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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Seventh Sunday after Epiphany - February 19, 2006



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 is always welcome.


Lessons for this week from the Vanderbilt University web site

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Isaiah

This book can be divided into two (and possibly three) parts. Chapters 1 to 39 were written before the exile, from about 740 BC to about 700 BC. These were difficult times for the southern kingdom, Judah: a disastrous war was fought with Syria; the Assyrians conquered Israel, the northern kingdom, in 723 BC, and threatened Judah. Isaiah saw the cause of these events as social injustice, which he condemned, and against which he fought valiantly. Chapters 40 to 66 were written during and after the Exile in Babylon. They are filled with a message of trust and confident hope that God will soon end the Exile. Some scholars consider that Chapters 56 to 66 form a third part of the book, written after the return to the Promised Land. These chapters speak of hope and despair; they berate the people for their sin, for worshipping other gods. Like Second Isaiah, this part speaks of the hope that God will soon restore Jerusalem to its former glory and make a new home for all peoples.


Isaiah 43:18-25

God has begun to speak through the prophet: “the Lord, your Redeemer” (v. 14) will free you Israelites from exile in Babylon. He is your “Creator” (v. 15); while other nations have earthly kings, God is “your King”. He has freed you from bondage in Egypt, made a way through the Reed Sea for you, and demolished the Pharaoh’s pursuing army (vv. 16-17).

But do not dwell on my past accomplishments on your behalf; rather look to the “new thing” (v. 19), the new start which is beginning now. As during the Exodus, I “will make a way in the wilderness” (v. 19), protect you (from “wild animals”, v. 20, of the desert), and nourish you – you who are my “chosen”, whom I gave a distinct identity and ability (“formed for myself”, v. 21), so that you may respond accordingly, by praising me.

But you ignored me and saw no point in following my ways (“weary”, v. 22). (“Jacob” means Israel.) In exile, you are unable to offer Temple sacrifices to me, so I do not expect it. (An incense based on “frankincense”, v. 23, was the only one permitted at the altar in the Temple.) But you are in debt to me for your waywardness (“sins”, “iniquities”, v. 24). But hear the new deal: I will, in my own interests, absolve you of all your sins (v. 25). Then vv. 27-28: I have destroyed your nation because “your first ancestor” (Adam or Jacob) and unworthy prophets and priests strayed from my ways.


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 41

Vv.1-3 are a wise saying: God protects the downtrodden, even to helping them when they are ill. In ancient times, ill health was thought to be caused by straying from God’s ways (v. 4). The psalmist is ill; indeed, his foes wonder whether he will die. Lacking a notion of life after death, he thinks he will cease to exist when he dies (“perish”, v. 5). (It appears that he has no sons to continue his line.)

When his foes visit him, they make platitudes (“utter empty words”, v. 6) but they secretly wish him gone. They think the netherworld (“deadly thing”, v. 8) has him in its grasp, that he lies on his deathbed. Even a close friend, whom he has helped, has turned against him (v. 9). (Jesus quotes this verse referring to Judas Iscariot.) In v. 10 the psalmist prays for God’s mercy: may he be made well again so he may retaliate (“repay”) against his foes. Even though they think he “will not rise again” (v. 8), please God, “raise me up” (v. 10).

Later, having recovered, he knows that God favours him; God is always with him (perhaps in the Temple). V. 13 has been tacked on to the psalm; it actually marks the end of Book 1 (of 5) of Psalms.


2 Corinthians

This is a letter, written in the style common in the first century AD. From the text, we know that Paul wrote it in Macedonia after leaving Ephesus, probably in the autumn of 57 AD. It gives us a picture of Paul the person: an affectionate man, hurt to the quick by misunderstandings and evil-doing of his beloved fellow Christians, yet happy when he can praise them. The letter's prime intent is to combat evils which have arisen in the Christian communities in the Achaian peninsula of Greece.


2 Corinthians 1:18-22

Paul planned to visit the church at Corinth again, but has not been able to. This has led to a lack of mutual confidence between him and the Christians there. He is eager to restore good relations. He has written: “we have behaved ... with frankness and godly sincerity ... – all the more toward you” (v. 12). He hopes that at the Second Coming the Corinthian Christians will “boast” (v. 14) of his value before God, as will he will of their value. Then v. 17: was he promising visits to them without intending to keep his promise? Was he planning visits “according to ordinary human standards”, telling people what they wanted to hear? If they wished an affirmative answer, was he saying “‘Yes, yes’”, and if a negative one, “‘No, no’”? Was he intending to deceive, saying yes and no in the same breath?

Now he says that God, absolutely “faithful” (v. 18) would never have commissioned him were he not completely trustworthy; that he has not indulged in double-talk. Jesus never wavered from complete commitment: “in him it was always ‘Yes’” (v. 19). God has made many “promises” (v. 20): to bring a saviour, eternal life, oneness with him. Through Jesus he has kept all of them, i.e. affirmed them. Paul and his companions respond affirmatively. (“‘Amen’”, Hebrew for so be it, here is like yes.) As for the integrity of Paul, Silvanus and Timothy, it is God who has established it and ensures it, having made them one with Christ, made them Christians (“anointed”, v. 21chriein in Greek) through marking them as his (“seal”, v. 22) in baptism and giving them the “Spirit” – as surety that he will complete the establishment of his Kingdom (“first installment”). (Slaves were marked as belonging to their master.)


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 2:1-12

After teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum with a new kind of authority and healing people with physical and mental ailments, Jesus has left town, lest he be thought to be a mere wonder-worker. Now he returns to Capernaum; word gets out that he is back, probably at Peter’s house. He tells the many who come to see him about “the word” (v. 2), God’s purposes to be fulfilled through him.

The roof of a Palestinian house could be reached via steps outside. A roof, which was flat, was made of sticks covered with hardened mud. (One might wonder what Peter thought of a hole in his roof!) In Judaism, certain sins could be forgiven by God if the sinner was sorry for what he had done, acknowledged the deed, and was resolute in not doing it again, but here Jesus forgives because of the faith of the mat-bearers (and possibly that of the paralytic) (v. 5).

Jesus perceives what the scribes are thinking: only God can forgive sins; Jesus is not God, so he must be a blasphemer (vv. 6-8). It is “easier” (v. 9) to say that sins are forgiven because no human can tell whether they are or not; only God knows. But only God can heal and he would not use a blasphemer as his agent in healing. If Jesus heals, he is from God; if he does not, he blasphemes. So Jesus shows them that he does indeed have “authority ... to forgive sins” (v. 10): he heals the paralytic by word alone (vv. 11-12). He is from God.

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