Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: Sixth Sunday after Pentecost - July 21, 2019

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.

Amos 8:1-12

8:1: “summer fruit”: For another word-play, see Jeremiah 1:11-12 (“almond tree” and “watching”). There, the Hebrew words for almond tree and watching over sound almost alike. NOAB says that the fruit is ripe; therefore it symbolizes the immediacy of Israel’s end. NJBC says that the Hebrew translated “summer fruit” means end-of-season (summer) fruit.

8:4-14: In 5:18-20, Amos writes “Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord! Why do you want the day of the Lord? It is darkness, not light; as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear; or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall, and was bitten by a snake. Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?”. and Leviticus 23:24 gives the command that the Israelites shall “observe a day of complete rest” on the day of the new moon of the seventh month. [ NOAB]

8:4-6: This idea is also found in 2:6-7. [ NJBC]

8:5: Isaiah 1:13-17 says “... New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation – I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity”. For laws on honest weighing of bulk commodities, see Leviticus 19:35-36 and Deuteronomy 25:13-16. [ NOAB]

8:5: “new moon”: Numbers 28:11-15 prescribes that on the first day of each lunar month, a burnt sacrifice is to be offered consisting of two bulls, a ram and seven lambs, as well as other offerings and libations; a goat was also offered, as a sacrifice for sin. Like the Sabbath, this day was a day of rest when no business was to be transacted. The day continued to be festive to the end of Old Testament times and even into the New Testament period: e.g. see Colossians 2:16. [ JBC]

8:5: “sabbath”: The origin of this institution is ancient. Isaiah 66:23 commands: “From new moon to new moon, and from sabbath to sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, says the Lord”. See also Isaiah 1:13 and Hosea 2:11-13. [ JBC]

8:5: “make ... the shekel great”: The excavation at Tirzah, the earlier capital of Israel, has brought to light the use of several sets of weights. Amos condemns those who scrupulously observe holy days while practising injustice against their neighbours. [ NJBC]

8:8: The reference to the Nile is an odd simile for the quaking of the land, since its rise and fall are hardly sudden or violent. Amos also mentions the Nile in 9:5b. [ NJBC] I note that the rise and fall of the Nile are inevitable, as is God’s judgment on the wicked.

8:9: Amos also mentions Yahweh’s power over light and darkness in 5:8: “The one who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning, and darkens the day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea, and pours them out on the surface of the earth, the Lord is his name”. A total eclipse of the sun occurred in Palestine in 763 BC, a few years before Amos wrote. 5:20 says that the Day of the Lord is a day of “gloom with no brightness”. [ NJBC]

8:10: “sackcloth ... baldness”: For showing grief at bereavement, see Genesis 37:34 (Jacob, when he told that Joseph is not in the cistern) and Lamentations 2:10. For shaving their heads as a sign of grief, see Isaiah 15:2; 22:12; Ezekiel 7:18. [ NJBC]

8:12: “wander”: In 4:8, Amos uses the same word in describing people’s search for water during a drought brought by Yahweh: “two or three towns wandered to one town to drink water, and were not satisfied; yet you did not return to me, says the Lord” . [ NJBC]

8:12: “from sea to sea”: Zechariah 9:10 foretells that “the dominion [of the idealized king] shall be from sea to sea”. [ JBC]

8:13-14: These verses seem to be a later addition, linked by the word “thirst” (v. 11). NJBC also suggests that they may reflect a period, possibly after the Assyrian conquest, when false gods were worshipped in the major cult centres of Israel.

8:13-14: “the beautiful young women and the young men ... shall fall, and never rise again”: We hear an echo of 5:2: “Fallen, no more to rise, is maiden Israel; forsaken on her land, with no one to raise her up”. [ NJBC]

8:13: Even the young people, the hope for the future, will be affected by God’s punishment. [ JBC]

8:14: To “swear by” a deity was to be a worshipper of that deity: in Isaiah 48:1, Israel is urged to “swear by the name of the Lord”. People swearing by Baal are mentioned in Jeremiah 12:16; the fate of those who swear by (worship) both Yahweh and the Ammonite god Milcom is foretold in Zephaniah 1:5-6. [ NJBC]

8:14: “Ashimah of Samaria”: The words in Masoretic Text are translated as the guilt of Samaria. This is probably a deliberate corruption of “Ashimah”. The Hebrew words differ only in a vowel (which was not written). “Ashimah” was worshipped by colonists from Hamath (in Syria); they were resettled in Samaria by the Assyrians after 721 BC: see 2 Kings 17:30. In the ancient Near East, oaths were sworn by the life of a god or king. After Israel split into two kingdoms, Jeroboam I made “Dan” a major sanctuary. Dan is the furthest north, and “Beer-sheba” the furthest south (in Judah). The “way” of Beer-sheba is a pagan religion. Never shall the religions of Dan and Beer-sheba be renewed. [ NOAB]

9:1-4: The fifth and final vision. This is the climax of the whole book. [ NJBC] The last pronouncement is the most dreadful. [ NOAB]

9:1: “I saw the Lord ”: All the other visions begin with “This is what the Lord showed me” (or very similar words). While in cultic contexts to see Yahweh usually had a positive meaning (see Psalms 42:2; 84:9; Isaiah 38:11), i.e. to experience God in his Temple, in other contexts it could be life-threatening (e.g. Exodus 33:20, “... no one shall see me and live”). When Isaiah sees God in the Temple, he fears for his life: see Isaiah 6:5. Seeing Yahweh here in Amos clearly bodes ill. [ NJBC]

9:1: “beside the altar”: Destruction of the altar, a symbol of the Israelite cult itself, is foreshadowed in 3:14: “ I will punish the altars of Bethel, and the horns of the altar shall be cut off and fall to the ground”. [ NJBC]

9:1: “the thresholds shake”: As they do at Isaiah’s commissioning: see Isaiah 6:4. [ NOAB]

9:1b-2: As in the conclusion to the first series of oracles (see 2:14-16), escape from Yahweh’s judgement is impossible. [ NJBC]

9:2: “Sheol”: The abode of the dead: see also Job 10:19-22 and Isaiah 14:11, 15. [ NOAB] Even in Sheol it will not be possible to avoid God’s punishment.

9:3: “sea-serpent”: In ancient Near East mythology, a mythological dragon inhabiting the deep sea. See also Job 41:1-34, where “Leviathan” is a sea-monster that personifies chaos. There it is only a plaything in the eyes of God, as a psalmist also indicates (see Psalm 104:26). For Leviathan, see also Psalm 74:14 and Isaiah 27:1. He is also called “Rahab” in Psalm 89:10 and Isaiah 51:9 (where he is also referred to as “the dragon”). [ NOAB] [ NJBC]

9:3: Even exile is not punishment enough for Israel. [ NJBC]

9:4: “I will fix my eyes on them”: Usually this expression has a positive meaning (as in Genesis 44:21, Joseph with reference to Benjamin, and Jeremiah 24:6, the vision of the baskets of figs), but not here! [ NJBC]

Psalm 52

Superscription: “To the leader. A Maskil of David, when Doeg the Edomite came to Saul and said to him, “David has come to the house of Abimelech.”: This is anachronistic, because the psalm refers to the Temple: it had not been built in the time of David. Further, Doeg denounced David, but did not lie. See 1 Samuel 22:6-10. [ CAB]

Those who mistreat God’s people are warned that they will be punished by him. This is a wisdom theme. See also Psalm 37. [ NJBC]

Verses 3,5: “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).

Verse 5: “tent”: The temple is called God’s tent in 15:1.

Verses 6-7: Usually in the Old Testament the ungodly ridicule the godly.

Verse 6: “fear”: The object, God, is implied. The godly will fear him for his just judgements: 40:3 says: “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord”. See also 64:8-9. [ NJBC]

Verse 8: “like a green olive tree”: Israel is also referred to in this way in Jeremiah 11:16. See also Hosea 14:6. [ NOAB]

Colossians 1:15-28

NJBC considers that Colossians was composed after Paul’s lifetime, about 70-80 AD, by someone who knew the Pauline tradition. NOAB and CAB discuss the problem of authorship but do not, in their introductions to the book, state whether they consider Paul to have been the author or not. See the Clipping below on 1:26-28 for a hint of CAB’s view.

1:15-20: This hymn alludes to the wisdom motifs of the Old Testament and the Apocrypha:

  • In Proverbs 3:19, Wisdom is the agent of creation
  • In Proverbs 8:22-31, Wisdom was generated before God created, and was his partner in creating (see also Wisdom of Solomon 7:22; 9:2-4). [ NJBC]

For other Christological hymns, see Philippians 2:6-11; Ephesians 2:14-16; 1 Peter 3:18-19; Hebrews 1:3; 1 Timothy 3:16.

1:15: “image”: The image perfectly reveals the invisible God: John 1:18 tells us: “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known”. See also Hebrews 1:3. [ NOAB] For Paul on humans as being in the image of God or of Christ, see Romans 8:29; 1 Corinthians 11:7; 15:49 (“Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust [Adam], we will also bear the image of the man of heaven”); 2 Corinthians 3:18. In one place, 2 Corinthians 4:4, he speaks of Christ as being the image of God. [ NJBC]

1:15: “the firstborn of all creation”: See also Psalm 89:27 (“I will make him [David] the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth”); Proverbs 8:22-31; 2 Corinthians 8:9; Philippians 2:6-7; Hebrews 1:2 (“... in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds”); 10:5-9; Revelation 1:17; 2:8; 22:13, 16. [ CAB]

1:16: “all things ... were created”: John 1:3 says “All things came into being through him [“the Word”, the Logos], and without him not one thing came into being”. See also 1 Corinthians 8:6 and Hebrews 1:2. [ CAB]

1:16: “thrones ... powers”: At Colossae, angelic beings may have been thought of as being rivals of, or supplementary to, Christ. See also 2:10, 15. [ NOAB] [ NJBC] These are categories of lesser supernatural beings present in creation. See Romans 8:38; 1 Corinthians 15:24; Ephesians 1:21; 3:10; 6:12 for similar lists. [ CAB] NJBC notes that the Greek word here translated as “dominions” also appears in 1 Peter 3:22 (NRSV: “authorities”) and Jude 8; in those verses it refer to earthly powers. Only here in the New Testament is “thrones” a category of angelic beings.

1:17: “before all things”: Note John 8:58: “Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am’”. The phrase may mean first in rank.

1:17: “all things hold together”: Wisdom of Solomon 1:7 says “Because the spirit of the Lord has filled the world, and that which holds all things together knows what is said,”. [ JBC] See also Hebrews 1:3. [ NOAB]

1:18: “head of the body, the church”: Christ as head of the church is important in Colossians: see also 2:17, 19; 3:15. The community as the body is also found in the undisputably Pauline writings (see 1 Corinthians 6:15; 10:16-17; 12:12-27; Romans 12:4-5) but the image of Christ as head of the body is a development found only in Colossians and Ephesians (see also Ephesians 1:22-23; 4:15-16; 5:23). [ NOAB] [ NJBC]

1:18: “the beginning”: i.e. the origin or source of the Church’s life. See also Revelation 3:14 (“... The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God's creation”); Galatians 6:15 (“... a new creation is everything!”); 2 Corinthians 5:17. [ NOAB] [ JBC]

1:18: “firstborn from the dead”: See also Acts 26:23 (“being the first to rise from the dead”, Paul before Agrippa); Romans 14:9; 1 Corinthians 15:20 (“... Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died”). [ NOAB] [ NJBC] Christ’s resurrection is the first of a succession of others: see Revelation 1:5. [ CAB]

1:19: “the fullness of God”: Another translation is: For it pleased God that in him [the Son] all the fullness of the deity should dwell . “Fullness” translates the Greek word pleroma. The pleroma would have had special significance if gnostic ideas formed part of the false teaching at Colossae. In Gnosticism, the pleroma was the whole body of heavenly powers and spiritual emanations that came forth from God. [ NOAB] [ NJBC] In this context, as can be seen from v. 20, the term “fullness of God” refers to the full power of divine grace which offers full reconciliation through Christ’s cross. John 1:16 tells us: “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace”. See also Colossians 2:10. [ CAB] NJBC notes that “of God” is not in the Greek., but note 2:9: “in him [Christ] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily”.

1:20: “reconcile”: The Greek word is apokatallasso; it is used only in Colossians and Ephesians. In the undisputedly Pauline writings, the word katallasso is used, with the same meaning: see Romans 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:18, 19. [ NJBC] Prevalent Jewish belief was that the world had fallen into the captivity of the ruling powers through the sin of humans. Christ overcame these angelic powers by taking away their control over believers. [ JBC]

1:21: See also 2:1. [ CAB]

1:22: “his fleshly body”: In 2:11, the author speaks of Baptism as “putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ. His ordinary human body or bodily-ness (see 1QpHab (*Qumran Pesher on Habakkuk) 9:2) as against the deprecation of the body, which was perhaps taught at Colossae (see 2:18, 21, 23). Colossians stresses the importance and dignity of Jesus’ human body in its saving function. [ NJBC]

1:22: holy and blameless”: Ephesians 1:4 says “just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love”. [ CAB]

1:24-2:7: Paul is personally unknown at Colossae. These verses explain why he (or the author) intervenes in the affairs of a church where members do not know him: in 2:1, he writes: “For I want you to know how much I am struggling for you, and for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me face to face”. [ NOAB]

1:24: Because of the mystical union of the believers with Christ, what Paul suffers “for the sake of ... the church” can be called “Christ’s afflictions”. In 2 Corinthians 1:5, Paul writes “For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ” and in 2 Corinthians 4:8-10: “We are afflicted ... always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies”. [ NOAB] Elsewhere Paul connects his sufferings to his role as an apostle (see Romans 8:30-31; 1 Corinthians 4:9-13; 2 Corinthians 11:23-33; 12:9-10; 13:4; Galatians 6:17), but only here are his sufferings for the sake of the Church. Elsewhere he speaks of his sufferings as participation in the death of Jesus (see 2 Corinthians 1:4-6; 4:8-10), but only here do his sufferings complete “what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions”. [ CAB]

Comments: in no way was Christ’s suffering incomplete: The hymn (vv. 15-20) proclaims Christ as the one through whom all are reconciled; v. 22 restates this. See also the Clipping on thlipsis below. [ NJBC]

1:24: “afflictions”: The Greek word is thlipsis. It is never used of Jesus’ passion but is regularly used of those proclaiming the gospel: see Romans 5:3 (NRSV: “sufferings”); 8:35 (NRSV: “hardship”); 2 Corinthians 1:4, 8; 2:4 (NRSV: “distress”); 4:17; 6:4; 7:4. This suggests that the afflictions are Paul’s not Christ’s. Similarly, in 2:11 (“In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ”), the “circumcision of Christ” is not Jesus’ circumcision but the metaphorical circumcision of the Christian community. [ NJBC]

1:25: “servant”: Literally, minister. [ CAB] The Greek word is diakonos, sometimes translated deacon. The NRSV translates this noun as servants in 1 Corinthians 3:5.

1:26-28: A common theme developed in the literature of Paul’s students is that the mystery long hidden is now revealed to the nations by the command of God: see also Romans 16:25-26; Ephesians 3:3-10; 1 Timothy 3:16; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2-3; 1 Peter 1:20. [ CAB]

1:26: “mystery”: For God’s age-long purpose, his plan of salvation, hidden in Old Testament times from ordinary people, is now being revealed openly to Gentiles as well as Jews, see also 2:2; 4:3; Ephesians 1:9; 3:4-6. In the Qumran literature, the raz is the mystery revealed by God to certain persons, e.g. to the Teacher of Righteousness: see 1QpHab (Qumran Pesher on Habakkuk) 7:1-5. In the Old Testament, prophets were introduced in their visions into the heavenly assembly and there learnt the secret divine plans for history. [ NOAB] [ NJBC] “Mystery” is the content of the “word of God” (v. 25) that was given Paul to proclaim; but in 2:2-3 we read “I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God's mystery, that is, Christ himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” [ CAB]

1:27: In Romans 1:5, Paul writes of Christ as the one “through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name”. See also Romans 16:26. [ CAB]

1:27: “the riches of the glory”: NJBC offers richness. This phrase is also found in Romans 9:23.

1:27: “Christ in you”: Here it is the risen Christ who performs the functions attributed to the Holy Spirit in other epistles. [ JBC]

1:28: In 1 Corinthians 1:6, Paul writes as maturing in the faith as “the testimony of Christ [being] ... strengthened among you”. [ CAB]

1:28: “warning everyone and teaching everyone”: Here this is the task of the apostle but in 3:16 it is the responsibility of members of the community to admonish and teach each other. [ NJBC]

2:1: “Laodicea”: A town about 18 Km (12 miles) west of Colossae. It is also mentioned in 4:13, 15-16; Revelation 1:11; 3:14-22. [ CAB]

2:1: “who have not seen me face to face”: Evidently Paul had visited neither Laodicea nor Colossae. See also 2:5. In Romans 15:20, Paul says that his emphasis is on establishing Christian communities rather than on building on what other missionaries have already established. In Galatians 1:22, he says that he was, at the time, “unknown by sight” to the Christian communities in Palestine. [ CAB]

Luke 10:38-42

In John 11:1, Martha and Mary are well known; John says that Bethany “is the village of Mary and her sister Martha”. Luke is more cautious in introducing them and shows his limited knowledge of Palestinian geography by not naming the village. [ NOAB]

Verse 38: “into her home”: While this passage is unique to Luke, he does edit what he received from Mark and Q. He has added 28 references to “home” or “house”. 8:27 and 14:23 contain examples. Household Christianity is in view; women host the Church in their houses. [ NJBC]

Verse 39: “sat at the Lord's feet”: See also 8:35 (the Gerasene demoniac at Jesus’ feet) and Acts 22:3 (Paul at the feet of Gamaliel). [ NJBC]

Verses 40-42: BlkLk offers the following rather different translation:

But Martha was distracted with all the housework and stood by them and said, ‘Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the housework alone? Tell her then to give me some help!’ In answer the Lord said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and make a fuss about a lot of things, but our need is for few things – or one! For Mary has chosen the best dish, and it will not be taken away from her.’

Verse 40: “tasks”: The Greek word is diakonein. This word became a technical term for Christian ministry, as it is in 2 Corinthians 4:1 (NRSV: “ministry”) and Romans 16:1 (NRSV: “deacon”). As happens so often in Luke’s stories of Jesus’ table fellowship, Jesus, the guest, become the dominant figure, or host, and answers questions about community life: see also 5:29-39; 7:36-50; 11:37-54; 14:1-24; 19:1-10; 24:13-35. [ NJBC]

Verse 41: “by many things”: Martha is distracted “by many things” which are not important enough to call for excessive attention or worry. [ NOAB]

Verse 42: With delicate ambiguity, Jesus rebukes Martha’s choice of values; a simple meal (one dish) is sufficient for hospitality. Jesus approves of Mary’s preference for listening to his teaching (thereby accepting a woman as a disciple) as contrasted with Martha’s unneeded acts of hospitality (the more usual woman’s role). [ NOAB]

Verse 42: “there is need of only one thing”: In other manuscripts this is translated as (1) only a few things are needed, indeed only one and (2) only a few things are needed. (2) seems to indicate that only a few things on the dinner table are needed, while (1) combines this interpretation with that given in Comments. BlkLk says that Jesus begins by protesting that only a few things are wanted for the meal, and he adds as an afterthought that apparently only one thing is needed, his teaching, since Mary is so taken up with it that she does not want anything (else) to eat.

CAB says that these sisters represent two possible priorities for Jesus’ followers: service, or listening to his teaching. The latter is the “better part”.

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