Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: First Sunday after Christmas - December 31, 2023

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 61:10-62:3

61:10: The targum correctly interprets the thought, adding Thus says Jerusalem. For the love between Jerusalem and Yahweh, see also 54:5-8; Jeremiah 33:10-11; Revelation 19:7, 9; John 2:1-11 (the wedding at Cana). [ NJBC]

61:10: Adulterous Israel is restored to that joyful, innocent age of long ago when she was the virgin spouse of God. [ NJBC]

61:11: In 45:8, Yahweh says through the prophet: “Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the skies rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation may spring up, and let it cause righteousness to sprout up also; I the Lord have created it”. See also 53:2. [ NJBC]

62:1-12: The renewal of God’s people will be a universal sign of God’s power and love. [ CAB]

62:1: “I will not keep silent”: In 42:14, Yahweh speaks through the prophet: “For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labour, I will gasp and pant”. [ NJBC]

62:1: “shines out ... like a burning torch”: On the Feast of Tabernacles, the city was brightly lit with torches. Perhaps the author thinks of this scene as he foresees Jerusalem’s “vindication”. [ NJBC]

62:2: “new name”: See also 1:26; Jeremiah 33:16; Ezekiel 48:35. In Genesis 17:5, Abram is given the name Abraham as a sign of his new status before God. Note 62:4: “You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married.” [ NOAB]

62:3: “crown of beauty”: 28:1-6 says, in part: “In that day the Lord of hosts will be a garland of glory, and a diadem of beauty, to the remnant of his people”. [ NOAB]

62:3: “royal diadem”: There was an ancient practice of a god wearing a crown patterned after the city walls. Here Yahweh holds such a crown in his hands. [ NJBC]

Psalm 148

This is a late communal hymn of praise to the Creator. Antecedents are the tradition of hymnody common to Israel and Mesopotamia: see Isaiah 44:23 and Psalm 103:20-22. [ NJBC] This psalm is related to the Benedicite (Song of the Three Children) in Daniel 3:52-90, Septuagint translation. [ JBC] (The NRSV presents these verses in the Apocrypha as Prayer of Azariah 29-68.)

Note the parallels between two sections, vv. 1-5 and 7-13: both sections begin with “Praise the Lord from the heavens/earth” and end with “Let them praise the name of the Lord”.

Verses 1-2: 103:20 is somewhat similar: “Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, obedient to his spoken word”. [ NJBC]

Verses 9-10: These verses consist of examples of merism: of each pair, one is cultivated and the other is uncultivated. [ NJBC]

Verse 13: “above earth and heaven”: i.e. above everything. See also Genesis 1:1 (the beginning of the first creation story) and Genesis 2:4 (the second creation story). [ NJBC]

Verse 14: “horn”: This is perhaps a ram’s horn (Hebrew: shophar). It was used in worship (see 2 Chronicles 15:14) as well as in war (see Joshua 6:4-13, the taking of Jericho). To CAB, it is God’s special presence and effective purpose for and through his people: a psalmist writes in 89:17: “For you are the glory of their strength; by your favour our horn is exalted”. See also 132:17.

Galatians 4:4-7

Galatians was written to Jewish Christians who were tempted to return to Judaism.

Verse 1: “minors”: Paul uses the word nepios, meaning an infant, one who does not speak. [ NJBC]

Verse 2: “guardians and trustees”: According to CAB, a “guardian” was entrusted with the general care of a child up to the age of 14, and a “trustee” with the financial affairs of a young man up to the age of 25; however NJBC sees this as Palestinian usage, not Roman. As minors, they are in an interim state; such is being under the Law.

Verse 2: “until the date set by the father”: In Roman law, a father could set limits to the time of trusteeship. [ CAB]

Verse 3: “the elemental spirits of the world”: There are four possible meanings:

  • based on the translation quoted above:
    • the cosmic powers controlling the universe, as in v. 8 [ NOAB]
    • the elemental signs of the zodiac [ NJBC]
  • based on the alternative translation “rudimentary spirits of the world” given in the NRSV footnote:
    • the rudiments of the world, i.e. earth, air, fire and water [ NOAB]
    • rudimentary rules and religious observances: see also vv. 9-10 and Colossians 2:8, 20 [ NOAB]

Verses 4-5: Christ was sent at a time determined by God in order to ransom those who were in bondage. “under the law”. [ NOAB]

Verse 4: “born of a woman”: Both Matthew 11:11 and Luke 7:28 tell us that there is no one “born of women” greater than John the Baptizer. This phrase is also found in the Old Testament: see Job 14:1; 15:14; 25:4. It is also found in the Qumran Hymns. Some patristic writers read genomenon with an omega (a long O) rather than an omicron (a short O), so they saw here a reference to Mary’s virginal conception, but this is an anachronism. [ NJBC] In the Old Testament and at Qumran we see its use as a typical Jewish circumlocution for the human person, so it does not refer to the process by which God’s Son became a man (his birth), but it simply describes his human condition. This phrase is echoed in v. 5: “so that we might receive adoption as children”. [ BlkGal]

Verse 5: “in order to redeem”: In the sense that Christ secured release of those retained in the Law: Paul says in 3:12: “the law does not rest on faith; on the contrary, ‘Whoever does the works of the law will live by them.’”. [ CAB]

Verse 5: “adoption”: Under Greco-Roman law, an adopted child received the full legal status of a natural child. Perhaps Paul’s analogy is influenced by Israel’s release from bondage in Egypt in Hosea 11:1: “Out of Egypt I have called my son”, a verse quoted in Matthew 2:15. See also Romans 15:8. [ CAB]

Verse 6: “because you are children”: NJBC translates this differently: the proof that you are sons is that God sent ...”.

Verse 6: “sent”: The Greek word, apostellein, developed a specific meaning: to send someone in the service of the Kingdom with authority fully grounded in God. [ NJBC]

Verse 6: “Abba! Father!”: In Romans 8:15-17, Paul writes: “you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ – if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him”.

Luke 2:22-40

The continuity between the traditions of Israel and what God was to do through Jesus is exemplified:

  • By the presentation of Jesus in the Temple and the sacrifices offered,
  • By Simeon’s recognition and affirmation of Jesus as “Messiah” and bringer of “revelation to the Gentiles” (v. 32) as well as a cause of controversy within Israel (Isaiah 8:14), and
  • by the prophetess Anna’s acclaim of Jesus as the one who will redeem “Jerusalem” (v. 38), the symbol of God’s people (see Isaiah 52:7-10). [ CAB]

When a child was one month old, he was redeemed for five shekels (see Numbers 3:47-48; 18:15-16), but Luke does not mention this. Rather, he introduces Jesus’ presentation – for which there is no regulation in the Old Testament. [ NJBC] However, being “designated as holy” (v. 23) was probably to be done in a liturgy, a public event, a presentation. Luke has presented both John and Jesus as dedicated to God from the time they were in the womb. So both are, in a sense, Nazirites. Matthew 2:23, in saying that Jesus “will be called a Nazorean”, may be saying that he will be called a Nazirite. While we know of no ritual for initial consecration of a Nazirite, Numbers 6:9-12 prescribes an elaborate ritual for reconsecration of a Nazirite should he or she become ritually unclean. [ HBD] Also recall that it is Luke that gives us the Magnificat (in 1:46-55), the song of Mary modelled after Hannah’s song before the dedication of her son Samuel to temple service (see 1 Samuel 2:1-10). Perhaps Luke is continuing his parallel with Samuel.

Verse 21: ”to circumcise the child”: For John’s circumcision, see 1:59-64. [ NJBC]

Verses 22-24: For the requirement for, and the delay in, purification, see Leviticus 12:2-8. [ NOAB]

Verse 22: “to present him to the Lord”: For Samuel’s presentation in the temple (at Shiloh), see 1 Samuel 1:22-24. Luke also probably thinks of Malachi 3:1-2 (“the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple”). [ NJBC]

Verse 22: “Jerusalem”: The Greek is Hierosolyma, literally meaning holy Salem or holy space. In his gospel, Luke sometimes uses Hierosolyma and sometimes Ierosalem. Perhaps he is showing the etymology of the name of the city. [ NJBC]

Verse 23: “Every firstborn ...”: This requirement is found in Exodus 13:1-2, 12. [ NOAB]

Verses 25-28: “Simeon”: Some interpreters, especially ancient ones, saw Acts 15:14 (“Simeon has related ...”) as referring to this Simeon. Other than that possible reference, he is unknown. Both he and Anna (v. 38) express faith in Jesus as Saviour, Messiah and universal Lord. [ NOAB] Simeon means God has heard. He is described in much the same way as John the Baptist’s parents: 1:6 tells us “Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord”. [ NJBC]

Verse 25: “the consolation of Israel”: While I have interpreted these words in an eschatological sense, it is also possible that Simeon looks forward to the independence of Israel from Roman occupation. The word translated “consolation” is paraklesis. This word is used in the Septuagint translation of Isaiah 40:1, “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.”. [ BlkMt] JBC notes that according to the rabbis, this term denoted the final, unrecorded words that passed between Elijah and Elisha (see 2 Kings 2:11) and that would be made known when Elijah reappeared (see 1:17). [ JBC] Isaiah 66:12-13 may also be in Luke’s mind. [ NJBC]

Verse 26: “the Lord’s Messiah”: The Lord here is God (the Father). Christos is the Greek translation of Messiah. In 9:20, Peter identifies Jesus as “the Messiah of God”. [ NOAB]

Verse 27: “Simeon came into the temple”: Note that he is not a priest. He and Anna do embody the heart of Temple cult: service to God. [ NJBC]

Verses 29-32: The vocabulary of these verses, the theological centrepiece of the passage, seems to be drawn from Deutero-Isaiah: see Isaiah 52:9-10; 49:6; 46:13; 42:6; 40:5. They stress the universal nature of Christ’s salvation. See also Isaiah 46:13; Acts 13:47; 26:23. [ NJBC]

Verse 29: “in peace”: i.e. in a state of harmony with God.

Verse 30: See also 3:6 (“‘... all flesh shall see the salvation of God’”) and Isaiah 52:10 (“... all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God”). [ NOAB]

Verse 30: “salvation”: See also 1:47 (the Magnificat, where Mary says “‘my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour’”). See also 1:71, 77; 2:11. [ NJBC]

Verses 31-32: God’s salvation in Jesus moves out and embraces God’s people Israel and then encircles the others, the nations. See also 24:44-47 (Jesus appears to his disciples). [ NJBC]

Verse 32: See also Isaiah 42:6; 49:6; Acts 13:47; 26:23. [ NOAB]

Verse 33: “father”: Joseph is Jesus’ legal father as Mary’s husband. In Matthew 13:55, people at the synagogue ask: “‘Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?’”. In Luke 3:23, we read “...He was the son (as was thought) of Joseph ...”. [ NOAB] His lineage is traced, through Joseph, back to David and the patriarchs in the following verses.

Verse 35: “sword”: Ezekiel 14:17-18 speaks of a sword of discrimination between the godly and the ungodly; perhaps this is view, rather than a sword of punishment. Mary too has to choose for or against God’s revelation in Jesus, family ties not withstanding. [ NJBC]

Verse 36: “Anna”: Her name means grace, favour. Her pairing with Simeon, and of Elisabeth and Zechariah, illustrate an important theme in Luke: men and women stand side-by-side before God, equal in honour and grace, endowed with the same gifts, with the same responsibilities. See also Genesis 1:27 and Galatians 3:28. Other pairings are Zarephath and Naaman ( 4:25-28), the healing of the demoniac and Peter’s mother-in-law ( 4:31-39), and the centurion of Capernaum and the widow of Nain ( 7:1-17). [ NJBC]

Verse 36: “Asher”: See Joshua 19:24 for Asher’s portion in the division of the Promised Land into tribal territories. [ NOAB]

Verse 37: “to the age of eighty-four”: There is an alternative translation: for eighty-four years. This would make Anna over 100 years old at the time. Perhaps Luke is symbolically linking her to Judith, also a devout widow, who lived to the age of 105: see Judith 16:23.

Verse 38: “Jerusalem”, i.e. all the elect.

Verse 40: “became strong”: Like John the Baptist: see 1:80. [ NJBC]

Verse 40: “filled with wisdom”: i.e. God’s practical all-embracing plan of salvation: see Proverbs 8:22ff and Sirach 24.

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