Comments

Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: Fifth Sunday after Epiphany - February 7, 2010



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,(9-13)

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 (“... I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, with all the host of heaven standing beside him to the right and to the left of him ...”) 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: “... you shall flee by the valley of the Lord's mountain, for the valley between the mountains shall reach to Azal; and you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of King Uzziah of Judah. Then the LORDmy God will come, and all the holy ones with him”.

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: “He [Yahweh] said to me: O mortal, stand up on your feet, and I will speak with you. And when he spoke to me, a spirit entered into me and set me on my feet; and I heard him speaking to me ...”.

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 (Jesus explains to the disciples why he speaks to the crowd in parables). 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 (see 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 138

Verse 1: “gods”: perhaps refers to the heavenly court – God’s agents – or says that God is incomparable to other gods. The Hebrew word is elohim. [JBC]

Comments: steadfast, enduring love: “love and faithfulness”, v. 2 and “love endures ...”, v. 8.

Verse 3: A scholar tells me that Hebrew poetry is extremely difficult, so the NRSV and REB being so different is not surprising.

Verse 4: “All the kings ...”: For the universalism of God, see also 22:28-30 (“... dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations ...”) and

Verse 7: NJBC translates this verse: “How exalted is Yahweh – he can see the depths (below)! He perceives the heights afar (below him)!”.

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Comments: Paul has heard ...: Some at Corinth denied the resurrection of the body either on the grounds of Greek (Platonic) philosophy (that only the immortal soul survives death, that all that matters is the spirit, and that the body hinders the soul’s activity) or that Christians are already raised. See also 4:8 and 2 Timothy 2:17b-18. The basis for our resurrection, Paul says, is Christ’s example: he physically rose from death. [NOAB] There is no room for speculation, because we have Christ as a concrete example.

Verse 1: “Now I would remind you”: NJBC says that this is not necessarily in response to a question from Corinth. Paul usually begins “Now concerning ...” when he is replying to a question. Paul reminds the Christians at Corinth of something they ought never to have forgotten. [Blk1Cor]

Verses 3-9: These verses appear to be a very early statement of faith, or creed, to which Paul added v. 6b: “though some have died”. “In accordance with the scriptures” may mean that Paul is saying that Christ fulfills, completes, salvation history, already partially presented in the Old Testament, or he may be thinking of particular passages. Some of these passages are presented below.

Verse 3: “I handed on to you ... what I ... had received”: In 11:23-27, Paul writes: “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread ...” . [NOAB]

Verse 3: “Christ died for our sins”: This may refer to Isaiah 53:5: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.” [NOAB] The following depend on Isaiah 53: Luke 20:37; Acts 8:32-35; 1 Peter 2:22-25.

Verse 4: “scriptures”: A reference to Hosea 6:2 (“After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him”), and perhaps to Psalm 16:8-11, including “My body rests also secure, for you do not give me up to Sheol”. [NOAB]

Verse 4: “raised”:. Later Jewish tradition (i.e. after 200 AD) considered the third day to be the day of salvation: see Genesis Rabba 5b on Genesis 22:4-5, in Midrash Rabba. [NJBC] Acts 2:25-28; 13:34-35 depend on this passage.

Verse 4: “raised”: Resurrection is no longer, as in the Old Testament, just a possible theory regarding survival after death. In Ezekiel 37 (the vision of the dry bones), the prophet expresses his hope that Israel will survive its national extinction in 587 BC. Also, in Isaiah 53:10-12, hope that the Servant of Yahweh will triumph over death seems to be expressed, but note that the unique character and mission of the Servant do not permit extension of this hope (if indeed it is expressed) to anyone apart from the Servant himself. The first clear hope of resurrection occurs in Daniel 12:2, written in the Maccabean period (about 170 BC). Isaiah 26:19, a verse in a relatively late part of the book, may express such a hope, but may be simply an expression of faith in Israel’s survival.

The notion of an eschatological new life in a new world seems to be a distinctively Israelite one, without influence from elsewhere in the Near East. For example, Egyptian thinking includes a return to existence in this world. In Israelite thinking, even the ungodly resist extinction: such is the dignity of the human person.

We do find another form of belief in survival in the book of Wisdom. (Wisdom was probably written in Alexandria, under Hellenic influence, in the first century BC.) The writer may have accepted the Greek idea of the immortality of the soul; however this notion does not take deep root in the thought of Judaism. It is possible that a few passages in the New Testament consider such immortality.

Verses 5-7: Those whom Paul mentions as appearing would be legally acceptable witnesses in a Jewish court; (he does not mention female witnesses). So it may be that those who denied physical resurrection were Jewish; they may have been influenced by Philo.

Verse 5: Luke 24:34 suggests that Jesus appeared to Peter, but does not clearly state it. Jesus appeared to the “twelve” less Judas Iscariot: see Matthew 28:16ff. See also: Mark 16:7 and Luke 24:34. This is the only place where Paul mentions “the twelve”, so he is probably quoting a formula, a body of words, he did not himself compose. [Blk1Cor]

Verse 6: No appearance to “five hundred” is to be found in canonical or non-canonical writings.

Verse 6: “most of whom are still alive”: So eyewitnesses are available for questioning. [NJBC]

Verse 7: “James”: An appearance to James, the Lord’s brother, is mentioned in the non-canonical Gospel of the Hebrews. [Blk1Cor] The James to whom Paul refers is probably the Lord’s brother because he visited him on a visit to Jerusalem (see Galatians 1:19). If so, Paul progresses from appearances to the disciples of Jesus, to James (never a disciple of Jesus, but his brother), to himself (who never met Jesus.) For James, see also Mark 6:3; Matthew 13:55; Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18.

Verse 7: We do not know who “all the apostles” are. Paul has already mentioned “the twelve”, and he is unlikely to have repeated himself. [JBC]

Verse 8: “one untimely born”: Two other interpretations are possible:

  • The separation in time between his own experience of Christ and that of the other apostles, and
  • The Greek word literally means a miscarried fetus, so it had a secondary meaning: an object of horror and disgust. Here it may be a term of contempt used by Paul’s opponents who denied his apostleship: see 1 Corinthians 9:1-18. In 2 Corinthians 10:10, Paul quotes his detractors as saying “‘his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible’”. [Blk1Cor]

For other mentions of Paul’s encounter with the risen Christ, see 9:1 (“Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?”); Galatians 1:15-16 (“... when God ... was pleased to reveal his Son to me”) and Acts 9:3-6 (his conversion). [NOAB] NJBC offers as if to an abortion. This may be a term of abuse used by Paul’s opponents, who mocked his physical appearance (see 2 Corinthians 10:10) and denied his apostleship.

Verses 9-10: The existence of the Corinthian church is proof of Paul’s apostleship. [NJBC]

Verse 9: “I am the least of the apostles”: See also Ephesians 3:8 (“Although I am the very least of all the saints ...”) and 1 Timothy 1:15 (“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the foremost”). [Blk1Cor]

Luke 5:1-11

For possible parallels, see Comments. Matthew 4:18-22 is also a possible partial parallel. [CAB]

Verse 1: “word of God”: This phrase occurs 14 times in Acts (e.g. 4:31; 16:32). There it generally means the Christian message. [NJBC]

Verse 4: “Put out ... catch”: The verbs are all in the plural, as they are in vv. 5-9. [NJBC]

Verse 8: “Peter”: Luke has a great respect for him. Of the synoptic gospels, only Luke has Jesus’ prayer for Peter (see 22:31-32) and Jesus’ appearance to Peter alone (see 24:34). Luke has not recorded the negative remarks about Peter found in Mark 8:32-33 (“Peter took him [Jesus] aside and began to rebuke him ... he rebuked Peter”) and Mark 14:37. Luke describes Peter’s role in founding the church in Acts.

Verse 10: “catching people”: God’s word is the bait.

Verse 11: For totality in Luke, see also 5:28 (“left everything”); 12:33 (“Sell your possessions”); 14:33; 18:18-23. [NJBC]

It is noteworthy that Luke has already told us of “Simon” in 4:38, clearly following Mark. According to Mark, he was already a disciple. But v. 10 seems to be Peter’s calling. Further, he is called “Simon Peter” in v. 8, but elsewhere in this gospel the name Peter is not used until it is bestowed by Jesus (in 6:14). Also (as noted in Comments), Luke seems to have mingled two traditions: Galilean (Mark 1:16-20) and Jerusalem (John 21:1-14). A further suggestion of this is that:

  • early in the passage, as far as “Put out into the deep water”, the impression is that Jesus and Simon are the only two in the boat, and that there are no nets in it (see v. 2), but
  • from this point on, plural verbs are used of other people than, and excluding, Jesus in the boat. and the nets are let down (although the plural is not used consistently).

Again, the last words of v. 10 and the first of v. 11 suggest that one tradition related an individual call to Simon, while the other was of the call to the first four disciples together. [BlkLk]

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