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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost - July 21, 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 8:1-12

God has shown Amos three visions of devastations he plans. Amos has persuaded him neither to ruin the crops nor to consume the land with fire, but when God has shown him that the Israelites don’t measure up, he has entered no plea: God will destroy all sanctuaries, both to him and to pagan gods.

Now God shows Amos another vision. There is a play on words: in Hebrew, “summer fruit” and “end” (v. 2) sound alike. God will not “pass them by” (v. 2), i.e. he will no longer ignore the Israelites’ erring ways: “the end has come”. The end-times (“that day”, v. 3) were known as the Day of the Lord. God will punish because merchants “trample on the needy” (v. 4): prohibited from commerce on the day of the “new moon” (v. 5) and on the Sabbath, they can’t wait to resume their fraudulent business practices: selling partial measures of wheat and including chaff (“sweepings”, v. 6). (Wheat was weighed in shekels, a standard unit of weight, with “balances” (v. 5). The “ephah” was about 20 litres or 4-5 gallons.) They will be charged and found guilty! (v. 7) To Israelites, sin literally polluted the land: earthquakes will occur because of human sin (v. 8); the land will rise and fall, killing many, as the “Nile” floods annually. People expected eclipses to precede the Day (v. 9). This day, expected to be a time of rejoicing over redress for oppression by enemies, will be a day of gloom (v. 10). (People donned “sackcloth” (drab garb) and shaved their heads in mourning; “it” is the earth.) Israel has failed to heed God’s “words” (v. 11), spoken through prophets; therefore, as punishment, God will cease to speak, i.e. provide his advice to Israel. The country being (at least in theory) a theocracy, it will lack the ability to select leaders, to know when to wage war, etc. Without God’s word, it will be a mess religiously and politically. They will frantically seek his word everywhere, from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea (“from sea to sea”, v. 12) “but they shall not find it”.


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 52

The psalmist asks a powerful enemy why he boasts of his evil deeds, most of which are verbal, i.e. slander (“tongue”, vv. 2, 4; “lying”, v. 3). God will punish the evil-doer (v. 5); the godly will see this; they will either be awestruck, or “fear” (v. 6) what God will do to him. Here the godly person ridicules the evil one, who has taken refuge in materialism (“riches”, “wealth”, v. 7). The psalmist, flourishing (“like a green olive tree”, v. 8) in the Temple (“house of God”) trusts in the love God promised in his covenant with Israel (“steadfast love”). He vows to thank God (perhaps in a sacrifice), and to proclaim God’s ways in the Temple. In the Hebrew, v. 5 uses strong language. Perhaps the evil-doer will be tossed out of the Temple (“tent”).


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 1:15-28

The Christians at Colossae lived in a society where many adhered to Greek cults. Vv. 15-20 are an early hymn about Christ (“He”); he is how we see (and access) God (“image”). Angelology was popular at the time; “thrones ... powers” (v. 16) were orders of angelic beings; each was “created”, had its origin “in him”, and exists “for him”; any power they have is subordinate to Christ’s. The whole of creation – both heavenly and earthly – were created “through him”, with his participation. He is also the “firstborn” (v. 18), the inheritor from the Father, of created-ness; he governs it, and is the cohesive power of the universe (v. 17). He existed “before all things”, before the first creative act. Greeks saw the “head” (v. 18) as the body’s source of life and growth. Christ is this to the Church, and “head” of it in the modern sense. He is “the beginning”, the nucleus of the restoration of humanity to union with God, of the new created-ness. In his death (“blood of his cross”, v. 20), resurrection, and ascension to the Father, he is the forerunner (“firstborn”, v. 18) of our elevation to being with the Father, of our reconciliation with the Father (v. 20). Christians at Colossae tried to find ultimate power and truth in various deities, but in Christ all power and ultimate truth is present (v. 19).

Before the founding of the church at Colossae, the people there were “estranged ...” (v. 21). They are now with God, fully acceptable to him (“holy ...”, v. 22), thanks to Jesus’ fully human (“fleshly body”) presence and death, so long as they keep to the truth of the gospel and the “hope” (v. 23) it offers (and shun Greek cults). This gospel is available to all (“to every creature”). Paul extended the reach of Christ’s message; it was complete as he received it. In doing so, he suffered “afflictions” (v. 24). So “completing ... Christ’s afflictions” tells of Paul’s afflictions as extending Christ’s – in no way was Christ’s suffering incomplete. Greek cults limited knowledge of mysteries to initiates, but Christ came to make known God’s “mystery” (v. 26) to all (“Gentiles”, v. 27); it had been “hidden” (v. 26) in Old Testament times. Note “everyone” (three times) in v. 28.


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 10:38-42

Luke emphasizes that Christ came for all: all sectors of society, all peoples, and both sexes. Samaritans, despised by Jews, are welcome in the Kingdom. Jesus has told the seventy that proclaiming his message demands unswerving commitment. The lawyer has learnt that his love should be for everyone; if it is, he has eternal life.

Now Jesus crosses Jewish cultural bounds:

  • he is alone with women who are not his relatives;
  • a woman serves him; and
  • he teaches a woman in her own house.
  • To sit at someone’s feet (v. 39) was to be his disciple. Mary is Jesus’ disciple. Martha, while devoted to her home, is “distracted” (v. 40) by busy-ness. The “only ... thing” (v. 42) that is really needed is to listen to Jesus’ message and proclaim it. This is the task that Mary has chosen; her role is exemplary. Jesus values Martha’s role, but Mary’s is “better”. (The wording of v. 42a varies among early manuscripts. The differences change the interpretation.)

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