in Israel’s history through a wonderful intervention by Yahweh. [ NJBC]

Verse 33: “on their hearts”: i.e. the new covenant will be directly accessible to their wills and consciences. [ CAB] Jeremiah is the first to tell of writing on hearts, although there are close parallels in Deuteronomy: see 6:6; 11:18; 30:14.

Verse 33: “I will be their God”: This covenantal clause is found elsewhere in this book and in other books: see also 7:23; 11:4; 24:7; 30:22; 31:1; 32:38; Ezekiel 11:20; 36:28; Zechariah 8:8; Leviticus 26:12. [ NJBC]

Verse 34: “teach”: There will no longer be intermediaries such as Moses, priests and prophets – for Yahweh will intervene directly. [ NJBC]

Verse 34: “know”: i.e. the practical recognition of God in every action and situation – an attitude in life. [ NJBC]

Verses 35-37: This passage comes from a time after Jeremiah’s: see also 33:14-16. Here the seemingly eternal cycle of nature (see also 5:22) is used to emphasize God’s assurance of Israel’s continued existence: see also Isaiah 44:24; 54:9-10. [ NOAB] This prophecy evokes the stability of the laws of nature to prove the same stability of God’s purposes in the history of Israel. See also Genesis 8:22 and Psalm 89:35-38. [ NJBC]

Verse 36: The new covenant will be as durable as the universe itself. [ CAB]

Verses 38-40: These verses are also from after Jeremiah’s time: see also Zechariah 14:10-11. They speak of the rebuilding of the whole of Jerusalem. The boundaries are:

  • the four corners: “Hananel” at the northeast (see also Nehemiah 3:10), “the Corner Gate” at the northwest (see also 2 Kings 14:13), the southeast and the southwest (“Gareb” and “Goah” – both unidentified), and
  • the boundaries on the south (“Hinnom” – see also 7:31-32) and on the east (“Wadi Kidron” – see 2 Kings 23:4, 6).

The “Horse Gate” was at the southeast corner. See also 2 Kings 11:16; Nehemiah 3:28. [ NOAB] [ NJBC]

In these verses the newness is in the purification of the Ben-Hinnom Valley, long the site of child sacrifice (see 19:1ff). The size of the city is that at the time of the destruction of the city by the Babylonians and during the rebuilding under Nehemiah. NJBC sees these verses as a post-exilic addition.

Psalm 51:1-12

Superscription: “A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone into Bathsheba”: The psalm itself nowhere refers to the story of David and Bathsheba.

Although v. 8 makes it clear that the psalmist’s problem is one of illness, the main emphasis is upon restoration to moral, rather than merely physical, health. [ NOAB]

Verse 1: “Have mercy on me”: Psalms 56 and 57 also begin with these words.

Verse 1: “steadfast love ... abundant mercy”: “Steadfast love” also occurs in 69:13, 16; Isaiah 63:7; Lamentations 3:32, Nehemiah 13:22.

Verse 1: “blot out ...”: This recurs in v. 9

Verse 5: “born guilty”: Psalm 58:3 says that “the wicked go astray from the womb”. See also Isaiah 48:8. The psalmist confesses to having had a sinful nature even from the moment of conception. [ NOAB]

Verses 6-12: Renewed prayer for deliverance. [ NOAB]

Verse 7: “Purge me with hyssop” : This may refer to some ceremony of sprinkling of blood or water, using branches or a bush. The reference may be metaphorical. In preparation for the first Passover, the Israelites were to take “a bunch of hyssop”, dipped in blood, and touch their doorways with the blood: see Exodus 12:22. See also Leviticus 14:51. NOAB sees it as definitely metaphorical.

Verse 10: “Create”: The Hebrew word is bara; this word is also used in Genesis 1:1. Creating is an action proper to God; only he can do the purification.

Verse 10: “clean heart”: Literally fidelity in that which is secret, i.e. the depths of his being.

Verse 10: “right spirit”: God’s action in humans which saves them and keeps them faithful. Ezekiel speaks of a new heart and a new spirit (see Ezekiel 11:19, 36:27). Jeremiah also speaks of a new spirit (and a new covenant) in Jeremiah 24:7, 31:33.

Verses 13-17: The psalmist says: when you give me your joy, I will instruct sinners and I will praise God – rather than offer sacrifice in thanksgiving. By instruct he means proclaim my experience publicly and thus lead sinners back to God. [ NOAB]

Verses 18-19: NOAB believes that this psalm may date from David’s time, and that these verses was added later to modify the anti-sacrificial spirit of vv. 13-17 and to adapt the psalm to liturgical use.

Psalm 119:9-16

Other alphabetical acrostic psalms are 9-10; 25; 34; 37; 111; 112; 145. The predominant mood of lament suggests that it may have been composed as a prayer for deliverance from trouble, though the language may be merely imitative and the whole a purely literary exercise in honour of the written law. It is a very late composition. [ NOAB]

This psalm is often described as a wisdom psalm. [ NJBC]

This psalm praises God for having given the Law to his people, and records the sustaining, renewing, hopeful and admonitory roles that the Law fulfills in their lives. [ CAB]

Verse 1: “Happy”: The conventional translation of a Hebrew expression meaning literally the happiness of. 1:1-2 says : “Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord ...”. [ NOAB]

Hebrews 5:5-10

4:14-5:14: The author resumes the theme of Jesus our high priest. In 2:17-18, he speaks of Jesus as “a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God”. Jesus has two qualifications of a priest: divine appointment (see 5:4) and the ability to “sympathize with our weaknesses” (see 4:15). [ NOAB]

4:14: “great high priest”: Philo uses this designation for the Logos (the “word” of John 1:1-14) in his writings. Elsewhere in Hebrews, Christ is simply the “high priest”. He may include “great” here because he is making a comparison. [ NJBC]

4:14: “who has passed through the heavens”: That Christ was pre-existent is meant. 1:1-2 say: “God ... has spoken to us by a Son, ... through whom he also created the worlds”. Note the plurals. The Greek word translated as “worlds”, aion, can also mean ages. There appears to be the concept of a number of worlds, the visible and the invisible, the latter being several heavens. 2 Enoch 3-20 also speak of multiple heavens. [ NJBC]

4:15-16: Because Christ experienced real, human testing, he is able to “sympathize with our weaknesses”. [ NOAB]

4:15: “tested as we are, yet without sin”: The author says that the only difference between Jesus’ temptations and ours is that he did not succumb to them. [ NJBC]

4:16: At God’s “throne of grace” (see also 8:1 and 12:2) humans “receive mercy” for past sins and “find grace” for present and future “need”. [ NOAB] Here the author thinks of the confident access to God that has been assured by the redemptive work of Jesus. [ NJBC]

5:1: “gifts and sacrifices”: To NOAB, grain and animal sacrifices; however NJBC thinks that no such distinction is intended. As Chapter 9 shows, the author is principally concerned with the Day of Atonement rite as the Old Testament type. [ NJBC]

5:2: The Old Testament provides no atoning sacrifice for deliberate and defiant sins (see Numbers 15:30 and Deuteronomy 17:12), only for sins committed unwittingly – by the “ignorant and wayward”: see Leviticus 4. Numbers 15:30 says “But whoever acts high-handedly ... affronts the LORD, and shall be cut off from among the people.” “Cut off” means shall receive the death penalty. [ NOAB]

5:2: “deal gently”: The Greek word corresponds to a term of Stoic philosophy signifying the right mean between passion and lack of feeling . [ NJBC]

5:4: “Aaron”: In Exodus 28:1 God chooses Aaron and his sons as priests. [ NOAB]

5:5: “‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you’”: This is also found in Psalm 2:7, so the author may be reinterpreting this psalm in Christian terms, as was often done with Psalm 110:4. [ CAB]

5:6: Psalm 110 begins: “The Lord [ Yahweh] says to my lord ...”. In Judaism, “my lord” is David, but early Christians reinterpreted it as Christ; thus God the Father says to God the Son, the Lord. So “you” here is Christ. In Hebrews 7:1-10, the author deduces from Genesis 14:17-20 (where King Melchizedek of Salem, a “priest of God Most High”, brings out “bread and wine” and blesses Abram, and in return receives a tithe from him) that this mysterious priest-king was greater than either Abraham or his descendant Levi. [ NOAB]

5:6: “the order of Melchizedek”: i.e. According to the rank which Melchizedek held. [ NOAB]

5:7-8: Note that one trait Jesus does not share with the Judaic high priest is “weakness” (v. 2). In 7:28, the author specifically contrasts Jesus with the Jewish high priest in this respect. It is important, however, to note that the contrast applies to the present exalted state of Christ. While on earth, Jesus experienced the weakness of human nature, especially its fear of death. Exalted, he can sympathize with those who are weak. Paul’s concept is similar: “he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God” (2 Corinthians 13:4). [ NJBC]

5:7: Jesus’ agonizing prayer in Gethsemane (see Mark 14:32-42) “was heard” in the sense that “he learned obedience” by submitting to the divine will – which involved death. [ NOAB] Some scholars see here a reference to more than just this one incident. [ NJBC]

5:8: “Although he was a Son”: The author considers Jesus’ sonship in two different ways:

  • He became Son when exalted, and
  • He was always Son because he existed with the Father even before he appeared on earth.

Later theology said that the resurrection-exaltation gave Jesus’ human nature full participation in his divine nature. The two concepts are entirely compatible. [ NJBC]

5:8: “he learned obedience”: Learning through suffering is a common motif in Greek literature. In the New Testament it occurs only here, in Romans 5:19 and in Philippians 2:8. [ NJBC]

5:9: “made perfect”: Jesus completed his divinely appointed discipline for priesthood. This phrase is characteristic of this letter (see also 2:10; 7:19, 28; 9:9; 10:1, 14; 11:40; 12:23) and means made complete, brought to maturity. [ NOAB] The Greek word, teleosis, is used in the Septuagint translation of priestly consecration, translating a Hebrew phrase to fill [the hands]: see Exodus 29:9, 29, 33, 35; Leviticus 16:32; 21:10; Numbers 3:3. This cultic notion of perfection is certainly present in Hebrews. [ NJBC]

5:9: “eternal salvation”: The author uses the word “eternal” here and in 9:12, 14,15; 13:20 (but not in 6:2) to speak of realities that endure because they belong to the heavenly sphere, which is characterized by permanence, as opposed to the transitory realities of earth. [ NJBC]

John 12:20-33

After two contrasting scenes of the anointing of Jesus and his entry into Jerusalem, there follows an episode which deals with the contrasting reactions of Gentiles (vv. 20-36) and of Jews (vv. 44-50) to the impact of Christ on Jerusalem. [ BlkJn] This section is the conclusion of Jesus’ public ministry. [ NOAB]

Verse 20: “some Greeks”: Josephus, in Jewish Wars 6.9.3, reports that God-fearing Gentiles came to Jerusalem to worship at Passover. [ NJBC]

Verse 21: “Philip”: Meaning lover of horses. [ NOAB] He responds to Jesus’ command “Follow me” in 1:43-48. Jesus tests Philip in 6:5-7. [ NJBC]

Verse 22: Philip’s hesitation is natural enough. He must have known that Jesus had little to do with Gentiles, and no vocation to any ministry towards them. In Matthew 15:24, when a Canaanite woman comes to Jesus seeking a cure for her daughter, Jesus responds “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”. [ BlkJn]

Verse 22: “Andrew”: Meaning manly. He was also from “Bethsaida” (v. 21). [ NOAB]

Verse 23: “The hour has come”: So far we have been told that Jesus’ time has not yet come. [ BlkJn] His final manifestation was at the cross: see 7:30 (“no one laid hands on him, because his hour had not yet come”); 8:20; 13:1; 17:1. [ NOAB] Jesus speaks to the disciples. [ NJBC]

Verse 24: By means of a parable, Jesus explains how his death will enable the Gentiles to see him. In 1 Corinthians 15:36 Paul writes: “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies”. See also Mark 4:8, the parable of the sower. [ BlkJn] This saying was probably a common proverb, which John has probably shaped to the situation by emphasizing the fact that the seed remains alone above ground. [ NJBC]

Verse 25: In Mark 8:35, Jesus foretells that “‘those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it’”. See also Matthew 10:39; Luke 9:24; 14:26. [ BlkJn]

Verse 25: “love their life ... hate their life”: The Greek word translated “life”, psuche, means the essence of being . BlkJn considers that the plain contrast of “loves” and “hates” sounds more probably authentic than Mark’s want to save their life” and “lose”.

Verse 26a: Service to Christ means sharing his lot, whatever that may entail. A similar thought is found in Mark 8:34: “‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’”. [ BlkJn] The identity of Jesus and his followers will be emphasized in the farewell discourse: see 13:13, 16; 15:20. [ NJBC]

Verse 26b: The follower who shares Jesus’ suffering will also share the honour that God gives him. In 17:24, Jesus prays: “‘Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world’”. [ BlkJn] This idea reappears in the love language of the farewell discourses: see 14:23 and 16:27. [ NJBC]

Verses 27-30: These verses remind us of the Gethsemane story in the Synoptic gospels: see, for example, Mark 14:34-36. [ NJBC]

Verse 28: “Father, glorify your name”: Jesus prays that he may completely accept his Father’s will. In the Old Testament, both the glory of God and his “name” are means whereby God is made known to be what he is. (See, for example, Exodus 33:18-22.) God will thus make himself known through the death of Christ. [ BlkJn]

Verse 28: “a voice came from heaven”: As at Jesus’ baptism (see Mark 1:11; Matthew 3:17; Luke 3:22) and at his transfiguration (see Mark 9:7; Matthew 17:5; Luke 9:35), and at Paul’s conversion (see Acts 9:4). [ BlkJn]

Verse 29: “thunder”: The Greek word is bronte, a noun. In the Old Testament, thunder is recognized as the voice of God. [ BlkJn] Psalm 29:3 says: “The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over mighty waters”. In the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew, “thunders” is brontaw , a verb derived from the same root. For bronte, see also the Septuagint translation of Psalms 77:18; 104:7; Job 26:14; Isaiah 29:6. For brontaw, see also 1 Samuel 2:10; 7:10; 2 Samuel 22:14; Psalms 18:14; 29:3; Job 37:4-5; 40:9. [Lorinda Hoover] Gentiles would also recognize thunder as an omen. [ BlkJn]

Verse 31: “the ruler of this world”: He rules de facto because people have delivered themselves into his power by becoming slaves to sin. Elsewhere he is called “the evil one” (in 1 John 5:19), “the devil” (in John 8:44), and “Satan” (in John 13:27; Revelation 12:9; 20:2). In 1 Corinthians 2:6, 8, Paul calls him “the rulers of this age”. [ BlkJn] Satan as ruler of the world in its opposition to God is a frequent figure in the Qumran literature: see 1QM (War Scroll) 1:1, 5, 13; 4:2; 11:8; 1QS (Rule of the Community) 1:18; 2:29; 3:20-21. [ NJBC]

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