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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

The Baptism of the Lord - January 13, 2013



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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Isaiah

This book can be divided into two (and possibly three) parts. Chapters 1 to 39 were written before the exile, from about 740 BC to about 700 BC. These were difficult times for the southern kingdom, Judah: a disastrous war was fought with Syria; the Assyrians conquered Israel, the northern kingdom, in 723 BC, and threatened Judah. Isaiah saw the cause of these events as social injustice, which he condemned, and against which he fought valiantly. Chapters 40 to 66 were written during and after the Exile in Babylon. They are filled with a message of trust and confident hope that God will soon end the Exile. Some scholars consider that Chapters 56 to 66 form a third part of the book, written after the return to the Promised Land. These chapters speak of hope and despair; they berate the people for their sin, for worshipping other gods. Like Second Isaiah, this part speaks of the hope that God will soon restore Jerusalem to its former glory and make a new home for all peoples.


Isaiah 43:1-7

Judah has complained that God has deserted them, his people, in the destruction of Jerusalem and in their exile. God has told them, “my servant” (42:19), that they are “blind” and “deaf” to his will and his way. They see but do not observe; their “ears are open” (42:20) but they do not hear. They are a devastated people, a “prey with no one to rescue [them]” (42:22) God asks, through the prophet, “Who among you ... will attend and listen for the time to come?” (42:23).

Now God tells them (“Jacob”, 43:1), whom he has created, not to fear for the future: he has and will rescue, save, them. In all times, the Israelites are his, his people (“called you by name”). Even when in grave danger (“waters ... rivers ... fire”, v. 2), “I will be with you”. (Thunderstorms were considered evil, and the “waters”, the seas, to be inhabited by demonic monsters.) Because the Israelites are so “precious in my sight” (v. 4), God will “exchange” them for other nations: Israel will be freed (at least spiritually) while Egypt, Ethiopia and Seba (in Yemen) will become Persian vassal states. Vv. 5-6 prophesy that Jews, God’s people, will gather from the whole known world. So completely will God’s children share divine life that they will be addressed by God’s name (“called by my name”, v. 7). When God’s people observe and listen, they will contribute to his “glory”. While here God calls his family “sons” (v. 6) and “daughters” (those to whom he imparts life), it is only after Jesus comes that we are told to respond with “Abba” and “Father” (Luke 11:2 and Romans 8:15).


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 29

This psalm is probably based on one to the Canaanite god Baal, the storm God, who brings the annual thunder-storm, the source of fertility for the land. In Israelite hands it expresses God’s supremacy and universal rule. In vv. 1-2, all other gods are invited to acknowledge the Lord’s supremacy and the glory due to him. (Israel was not yet strictly monotheistic.)

Vv. 3-9 give us a picture of the storm. The “voice of the Lord” (vv. 3, 4, 5, 7-9) is thunder (repetitious claps). The storm is first seen approaching over the Mediterranean (v. 3); it sweeps in to the land, breaking the tall “cedars” (v. 5), as it advances across southern Lebanon. It vents its power on Mount “Lebanon” (v. 6) and then on Mount “Sirion”; it proceeds on into “the wilderness” (v. 8, the Arabian Desert). (“Flames of fire”, v. 7, is lightning.) “Kadesh” (v. 8) is probably Kedar, part of the desert. The Word of God is indeed mighty. In v. 9, “all” the gods do acknowledge God’s supremacy; they cry Glory be to the Lord! God rules over all from his throne (v. 10). May the Lord strengthen Israel and give it peace.


Acts

This book is the sequel to the gospel according to Luke. Beginning with Jesus' ascension, Luke tells the story of the beginnings of the church. By no means a comprehensive history, it does however describe the spread of the church from Jerusalem to all of Palestine, and as far as Greece. The episodes he reports show how Christianity arose out of Judaism. He shows us something of the struggles the church underwent in accepting Gentiles as members. The Holy Spirit guides and strengthens the church as it spreads through much of the Roman Empire.


Acts 8:14-17

Philip was one of the seven chosen by the Church to ensure that widows received basic rations: see 6:1-6. When persecution has started in Jerusalem, he has travelled to Samaria to preach the good news there: the first known evangelism outside Jewish areas. The crowds there “listened eagerly” (v. 6) to what Philip told them, “hearing and seeing the signs that he did”. Even Simon the well-known magician told them that Philip spoke and acted through God’s power. Those who believed, including Simon, were baptised (vv. 12-13).

Now the apostles send Peter and John to Samaria. Usually in Acts, converts receive the Holy Spirit at baptism (see 2:38 and 19:5-6) or before it (see 10:44), but here they receive it some time after being baptised, and only when the two apostles, representatives of the mother church, come. In vv. 18-24, Simon gets it wrong: he offers the apostles money if they will give him the power to impart the Spirit to people. Peter reprimands him: the Holy Spirit is “God’s gift” (v. 20); it cannot be bought.


Symbol of St Luke

Luke

Three gospels in the New Testament offer similar portraits of the life of Jesus; Luke is the third of them. Its author, traditionally Luke the physician who accompanied Paul on some of his missionary journeys, draws on three sources: Mark (via Matthew), a collection of sayings (known as Q for Quelle, German for source) and his own source. It is a gospel that emphasizes God's love for the poor, the disadvantaged, minorities, outcasts, sinners and lepers. Women play a more prominent part than in the other gospels. Luke never uses Semitic words; this is one argument for thinking that he wrote primarily for Gentiles.


Luke 3:15-17,21-22

People flock to John the Baptist, responding to his urging to start new, ethical lives – as a way of preparing for Jesus (vv. 3-6). John has condemned those who seek his baptism with no intention of reforming their ways (v. 7). He has warned that being Jewish is no assurance of being part of the renewed Israel. Failure to respond to his call to repentance can lead to condemnation at the end of time.

V. 15a, in the Revised English Bible, says: “The people were all agog, wondering about John ...” People expected a “Messiah”, an agent of God who would restore Israel and the triumph of God’s power and authority. John tells them that “one who is ... coming” (v. 16) is so great that he is unworthy even to “untie ... his sandals”, a task done by slaves. Baptism purifies, removes sin. The agents the “one” will use are vastly superior to the water John uses. Jesus is also more “powerful”, mightier, as leader of the final struggle against evil. (At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit comes with tongues of fire.) V. 17 uses the metaphor of harvesting to tell of Christ’s action as judge at the end of time. The wheat was tossed in the air with a “winnowing fork”: the grain fell to the ground but the chaff was carried by the wind to the edge of the “threshing floor”. God will “gather” the godly but will condemn the ungodly (to burn in hell).

Jesus is baptised (v. 21) to show his solidarity with John’s proclamation of part of God’s plan for saving all who come to him. Jesus begins and ends (22:46) his ministry with a prayer. In vv. 21c-22, God shows himself to believers: an event beyond human language. The Holy Spirit, always with Jesus, is seen descending on Jesus, marking a milestone in Jesus’ career. People really see the event (“in bodily form”). The Holy Spirit seems “like a dove” – a bird symbolizing the hopes of humans for love, life and union with God – hopes now realized in Jesus. The voice calls on Jesus as God’s “Son” and servant (“well pleased”, v. 22). Jesus is God’s “Beloved”, the one whom he chooses as his agent.

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