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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost - June 30, 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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2 Kings

The two books of Kings were originally one. They continue the story of the monarchy begun in 1-2 Samuel. 1 Kings begins with the enthronement of Solomon and the death of David. 2 Kings continues the story of the monarchies of Israel and Judah. It covers the period from about 850 BC to about 585 BC. During this period, Israel fell to the Assyrians (in 721 BC) and Judah to the Babylonians (586 BC). While these books read like a political history - in which some kings are judged good and others bad - they trace the apostasy that led to the loss of national identity and autonomy.


2 Kings 2:1-2,6-14

Israel has split into two kingdoms: Israel (the north) and Judah (the south). At the time of our story, (850-849 BC), Ahaziah is King of Israel. The Bible tells us that only two people were sufficiently worthy to be taken up to heaven without dying: Enoch (Genesis 5:24) and Elijah. Elijah and Elisha start their journey at Gilgal, in the hill country north of Bethel. Three times (vv. 2-3, 4-5, 6) Elijah invites Elisha to travel no further: he tests Elisha, to determine whether he is truly loyal to his master. Each time, Elisha proves his loyalty, and so the two travel southward from “Gilgal” (v. 1) to “Bethel” (v. 2), then east to “Jericho” (v. 4) and “the Jordan” (v. 6). (Note that vv. 4-5 differ from vv. 2-3 only in the place name.) The “company of prophets” (vv. 3, 5, 7) are communities of followers, disciples, of Elijah; they are like monks.

Elijah’s “mantle” (v. 8), his cloak, is almost part of him. As in the crossing of the Reed Sea (Exodus 14) and in the carrying of the Ark across the Jordan (Joshua 3:14-17), the waters miraculously part. In v. 9, Elijah offers Elisha a reward for his loyalty; then Elisha requests that he receive the principal share (“double”) of Elijah’s spirituality. (Deuteronomy 21:17 requires that the eldest son inherit a double portion of his father’s estate.) Per v. 10, Elijah cannot grant this request himself, for it is God’s to give. If Elisha sees Elijah taken up, God has granted the wish. “Fire” (v. 11) is a symbol of God’s presence (e.g. God appeared in the burning bush in Exodus 3:2.) V. 12a is difficult to interpret. Perhaps Elisha contrasts the chariots of God (v. 11) with those of Israel, or perhaps Elisha recognizes that Elijah’s spiritual strength is better security for Israel than its army. Elisha does see Elijah’s departure. Tearing of clothes (v. 12) was an expression of grief or distress. Elisha picks up Elijah’s mantle, the symbol of spirituality (vv. 13-14). The water again parts. God recognizes Elisha as Elijah’s successor, as do the “company of prophets” (v. 15). Some of them search for days to find Elijah’s body, but in vain (vv. 16-17). Elijah has been taken up to heaven.


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 77:1-2,11-20

The psalmist prays for deliverance from unspecified “trouble” (v. 2). He may speak for himself, or for the community. He is probably keeping an all-night vigil in the Temple (v. 4); he is so troubled that he cannot petition God. Vv. 7-10 tell of his mental agony: has God spurned him (and Israel)? Has God gone back on his promise proclaimed to Moses in Exodus 34:6? In vv, 11-15, the psalmist gains some hope by recalling God’s mighty actions in the past. God is “holy” (v. 13): his ways are mysterious, different. He rescued Israel from Egypt (“Jacob and Joseph”, v. 15). Vv. 16-19 are in a different metre, a fragment of an ancient hymn. The “waters” are the Reed Sea; in the Song of Moses (Exodus 15), the enemies are those who are afraid, but here it is the waters. God spoke through natural phenomena, particularly through fire (“flashed”, v. 17; “lightnings”, v. 18). God provided a “way” (v. 19) through the Sea, and led Israel through “Moses and Aaron” (v. 20).


Galatians

There were some teachers in Galatia who claimed that a convert to Christianity must first embrace Judaism, that a Christian must observe Mosaic law. Paul wrote this letter to rebut this argument, to insist that one comes into union with God through faith in Christ, and not through ritual observances. This book is a charter of Christian liberty; it was instrumental in transforming Christianity from a sect of Judaism into a world religion. Galatia is in central Turkey, and was settled soon after 300 BC by Celts. In 25 BC, the province of Galatia was extended southwards. (Modern-day Ankara is in Galatia.)


Galatians 5:1,13-25

Paul wrote this letter to counter certain evangelists in Galatia who expected Christians to adopt some (but not all) practices of Judaism. They seem to have argued: so long as you are circumcised and keep Jewish feasts, you are free to do anything you like – you can indulge in “the flesh” (v. 16, self-centeredness and the vices listed in vv. 19-21). Paul denounces this theology vehemently. He has said that what “counts is faith working through love” (v. 6). In v. 14, he may be thinking of Leviticus 19:18, or a contemporary Jewish summary of the Law, or of Jesus’ summary. In v. 16, “live” is literally walk by, a Semitism for conduct yourself. The way of God, brought to us by the Spirit, is incompatible with doing whatever we wish (v. 17). The way of the Spirit also brings freedom from an external norm, i.e. the Law, for our norm is within us (v. 18). The results of living by the Spirit are in v. 22; note that the first is “love”. V. 24 is a summary: Christians share in Christ’s death to worldliness; we died (“crucified”, cast aside) not only to the Law but also to self-centeredness and its degrading tendencies. We have undergone a basic reorientation – to God. Thus reoriented, our actions should be guided “by the Spirit” (v. 25).


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 9:51-62

In telling us of the Transfiguration, Luke has told us that Peter, John and James have seen Moses and Elijah talking to Jesus “of his departure [exodus], which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (9:31). Now Jesus approaches the time when he will be “taken up” (v. 51), i.e. crucified, raised from the dead, and restored to glory with the Father. Jesus resolutely travels to the city where this will happen. He sends “messengers” (v. 52) to arrange food and lodging for him and his disciples. “Samaritans” did not help pilgrims going to keep feasts in Jerusalem because they believed the true temple to be theirs (on Mount Gerizim). James and John ask: do you wish them to be treated as Elijah treated followers of Baal? (v. 54) Jesus has taught non-retaliation against enemies (v. 55), but the point here is that any temple (and Law) is irrelevant: it is trust in him that counts.

Vv. 57-62 contain sayings about discipleship which are hard to interpret because Jesus exaggerates to jolt his listeners out of complacency. The “Son of Man” is Jesus, the exemplary human. Those who follow him will not have a resting place, a position to which they can resort: there is no room for conservatism. We are to launch continually into new ways of being Christian. Burying a parent (v. 59) was deemed important in Jewish culture, but proclaiming the good news must have priority (v. 60). We must answer a call to tell the good news immediately (v. 61). A Palestinian plow required constant attention; diverting one’s attention for a moment led to disaster. Jesus demands constancy and concentration in proclaiming his message; once committed to Christ, there is no going back.

© 1996-2003 Chris Haslam



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