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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost - August 12, 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 Venerable Alan T Perry, of the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton. 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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2 Samuel

At one time, the first and second books of Samuel formed a single book. They were separated in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures known as the Septuagint (about 250 BC). 1 Samuel begins with the story of Samuel: hence the name. 2 Samuel tells the story of David's rule, first as he gradually gained control of the whole of Judah (the south), and then when he was king of both Judah and Israel (the north.)


2 Samuel 18:5-9,15,31-33

Absalom, one of David’s sons, has taken the law into his own hands: when his half-brother Amnon raped his full-sister Tamar and David did nothing about it, he has had Amnon killed. After time in exile, through Joab’s mediation, Absalom has returned to David’s court, but David’s refusal to see him for two years had led him to hate his father and to plan a coup d’état. Capitalizing on resentment to the growth of David’s empire, court and bureaucracy, and David’s inability to accept changing social patterns and values, Absalom has marched on Jerusalem. David has fled the city, but has escaped across the Jordan with his standing army. David begins a military comeback. He divides his army into three groups, one third under each of “Joab and Abishai and Ittai” (v. 5). He has been advised to stay away from involvement in Absalom’s fate.

Now David orders his commanders to “deal gently” with Absalom: despite his rebellion, David still loves him, and wishes his life saved. Absalom’s militia (“men of Israel”, v. 7) are no match for David’s forces in the “forest of Ephraim” (v. 6), terrain more familiar to David’s experienced troops. (“Twenty thousand”, v. 7, is an exaggeration.) V. 9 says that Absalom was caught by the “head”; however, because 14:26 tells of Absalom’s abundant hair, tradition says he was caught by the hair. In vv. 10-14, a man tells Joab of the event, but wisely leaves the politically charged decision of whether to kill Absalom to his commander. Joab (v. 14) or his “armour-bearers” (v. 15) kill Absalom.

Absalom is buried in a “pit in the forest” (v. 17): a very different tomb from the “pillar” (v. 18) near Jerusalem he had prepared for himself. “Ahimaaz” (v. 19) seeks to carry the news to David, but Joab restrains him; instead, he sends a Sudanese or Ethiopian slave (“a Cushite”, v. 21). But Ahimaaz persuades Joab he should go to David too. Ahimaaz arrives first (v. 28) but lacks the courage to tell the bad news, and only tells the good. “The Cushite” (v. 31) tells the whole story, but implicitly (v. 32). David is heart-broken (v. 33). In the following verses, David weakens his position by mourning the loss rather than honouring the victors. Joab speaks for the demoralized troops and for national security; he convinces David to hold a ceremony. David rebuilds the kingdom.


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 130

This is a prayer for deliverance from personal trouble, but it ends with a message to all people. The “depths” are the chaotic waters, separation from God – as in Jonah’s prayer from the stomach of the great fish (Jonah 2:2). May God be attentive to my pleas. If God were to record all our misdeeds, how could anyone face him? (v. 3) God forgives, so he shall be “revered” (v. 4). He is merciful by nature, so I eagerly await his help, his “word” (v. 5), a prophecy from him. I wait as do watchmen guarding a town from enemy attack (v. 6). Perhaps (v. 7) the psalmist has now received a prophecy of salvation which he tells to all Israel: wait in hope for God; he offers unfailing “love”, freedom from grievous sin.


Ephesians

This letter of Paul was written from prison, probably in Rome. Whilst the Bible states that it was written to the church at Ephesus, the some early manuscripts do not contain an addressee in 1:1. This would imply that Ephesians was a circular letter, sent to a number of churches. If so, it introduced a new idea into letter writing: we know of no other circular letters from this period. This book celebrates the life of the church, a unique community established by God through the work of Jesus Christ, who is its head, and also the head of the whole creation.


Ephesians 4:25-5:2

The author seems to be addressing new converts: “You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self ... to be renewed ... and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God ...” (4:22-24). He now says what conduct is expected of them, as “members of one another” (4:25), of one body, the Church. Do not harbour anger, for prolonged anger gives the devil a point-of-entry (4:26-27). If you lived by stealing (4:28), go beyond restitution: actively care for the poor. Speak to others in a way that emphasizes their goodness, and builds the community (4:29). An offence against a fellow member of the Church is an offense against the Spirit, who is working with him or her: do not cause the Spirit to be grieved, distressed (4:30). Cast aside all vices which are disruptive to the life of the Christian community; rather love “one another” (4:32), expressing generously the same forgiving that Christ first showed you. In the way you forgive and are loving, do it as God does (“be imitators”, 5:1): Christ loves us even to giving up himself to death for us. Old Testament priests made “offering and sacrifice to God” (5:2); now Christ is priest/mediator. We share in that priesthood, his sacrifice of love.


Symbol of St John

John

John is the fourth gospel. Its author makes no attempt to give a chronological account of the life of Jesus (which the other gospels do, to a degree), but rather "...these things are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name." John includes what he calls signs, stories of miracles, to help in this process.


John 6:35,41-51

Jesus has miraculously fed a large crowd, “about five thousand in all” (v. 10). But the crowd has misunderstood the food he offers; they have seen it as “bread from heaven” (v. 31) like the manna God gave their ancestors in the wilderness.

Now Jesus says that he is both the “bread of life” (v. 35) and the water of life (as “hungry” and “thirsty” show). His is sustenance for all time, and beyond, for those who come to him and believe in him. He says, “I am the bread that came down from heaven” (v. 41): that a human claims to be divine offends strict Jewish monotheism and is the cause of complaint, murmuring among the people. (Manna was God’s response to the murmuring of their ancestors in the wilderness.) They ask (v. 42): how can one who has human parents have come from heaven? Rather than answer the question, Jesus tells them (v. 44): only those whom God draws, calls, can believe in (“come to”) him; those who are called (and respond) will be raised, brought into full union with God, at the end of time. If you had heard and learnt the prophetic books of the scriptures, you would believe in me (v. 45). The way people are “taught by God” is through me, for I have “seen the Father” (v. 46). One who believes has “eternal life” (v. 47) beyond the end of the era. “Manna” (v. 49) was from heaven, but the bread I offer is more: it is “living” (v. 51): this is what “never be hungry ... [nor] thirsty” (v. 35) means. It (or I) offer life “forever” (v. 51). The bread of the Eucharist is “my flesh”.

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