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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost - September 1, 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 2:4-13

An ancient editor has added an introduction to our reading (vv. 1-3). God remembers the relationship both he and Israel enjoyed during the Exodus and the wandering in the “wilderness” (v. 2): one of mutual faithful and merciful love (“devotion”), made concrete in the Sinai covenant. The people of Israel were “holy to the Lord” (v. 3), separated by him from other peoples, and reserved for him; they were his first pickings (“first fruits”, v. 3) of his acts of creation. In the Promised Land, he brought “disaster” on intruders. The Law had effect back then: anyone who ate God’s portion of the harvest was punished.

Now God presents a lawsuit against Israel, through Jeremiah. As there were witnesses to the making of the Sinai covenant, so there are witnesses now (“heavens”, v. 12). For generations (“ancestors”, v. 5) Israel, the northern kingdom, (“house of Jacob”, v. 4) has worshipped “worthless things” (v. 5), i.e. idols. The people have forgotten the very nature of Israel’s religion (vv. 6-7): the recognition of God’s gifts to them, through his intervention in earthly affairs through the centuries. The leaders are at fault (v. 8): “priests”, “rulers” (literally shepherds) and “prophets”. Priests have become specialists in the laws on sacrifices; they no longer know anything of God, so they worship nothingness. The court and temple prophets (as against the vocational prophets like Jeremiah) utter prophecies which are false, being from other gods (“by Baal”) and not from God. So you, Isaiah, are on trial! (v. 9) God asks (vv. 10-11): throughout the whole known world, from “Cyprus” in the west to the nomadic tribe of “Kedar” in the east, has any nation ever forsaken their gods for none at all? That’s what Judah has done! (“Glory” is God’s attribute, so “their glory” is God himself.) God is “the fountain of living water” (v. 13). In Palestine, a country where water was (and is) scarce, people dug “cisterns” to collect winter rains for use in the dry season. Israel’s cisterns are “cracked”: worship of idols (foreign gods) is no investment for the future. In vv. 14-19, God says that Israel has forsaken her birthright of responsible freedom, guaranteed by the covenant. She has become a slave to Assyria (or Babylon) and Egypt – politically, through defence pacts, and religiously, by worshipping their gods.


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 81:1,10-16

This psalm was sung on a “festal day” (v. 3), probably the autumn harvest thanksgiving. Celebrating “it” (v. 4) is commanded in the Law. Mention of the “God of Jacob” shows its northern origin. Vv. 1-5a are a hymn-like summons to worship; in vv. 6-16, a priest or temple prophet speaks God’s words of warning. God freed the Israelites from slavery, from the “basket” (v. 6) they used to carry clay bricks in Egypt. He heard them, and rescued them. At Sinai, where he gave them the Ten Commandments, he “tested” (v. 7) them with “thunder”; at “Meribah” he gave them water from a rock. God has done many things for them in the past. Vv. 8-10 are his demand for loyalty: note the first commandment. In return, he promised to nourish them. But they were disobedient (v. 11), so he allowed them to go their own ways (v. 12). If Israel will only return to fidelity, to walking in God’s ways! (v. 13) Then he would give them political freedom (v. 14), damning their foes eternally (v. 15). Israel would enjoy the very best (v. 16).


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 13:1-8,15-16

The author, in concluding his letter, offers guidance regarding the shared life in the Christian community. He expects members to “show hospitality to strangers” (v. 2), i.e. to Christians from other churches. (Inns existed, but because they were frequented by prostitutes and bandits, travellers generally stayed with other Christians.) Perhaps you will entertain “angels”, as Abraham did at Mamre: he looked after three men who were either angels or God himself. Marital irresponsibility (v. 4) and greed (v. 5) can corrupt community life, so should be avoided. God will look after your needs. (The quotation is God’s words to Joshua, after Moses died.) Emulate the way of life of your past “leaders” (v. 7), now deceased. Jesus is always the same (v. 8); the “word of God” (v. 7) they spoke continues. Vv. 9-11 counsel avoidance of errant teachings: dietary restrictions and (probably) sharing in Jewish sacrificial meals. Be “strengthened” by God’s gift of love, not Mosaic law. Being Christian may involve persecution and even martyrdom; remember and share Jesus’ suffering. Focus on eternal life, not earthly (v. 14). Offer the “sacrifice” (v. 15) of thanksgiving, made in faith. Lead an exemplary life of faith so your present “leaders” (v. 17) can be proud of you.


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 14:1,7-14

Luke continues his series of sayings of Jesus about the qualifications for entry into the kingdom of God. The Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the godly at the end of time, and were keen to be among those chosen as faithful, so they “were watching him closely”. As he has done earlier, Jesus heals a person on the sabbath (vv. 2-6), this time one with “dropsy” (edema). The “lawyers and Pharisees” (v. 3), experts on correct observance of the sabbath, are speechless when Jesus challenges them (v. 6): surely acts of compassion can be done on this day. Jesus’ host is a prominent Pharisee (v. 1); we recognize that the “parable” (v. 7) is about membership in the Kingdom. The Greek word rendered as “guests” means apparently chosen or see themselves as chosen. The gathering of God’s elect at the end of time was commonly depicted as a “wedding banquet” (v. 8). There the host is God. The punch line (v. 11) is good manners, but Jesus is drawing a conclusion about the kingdom: attendance depends on God’s invitation. God will not be fooled by self-promotion! Jewish and Greco-Roman societies both spurned the “poor” (v. 13) and the disabled. A Qumran document says that these people will be excluded from the banquet, but Jesus says: share with them! (v. 13) Giving to those unable to “repay” (v. 14) will admit one to the kingdom. For the Pharisee, this is a real surprise. He should have invited the man with dropsy.

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