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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost - September 23, 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 31:10-31

The book ends with this poem, a detailed description of the roles and qualities of “a capable wife”. This appears to be part of “the words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him” (v. 1). Lemuel was of a tribe descended from Abraham’s son Ishmael. Similar advice to a ruler is found in Egyptian and Babylonian texts. The poem serves as a summary of Proverbs.

Finding a good wife is also mentioned in 18:22: “He who finds a good wife finds a good thing, and obtains favour from the Lord”. Several of the wife’s qualities are also those of Lady Wisdom – so is the wife wisdom? In four places in Proverbs, wisdom is said to be “more precious [or better] than jewels” (v. 10). The wife’s values to her husband are reminiscent of those of wisdom to her followers. Vv. 13-27 speak of the woman’s extraordinary and ceaseless activity, and her good relationship with her family (vv. 11, 27-28). She and her husband are wealthy (vv. 21-23); he is a leader of the community (v. 23). She manages the household (v. 15b), is a business woman (vv, 14, 16, 18, 24) and does strenuous tasks (v. 17). She also does household activities (vv. 15a, 19). Both a “distaff” (v. 19) and a “spindle” are used in spinning. She makes fine clothes for her family, and is generous to “the needy” (v. 20). She is godly, so she “laughs” (v. 25) as she looks forward to Judgement Day; she is wise (v. 26) and teaches “kindness”. In v. 27, “she looks well to” is sophiyyah in the Hebrew text – so perhaps there is a word play on sophia, Greek for wisdom. The book begins with awe for the Lord (1:7) and it ends on the same theme (v. 30). Perhaps v. 31 is a prayer: may she share in her own productivity; may her deeds be praised by all.


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 1

This psalm is an introduction to the book of Psalms; it contrasts the fate of the godly and the ungodly. Vv. 1-3 speak of the happiness of the godly. They do not live as the ungodly do; rather they constantly (“day and night”, v. 2) and joyfully study and observe Mosaic law; their well-being is like trees which bear fruit. They are prosperous. But, on the other hand, the ungodly are “like chaff” (v. 4) in manual threshing: the crushed sheaves were tossed into the air, where the wind blew the chaff away. So, say vv. 5-6, their fate will be disaster: they will be excluded from the fellowship enjoyed by those who follow God’s ways, and will suffer – unlike the godly, over whom God keeps watch.


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 3:13-4:3,7-8a

The author has identified one sin commonly found in the community: intemperate speech. Now he seeks to correct a second: arrogance – and in the process, tells us the qualities of wisdom. His understanding of wisdom is like that of the Old Testament wisdom writers, and of Paul. If you do in life with “gentleness”, moderation, courtesy and humility (all qualities bound up in the same Greek word) then you are motivated by “wisdom” (3:13). But if “bitter envy” (3:14) or “selfish ambition” controls you, you must not boast of it and must not be “false to the truth”, i.e. Christian revelation, as put into practice by those who are wise. (The heart was considered the control centre of personality.) For being “false”, “such wisdom” (3:15) is “earthly” rather than heavenly (“from above”); it is from the devil. “Envy and selfish ambition” (3:16, or quarrels) are the tools of evil; the devil works through “disorder”. On the other hand, godly wisdom is “peaceable ...” (3:17). It does not dominate, but rather yields “good fruits”, to all, openly. Then 3:18: “those who make peace”, i.e. wise people, will, at Judgement Day, have (or be rewarded with) great integrity in the eyes of God.

But quarrels (“conflicts and disputes”, 4:1) in the community show a lack of “peace” (3:18); they should be resolved. Are they not the result of conflicting inner urges (“cravings”, 4:1)? The author gives two examples: murdering to gain what you do not have, and desiring something belonging to someone else (“covet”, 4:2). God gives us whatever we ask, so if you do not receive, it is either because you do not ask him, or you ask for your personal gain (“your pleasures”, 4:3). One cannot be in love with earthly things and with God: such loves are incompatible (4:4). So completely devote yourselves to God’s ways (4:7). Say no to the devil, and he will leave you alone. If you approach God, he will come close to you.


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 9:30-37

The disciples have failed to cure an epileptic boy of an unclean spirit (vv. 14-29); this has led to them being puzzled. After Jesus cures him, they ask: how could you cure him but we could not? Jesus tells them: that kind of healing requires the power of prayer; it can’t be done by earthly means.

Now, as they travel from Caesarea Philippi to Jerusalem, they re-enter Jewish territory (“Galilee”, v. 30). Jesus again wishes to avoid partial understanding of him and his mission. He again teaches that he, the “Son of Man is to be” (v. 31) killed, but adds one new idea: he is to be “betrayed” or handed over to people; this is part of God’s plan. Both his suffering and betrayal are so beyond the understanding of the disciples that they dare not reveal their ignorance.

Jesus now teaches more about being his followers. (Presumably “the house”, v. 33, is Peter’s – see 1:29.) The disciples have been arguing over rank. Jesus says, in effect: to be my disciple, you must abandon seeking position and prestige. He takes an example (vv. 36-37): to welcome a child “in my name” (because of regard for who and what I am) is to welcome me, and indeed God. In Aramaic and Greek the word for “child” is the same as for servant, so v. 36 may also speak of welcoming a servant, one sent by his master. If so, Jesus is saying: whoever receives the servant receives the master. Whoever receives a child receives Jesus, and whoever receives Jesus receives God, who sent him. Both child and servant are without status. They are unable to repay a kindness, in earthly terms.

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