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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost - September 2, 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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Song of Solomon

This book is also known as the Song of Songs (the opening words of the book) or Canticle of Canticles. Song of Songs is the Hebrew idiom for the superlative, the greatest song. It contains poems, or songs, of Israel. The poems are about love and devotion, and are set as a dialogue between a woman (the bride) and a man (the bridegroom). It is possible that some poems date back to Solomon; however, the occurrence of Persian and Greek words in others suggests a later date. Such poetry was in vogue in the Near East in the 400s and 300s BC.

Judaism has seen these songs as having another level of meaning: the love between God and his people; the man and woman are then the Lord and Israel. Christians have also allegorized mutual love: in our case, between Christ and the Church. But the basic meaning is literal: love, including sexual love based on human instincts, is blessed, a part of God's creativeness, and creation, to be valued and enjoyed.


Song of Solomon 2:8-13

This book is a collection of love songs; dialogues between a man (identified as a shepherd in 1:7, and as a “king” in 1:4, 12) and a woman. In our passage, the woman (the bride) speaks first. She sees and hears her beloved approaching, coming powerfully, swiftly and gracefully, “like a gazelle” (2:9), until he reaches “our wall”, the enclosure within which the “daughters of Jerusalem” (1:5) are. He peers within. In 2:10-13, the bridegroom speaks to her, his “love”, his darling (in another translation). It is Spring; he celebrates creation and nature. He invites her to “come away” (2:13) with him, (as can be deduced from the sexual symbols in the book), to enjoy sexual intercourse. In 2:14, the bridegroom beseeches her, “my dove”, to let him see her and hear her voice. She responds (2:15): she is not as inaccessible as he thinks. In 2:16-17, she invites him to be with her “on the cleft mountains”.

Judaism has seen these songs as having another level of meaning: the love between God and his people; the man and woman are then the LORD and Israel. Christians have also allegorized mutual love: between Christ and the Church. But the basic meaning is literal: love, including sexual love based on human instincts, is blessed, a part of God’s created-ness, to be valued and enjoyed.


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 45:1-2,7-10

The psalmist, a court scribe, a skilled writer (“a ready scribe”) feels inspired to write an ode for a royal wedding. In vv. 2-4, he lists the admirable qualities of the king: he is “the most handsome”, full of God’s grace, splendid (“glory”, v. 3), a conqueror “for the cause of truth” (v. 4) and of justice. The “throne ...” (v. 6) is probably God’s rather than the king’s (although the word translated “God” can mean superhuman being, so it may say the king is superior to all other humans.) God has made the king greater than the kings of other nations (v. 7). His robes are perfumed with fragrance: with “myrrh” (v. 8, an aromatic gum from Arabia, Ethiopia or India), “aloes” (a fragrant wood) and “cassia” (a tree native to India and the Far East). Stringed instruments play music in his palace; it is decorated with “ivory” (v. 8).

The ladies of the court include daughters of fellow kings (v. 9). The bride’s dress is ornamented with gold from Arabia or east Africa (“Ophir”). She (vv. 10-13) is a foreigner. She is to forget her people, to please and honour the king, her master. The rich seek her favour with expensive gifts. She is a glorious sight (v. 13). Vv. 14-15 tell of her entrance, followed by bridesmaids; it is a joyous occasion. Finally, the psalmist wishes that the king may have male heirs who will be “princes” (v. 16), rulers over all peoples; may his reign be celebrated for ages; may the people (or all nations) praise him for ever.


James

Although James opens like a letter, it is an exhortation to ethical conduct. Christians find themselves in an alien world, full of immorality and evil; they are called to a faith that is not merely theoretical or abstract, but acted upon, in every aspect of their lives. In a situation where trials and tribulations abound, and where the poor suffer at the hands of the rich, the author exhorts them to joy, endurance, wisdom, confident prayer and faithful response to the liberating word of God, as they await the second coming of the Lord. The recipients appear to be a group of Jewish-Christian communities outside Palestine. Traditionally, the Church has seen the author of this book as James, the brother of our Lord; however, its excellent Greek style, late acceptance into the canon, and absence of concerns about ritual purity suggest another author. The author seems to have written in the name of James, thus giving the book authority.


James 1:17-27

This book is an exhortation to conduct befitting Christians: who are aliens in a world which has become evil, and are also heirs of God’s relationship with Israel. The author cautions them (v. 16): “Do not be deceived, my beloved”. The very “act of giving” (v. 17) is what matters, not the size of the gift. God, “the Father of lights”, gives the “perfect gift”: in Genesis 1:14-18 he gave the planets and stars, which vary in position and brightness (“shadow”, v. 17) in the sky, but God’s love and goodness to us are never diminished. He created according to his own intent; he now gives us the new creation, i.e. baptism (“birth”, v. 18), into the gospel (“word of truth”), his saving revelation fully expressed in Christ. Why? So that we may be forerunners (“first fruits”) of all humans in offering ourselves to God. So (v. 21) cast aside worldliness, and welcome the faith received (“implanted”) at baptism, a faith that can save you from the evil in the world. But this “word” (v. 22) is not just to be heard but also to be done: baptism places ethical demands. To be a hearer (v. 23) but not a doer is like looking in a “mirror”: it reveals blemishes; the hearer sees them, but then forgets them (or ignores them): he or she does nothing to correct the deficiencies. But those who “look into” (v. 25) and “persevere” with the gospel (“the perfect law, the law of liberty”) are doers, are “blessed” for following God’s ways.

Now v. 19: doers have three characteristics: they are “quick to listen” (so do not “deceive themselves”, v. 22), “slow to speak, slow to anger” (v. 19) – sinful and prolonged anger is not striving for the integrity (“righteousness”, v. 20) demanded by God. Vv. 26-27 offer a practical application: “care for orphans and widows”. If our “religion” is all talk, it is “worthless”; it must include caring actively for others. Also, we must keep a detachment from the world.


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 7:1-8,14-15,21-23

Mark has told us that Jesus has gained an audience among the common people, who have sought sustenance and have responded to his compassion in healing. Now we hear of his opposition to the legalism and pickiness of the Pharisees. They are “from Jerusalem”, so represent official Judaism. Mark’s note (vv. 3-4), written for Gentile readers, explains that Pharisees consider the “tradition of the elders” to be binding, as are the laws of Moses. (They wished to extend the laws of ritual purity, which once applied only to priests, to all Jews, thus making all people priestly.) Rather than answer the question (v. 5), Jesus calls them phonies. (In Greek, hypokrites were actors who masked – hid – their faces.) He quotes Isaiah 29:13: their religion is empty; they “hold to human tradition” (v. 8) rather than the Law. Then vv. 14-15: Jesus says that what you eat (“going in”) is immaterial, but what comes out does matter: it is from the very being of a person that “evil intentions” (v. 21) and actions come. (The “heart” was seen as the source of will and not just of emotions.)

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