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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost - July 14, 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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Amos

In about 750 BC, Amos heard the Lord calling him to prophesy to the northern tribes. He leaves Tekoa, a village just south of Jerusalem, and travels to the north. Israel has split into two kingdoms. Times are prosperous, but society is corrupt and God is largely ignored. This book is our only source of knowledge about Amos. He speaks as a voice independent of the royal court. He predicts God's punishment upon Israel, Judah and the surrounding nations. He foretells that Israel will fall. Within a few decades, the northern kingdom will be conquered by Assyrian armies.


Amos 7:7-17

The reign of King Jeroboam II (786-746 BC) was a time of prosperity for Israel, the northern kingdom. Social and religious corruption were rife; many worshipped materialism and other gods. Amos was both a breeder of cattle and/or sheep (“herdsman”, v. 14; “flock”, v. 15) and a fruit farmer (“dresser of sycamore trees”, v. 14). Born in Tekoa, in the hill country in northern Judah (sheep country), he likely also owned land in the Jordan valley, where sycamores flourished. (Palestinian sycamores bear fruit, much like figs, which has to be dressed (punctured) to make it edible.) God has called him to leave behind his prosperity, to warn the north about impending doom, a result of their waywardness.

In vv. 1-6, God shows him two visions of planned devastation: of locusts devouring the crops, and of fire consuming the whole of creation. (“Jacob”, v. 2, is Israel, the first “mowings”, v. 1, a tax.) In both cases, Amos intercedes with God on behalf of the people, pointing out that Israel is weak and helpless (spiritually). God listens and cancels his plans. But now vv. 7-9: when Israel is tested like a “wall” with a “plumb line”, she doesn’t measure up. Amos raises no plea against divine judgement. God will no longer ignore the people’s errancy (“never again pass them by”, v. 8). He will destroy both the “high places” (v. 9, mountain-top altars where early Israel, and pagans, worshipped) and “sanctuaries” dedicated to him. He, via the Assyrians, will end Jeroboam’s line “with the sword”.

“Bethel” (v. 10) was the principal northern shrine to God, and “Amaziah” was the royal priest there. To the king, he accuses Amos of treason, for upsetting civil order. He quotes Amos out of context (v. 11) and banishes Amos to Judah (vv. 12-13). Amos replies that he is not a professional prophet, paid to say what the king wishes to hear, but one called by God (v. 15). Because Amaziah has contradicted God’s orders (v. 16), Israel will be invaded (v. 17): there will be rape, slaughter of innocents and plunder; Amaziah (as a priest, keen on remaining ritually clean), will be exiled to idolatrous Assyria (“an unclean land”).


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 82

The superscription is “a psalm of Asaph”: he was appointed by David to share in leading worship, and sang and/or played at the dedication of the Temple Solomon built. In a vision, the psalmist sees our God as a member of the council of gods. Our God accuses the others of favouring “the wicked” (v. 2) over the “weak and the needy” (v. 4). They are ignorant of God’s ways (“walk ... in darkness”, v. 5); their failure to be just destabilizes the physical world (“foundations ...”). In spite of being gods, they will be demoted and die (vv. 6-7). Perhaps v. 8 is sung by the congregation: only God can rightly rule the earth; he is universal.


Colossians

Colossae was a city in what is now southwestern Turkey. It had a flourishing wool and textile industry and a significant Jewish population. It seems that most Christians there were Gentile. Although long thought to be written by Paul, today this epistle is considered non-Pauline for a number of reasons. The most compelling is that it emphasizes what God has already done for his people: Paul tells us what God is going to do in the future (although some argue that Paul shifted his viewpoint in later life.) It gives descriptions of false teachings which were being promulgated in the churches. Some scholars consider this evidence of later authorship. In the ancient world, writing in the name of a respected author was accepted and regarded as an honour.


Colossians 1:1-14

Scholars are divided on whether the author is Paul or one of his followers. In the days long before copyright, a writer who thought he really understood how a great writer thought might write in his name: an honour to the great man. If Paul did write Colossians, he probably wrote it from prison (with “Timothy”): there he had time to reflect, and possibly to read. The church in Colossae was probably founded by “Epaphras” (v. 7). Colossians was written to counter deviant teaching, including the need to practice Jewish rituals, and Greek theosophical speculation. Christians there tended to seek power for human life not solely from Christ, but from various sources. They tried to merge traditions.

The letter begins in typical Greek style: the names of the senders (v. 1) and those of the recipients (v. 2), and then a prayer for thanksgiving or of petition (here Christian, vv. 3ff). “The saints” (v. 4) are those set apart for God’s work in the world. Note the triad of “faith ... love ... hope” (vv. 4-5), the steps in coming to know Christ. The community is basically faithful to the good news, as taught by Epaphras. The Church is growing both in Colossae and throughout the Empire (“the whole world”, v. 6). Vv. 9-13 are one sentence in Greek: “we have not ceased ...” “praying”, “asking” and “giving thanks” (v. 12). The “knowledge” in v. 9 is practical: born of experience of a person, i.e. Christ. Perhaps they are to “endure” (v. 11) the false teaching. The opposition of “light” (v. 12) and “darkness” (v. 13) is also found in the Qumran literature. The phrase “forgiveness of sins” (v. 14) occurs only in letters not generally agreed to be by Paul.


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 10:25-37

Jesus has prepared disciples for a missionary journey beyond Israel. He has given them advice on how to introduce receptive people to his message of peace and eternal life, to entry into the Kingdom of God.

Perhaps the “lawyer”, a person expert in the interpretation of Jewish law, has heard Jesus’ words about mission to Gentiles. He asks: How much must I do ...? Jesus speaks to him in his terms (v. 26). The lawyer answers with a verse from Deuteronomy and another from Leviticus, both books of the Law (v. 27). Jesus echoes a verse in the Law (v. 28). At the time, Jews debated whether all fellow Jews (or just some) were their neighbours. The lawyer seeks to prove his entitlement to eternal life by defining the limits of his duty to neighbours, but Jesus reinterprets the Law in the story of the Good Samaritan (vv. 30-35). The “priest” (v. 31) stands for Jewish religious leadership; Levites (v. 32) assisted priests in the Temple. The man may be dead; if either touches him, he risks ritual defilement. Each keeps the law literally. Jews saw Samaritans as religious deviants, but they did keep the Law; each group despised each other. So for a Samaritan to risk becoming unclean is to act according to the spirit of the Law rather than the letter. (“Oil and wine”, v. 34, were medications.) In v. 37, the lawyer recognizes that the Samaritan has acted properly (but can’t bring himself to say Samaritan.) The neighbour argument is irrelevant. The lawyer must see behind the Law to love of all. Even non-Jews who demonstrate this love can enter the kingdom.

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