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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: Fifth Sunday in Lent - March 17, 2013



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 43:16-21

Verses 14-15: Note the apposition of “Redeemer” and “Holy One”. Second Isaiah refers to God as “Redeemer” more often than do other Old Testament writers. God redeems Israel not for its merits but because of his covenant relationship with Israel. For God as “Redeemer”, see also 54:5; 59:20; Jeremiah 50:34. For God as “Holy One”, see also 40:25; 41:14; 47:4; 48:17. [NOAB] [NJBC] NJBC considers these verses to be a fragment of a prophetic passage.

Verses 15-17: In the Hebrew original, a series of participles answers the question: who is Yahweh? [NJBC]

Verse 15: “King”: For God as Israel’s king, see 1 Samuel 8:4-9 (God speaks to Samuel at Ramah). [NOAB]

Verses 16-18: For the Israelites’ passage through the Reed (Red) Sea, see Exodus 14-15. The words translated Red Sea are yam suph, meaning literally “Sea of Reeds”, but Hebrew did not distinguish between a sea and a lake. For the new and greater Exodus in Second Isaiah, see also 41:17-20 and 42:16. [NOAB]

Verse 19: “a way in the wilderness”: Isaiah 40:3 says “A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God’”. [NOAB]

Verse 20: “ostriches”: The Hebrew word is bath-ya’ana. One scholar translates the word as eagle owl, the largest of owls. The REB translates it as desert-owl. This does not seem to be the same as the ostrich whose strange behaviour is (slightly inaccurately) described in Job 39:13-18: the Hebrew word is different there.

Verse 20: “give water in the wilderness”: See Exodus 17:1-7 (water from the rock at Rephidim). [NOAB]

Verses 23-24: “burnt offerings ... sacrifices”: The Israelites could not make sacrifices during the exile. [NJBC]

Verse 24: “sweet cane”: See Exodus 30:23 (where the cane is to be a constituent of an anointing oil) and Jeremiah 6:20: “Of what use to me is frankincense that comes from Sheba, or sweet cane from a distant land? Your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor are your sacrifices pleasing to me”. [NOAB]

Verses 25-28: For the imagery of the lawcourt, see also Isaiah 41:1. [NOAB] NJBC considers that God’s trial speech against Israel begins at v. 22.

Verse 27: “Your first ancestor”: i.e. Jacob. See Genesis 27; Jeremiah 9:3; Hosea 12:2-4: “The Lord has an indictment against Judah, and will punish Jacob according to his ways, and repay him according to his deeds. In the womb he tried to supplant his brother, and in his manhood he strove with God. He strove with the angel and prevailed, he wept and sought his favour; he met him at Bethel, and there he spoke with him.” [NOAB]

Verse 27: “your interpreters”: The story of one false interpreter (prophet) is found in 1 Kings 13:11-32. [NOAB] NJBC offers “your ancestors” and links this to Micah 3:5-12 and Isaiah 28:7.

Psalm 126

See also Psalm 44.

Superscription: “Song of Ascents”: This superscription appears above Psalms 120-134. Scholars think that it indicates that these psalms were used by groups coming to the Temple for major feasts. [Boadt]

Verse 1: “the fortunes of Zion”: 14:7 wishes: “O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion! When the LORDrestores the fortunes of his people, Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad”. See also 53:6 and 85:1. [NJBC]

Philippians 3:4b-14

Verse 1: Scholars think that Philippians is actually made up of several letters. A piece of evidence for this is the abrupt change in tone and content: one letter appears to end with v. 1a, and another to begin with v. 1b. This letter, which was probably written later, extends to 4:1b. [NJBC]

Verse 1: “the same things”: i.e. what Paul has written about in previous chapters (i.e. in previous letters) which have caused disharmony in the community. [NOAB]

Verse 2: “dogs”: Paul uses strong language in speaking of the Judaizers. In Jewish circles, this term was reserved for Gentiles, the unclean, and outsiders. [NJBC] Paul’s attitude towards those who considered circumcision a requirement for being a Christian is clear: he writes in Galatians 5:12: “I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!”. It is likely that these people were Jewish Christians. The effect of their activities was to divide the community, by suggesting that those who were circumcised were elite.

Verse 2: “the evil workers”: Evidently those referred to in 1:15 (“Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill”), 1:17 (“the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but intending to increase my suffering in my imprisonment”) and 2:21 (“All of them are seeking their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ”). [CAB]

Verse 2: “those who mutilate the flesh”: As the NRSV footnote says, the Greek means literally the mutilation. Paul contrasts the mutilation with the circumcision. He may be thinking of what the prophets of Baal did to themselves in 1 Kings 18:28, where the prophets of Baal “cut themselves with swords and lances until the blood gushed out over them”. [NJBC] The reference to those who preach the necessity of circumcision is bitter and ironical. [NOAB] The language is the same as in Galatians 5:12. [CAB]

Verse 3: “the circumcision”: In Romans 2:28-29, Paul says: “real circumcision is a matter of the heart”. Paul thinks of the Old Testament: Jeremiah 4:4 (“Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, remove the foreskin of your hearts”); 31:31 (“I will make a new covenant ...”); Deuteronomy 10:16 (“circumcise the foreskin of your heart”); 30:6; Leviticus 26:41; Ezekiel 44:7. The idea is also found in 1QS (Qumran Rule of the Community) 5:5, 26. Only inward circumcision is valid for the eschatological era. Circumcision of the heart is a new moral life. See also Galatians 6:14-15 and Colossians 2:11-13. [NOAB]

1QS 5:4-5 says “... No one should walk in the stubbornness of his heart and his eyes and the musings of his inclination. Instead he should circumcise in the Community the foreskin of his tendency and of his stiff neck in order to lay a foundation of truth for Israel, for the Community of the eternal covenant”.

Verse 3: “the flesh”: i.e. outward states or rites.

Verses 5-6: In Galatians 1:14, Paul tells us about himself: “I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors”. [CAB]

Verse 5: “on the eighth day”: Genesis 17:12 and Leviticus 12:3 state that a boy must be circumcised eight days after birth. [JBC]

Verse 5: “Benjamin”: This tribe was elite because, of all the brothers, only Benjamin was born in the Promised Land. Also, Saul, Israel’s first king, was from the tribe of Benjamin. [JBC]

Verse 5: “a Hebrew born of Hebrews”: There are three possible interpretations:

  • NOAB suggests: though living in Tarsus, a Greek city, Paul’s family spoke Aramaic, the language of Palestine. Acts 21:40 tells us that “he addressed them in the Hebrew language”, i.e. Aramaic. See also Acts 22:2. [NOAB]
  • Paul is speaking of his lineage, i.e. he is a Hebrew of Hebrew parents, rather than a convert or a son of a convert
  • He is using a Semitic superlative, meaning roughly the ultimate (or superlative) Hebrew. (Recall the Broadway play Fiddler on the Roof and the song Wonder of Wonders, Miracle of Miracles, and note “king of kings” in Ezra 7:12; Ezekiel 26:7; Daniel 2:37; 1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 17:14; 19:16.) While this interpretation is the most likely, one cannot be completely certain because the Greek translated “born of”, ex, does not occur in Revelation 17:14. [Alan Perry]

Verse 5: “Pharisee”: Pharisees closely observed the Law and applied it to everyday life. [NJBC]

Verse 6: “persecutor”: The ultimate in zeal! See also Acts 8:3; 9:1-2 (Paul’s conversion); 22:4-5; 26:9-11; 1 Corinthians 15:9; Galatians 1:13. [NOAB]

Verses 7-8: Paul puts it in book-keeping terms. [NJBC]

Verse 8: “knowing Christ”: Such knowledge and personal experience transforms a person into the likeness of the one who is known. In 2 Corinthians 3:18, Paul writes: “... all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit”. [NJBC]

Verse 8: “suffered the loss of all things”: See also Matthew 13:44-46 (the parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price). [NJBC]

Verse 8: “rubbish”: The Greek word can mean excrement. It is something disposed of irrevocably. [NJBC]

Verse 9: See also Romans 3:21-31: “But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe ...”. [CAB]

Verse 9: “be found in him”: i.e. to be identified with Christ at the eschatological judgement. [NJBC]

Verse 9: “in Christ”: Per the NRSV footnote, another rendering is of Christ, meaning either Christ’s faithful obedience until death (see Romans 5:18-21 and Philippians 2:6-8) or the entire ministry of Jesus. [NOAB]

Verse 9: “the righteousness from God based on faith”: To Paul, in living by the Law one attempts to achieve one’s own righteousness: in Romans 10:3, he says of Jews: “being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they have not submitted to God's righteousness”. True righteousness is a gift received in faith: in Genesis 15:6, we read that Abraham “believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness’. [CAB]

Verses 10-11: To know Christ as risen and living is to have “power”: to suffer like him and to possess the sure hope of rising and living with him. [NOAB]

Verse 10: “to know Christ”: i.e. to experience him as life-giving Spirit. See 1 Corinthians 15:45; 2 Corinthians 3:17. [NJBC]

Verse 10: “by becoming like him in his death ...”: In Romans 6:3-5, Paul asks: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his”. [CAB]

Verse 12: Though we have God’s gift, we still need to work towards true godliness. [NOAB]

Verse 12a: Perhaps Paul’s adversaries claimed that perfection can be achieved in this life.

Verse 14: “the prize”: Paul thinks of himself as being like an athlete in a Greek footrace. The winner received a victor’s crown at the finishing post. [NOAB]

Verse 14: “the heavenly call”: It is to ascend and join with Christ in eternal life. This is the moment of perfection. [NJBC]

John 12:1-8

The parallels are Mark 14:3-9 and Matthew 26:6-13. Luke records a similar event in 7:36-50. [JBC]

In full knowledge of a plot against his life (11:53, 57), Jesus returns to the vicinity of Jerusalem.

Verse 1: “Six days before the Passover”: BlkJn argues that the “dinner” (supper, the main meal of the day) was on Sunday evening. Mark tells us that this meal took place two days before the Passover, i.e. after Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Luke places it (or a similar event) in a Pharisee’s house, presumably in Galilee, long before the Passion.

Verse 1: “Bethany”: 11:18 tells us that “... Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away”. [NOAB]

Verse 1: “the home of Lazarus”: “Home” is not in the Greek. BlkJn offers where was Lazarus. The mention of “Martha” in v. 2 suggests that the dinner was in her house. The reference to “Lazarus” in v. 2 as merely one of the party is consonant with this but contrasts with NRSV’s translation “the home of Lazarus”. Mark tells us that the meal was “in the house of Simon the leper”; Luke also says that the host’s name was Simon.

Verses 2-3: “Martha ... Mary”: The contrast between Martha the worker and Mary the thinker is presented in Luke 10:38-42: “... Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks ...”. Jesus considers both to be worthy. [BlkJn]

Verse 3: Comparison of the vocabulary in the three gospels is interesting:

  • Mark, Luke and John have the same Greek word for “perfume” and “ointment”
  • While Mark and Luke mention “an alabaster jar”, John says “a pound”
  • Mark and John have the same words for “nard”; Luke does not name the ingredient of the ointment
  • Both Mark and John say that the ointment is “costly” [BlkJn]

Verses 7-8: Mark 14:6-8 is fuller and much clearer in meaning: “‘Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial’”. So if John borrowed from Mark, he has not only abbreviated his source, but also obscured the meaning. [BlkJn]

Verse 8: “You always have the poor with you”: A paraphrase of Deuteronomy 15:11: “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbour in your land’”. [JBC]

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