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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost - September 30, 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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DOC file for Palm OS.
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Esther

Esther is an unusual book of the Bible: it never explicitly mentions God (although there are probable implicit references). It is a short, thrilling, novel about the escape of Jews from annihilation in Persia. The story revolves around the royal court of Ahasuerus (Xerxes), who ruled from 486 to 465 BC. It is Esther, his Jewish queen, who risks her status (and perhaps her life) to reverse the royal edict and have the vizier hanged. Written much later, it explains the origin of the Jewish festival of Purim, one of only two feasts not prescribed by Mosaic law. Its themes of divine help to persecuted Jews and the destruction of all their enemies are also found in other books probably written after the Exile, such as Judith and Daniel.


Esther 7:1-6,9-10,9:20-22

This book is a novella set in Persia during the Exile. Ahasuerus (probably Xerxes I, 486-464 BC) the king has banished Queen Vashti for disobedience. Esther, a Jewish orphan, has been brought up by her cousin, Mordecai. When the king seeks a new queen, Mordecai offers her as a candidate, without revealing that she is Jewish. She is chosen. Mordecai then discovers a plot to assassinate the king; he tells Esther, who tips off the king. Ahasuerus’ life is spared. The king makes Haman his vizier (prime minister). Custom required all to bow to the vizier, but Mordecai refuses to do so, so Haman plots to destroy Mordecai, who has now revealed that he is a Jew. Haman decides to destroy all Jews, not just Mordecai. A date for the slaughter is set by lot (Akkadian: pur). Haman gains the king’s consent for his plan: Haman argues that “their laws are different from those of every other people ...” (3:8). He even offers a bribe to those who will kill Jews. A royal decree is sent out by courier to all the land. Through a servant, Esther learns of the plot. At Mordecai’s urging, she risks her life by going into the presence of the king uninvited, to make a request of him. The king agrees that she may ask him at a banquet. Meanwhile, Haman prepares a gallows on which to hang Mordecai – on the date set by lot. The king recalls that Mordecai saved his life, and says that he intends to honour someone (but doesn’t say whom); Haman thinks he is the one to be honoured.

Now we hear about the events at the banquet. The king is willing to grant Esther almost anything (7:2). She asks that she and her people be spared (thus admitting that she is Jewish). She would accept being in slavery (via Haman’s bribe) but to be “destroyed” (7:4) causes her to risk her life. Esther names Haman as their “enemy” (7:6). Haman, in begging her for his life, by throwing himself on to Esther’s couch, violates harem law; and the king takes this as sexual assault (7:7-8). Haman’s face is “covered”, probably as preparation for his execution. Justice is poetic, as Haman is hanged in place of Mordecai (7:9-10). Chapter 8 tells of the revocation of the edict, of Mordecai becoming vizier, and of an edict restoring the rights of Jews. 9:20-22 tell us that this story is the origin of the Jewish festival of Purim. Except for this feast and Hanukkah, all Jewish festivals are prescribed in Mosaic law. While the book appears to be non-religious fiction (God is never mentioned by name), it teaches a lesson: God does save his people in ways not found in the Law. He is with his people, even in Exile.


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 124

“If it had not been the Lord who was on our side ...”, look what would have happened to us! Our enemies would have “swallowed us up” (v. 3) and the “flood would have swept us away” (v. 4) - water was always considered uncertain in ancient times. Then, vv. 6-8: because God was on our side, he has delivered Israel from being like a “bird”, caught up in the net of the hunter (“the snare of the fowlers”.) God has helped us, and does help us now!


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 5:13-20

The author has told his readers that what they pray for they will receive, unless they ask with wrong motives. Now, in his conclusion to the book (probably a sermon), he treats prayer more extensively. Whether you suffer or are “cheerful” – pray! If any be seriously ill (in bed but not in extremis) call upon those in official positions in the church (“elders”, v. 14) to “pray over them” and anoint them. (While “oil” was thought to have medicinal value, here anointing is “in the name of the Lord”, so it symbolizes Christ’s healing presence and power.) This prayer made in faith will restore health (“save the sick”, v. 15) – as when Jesus raised up a boy who seems to have been epileptic. Anointing with prayer will also restore to spiritual health any who have intentionally deviated from God’s ways. Sins should be mutually confessed, to attain integrity with God (“righteous”, v. 16); “pray for one another”. Prayer is “powerful and effective”. The prayer of “Elijah” (v. 17) is an example of effective prayer. Then vv. 19-20: if anyone strays from integrity with God (“the truth”) and is brought back to oneness with God through the prayer of “another” member of the community, either the “sinner” or the rescuer (the Greek means his) will be saved from spiritual “death” (damnation at the end of time) and will receive extensive forgiveness.


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 9:38-50

The disciples have argued over who of them is the greatest. Jesus has told them not to seek position or prestige. Now he rebukes them for attempting to stop an exorcist curing in his name. Jesus explains his tolerance (v. 39): such a person will be slow to speak ill of him. God does work through those who are not followers of Jesus. V. 40 generalizes this, in the form of a proverb. The “reward” (v. 41) is entry into the Kingdom and the blessed state of union with God awaiting us there. Those who treat Jesus’ followers with kindness will be so rewarded.

On the other hand, putting an obstacle (“stumbling block”, v. 42) in the way of immature Christians (“little ones”), causing them to sin, will lead to condemnation on Judgement Day. (The “great millstone” was drawn by a donkey in grinding wheat; “the sea” was the place of chaos.) Vv. 43-47 speak of actions by members of the community, the body. Anyone who shakes the faith of others (“causes you to stumble”), however he or she does it, should be cast out, for the sake of the community. Hell was seen as the place of unquenchable fire and “where their worm never dies” (v. 48), per Isaiah 66:24. Discipleship is demanding. In vv. 49-50, “salt” has three meanings:

  • in v. 49, it means purified, as ore is purified to metal in a furnace; before Christ comes again, we will be purified through persecution and suffering;
  • In v. 50a, “salt” is a seasoning agent; the disciples are the salt of the earth, the agents of spirituality; if we lose our effectiveness in proclaiming God’s word, what use are we?
  • In v. 50b, “salt” is distinctive character: this matters, but so does harmony in the community.
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