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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany - February 7, 2010



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 Rev'd Alan T Perry, of the Anglican Diocese of Montreal. 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 6:1-8,(9-13)

In this passage, Isaiah gives the grounds for his authority as a prophet. The “year” is 742 BC. Assyria is expanding its borders. (“Uzziah” is called “Azariah” in 2 Kings 14:21.) The northern kingdom, Israel, is trying to coerce Judah into a military alliance against the Assyrian threat.

Isaiah has a vision of God enthroned, surrounded by courtiers, with “seraphs” (v. 2, griffin-like creatures), hovering above him, guarding him. One pair of wings cover “their faces” in the awesome presence of God, and a second cover their genitals (“feet” is a euphemism) as a sign of commitment to purity; the third is used to fulfil commissions from God. “Holy” (v. 3), repeated three times for emphasis, identifies God as all-holy, sinless, apart from earthly things. God is “Lord of hosts”, the warrior for Israel; he rules over “the whole earth”, all peoples. The setting appears to be the Temple, so the “pivots” (v. 4), which shake due to an earth tremor (a sign of God’s presence), are those on which the heavy Temple gates turned. “Smoke” is also a sign of divine presence, as is the cloud of glory in the desert (Exodus 40:34).

Isaiah feels totally inadequate in God’s presence: he feels “unclean” (v. 5), unfit to stand before God, yet he sees God. He also sees the “people” (either Judah or his disciples) as unworthy, but a “seraph” (v. 7), an agent of God, purifies him, rendering him fit and qualified to speak God’s word to his people. God confers with his advisors: “Whom shall I send?” (v. 8), and Isaiah volunteers to be prophet to Judah. In vv. 9-13, God accepts his offer, and tells him that most people will reject God’s message (they will not hear it and will fail to understand it), preferring traditional (corrupt) ways. But a small number (“its stump”, v. 13) will accept it. Most will be destroyed; even the remnant will endure difficult times. Within nine years, Assyria had invaded and made Judah a puppet state.


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 138

The psalmist expresses his gratitude for God’s steadfast, enduring love and his care for his faithful followers, for whom he will fulfill his purpose (v. 9). Vv. 1-2 picture the psalmist in the courtyard of the Temple (“toward”, v. 2) to offer thanks. For v. 2b, the Revised English Bible has: “for you have exalted your promises above the heavens”. V. 3 tells of the psalmist’s experience: when he called upon God, he not only answered but “made me bold and strong” (REB). Vv. 4-6 are a hymn of praise. The REB begins vv. 4 and 5 with “Let”: may “all the kings” praise God when they hear his words; may they sing of God’s ways, because (v. 6), exalted as he is, he cares for “the lowly” but takes note of the errors of the unjustly proud (“haughty”). Vv. 7-8 are an expression of faith, of trust and acknowledgement. In spite of his troubles, God preserves the psalmist, exercising divine power against his foes. (God’s power is his “right hand”, v. 7.)


1 Corinthians

Corinth was a major port which also commanded the land route from the Peloponnesus peninsula to central Greece. An industrial and ship-building centre, it was also a centre for the arts. Its inhabitants came from far and wide. In this epistle, Paul answers two letters he has received concerning lack of harmony and internal strife in the Corinthian church, a church he had founded. Paul wrote this letter from Ephesus (now in Turkey), probably in 57 AD.


1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Paul has heard that some at Corinth deny the physical resurrection of the body, claiming that only the spirit matters. Now he argues against this view. He says: I draw your attention to the “good news” that I proclaimed to you, which you “received” (v. 1), “in which ... you stand” and “through which ... you are being saved” (v. 2) – assuming that “you” embrace this “message” (and are doing it). I ask you to note the form of the words I used – unless (in not accepting the message fully) “you have come to believe” to no purpose. The most important tenets I handed on to you are: “Christ died for our sins” (v. 3), “he was buried” (v. 4, he really died), “was raised ...” and appeared to various persons and groups. His death, burial and rising again were “in accordance with the scriptures”, part of God’s plan. (Only the appearances to Peter, “Cephas”, v. 5, and to the “twelve” are in the Bible.) I, Paul says, was the last to see him: I, a monster (in appearance or as persecutor of the Church), the “least of the apostles” (v. 9). I, through “the grace of God” (v. 10), have achieved more than any other apostle. We all (“I or they”, v. 11) proclaim the same good news; this is how “you have come to believe”.


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 5:1-11

This is a story of commitment to Jesus – to his message and his destiny. Luke first mentions Simon (Peter) in 4:38; now Jesus calls him to be a disciple. In the preceding chapter, we read of hostility to Jesus; we also learn what preaching the good news of the kingdom of God involves. We can see the similarity of this passage to stories in Mark and John:

  • vv. 1-3 are like Mark 4:1-2;
  • vv. 4-9 are like the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus in John 21:1-11;
  • vv. 10-11 are like Mark 1:18-20.
  • Perhaps Luke has taken parts of two sources used by Mark and John and merged them into one story, but perhaps he is using a story not found in other gospels.

    The “lake of Gennesaret” (v. 1) is the Sea of Galilee. Gennesaret is the plain on its southwestern shore. The “word of God” in Luke and Acts is the Christian message. Are Peter and Jesus in one boat and “James and John” (v. 10) in the other, or they are all in the same boat? The question probably arises because Luke has merged two stories. Reading on through the gospel, we come to realize that Luke has a great respect and appreciation for Peter - called “Peter” for the first time in v. 8, but not again until 6:14, when Jesus chooses twelve of his disciples. In v. 8, Peter responds to Jesus’ action with personal self-judgement – because he recognizes in Jesus more-than-human power. In v. 5, in calling him “Master” (equivalent to teacher), Peter is willing to obey Jesus’ command out of duty; then in v. 8 he calls him “Lord”, showing his belief. V. 10 is a milestone (“from now on”). The Greek verb zogron (“catching”) was commonly used of teachers: they caught their students and thereby brought them new life. Peter, James and John make a total commitment (“left everything”, v. 11).

    © 1996-2016 Chris Haslam



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