Comments

Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: Trinity Sunday - May 31, 2015



Saint Dominic contemplating the Scriptures Saint Dominic contemplating the Scriptures
Author's note:
Sometimes I have material left over when I edit Comments down to fit the available space. This page presents notes that landed on the clipping room floor. Some may be useful to you. While I avoid technical language in the Comments (or explain special terms), Clippings may have unexplained jargon from time to time.

A hypertext Glossary of Terms is integrated with Clippings. Simply click on any highlighted word in the text and a pop-up window will appear with a definition. Bibliographic references are also integrated in the same way.

Isaiah 6:1-8

This passage is Isaiah’s justification to his contemporaries of his prophetic role.

Verse 1: “Uzziah” reigned for forty years. It was a period of great prosperity and security. He improved crop yields by building water towers. He enjoyed popular support. In later years, he was stricken with leprosy. This was taken as a divine punishment for pride – for trying to usurp the priestly prerogative.

Verse 1: For other descriptions of the enthroned deity, see 1 Kings 22:19-33 and Ezekiel 1:4-2:1. [ NOAB] Gods held court in other ancient Near East religions, but in Judaism, decisions (after consultation) are made by God.

Verse 2: Seraphs are common in ancient Near East art. The word means fiery. [ NJBC] Comments gives the symbology given to their wings in Judaism.

Verse 2: “they covered their faces”: In Exodus 3:6, out of reverence, “Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God”. “When Elijah heard it [the heavenly voice], he wrapped his face in his mantle” (1 Kings 19:13). [ NJBC]

Verse 3: “holy”: The cry may reflect the liturgy of the Jerusalem Temple. To Isaiah, while this term includes moral perfection, it primarily refers to his transcendence and otherness. [ NJBC]

Verse 4: For other instances of earth tremors and earthquakes as signs of God’s power, see Amos 1:1 and Zechariah 14:5.

Verse 5: “yet my eyes have seen ...”: In Exodus 33:18-20, we read that no one can see God and live. See also Judges 13:22. [ NJBC]

Verse 7: The purification is God’s initiative, through the seraph. [ JBC]

Verse 8: See also Ezekiel 2 for a similar commissioning.

Verses 9-13: God’s inescapable judgement on his people will leave them desolate, with only a “stump” (v. 13) remaining. CAB says that this symbolizes the survival of the royal line through which the ultimate restoration of the covenant people will take place.

Verses 9-12: In Jeremiah 1:10, Yahweh tells Jeremiah: “See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant”. The outline of Jeremiah’s mission continues in Jeremiah 1:13-19. [ NOAB]

Verses 9-10: The REB is clearer, although it may be an interpretation: “However hard you [the people] listen, you will never understand. However hard you look, you will never perceive. The people’s wits are dulled; they have stopped their ears and shut their eyes, so that they may not see with their eyes, not listen with their ears, nor understand with their wits, and then turn and be healed.” Perhaps God is saying: however hard you try, the people won’t listen to you, Isaiah!

Verse 9b-10: This is quoted in Matthew 13:10-15. See also Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10; John 12:39-41; Acts 28:26-27. [ NOAB]

Verse 11: “‘How long’”: A common cry in psalms of supplication, a prayer for pity and relief. See Psalms 13:2-3; 74:10; 79:5; 80:4; 89:47; 90:13; 94:3. [ NJBC]

Verse 12: “sends everyone far away”: Perhaps a prediction of the Exile. [ NJBC]

Verse 13: “a tenth part”: Perhaps originally those who were not deported.

Verse 13: “like a terebinth ... felled”: This part of the verse is, says NOAB, obscure and textually corrupt. Perhaps it should be rendered: like the terebinth [of the goddess] and the oak of Asherah, cast out with the pillar of the high places.” i.e. like the destroyed furnishings of a pagan high place. Commemorative stelae of deceased people and sacred trees of a goddess were standard items of furnishings at a funerary shrine located on some height. High places were used for cultic purposes by both Canaanite and early Israelites. [ JBC] It is a good simile for what the remnant must endure. A “terebinth” is a tree common to the lower regions of the hills of Palestine. Its spreading branches, great size, and long life made it a tree much venerated. The shade of the terebinth was a location preferred for burials and for the safe-keeping of treasured objects (Genesis 35:4, Jacob). Turpentine is made from its resinous sap. [ HBD]

Verse 13: “The holy seed is its stump.”: To one scholar, this seems to be a later addition, to mitigate an image that tells of destruction.

Psalm 29

This psalm employs staircase parallelism – a feature common in Ugaritic poetry. “Lebanon” in parallel with “Sirion”, and the voice of gods as thunder, are also common in that poetry. [ JBC]

For God’s dominion over watery elements, see Psalms 24:1-2, 74:13-15, 89:9, 93:3-4 [ NJBC]

Verse 5: “cedars”: traditional symbols of might and grandeur. Psalm 104:16 says “The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted”; See also, Isaiah 2:13. [ NJBC]

Verse 6: “Sirion” is the Phoenician name for Mount Hermon. [ NOAB]

Verse 8: Some scholars translate this: “makes the hinds calve and hastens the birth of kids”. Such is the fright that the storm causes among animals. [ JBC]

Verse 8: “Kadesh”: Visited during the Exodus: In Judges 11:16-17, Jephthah’s messengers tell the king of the Ammonites: “‘... when they [the Israelites] came up from Egypt, Israel went through the wilderness to the Red Sea and came to Kadesh. Israel then sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, ‘Let us pass through your land’; but the king of Edom would not listen. They also sent to the king of Moab, but he would not consent. So Israel remained at Kadesh’”.

Verse 9: “Glory”: In Luke 2:14 “a multitude of the heavenly host” say “‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’”. [ NJBC]

Verse 10: “flood”: In Genesis 1:7, God dwells above the waters that are over the firmament.

Romans 8:12-17

Verses 12-13: These verses probably belong to the preceding section. [ JBC]

Verse 12: “debtors”: BlkRom says that we are under obligation to God, rather than being “debtors” – for there is no actual debt. The same Greek word is used in 1:14-15: “I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish – hence my eagerness to proclaim the gospel to you also who are in Rome.”

Verse 13: In 6:12, Paul admonishes “do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions”. See also Colossians 3:5 and Galatians 5:24. [ CAB]

Verses 14-15: Note Paul’s play on the word pneuma, here meaning spirit or Spirit. We are made “children” by the Spirit; we are not slaves.

Verse 14: God’s action continues in the life of the believer. In 2:4, Paul asks: “... do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”. In Galatians 5:18, Paul writes “... if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law”. See also 1 Corinthians 12:2. [ CAB]

Verse 14: “children of God”: In Galatians 4:24-26, Paul writes “Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One woman, in fact, is Hagar, from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the other woman corresponds to the Jerusalem above; she is free, and she is our mother”.

Verse 15: “a spirit of slavery”: At times Paul does speak of Christians as slaves, but only to make a particular point. Examples are 6:16 and 1 Corinthians 7:22. [ NJBC] See also Ephesians 6:6.

Verse 15: “spirit”: Paul may intend Spirit. [ NJBC]

Verse 15: “adoption”: The Greek word used here is also found in 8:23; 9:4; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5. [ CAB] In 9:4, Paul uses it to describe Israel as chosen by God. This Greek word is not found in the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, probably because adoption was not common until more recent times among Jews. It was known in Hellenic society, and was quite common among the Roman aristocracy, as a means of acquiring a worthy heir. When a man had no heir, or only a dissolute one, he would choose someone to adopt - sometimes even a freed slave - who would become the heir both to the man's property and also to his reputation and station in the community. Paul’s use of the term shows that Christians have status with God. [ JBC]

Verse 15: “When we cry”: NJBC offers which enables us to cry. In 9:27, “cry” has the sense of cry aloud, proclaim.

Verse 15: “Abba”: This is the Aramaic word of familiar address to a father. Paul uses it in Galatians 4:6: “because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’”. Jesus addressed the Father as Abba in his prayers: see Mark 14:36. [ NOAB] In the Greek text of Luke 11:2, the Lord’s Prayer begins Abba. The early church used this title for the Father, as indeed does a Christian song sung today. [ NJBC]

Verse 16: In proclaiming that God is our Father, we are stating that we recognize ourselves to be adopted by God. The Spirit shares with us in this recognition, and is the mechanism by which we are active as sons.

Verse 17: “heirs of God”: Paul discusses the promise to Abraham, that he would be the “father of many nations”, in Chapter 4 (especially 4:17). It is now fulfilled. [ CAB]

Verse 17: “joint heirs with Christ”: Christ has already received a share of the Father’s glory; the Christian will receive a share. In Jesus’ time, a son inherited his father’s estate; God’s estate is his glory. [ NJBC]

John 3:1-17

This passage tells how Christ has replaced the institutions of Judaism.

The Pharisee is part of traditional religion: what Isaiah came to preach against. Much of the terminology Jesus uses would either be unfamiliar to him, or used differently. (Some of the terms were used in the Qumran Community, itself a revolt against tradition.)

Verse 1: “Nicodemus”: Only John tells us of him. In 7:51, he insists that Jesus receive a trial; in 19:39, he anoints Jesus’ body for burial.

Verse 1: “a leader of the Jews”: a member of the Sanhedrin. [ NJBC]

Verse 2: “by night”: This may be saying that Nicodemus was a true, devoted, teacher because he studied the Torah at night as well as during the day. See 1QS (Qumran Rule of the Community) 6:7. In vv. 19-21, John uses the symbols of light and dark. [ NJBC]

Verses 2,11: “we know”: Who “we” is in these two verses differs.

Verse 2: “you are a teacher ... from God”: Nicodemus recognizes Jesus as a teacher on a par with himself. [ NJBC]

Verse 3: “see the kingdom ...”: See also 1:51: “you will see the heaven opened”. Entrance to the Kingdom is by transformation by God, and not by moral achievement. Recall Matthew 18:3: “unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”. [ BlkJn]

Verse 3: “born from above”: The NRSV offers an alternative translation in a footnote: born anew. BlkJn thinks that this is probably what Jesus said. The Greek word, anothen , can from above, anew or again. Although several translations consider “from above” to be preferable, anew fits better with Nicodemus’ somewhat sarcastic questions in v. 4.

Verse 4: “a second time”: The description of conversion as a second birth or a divine begetting is foreign to Judaism, but is familiar in Hellenistic mystery religions. [ BlkJn]

Verse 5: “born of water”: 1:33 says “... John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit’”. See also Ephesians 5:26. [ NOAB]

Verse 6: “Spirit”: In Ezekiel 36:25-27, Yahweh promises through the prophet: “ will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances”. See also Titus 3:5. In Jubilees 1:23, cleansing by the Spirit is associated with the coming of the Messianic Age. [ NJBC]

Verse 6: See also 1:12-13: “... to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.”

Verse 7: “you”: The Greek word is in the plural, so Jesus speaks through Nicodemus to those whom he represents, i.e. the members of the religious establishment. [ BlkJn]

Verse 8: The point of this verse is unavoidably lost in translation, for pneuma means both wind and “spirit”. The wind is a parable of spirit, as natural birth of the supernatural. [ BlkJn]

Verse 10: “Israel”: John uses this term for God’s faithful people: recall Jesus’ words to Nathanael in 1:47: “‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’”. There is a certain irony in Jesus’ answer. [ BlkJn]

Verse 12: On the limits of earthly wisdom in Judaism, Proverbs 30:3-4 says “ have not learned wisdom, nor have I knowledge of the holy ones. Who has ascended to heaven and come down? Who has gathered the wind in the hollow of the hand? Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is the person's name? And what is the name of the person's child? Surely you know!”. See also Wisdom of Solomon 9:16-18. [ NJBC]

Verse 13: John is gradually moving from the report of a conversation to the reflections inspired by it; however the transition is not completed until v. 16. These words can still be understood as a saying of Jesus. Taken as a continuation of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, one has to assume that a step in the argument has been omitted: since “no one has gone up to heaven”, there is no one on earth who can speak from his own experience of heavenly things , “except ...” [ BlkJn]

Verse 13: “No one has ascended into heaven”: This negates the claims of other visionaries to have knowledge of what is in heaven. For example, 1 Enoch 70:2; 71:1 have Enoch ascend into heaven, where he is identified with the Son-of-Man figure from the Septuagint translation of Daniel 7:14. The Son-of-Man saying in 1:51 promises the believer this heavenly vision as a vision of Jesus. [ NJBC]

Verse 13: The NRSV notes that some manuscripts append who is in heaven to this verse. BlkJn considers it to be original, even though it is missing from P66. He can only interpret it on the basis of vv. 13ff being a reflection of an age later than that of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

Verse 14: This is typology. Wisdom of Solomon 16:5-7 says “For when the terrible rage of wild animals came upon your [God’s] people and they were being destroyed by the bites of writhing serpents, your wrath did not continue to the end; they were troubled for a little while as a warning, and received a symbol of deliverance to remind them of your law’s command”. In the desert, the people turned towards the Torah and towards God as saviour. [ NJBC]

Verse 14: “lifted up”: In Palestinian Aramaic and in Syriac the verb which is equivalent to to be lifted up has the special meaning of to be crucified. John intends this double meaning, here and in the other passages where the word occurs (see 8:28; 12:32, 34). [ BlkJn]

Verse 15: “have eternal life”: To have eternal life is virtually equivalent to seeing or entering the kingdom of God (v. 5). While the synoptic gospels contrast the present and the future (which holds good even if the future is visualized as imminent), in John the contrast is ontological rather than eschatological: between the temporal way of being and the eternal. While Mark 10:30 and Luke 18:30 speak of “in the age to come eternal life”, literally in the age to come, the life of the [coming] age, it is eternal life in John. Further, it is John who tells us of Jesus saying “I have [already] conquered the world”. [ BlkJn]

Verse 16: Luther called this verse “the Gospel in miniature”. [ NOAB]

Verse 16: “gave his only Son”: i.e to death. In Romans 8:32, Paul writes “He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?”. See also Galatians 1:4, 2:20. We may have typology here too: Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac, a much loved only son. [ NJBC]

Verses 17-20: God’s purpose is to save; individuals judge themselves by hiding their evil deeds from the light of Christ’s holiness. [ NOAB]

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