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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost - September 8, 2013



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.

Jeremiah 18:1-11

The symbolic image of God as a potter is also found in Isaiah 29:16; 45:9; 64:8. [JBC] Paul uses this image in Romans 9:20-24. [NOAB] See also Isaiah 41:25.

NJBC says that the inspiration of this narrative and sermon comes from an ordinary experience of Jeremiah, later interpreted as Yahweh’s command.

Verse 3: “wheel”: The Hebrew word is ‘obnayim, literally meaning two stones. [JBC] Sirach 38:29-30 gives us a description of pottery in ancient times: “So it is with the potter sitting at his work and turning the wheel with his feet; he is always deeply concerned over his products, and he produces them in quantity. He moulds the clay with his arm and makes it pliable with his feet; he sets his heart to finish the glazing, and he takes care in firing the kiln”. [NJBC]

Verse 4: “making”: Yasar is also used in Genesis 2:7: “then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being”. [NJBC]

Verses 7-10: Freewill has an important role to play in both salvation and damnation, but humans are absolutely dependent on God. [JBC]

Verse 7: REB translates the Hebrew as puck up.

Verse 11: Penance does work! 26:3 says: “It may be that they [the people of Judah] will listen, all of them, and will turn from their evil way, that I may change my mind about the disaster that I intend to bring on them because of their evil doings”. See also 7:3-7; 36:3; Ezekiel 18:21-27; Jonah 3 (the conversion of Nineveh). [NJBC]

Psalm 139:1-6,13-18

Verse 6: The psalmist is unable to comprehend God: such knowledge is “so high”. Note also v. 16: God’s thoughts are so profound.

Verses 7-12: In Amos 9:2, Yahweh tells, through the prophet, of his ability to reach evildoers wherever they are: “Though they dig into Sheol, from there shall my hand take them; though they climb up to heaven, from there I will bring them down”. [NJBC]

Verse 8: In early Israel, people in Sheol were thought to be separated from God, but here they too are God’s. [NOAB]

Verse 15: Genesis 2:7 says: “... the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground [soil] ...” [JBC]

Verse 16: The idea that God keeps a record of the deeds of humans is also found elsewhere in the Old Testament. [NOAB]

Verse 18: To count all God’s thoughts, the psalmist would need to live for ever.

Verses 19ff: A prayer for vindication and deliverance. [NOAB] The psalmist identifies his enemies as enemies of God: as sinners, enemies of God are worthy of rejection. This is a (strange!) declaration of his loyalty to God. Finally he says: God, punish the wicked! Examine my deeds and thoughts! They are pure, but if I stray, “bring me back”, so that I may enjoy a long life.

Philemon 1-21

Comments: Paul writes not using his authority as an apostle (as he does in other letters): In Romans 1:1, he begins: “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God”. See also 1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:1. [NJBC]

Verse 1: “prisoner”: The location of Paul’s imprisonment is not mentioned. In Philippians 1:13, Paul says that “my imprisonment is for Christ”. [CAB] See also Ephesians 3:1; 4:1.

Verse 1: “Timothy”: Acts 16:1 tells us: “Paul went on also to Derbe and to Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer; but his father was a Greek”, and Romans 16:21: “Timothy, my co-worker, greets you ...”. He is co-sender of 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians and 1 and 2 Thessalonians. He was Paul’s emissary from Ephesus to Corinth regarding the collection (see 1 Corinthians 16:1-10) and from the place of Paul’s imprisonment to Philippi (see Philippians 2:19). [CAB]

Verse 2: “our sister”: i.e. in faith. [NOAB] A footnote in the NRSV says that the Greek literally means the sister.

Verse 2: “Archippus”: He is also mentioned in the close of the letter to Colossae: Colossians 4:17 says: “And say to Archippus, ‘See that you complete the task that you have received in the Lord’”. [NJBC]

Verse 2: “the church in your house”: For the Christian community to gather in Philemon’s house shows that he was a man of considerable means, as does his ownership of slaves. Other leaders of house churches mentioned in New Testament letters are: Chloe (1 Corinthians 1:11), Aquila and Prisca (1 Corinthians 16:19; Romans 16:3), Stephanas (1 Corinthians 1:16; 16:15), Nympha (Colossians 4:15), Gaius (Romans 16:23) and most likely Phoebe (Romans 16:1-2). [CAB]

Verse 3: “Grace ... and peace”: This formal-*liturgical greeting indicates the use to be made of this letter, namely as a communication to be read to the assembled church in Philemon’s home. [CAB]

Verses 4-21: “You” is singular in these verses, so only Philemon is addressed. [CAB]

Verse 4: Of Paul’s letters, only Galatians does not begin with thanksgiving. See, for example, Romans 1:8-15: “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world ...”. [CAB]

Verse 7: “saints”: Paul uses this term for all Christians, whether alive or dead. See also Romans 1:7 (“To all God's beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints”); Romans 15:26 (“the saints at Jerusalem”); Philippians 4:21 (“Greet every saint in Christ Jesus”); Ephesians 2:19; Colossians 1:12; 1 Thessalonians 3:13 (“... may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”). [CAB]

Verse 9: “an old man”: Paul appeals to the significantly younger Philemon. [NJBC]

Verse 10: “my child”: Paul calls those whom he has brought to Christ his children in Galatians 4:19 (“My little children, for whom I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you”) and 1 Corinthians 4:15 (“... in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel”). [CAB]

Verse 10: “whose father I have become”: This is an allusion to Onesimus’ conversion. [NJBC]

Verse 10: Comments: A penalty for leaving a master was death: Roman law permitted a master to punish a slave in various ways. Within the bounds of the law, the actual punishment was up to the master.

Verse 13: “he might be of service to me in your place”: Perhaps as Philemon’s representative in Paul’s missionary activity, as Epaphroditus is the Philippian church’s emissary (see Philippians 2:25-30). [CAB]

Verse 15: “was separated”: This is a tactful expression for ran away. [NOAB]

Verse 16: “a beloved brother”: Onesimus is, like Philemon, an adopted child of God through baptism. In Galatians 4:5, Paul says that Christ’s coming was “so that we might receive adoption as children”. See also Romans 8:15-16. [NJBC]

Verse 18: It is not clear as to whether Onesimus took any of Philemon’s possessions when he escaped from his service. [NOAB]

Verse 19: “I ... am writing this with my own hand”: CAB suggests that Paul is saying: my signature is my promise to make reparation, if any is required. It is probable that Paul wrote the whole of this short letter himself. He dictated most of his letters to a scribe, and added comments in his own hand in 1 Corinthians 16:21-24 and Galatians 6:11-18 (“See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand! ...”).

Verse 21: “knowing that you will do even more than I say”: Perhaps a gentle hint that Philemon should grant Onesimus his freedom, but more likely a courteous anticipation of Philemon’s acceptance of Paul’s letter. [NOAB] CAB suggests that the wording indicates the delicacy with which Paul is treating the subject of Philemon’s acceptance of Onesimus, and of his releasing the runaway slave for work in the Pauline mission. Paul knows that Philemon must answer to his fellow slave-owners for not inflicting the usual punishment on Onesimus.

Verse 22: While Philemon’s “guest”, Paul would be able to observe how Onesimus is being treated. [NOAB]

Verse 23: “Epaphras”: He is also mentioned in Colossians 1:7-8 (“ ... Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit”) and Colossians 4:12 (“Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you. He is always wrestling in his prayers on your behalf ...”). [NOAB]

Verse 23: “you”: This word is singular in the Greek. [CAB]

Verse 24: “Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke”: Colossians 4:10-14 mentions all four: “Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, as does Mark the cousin of Barnabas, concerning whom you have received instructions – if he comes to you, welcome him. ... Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas greet you”. [NOAB]

Verse 25: Philippians 4:23 is identical; Galatians 6:18 is similar. [NJBC]

Luke 14:25-33

The same ideas (and some of the same sayings) are also found in 9:23-27, 57-62.

Verses 26-27: In Matthew 10:37-38, Jesus says: “‘Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.’”. These verses reflect Jesus’ meaning. See also John 12:25. [NOAB] BlkLk says that these verses are from Q (the sayings source); Luke seems to have preserved the original form of a saying which Matthew has adapted to readers of a later period.

Verse 26: NJBC says that the total commitment Jesus demands of his disciples is stated starkly. Luke shows a tendency towards asceticism. BlkLk says that the words are startling, but that Luke’s arrangement of them allows them to take the meaning which alone makes sense: if a person is to follow Jesus to the end he must hate and despise his own greater desire and love for all natural objects of affection.

Verse 26: “hate”: Use of this word is supported by the Qumran literature, specifically in an interpretation of Deuteronomy 33:9 in 4QTestimonia. [JBC]

Verse 27: “carry the cross”: The examples that follow all point to one moral: a disciple must be sure that he or she can see discipleship through to the end; in the words of v. 29, he or she must be “able to finish” it. In 9:23, Jesus states this principle more generally to tells his disciples: “‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me’”. [BlkLk]

Verses 31-32: NOAB wonders whether this example refers to a contemporary event.

Verse 33: See also 9:57-62; 12:33; 18:28-30. In Philippians 3:7-9, Paul writes “Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him ...” [NOAB]

Verses 34-35: Jesus also uses the example of salt losing its taste in Matthew 5:13 (“You are the salt of the earth ...”) and Mark 9:49-50. [NOAB] “Salt” does not really lose its taste, but in Judaism it can become ritually unclean and need to be thrown out. (It was used to season incense and offerings to God.) Jesus may also be thinking of the salt deposits around the Dead Sea: when heavily rained upon, they still look like salt but no longer are.

© 1996-2003 Chris Haslam



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