Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: Third Sunday after Epiphany - January 24, 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.

Jonah 3:1-5,10

Here is the introductory paragraph most of which I clipped out:

Jonah is a prophet, but he is unlike any other for whom a book is named in the Old Testament. Some (e.g. Jeremiah) heard the word reluctantly but then fully embraced the ministry to which God called them, but Jonah tries his best (and his worst!) to avoid doing God’s will: he is a caricature of a prophet. The book opens with God’s call to Jonah: “Go at once to Nineveh ... and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” Jonah’s reaction is to try to escape God’s presence: he boards a ship for as far away as possible. But God brings a storm, the sailors toss Jonah overboard, and a large fish swallows him. Jonah repents of his waywardness, and the fish “spew[s] Jonah out upon the dry land.” ( 2:10).

1:3: “Tarshish”: Most scholars think that this was a city in the western Mediterranean, possibly in Spain; however it may be Tarsus, where Paul was later born. [Jan Dijkman] Tarsus is in the north-eastern corner of the Mediterranean. In Genesis 10:4, a brother of “Tarshish” is “Kittim”; Josephus, in Antiquities of the Jews, identifies “Kittim” with Kition or Kitti, a Phoenician city on the island of Cyprus. In the Old Testament, “Kittim” appears to have included all the islands of the Aegean Sea. [ HBD] In the genealogical table in Genesis 10, the names of brothers are often names of neighbouring territories. “Ships of Tarshish” are mentioned in 1 Kings 10:22; 2 Chronicles 9:21; Isaiah 23:1, 14; 60:9; Ezekiel 27:25. If Tarshish is Tarsus, Jonah wasn’t fleeing very far, but 1 Kings 10:22 is particularly interesting: “... the fleet of ships of Tarshish used to come bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks”. Perhaps Jonah was planning on boarding a ship of Tarshish to flee to Africa. Perhaps v. 3 has been abbreviated.

3:3: “an exceedingly large city”: The great city of Nineveh has been shown by excavations to have been very large. That the population was more than 120,000 (as stated in 4:11) is fully credible. [ CAB] The author draws on legendary reports of the size of the city (and its wickedness), which had grown in the popular imagination since its demise in 612 BC. (Some scholars date this book to the late fifth century BC although others see it as having been written anywhere from the sixth century to the early Hellenistic period.) [ NJBC]

Comments: Excavations show that it was about 5 x 2½ kilometres i.e. about 3 x 1½ miles.

3:4: The lack of enthusiasm on Jonah’s part, coupled with the enormous size of the city and the impressive magnitude of its violence and cruelty heightens the enormity of the miracle of its sudden and total conversion. The actual oracle of Jonah which effects this astounding change consists of only five words in Hebrew. [ NJBC]

3:4: “overthrown”: The use of the word hpk, meaning to destroy, overturn (as in Genesis 19:25) and other parallels (Jonah 1:2 and Genesis 18:21; 19:13) call to mind the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18-19. [ NJBC]

3:5: The author begins with a summary statement of the totality of the city’s conversion thus highlighting the contrast with the half-hearted efforts of the reluctant prophet. Then be backtracks in vv. 6-9 to rehearse in more detail the various stages in which this conversion takes place. The author is clearly a skilful narrator. [ NJBC]

3:5: “believed God”: NJBC: believed in God. The people go beyond believing Jonah’s words of warning. The Hebrew word used here, ’mn, also occurs in such key texts as Genesis 15:6 and Exodus 14:31, where Abraham and the people of Israel respectively respond with true faith in God. [ NJBC]

3:6: “covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes”: See also 2 Samuel 3:31 (David commands Joab and those with him); Job 42:6 (Job); Daniel 9:3 (David turns to God in supplication); Matthew 11:21 (Jesus warns Chorazin and Bethsaida). [ NOAB]

3:7-9: The reaction of the “king of Nineveh” (v. 6) is modelled on Jeremiah 18:7-10: “... but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it ...”. He sets a better example than Jonah! [ NOAB]

3:8: “Human beings and animals”: The incongruous picture of the animals joining in donning sackcloth and crying out to God lends a comic note and underlines the totality of the city’s response. [ NJBC]

3:9: “Who knows?”: Like the ship’s captain and the sailors in 1:6, 14, the king does not expect God to react automatically and inevitably to their repentance: see also Jeremiah 18:7-10. [ NJBC] It is pagans, rather than God’s people, who have such extraordinary insight into the sovereign freedom of God. Jonah, after all, is one of God’s people.

3:10: Repentance and deliverance are themes dominating the story of Jonah and its use by Jesus in the New Testament: see Matthew 12:38-41 and Luke 11:29-32. [ NOAB] Augustine of Hippo noted that Nineveh was indeed overthrown: “overthrown in evil, but rebuilt in goodness”.

Psalm 62:5-12

This type of psalm (the song of trust) probably developed as an expansion of the expression of trust that is a common feature of the laments. [ NOAB]

Confidence is warranted in God alone, since human beings attack others by word and action. Only God provides true security: human conditions of wealth and poverty are alike of no enduring significance: “power belongs to God” (v. 11). [ CAB]

Superscription: “Jeduthun”: He is a temple musician mentioned in 1 Chronicles 25:3; he “prophesied with the lyre”. [ CAB]

Verses 1-2,5-7: God is the psalmist’s only help. [ NOAB]

Verses 3-4: The psalmist’s situation: cursed by enemies. [ NOAB]

Verses 4,8: “Selah”: This word is probably a liturgical direction, added to the original text of the psalm. It may mean lift up, either to indicate the lifting up of the voices of the singers in a doxology, or to call for lifted-up instrumental music in an interlude in the singing. [ NOAB]

“Selah” is one of the greatest puzzles of the Old Testament. Its meaning seems to be connected with rising or lifting. But it is not clear whether the congregation rises or lifts up its hands, head, or eyes, or whether the music rises at the indicated points. The word probably indicates that the singing should stop to allow the congregation an interlude for presenting its homage to God by some gesture or act of worship. [ ICCPs]

1 Corinthians 7:29-31

I think it useful to bring together the changes in earthly state that Paul suggests should preferably be avoided; he presents these as his opinion (not as a “command of the Lord”, v. 25, “by way of concession, not of command”, v. 6):

  • Being married (vv. 2-4, vv. 10-11, 27), even if the partner is an unbeliever (vv. 12-13)
  • The unmarried (vv. 1, 8, 25-26, 27)
  • The widowed (v. 8)
  • Circumcised and uncircumcised (v. 18)
  • Being a slave or being free (v. 21-24)

Verses 17-24: Because the end of the world is fast approaching (see vv. 26, 29-31), it is better for everyone to remain as is and not to try to change his or her outward situation. But believers are free from bondage to this world . [ NOAB]

Social status (such as slavery) and religious condition (such as circumcision) are of no significance for those who are among the people of God, and they should not seek to heighten their status in the new community.[CAB]

Verse 22: In terms of response to the divine call, it does not matter whether one is a slave or a free person. [ NJBC]

Verse 23: “You were bought with a price”: The idea of redemption evokes the pre-baptismal nature of slavery to sin. In Romans 9:3, Paul writes: “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh”. [ NJBC]

Verse 23: “slaves of human masters”: This is not a criticism of slavery as such, but of the attitudes of fallen humanity.

Verse 25: “virgins”: This group, about whom the Corinthians had asked, may refer to unmarried but engaged couples, or possibly a couple married but ascetically committed not to have sexual relations: see vv. 28, 34, 36-38. Note v. 1, a quotation from the Christians at Corinth, “‘It is well for a man not to touch a woman’”. [ NOAB] We cannot be sure who Paul means by “virgins” here and elsewhere in the rest of this chapter. [ NJBC] The same Greek word, parthenos, is translated as “fiancée” in vv. 36-38.

Verse 28: “you do not sin”: This seems to imply the breaking of a vow and thus points to spiritual marriage. See comment on v. 36. [ NJBC]

Verse 28: “distress in this life”: NJBC offers affliction for the flesh. He sees this as meaning at least a more complicated life, but perhaps also criticism from the ascetics at Corinth. [ NJBC]

Verses 29-30: Paul considers that it would be silly to make new commitments when all is going to end. On the imminence of the end, Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 “For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel's call and with the sound of God's trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever” and in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 “Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed”. [ NJBC]

Verse 29: “the appointed time has grown short”: i.e. the time before the end of the era, before Christ comes again.

Verse 32: “free from anxieties”: Anxious concern is a characteristic of unredeemed existence. [ NJBC]

Verse 33: Paul has in mind the complete absorption in one another, to the exclusion of all other loving relationships, of the newly married. A married man, being a member of the Christian community of love, his wife has the first, but not the exclusive, claim on his affection, [ NJBC]

Verse 34: Note Paul’s view that men and women are equal: he says precisely the same thing to the woman as he has said to the man. [ NJBC]

Verse 34: “the unmarried woman and the virgin”: This formulation suggests that parthenos (virgin) is being used (at least in this verse) in a technical sense. If so, it can only mean one who has entered into a spiritual marriage. See Shepherd of Hermas, Similitudes 9:11. [ NJBC]

Verse 35: Paul gives clear advice but does not impose solutions. His attitude stands in vivid contrast to the doctrinaire positions adopted by some at Corinth. [ NJBC]

Verses 36-38: The NRSV translation assumes an engaged couple; note v. 9: “But if they are not practising self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion”. Others, less likely, have interpreted “he’, “his” and “him” as referring to a father and his daughter (note that the NRSV footnote says that “fiancée” is literally virgin), or a master and his slave, and her suitor; the father gives her in marriage (v. 38). A third possibility is a couple pledged to virginity in a spiritual marriage , who now wish to enter into normal conjugal relationships (vv. 3-5). Paul’s preference, in any case, is consistent with vv. 7-8, 24, 26-28. [ NOAB]

Verse 36: “his fiancée”: The Greek, parthenos (literally virgin) can be taken as meaning his daughter, his fiancée or his spiritual wife. Considering each meaning in turn:

  • Though the most traditional, daughter is the least likely; its only support is gamizein (translated by some as give in marriage).
  • The probability of parthenos meaning fiancée is seriously diminished by the allusion to sin in v. 28: why should anyone have thought it sinful for an engaged couple to marry? Moreover Paul has dealt with this problem in 7:8-9.
  • So Paul is thinking of spiritual marriage. Paul advises that if they cannot control their sex drive they should have no scruple about entering into a normal married relationship. He wants them to be “free from anxieties” (v. 32) and undistracted (v. 35). [ NJBC]

Verse 37: “being under no necessity”: Those capable of sustaining a spiritual marriage should maintain their commitment. [ NJBC]

Verse 38: It is a question of what is good for the individual, not of what is better in principle; however Paul cannot resist mentioning his personal preference for the single state: see vv. 7-8. His reason is not intrinsic superiority but the imminence of the end of the era. [ NJBC]

Verse 39: “free to marry”: Paul moves, through association of ideas, to the issue of second marriages even though he has already dealt with it in vv. 8-9. Marriage is permanent, but death gives the surviving partner full freedom to remarry. In Romans 7:2, he says “a married woman is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives; but if her husband dies, she is discharged from the law concerning the husband”. [ NJBC]

Verse 39: “only in the Lord”: i.e. remembering that she is a Christian. [ NJBC]

Verse 40: “I think that I too have the Spirit of God”: To NJBC, a massive understatement tinged with irony; however recall v. 25: “I give as my opinion”. Perhaps Paul is saying that he is fairly sure that what he has said is inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Mark 1:14-20

Verses 14-15: See also Matthew 4:12-17 and Luke 4:14-15. [ NOAB]

Verse 15: “kingdom of God”: This is equivalent to Matthew’s “the kingdom of heaven”. Jesus means that all God’s past dealings with his creation are coming to climax and fruition. Jesus taught both the present reality of God’s rule and its future realization. [ NOAB]

Verses 16-20: The parallels are Matthew 4:18-22; Luke 5:1-11 and John 1:35-42. [ NOAB]

Verse 16: “Sea of Galilee”: Other names for this lake are Sea of Tiberias and Lake of Genesaret. It is 20 kilometres (12 miles) north to south and 12 kilometres (8 miles) east to west. [ NOAB] Mark usually refers to it as “the sea”: see 2:13; 3:7; 4:1; 5:1, 13, 21.

Verse 16: “Simon”: He is variously named Simon and Peter, the latter being the nickname connected with his character. Andrew is a shadowy character in this gospel: see also 1:29; 3:18; 13:3. [ NJBC]

Verses 16-20: That the first disciples were uneducated arises from a too literal reading of Acts 4:13: “Now when they [the Jerusalem sanhedrin] saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus”. [ NJBC] The Zebedee family ran a fishing business “with ... hired men” (employees).

Verse 17: “fish for people”: The metaphor is best interpreted against the background of their occupation rather than in the light of Jeremiah 16:16 (“I am now sending for many fishermen [to the Israelites], says the LORD, and they shall catch them”) or early Christian tradition. [ NJBC]

Verse 18: “immediately”: So compelling were Jesus and his call that no preparation or getting used to the idea was necessary; the first disciples required little or no deliberation to make an enthusiastic commitment. It was customary for Jewish students to approach a distinguished teacher and attach themselves to him (see John 1:35-42); here Jesus summons the students. [ NJBC]

Verse 18: “followed”: The Greek word, akoloutheo, is the technical term for discipleship in the New Testament. [ NJBC]

Verse 19: “James son of Zebedee and his brother John”: With Peter, these two disciples form a kind of inner circle among the Twelve: see 1:29-31; 3:16-17; 5:35-43; 9:2-13; 10:35-45; 13:3; 14:32-42. [ NJBC]

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