Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: Sixth Sunday after Pentecost - June 26, 2016

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.

2 Kings 2:1-2,6-14

In 1 Kings 19:19-21, Elisha becomes Elijah’s disciple. [ CAB]

Verses 1-25: As always, the power and greatness of Elijah are expressed by the ancient writer in terms of legend and miracle. [ NOAB]

Verse 1: “Gilgal”: Several Israelite cities bore this name; most likely this is the one north (rather than south-east) of Bethel. [ NJBC]

Verse 3: “company of prophets”: See also 2 Kings 9: “Then the prophet Elisha called a member of the company of prophets ...”.

Verse 11: “of fire”: This continues the symbol of fire as being associated of Elijah. In 1 Kings 18:38, we read of his (God’s) victory over the prophets of Baal: “Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench”. In 2 Kings 1:9-16, when messengers from King Azariah ask that Elijah attend to the injured king, Elijah tells “the captain of fifty”: “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty”. [ NOAB]

Verse 12: “Father ... horsemen!”: Perhaps Elisha means that Elijah is more important and more powerful than “chariots” and “horsemen”. In 13:14, when Elisha is about to die, he receives the same compliment. “Father” as the title of a man of religion is a very old usage: see also Judges 17:10 (where Micah invites a Levite to “be to me a father and a priest”). [ NOAB] The words are expressive of Elijah’s role as Israel’s guide and source of security. [ NJBC]

Verses 13-14: 1 Kings 19:19, from a different source, says “Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him”. [ NOAB]

Verse 15: Elisha is acknowledged as leader by “the company of prophets”. [ NOAB]

Verses 16-18: These verses confirm that Elisha did indeed see what happened to Elijah. [ NJBC]

Verses 19-25: Two short miracle stories demonstrate both the new man of God’s control over various natural phenomena and the diverse responses his appearance evokes. [ NJBC]

Verses 19-22: The God-given power of Elisha is attested by a miracle. Today, the finest spring in Jericho is sometimes called Elisha’s Fountain. [ NOAB]

Verse 20: “new”: An object that will serve as a carrier of divine power must not have been put to profane purposes previously. [ NJBC]

Verses 23-25: Not all ancient writers, to say nothing of modern ones, would have told a story like this to inculcate respect for a prophet. On “forty-two” as an ill omen, see also 10:14 (King Jehu of Israel has forty-two members of the Judean royal family slaughtered); Revelation 11:2 (foreigners “will trample over the holy city for forty-two months”); Revelation 13:5 (the haughty and blasphemous beast “was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months”). [ NOAB]

Verse 25: “Mount Carmel ... Samaria”: These two sites appear as the prophet’s places of residence throughout the Elisha cycle. 4:25 speaks of “the man of God at Mount Carmel” and 5:3 of “the prophet who is in Samaria”. [ NJBC] “Samaria” was the capital city of the northern kingdom. [ CAB]

Later writers speak of Elijah’s return: see Malachi 4:5-6; Mark 6:15 (the missionary travels of the twelve are so successful that some think Elijah has returned); Mark 8:28 (as Jesus travels with the disciples “to the villages of Caesarea Philippi”, his disciples tell him that some think he is Elijah); Luke 9:30, 33 (the Transfiguration, where one of the two people talking with Jesus is Elijah); John 1:21 (priests and Levites ask John the Baptizer: “‘Are you Elijah?’”); John 1:25.

Elijah was a zealot of the Lord fighting against idolatry and injustice, while Elisha was a wonder worker who saved Israel during the Aramean crisis. Elijah lived in caves; Elisha lived in cities.

Psalm 77:1-2,11-20

Verses 3,9,15: “Selah” : This is probably a liturgical direction, added to the original text of the psalm. It may mean lift up, either to indicate the lifting up of the voices of the singers in a doxology, or to call for lifted-up instrumental music in an interlude in the singing. [ NOAB]

Selah is one of the greatest puzzles of the Old Testament. Its meaning seems to be connected with rising or lifting. But it is not clear whether the congregation rises or lifts up its hands, head, or eyes, or whether the music rises at the indicated points. The word probably indicates that the singing should stop to allow the congregation an interlude for presenting its homage to God by some gesture or act of worship. [ ICCPs]

Selah is also found 74 times in 39 psalms in the book of Psalms and three times in Habakkuk 3 (part of a psalm preserved there).

Verses 8-9: In Exodus 34:6-7, God passes before Moses and proclaims: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love ...” [ NJBC]

Verse 10: “right hand”: Yahweh no longer seems to be interested in saving the psalmist (or the community). This contrasts with Exodus 15:6 (part of the Song of Moses, sung after crossing the Reed Sea) which says: “Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power – your right hand, O Lord , shattered the enemy.” [ NJBC]

Verse 15: “With your strong arm ...”: Exodus 15:13 says: “In your steadfast love you led the people whom you redeemed; you guided them by your strength to your holy abode”. [ NJBC]

Verse 16: “waters”: The Reed (Red) Sea. [ JBC]

Verse 19: Habakkuk 3:15 says: “You trampled the sea with your horses, churning the mighty waters”. [ CAB]

Verse 19: “yet your footprints were unseen”: i.e. without leaving a trace. [ JBC]

Galatians 5:1,13-25

Comments: Paul wrote this letter to counter certain evangelists in Galatia who expected Christians to adopt some (but not all) practices of Judaism : See v. 3. They insist on circumcision but apparently not all requirements of Mosaic law.

Verses 2-12: To seek justification by legal works is futile; Christ and the Mosaic law of circumcision are mutually exclusive. Faith alone justifies, but the faith that justifies is not alone – it produces good works “through love” (v. 6). [ NOAB]

Verse 2: “Christ will be of no benefit to you”: NJBC translates the Greek as Christ can do nothing for you. See also 2:21.

Verse 3: See also Romans 2:25 (“Circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law; but if you break the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision”) and James 2:10 (“For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it”). [ CAB]

Verse 4: Paul sees that either one obeys Mosaic law or one lives by the promise of Christ, but not both. [ CAB] As NJBC puts it: the Galatians must choose one or the other: Christ and freedom or the Law and slavery.

Verse 5: For Paul, God always remains the promising God, whose future judgement will come. See also v. 18 and Romans 2:5-16 (where he says that of those who take on God’s role of judging the godliness of others “by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God's righteous judgment will be revealed”). [ CAB]

Verse 6: The ethical results of the gospel is one’s faith expressing itself in loving deeds. If the Greek translated as “working” is rendered as “made effective” (per NRSV footnote), the sense may be coming to effective expression in love or made effective by God’s love. [ NOAB] Paul writes in 6:15: “For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!”. See also 1 Corinthians 7:19 and Romans 14:13-21 (“Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another ...”). [ CAB]

Verse 6: “circumcision”: Literally the foreskin. [ NJBC]

Verse 6: “faith working through love”: This is the example set by Christ. In 2:20, Paul says: “the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me”. See also Romans 5:5-8. [ NJBC]

Verse 7: “You were running well”: In 2:2, Paul tells us that he visited Jerusalem and conferred with the leaders of the Church there about his missionary efforts: “ in order to make sure that I was not running, or had not run, in vain”. He also uses the simile of Christian effort being like runners in a race, in 1 Corinthians 9:24-26. [ NJBC]

Verse 9: “A little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough”: A proverb. The Judaizing influence can spread rapidly and widely. [ NJBC] Paul also quotes this proverb in 1 Corinthians 5:6; Jesus uses it in Matthew 16:1 (and in the parallel, Luke 12:1) and Matthew 13:33 (and in the parallel, Luke 13:20-21). [ CAB]

Verse 11: “if I am still preaching circumcision”: There are four possible interpretations:

  • Paul might have preached circumcision at one time if he was once a missionary for Judaism
  • A charge based on the case of Timothy reported in Acts 16:1-3: Timothy’s mother was Jewish and his father Gentile, thus Timothy was Jewish; Paul “had him circumcised because of the Jews who were in those places”. [ NOAB]
  • Evidently Paul’s opponents were saying that he still would uphold the command for circumcision [ CAB]
  • The Judaizers may have claimed that Paul himself admitted the validity of circumcision, when it suited his purposes: in 1 Corinthians 9:20 he says “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law ... so that I might win those under the law”. He answers: if I were still of that mind I would not be opposed by the Judaizers. In 2:3 he points out that he did not demand that Titus, a Gentile, be circumcised. [ NJBC] I prefer this interpretation.

Verse 11: “the offense of the cross”: CAB and NJBC translate the Greek as stumbling block of the cross. See also 1 Corinthians 1:22-23 (where the NRSV translates the Greek as stumbling block)

Verse 12: A bitterly satirical wish. In Philippians 3:2, Paul says: “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh!”. [ NOAB]

Verse 12: “castrate”: In Galatia, castration was ritually practised in the Attis and Cybele cults. [ CAB]

Verses 13-26: Though free from the Law, Christians must not abuse their liberty. Paul’s emphasis on ethical responsibility may be intended to answer those concerned about libertine opponents, though his letters regularly include moral imperatives. For example, see Romans 12:1-8. [ NOAB]

Verse 13: Freedom from the cross must not be understood as rank libertinism. [ CAB]

Verse 13: “opportunity”: NJBC offers incentive.

Verse 13: “slaves”: Paul’s choice of this word is interesting. He seems to be saying that each Christian is to be totally devoted to every other. See v. 6 and Matthew 20:26 (“... whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant”). [ NOAB].

Verse 14: The quotation is Leviticus 19:18. [ CAB] In Leviticus, “neighbour” is one’s fellow Israelite but here it is anyone at all: in Romans 10:12, Paul says “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek”. [ NJBC]

Verse 14: “the whole law is summed up”: Jesus’ summary is in Matthew 7:12. See also Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 22:34-40 (and the parallels: Mark 12:28-34 and Luke 10:25-28). [ CAB]

Verse 16: “Spirit ... flesh”: In 3:3, Paul asks: “Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?”. See also Romans 8:5-11. To “live by the Spirit” is to belong to the new community of faith where God dwells as Spirit. [ NOAB] Christians no longer live according to worldly standards (“the flesh”) but by God’s standards (“the Spirit”). See also vv. 5, 18 and Romans 8:1-8. [ CAB] “Flesh” is the symbol of all human opposition to God. [ NJBC]

Verse 17: Paul gives a graphic description of his experience in Romans 7:15-23: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate ...”. [ NOAB]

Verses 19-21: Similar lists were used in Greco-Roman moral instruction. For other Pauline lists of vices, see Romans 1:29-31; 1 Corinthians 5:9-11; 6:9-10. [ NOAB] [ CAB] Paul contrasts the “works” (deeds) of the flesh with the “fruits” of the Spirit. [ NJBC]

Verses 22-23: In 2 Corinthians 6:6-7, Paul gives another list of virtues: “purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left” . [ NOAB] See also 1 Corinthians 13:13 and Philippians 4:8. [ CAB]

Verse 23: “There is no law against such things”: There is no need to enact a law against such “fruits” for the Law “was added because of transgressions” (see 3:19).

Verse 24: Paul writes in 2:19-20: “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me”. [ CAB]

Luke 9:51-62

Verse 51: We should see this verse as marking a new stage in Jesus’ mission rather than tracing his route on a map. He has been conscious of his calling; now he is conscious of the necessity of suffering. Luke shows his ignorance of Palestinian geography. According to this gospel, Jesus does indeed arrive at Jericho (see 18:35-43 and 19:1-10) but before this he is in Galilee ( 13:31-33). [ BlkLk]

Verse 51a: NJBC translates this as It happened that in the fulfilment of the days of his assumption. The word translated “taken up” is symplerousthai . Here it is a noun; in Acts 1:2, 11, 22 (the Day of Pentecost), the verb form is used. The word can also be translated as fulfill, approach or come. The reference here in Luke is to Jesus’ death, crucifixion and resurrection. It may also be to Jesus’ ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit, but I doubt it. An almost identical expression, using the same basic word, is used in the Septuagint translation, of Elijah’s assumption (see 2 Kings 2:9-11; 1 Maccabees 2:58) and, in a Servant Song, of the Servant’s exaltation. [ BlkLk] [ JBC]

Verse 51: “set his face”: A Semitism frequently used in the Old Testament for opposition and hostility: see Ezekiel 6:2; 13:17; 14:8; Isaiah 50:7. [ JBC] However, BlkLk feels that while in the Septuagint translation this phrase implies decision, “his face” has no stronger meaning here than himself, as it has commonly in rabbinic writings. The Septuagint translation uses this phrase in Exodus 33:14; Deuteronomy 4:37; 2 Samuel 17:11.

Verse 52: “Samaritans”: That Luke would mention Jesus’ entry into a village that is Samaritan at this point is surprising. Luke’s emphasis in this section is generally on Jews and Judaism. He usually shows the Samaritans as friendly to Jesus: see 10:33 (the Good Samaritan) and 17:16 (the leper who thanks Jesus). In Acts 8:4-25, the Samaritans accept the message of the Christian Way. [ NJBC] The Samaritans were a mixture of:

  • Jews whom the conquering Assyrians (in 721 BC) had deemed too insignificant to deport to Babylon and
  • Gentile people whom the Assyrians had settled in Palestine.

See 2 Kings 17; Ezra 4:1-3; Nehemiah 4:1-9. John 4:9 tells us that “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans”. [ BlkLk]

Verse 53: “did not receive him”: Jesus encounters opposition in the initial stages of his journey to Jerusalem as he did at the start of his Galilean ministry: see 4:16-30 (Jesus speaks in the synagogue at Nazareth). BlkLk translates the Greek as they did not welcome him because he was going to Jerusalem. (The word receive has shifted meaning since the Revised Standard Version, the antecedent of the NRSV, was written.)

Verse 54: Perhaps this is why Jesus called James and John “Sons of Thunder” (see Mark 3:17). What they say echoes 2 Kings 1:10, 12: there Elijah calls down fire to destroy his enemies. [ CAB]

Verse 55: Comments: Jesus has taught non-retaliation against enemies: In 6:27-29, 35, he says, in his sermon in a level place: “‘... I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. ... But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked’”. [ NJBC]

Verse 56: “another village”: Perhaps this village was also in Samaria. [ JBC]

Verses 57-62: See also Matthew 8:19-22. [ CAB] Jesus lives a risky, itinerant, life. His disciples can expect to do the same.

Verse 57: “along the road”: i.e. of discipleship. [ NJBC]

Verse 58: Another interpretation is that Jesus takes on the lowest estate possible. Recall 2:7: Mary “... laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn”. The saying also appears in Matthew 8:19-20. [ BlkLk]

Verse 58: “air”: The Greek literally means heavens. Whether this is significant is unknown.

Verse 59-62: Filial piety, especially in burying one’s parents, is deep within Judaism: see Genesis 49:28-50:3 (Jacob); Exodus 13:19; Tobit 4:3; 6:15. [ JBC] In 1 Kings 19:19-20, Elisha asks for time to bid his family farewell before following Elijah. Jesus refuses to allow the delays Elijah did. See also v. 62. Several other passages in Luke show the influence of the stories of Elijah and Elisha: 4:25-30; 7:11-17 (Jesus heals a widow’s son), 7:36-50. In 4:24-25 Jesus draws the close parallel between his own rejection at Nazareth and events in the lives of Elijah and Elisha. [ BlkLk]

Verse 60: Another is interpretation is: let the spiritually dead bury the physically dead, i.e. those who are not alive to seeing the greater demands of the Kingdom of God. Perhaps there is a warning in this verse that the ways of the Kingdom are not necessarily in step with human ways. [ NJBC]

Verses 61-62: Paul writes in Philippians 3:13: “Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead”. See also Hebrews 6:4-6. [ CAB]

Verse 62: Jesus demands more than God required of Elisha: in 1 Kings 19:19-21, as Elijah suggested, Elisha returned to his plow and oxen before following Elijah. [ JBC] The Palestinian plow was very light. With one hand the plowman guided the plow; with the other he drove the unruly oxen. If he looked back, the new furrow became crooked. [ NJBC]

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