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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost - September 9, 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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Proverbs

A proverb is a pithy statement expressing some truth in a striking way which is easy to remember. Most of this book is instructions given by a scholar (or father) to a student (or son) on how to lead a moral life, with proper respect for God. Life involves choices; it is important that one be informed, trained and persuaded to make the right ones. The objective of life is attainment of wisdom, i.e. integrity in God's eyes. Wisdom brings rewards: 22:4 says: "The reward of humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honour and life". 9:10 says "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight." Put another way, 1:7 says "The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom, and humility goes before honour." The opposite of being wise is being a fool; "fools despise wisdom and instruction."

It is difficult to date Proverbs. Sayings and poems appear to have been formed into an anthology after the Exile (in the 400s BC), but some of the sayings probably date back to Solomon's time. Solomon was known for his wisdom. Some of the sayings are known in other ancient Near East cultures; they have been acculturated to the Jewish tradition.


Proverbs 22:1-2,8-9,22-23

A proverb is a pithy statement expressing some truth in a striking and memorable way. This book is mostly instructions given by a scholar (or father) to a student (or son) on how to lead a moral life, with proper respect for God. Life involves choices; it is important that one be informed, trained and persuaded to make the right ones. The objective of life is attainment of wisdom, i.e. integrity in God’s eyes. V. 4 says: “The reward for humility and fear of the LORD is riches and honour and life”.

Now v. 1: a “good name” (reputation) matters more than wealth; “favour” (being esteemed) is also more valuable. But God’s creative activity matters much more than achievement of wealth. Vv. 8-9 contrast the evil doers and the “generous”, the kindly. Behaving in an unjust (ungodly) way leads to “calamity” (the Revised English Bible says “trouble”); God’s anger, his wrath, will destroy the ungodly. (One reaps what one sows.) But those who are “generous” are “blessed”, held in high esteem by God and honoured by him, because they share. V. 22 cautions against

  • robbing (in the broadest sense) those who are helpless (“poor”), and
  • ill-treating a “poor wretch in court” (REB).
  • (The law courts were at the city gates.) Why? Because, in an ultimate sense, God is on the side of the underdog: he will “rob of life those who rob them” (REB), either by making the oppressors’ lives miserable or by shortening their lives.


    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 125

    The superscription is A Song of Ascents: this psalm was probably sung by pilgrims travelling up to Jerusalem. The solidity of “Mount Zion” is seen as symbolic of the certitude enjoyed by God’s people of his continuing care for them. The promised “land” (v. 3) was “allotted to the righteous” (those living in God’s ways) when they entered it after the exodus. Ungodly rulers of Israel (“sceptre”) - either Israelite or foreign – will no longer rule the land (or “wickedness” will disappear), removing the temptation for the godly to succumb to evil. V. 4 is a prayer: may God give goodness to the faithful. V. 5a warns: those who deviate from God’s ways will be treated as “evildoers”: their fate will be horrible. Hopefully, this will not affect Israel; she will have “peace”.


    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 2:1-10,(11-13),14-17

    The author has exhorted his readers to “be doers of the word, and not merely hearers” (1:22) of the gospel. He has taken caring for widows and orphans as an example. Now he expands on the responsibility of Christians to the disadvantaged. He challenges his audience: is your “favouritism”, your partiality, consistent with belief in Christ, who in his glory makes nonsense of distinctions based on status? He gives an example (vv. 2-3): if a stranger “comes into” your worship “assembly” don’t you offer him a better seat if he is well dressed? You judge by appearances; you discriminate. But, he says (v. 5): remember Jesus’ preference for the poor; they will have faith and inherit “the kingdom”. Your conduct is the opposite of God’s! (v. 6a) Perhaps he addresses the poor in vv. 6b-7. We are baptised into Jesus’ name in baptism; his name is “invoked” over us. To discriminate against the baptised, God’s people, is to “blaspheme” Christ’s character and “name”.

    Then v. 8: the readers will fully comply with God’s law, “the royal law” revealed by Christ, if they keep the commandment Jesus called the “greatest and first” (Matthew 22:38): to “love one’s neighbour as yourself”. You break the law if you show “partiality” (v. 9), discriminate. Failing to love in any way makes one totally “accountable” (v. 10, literally: guilty). V. 11 is an example from the Ten Commandments.

    Make the commandment of love that gives freedom your guide to conduct (v. 12). The person who fails to show compassion in life will be shown “no mercy” (v. 13) at Judgement Day, but one who is kindly will be treated compassionately. Then v. 14: what sense is there to claiming to “have faith” (freely accepting God’s saving revelation) if you don’t do God’s will? Claiming such will not save you! For example (vv. 15-16), words alone do not suffice when material help is needed. V. 17 summarizes: faith must be living, accompanied by actions – else it is useless.


    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 7:24-37

    In Galilee, Jesus has challenged official Judaism over the authority of non-biblical traditions and has taught that ritual purity is irrelevant. He now travels to the coast (“Tyre”), a largely Gentile area. The “woman” (v. 26) is Gentile by birth and of non-Jewish origin; she seeks healing for her daughter who (at least in contemporary understanding) is possessed by evil. In Jesus’ statement (v. 27), the “children” are presumably Jews; Jewish writers sometimes referred to Gentiles as “dogs”. Jesus says that he comes principally to Jews, but note that both Jews and Gentiles are at or near the table. The woman’s witty retort (v. 28) shows that she has faith in him: there is a place for non-Jews in God’s plan. Jesus accepts her claim (v. 29). The daughter is completely cured (v. 30).

    After a circuitous journey through Gentile territory, Jesus heads towards Galilee (v. 31). A man with hearing and speech problems is brought to him. (Laying on of hands (“hand”, v. 32) is known only in the Qumran, Dead Sea, literature and in the Church.) In doing the miracle, Jesus uses two symbols, one for deafness and one for speech. He touches the man’s tongue with spittle (v. 33). Jesus communes with the Father, is moved with compassion (“sighed”, v. 34) and orders the healing. The cure is immediate and again complete (v. 35). In v. 36a, Jesus hopes to avoid a partial understanding of him (as a miracle worker) but the good news spreads. The people’s words:

  • allude to God’s satisfaction with creation (v. 37b, Genesis 1:31) and
  • show that the Kingdom of God has begun: v. 37c is a quotation from a section of Isaiah on Israel’s glorious future.
  • The kingdom of God has already begun!

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