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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost - August 25, 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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Jeremiah

From Chapter 1, we know that Jeremiah was either born or began his ministry in 627 BC. During his life, Babylonia succeeded Assyria as the dominant power in the Middle East. He was a witness to the return to worship of the Lord (instituted by the Judean king Josiah), and then (after Josiah's death in battle in 609), the return of many of the people to paganism. When Babylon captured Jerusalem in 587, Jeremiah emigrated to Egypt. God called him to be a prophet to Judah and surrounding nations, in the midst of these political and religious convulsions.


Jeremiah 1:4-10

The people of Israel have strayed from God’s ways. In the late 600s BC, King Josiah guided the people back to godliness by removing all traces of foreign worship and by making Jerusalem the one place of worship. Jeremiah played a key role in Josiah’s reforms.

“The word of the LORD” is a characteristic expression in this book: the message Jeremiah proclaims is God’s word. The Hebrew word yashar, translated “formed” (v. 5), is a technical term for created; a potter forms clay into pottery. Recall Genesis 2:7-8, where God forms man. The idea that God himself forms a child in its mother’s “womb” (v. 5) was accepted. God has known Jeremiah since his first moment of existence – both intellectually and in his capacity for action. Even before that, God dedicated him, separated him for his purposes (“consecrated”), to serve him. Jeremiah is but a youth (“boy”, v. 6 – probably in his early twenties), without experience and authority, but God will give him all necessary leadership abilities and support. (Moses’ reaction to God’s command to lead the people of Israel was similar.) God commissions Jeremiah through the symbolic action of touching his mouth (v. 9). In vv. 5 and 10, the “nations” and “kingdoms” are most likely Assyria, Babylonia, Egypt and Judah: the history of Israel is intertwined with that of the whole Near East. Jeremiah’s mission is to do away with corruption and ungodliness, and to promote ethical conduct and godliness. God’s instructions to the prophet continue in v. 17. Jeremiah is to be ready for action (“gird up your loins”); he is to respond promptly to God’s commands. Mighty as the ungodly are, he is not to flinch, but to “stand up” to them; if he fails to do so, God will “break” him. Even though the deviants will fight against him and persecute him, he will prevail, “for I am with you ... to deliver you” (v. 19).


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 71:1-6

The psalmist finds sanctuary in his trust in God; even so, he asks God to be his reference point (“rock”, v. 3) and strength in life, to rescue him from “cruel” (v. 4) and ungodly people. He has trusted in God since his youth (v. 5) and, as v. 18 shows, he is now in “old age” and has “gray hairs”. God has supported him throughout his life (“from my birth”, v. 6). Note the belief that God caused him to be born. From vv. 7-10, we learn that his enemies consider him so evil that they avoid him like the plague: a “portent” (v. 7) was always evil. The psalmist especially seeks God’s help now that he no longer has the strength to defend himself; his foes believe that God has forsaken him: may they be disgraced and scorned (v. 13). He will always proclaim how God acts with integrity and tell of the many times God has rescued him. God has taught him throughout his life (v. 17). A musician, he will praise God on the “harp” (v. 22) and the “lyre”, and by singing God’s praises. He is confident that God will help him.


Hebrews

Apart from the concluding verses (which may have been added later), this book is a treatise (or sermon) rather than a letter. Its name comes from its approach to Christianity: it is couched is Judaic terms. The identity of the author is unknown; Origen, c. 200 said that "only God knows" who wrote Hebrews. The book presents an elaborate analysis, arguing for the absolute supremacy and sufficiency of Christ as revealer and mediator of God's grace. Basing his argument on the Old Testament, the author argues for the superiority of Christ to the prophets, angels and Moses. Christ offers a superior priesthood, and his sacrifice is much more significant than that of Levite priests. Jesus is the "heavenly" High Priest, making the true sacrifice for the sins of the people, but he is also of the same flesh and blood as those he makes holy.


Hebrews 12:18-29

The author contrasts the assembly of the Israelites when the old covenant (“something that can be touched”) was given with those who have entered the new covenant (vv. 22-24) brought from God (“mediator”, v. 24) by Jesus. On Mount Sinai, the Israelites were filled with awe and terror. Death by stoning was the Jewish form of capital punishment. In the story of the Golden Calf, Moses trembles with fear (v. 21). The old covenant was made on earth, but the new is in heaven (“Mount Zion ...”, v. 22). The community celebrating (“festal”) it includes all the Christian faithful, who “have [already] come ... to the city”, (“the firstborn”, v. 23) and the exemplars of the Old Testament (“spirits of the righteous”) who trusted in God despite not having the promises brought by Jesus.

The author has written: “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain’s ... he died, but through faith he still speaks” (11:4). The “sprinkled blood” (v. 24) of Jesus, his death and resurrection that established the new covenant, speaks much more definitively of forgiveness than Abel’s example. Then v. 25: greater punishment is in store for those who reject Jesus’ warning from heaven than for those who rejected his warning at Sinai (“on earth”).

In vv. 26-29, the author interprets God’s words spoken through the prophet Haggai as a reference to the Last Judgement. The kingdom that Christ has brought is unshakable, permanent, but those who “reject” (v. 25) him and his message will perish, be consumed with fire (v. 29), at the Last Day: God will “will shake not only the earth but also the heaven” (v. 26).


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 13:10-17

In the story of the healing of the crippled woman, Jesus shows what it means to be a citizen of God’s kingdom – through his actions. That he heals a woman and refers to her as a ”daughter of Abraham” (v. 16), a full member of Jewish society, is remarkable: the kingdom is equally open to women and the sick. In Jesus’ day, physical and mental ailments were seen as the work of evil forces (“Satan”); the very being of someone with a serious ailment was thought to be hostile to God. The woman does not ask to be cured; no one asks on her behalf; Jesus notices her (“Jesus saw her”, v. 12). Her response to his saving action is to praise God (v. 13). Anyone could speak in the synagogue: the “leader” (v. 14) speaks to the “crowd”, but his words are directed at Jesus. He is blind to God’s kingdom.

Jesus’ rebuttal is clever, for while untying an ox or a donkey on the sabbath was forbidden in one part of the Mishnah (a Jewish book of laws), it was permitted in another. Jesus has “set free” (v. 12), untied, the woman who was tied to Satan. If you untie animals on the sabbath, why not humans? Honour and “shame” (v. 17) were, and are, important in Near Eastern cultures. Realizing that Jesus is right, the “leader” (v. 14) and other “opponents” (v. 17) are shamed before the crowd, who rejoice in this wonder-worker. The kingdom is open to all when they turn to God.

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