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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost - September 16, 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 1:20-33

The “child” (v. 8) is advised to hear his “father’s instruction” and not to reject his “mother’s teaching”. He is warned: “if sinners entice you, do not consent. If they say, ‘Come with us ... let us wantonly ambush the innocent’” (v. 11), i.e. cause trouble for the good for no reason, the sinners do not heed warnings; in fact they “kill themselves” (v. 18) and “set an ambush – for their own lives”.

Now wisdom, personified as a woman (“she”, v. 20) makes her first appearance in the book and delivers warnings of her own. She speaks in public places where she can be heard – as did the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah - reaching ordinary people in the “street” and business people who work at the “city gates” (v. 21). She calls to the “simple” (v. 22, who don’t know better), to the “scoffers” (who take pleasure in cynicism) and to “fools” (who despise knowledge) – all of whom reject wisdom. If only they would change their ways, she would make God’s ways known to them (v. 23). But they have not (vv. 24-25), so (as they laugh at her), she will have the last laugh: at their downfall (“calamity”, v. 26), her mocking laughter will repay their obstinacy. Their downfall will be sudden and unpredictable, as is a Palestinian “storm” (v. 27) and “whirlwind”. Their call for help will come too late (v. 28). Then vv. 29-31: because they “hated knowledge” and chose not to hold God in awe, would not accept the advice of Lady Wisdom and “despised” her criticism of their ways, they will reap what they have sown: they will be punished by the very evil deeds they have committed (v. 32). On the other hand, those who heed Wisdom’s call will live in peace (“secure”, v. 33) and in comfort, “with no fear of misfortune” (Revised English Bible).


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 19

To the Israelites, the “firmament” was a giant pudding bowl over the earth, beyond which was a hierarchy of “heavens”. God’s glory is told “day” (v. 2) and “night”, yet silently (v. 3a), to all people. He has created the sun as his agent (v. 5); it rises early in the morning, as does the “bridegroom” from his night’s rest, traverses from one edge of the heavens to the other, making God’s presence known with its “heat” (v. 6). Vv. 7-9 present the wonders of the law, as an expression of God’s will for Israel. Here we find synonyms for the Law, characteristics of it, and its benefits for humankind, e.g. it makes”wise the simple”, those immature in understanding and judgement. It warns the psalmist (“servant”, v. 11). If he accidentally break it (“hidden faults”, v. 12), may God forgive him. May God protect him from those who intentionally go against God’s ways (“the insolent”, v. 13), lest he be influenced into sinning intentionally (“great transgression”). May his words and his thoughts be acceptable to God, who restores him to godliness (v. 14).


Wisdom

Wisdom has been a book of the church since the earliest times. For some Christians, it is part of the Apocrypha ("hidden books"); for others, it is in the Old Testament. Until this book was written (about 50 BC), the best that could be hoped for when one died was to exist in some inderterminate state. Wisdom tells us that being made in the image of God includes sharing with him in immortality. Only the godly, the ethical, will be granted eternal life; those who choose to deviate from God's ways will be punished and will disappear into nothingness.


Wisdom of Solomon 7:26-8:1

Wisdom is personified as a woman. 7:22-8:1 present 21 characteristics of wisdom (although some are repeated to reach 21!) Why 21? Hebrew literature uses numerology: 7 signifies perfection and 3 is the divine number, so 21 is absolute perfection. In v. 26, she is said to be radiance (“reflection”) that flows from “eternal light”, i.e. God, a flawless reflection of God’s activity, and an “image of his goodness”. She is said to be God’s agent, but not God. John 1:1-5 goes beyond this: the Word and Son are one with God. The book of Wisdom is very important to our idea of Christ. Wisdom has other attributes of God: “she can do all things” (v. 27), is unchanging (“remaining ...”), gives life (“renews”) to each generation, enters the very beings (“holy souls”) of the godly, and brings people to be godly and to speak for God (“prophets”). In v. 29, the day is seen as good and night as evil; “the light” is that of the day. Being “more beautiful than the sun” is being morally perfect. She is not subject to evil (v. 30b). She is powerful throughout the world, and governs gently (“well”, 8:1) over all.


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 3:1-12

The author is a teacher (“we who teach”) and so has written this book, a treatise on Christian conduct. The code of ethics for teachers is stricter than for others. V. 2 says: he or she “who makes no mistakes” lives a “perfect” Christian moral life, but none of us achieve this. The tongue is small, as are the horse’s bit (v. 3) and the ship’s “rudder” (v. 4), but through this small part of the whole, the teacher, rider and pilot guide – and exercise will. Teachers are tempted to boast (v. 5b). Any deviation from the truth taught by a teacher can have horrific consequences! The meaning of v. 6 is obscure; perhaps it is saying: the tongue can be used evilly; when it is, it adds to the evil in an already corrupt world, affecting all humankind. An Old Testament wisdom book says that, were it not for sin, we would not die.

The “cycle of nature” is successive generations: a person is born and later dies. The devil is the agent of evil; hence the “tongue ... is ... set on fire by hell”. During creation, animals were given to us to tame (v. 7), but the tongue cannot be tamed: it is capable of continually spreading evil, perhaps like a poisonous snake (v. 8). It can be used for good and for evil: we honour God with it, but we also curse fellow humans (“made in the likeness of God”, v. 9). It should only be used for good. In nature, any one “spring” (v. 11) only produces good or bad water. Fig trees and grapevines only yield what God has intended – so we should only speak good. The devil (“salt water”, v. 12) only yields evil.


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 8:27-38

Jesus travels north from the Sea of Galilee to the villages around Caesarea Philippi, a prominent pagan town. He asks: who does popular opinion say I am? There are various opinions, but the Messiah is not one of them (v. 28). Now he asks the disciples: “who do you say ... I am?” (v. 29). Peter’s answer, for the disciples, is pious, but misleading and incomplete. Jews expected the Messiah to come in power, to free them from Roman domination, but they did not expect the Messiah to suffer (v. 31). (Were it to be widely known that he is the Messiah, his time on earth might end before he has done all that he has come to do.) This is the first prediction of Jesus’ Passion. Jesus “must” suffer, for it is in God’s plan. Jesus’ mission is now stated completely, so he speaks about it “openly” (v. 32). He rebukes Peter for his shallowness, seeing his reply as inspired by the devil, as not being godly (v. 33).

What will happen to Jesus has implications for those who follow him:

  • we must cast aside self-centeredness (“deny themselves”, v. 34) and submit to divine authority (as a prisoner submitted to Roman authority when he carried the cross-arm to his execution);
  • we must be willing to die for the cause - real life, true self, comes from God (vv. 35-37); and
  • we should not be ashamed of the way he is treated and his message in this wayward (“adulterous”, v. 38) world;
  • for such an attitude will detract from Christ’s glory, his godly show of power, when he comes as judge at the end of the era.

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