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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost - October 6, 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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Lamentations

In 587 BC, the Babylonian army destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple, and deported many of the inhabitants, leaving only the poor and weak. The five poems which make up this book were almost certainly written in Palestine at this time of political, social and religious crisis. Perhaps these laments were recited at the site of the Temple. An ancient tradition holds that the author was Jeremiah - largely because 2 Chronicles 35:25 says that he uttered a lament upon the death of King Josiah at Megiddo; however, Lamentations mourns the loss of the city, not the king. Lamentations is therefore considered anonymous.


Lamentations 1:1-6

The Babylonians first invaded Judah and occupied Jerusalem in 597 BC. They deported King Jehoiakim, Ezekiel and many leading citizens to Babylon and installed Zedekiah as puppet king. Judah rebelled, thus gaining a degree of freedom until 587, when Nebuchadnezzar attacked again; this time he destroyed Jerusalem (including the Temple) and other fortified Judean towns. Many people were deported. The five poems of Lamentations were written as communal laments. A scholar has written: When we hurt physically, we cry out in pain; when we hurt religiously, we lament.

Jerusalem is depicted as a “widow”, a person open to mistreatment because she lacks protection in law. Her “lovers” (v. 2) and “friends” are Judah’s former allies (e.g. Egypt); now she is a “vassal” (v. 1) of Babylon, they have become “enemies” (v. 2). The invasion is seen as God’s punishment for Judah’s sins; he now acts through Babylon, not Judah. God, speaking through Nathan, promised David (as Israel’s representative) “I will give you rest from all your enemies” (2 Samuel 7:11). Now Judah, the true Israel, “finds no resting place” (v. 3): God appears to have withdrawn his promise. No longer does anyone come to “Zion” (v. 4, Jerusalem) to celebrate “festivals”, for the Temple lies in ruins. Moses told the Israelites that, if they obey the Sinai covenant and live by God’s word, God “will make you the head, and not the tail” (Deuteronomy 28:13); now, because of her disobedience, Israel has her “foes” (v. 5) as her “masters”. A covenant included curses, the consequences of a party not keeping the pact. A curse mentioned by Moses is: “You shall have sons and daughters, but they shall ... go into captivity” (Deuteronomy 28:41); Israel has broken the pact, so “her children have gone away, captives” (v. 5). Finally v. 6: those of Judah’s nobility (“her majesty”), leaders of the people, who have escaped deportation have fled and now rule nothing (“no pasture”).


Lamentations

In 587 BC, the Babylonian army destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple, and deported many of the inhabitants, leaving only the poor and weak. The five poems which make up this book were almost certainly written in Palestine at this time of political, social and religious crisis. Perhaps these laments were recited at the site of the Temple. An ancient tradition holds that the author was Jeremiah - largely because 2 Chronicles 35:25 says that he uttered a lament upon the death of King Josiah at Megiddo; however, Lamentations mourns the loss of the city, not the king. Lamentations is therefore considered anonymous.


Lamentations 3:19-26

In vv. 1-20, the poet has focussed on himself and his pain, but he probably speaks for many Judeans. He no longer has peace with God (v. 17). The fall of Jerusalem affects him personally. He has seen God as the cause of the city’s fall. His pain includes hunger, poverty, fatigue, imprisonment, mockery, bitter humiliation and mental anguish. To him, God is the enemy! (“Wormwood”, v. 19, a plant with bitter-tasting leaves, and “gall”, a bitter and poisonous herb, symbolize his pain.) But he does remember the good side and so has “hope” (v. 21): there is more to God than his wrath. God continues to love, to remain faithful to the covenant (“steadfast love”, v. 22), even though his people have broken the pact. His love and compassion (“mercies”) never end. When the Promised Land was divided among the tribes, the “portion” (v. 24) of the priests and Levites was God, rather than land. Now the land is gone; the poet’s hope (like that of a priest or Levite) is in God, ultimate goodness (vv. 25-27). The discipline (“yoke”, v. 27) of waiting quietly for restoration (“salvation”, v. 26) is beneficial: God “is good to those who wait for him” (v. 25).


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 137

This psalm appears to have been written after the return from exile. The psalmist remembers the time when the people were settled, as deportees (“sat down”), near the “rivers of Babylon”, the irrigation canals fed by the Tigris and Euphrates. When their “captors” (v. 3) mockingly demanded songs praising Jerusalem as the city where God dwells (“Zion”), they found it difficult to sing God’s praise, the city being in ruins. But now, back in Jerusalem, they do praise God. “If I forget you” (v. 5), forget your “joy” (v. 6), may my “right hand” (v. 5) cease to be able to pluck the strings of the harp (v. 2) and may my “tongue” (v. 6) be cleft to my palate, making me unable to sing!

Vv. 7-9 seek vengeance on an eye for an eye basis. May God remember that the “Edomites” (v. 7) helped the Babylonians in sacking Jerusalem in 587 BC! May we have the opportunity to exact retribution on both Edom and Babylon for the atrocities they inflicted on us then!


2 Timothy

1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus, together known as the Pastoral Epistles, are markedly different in vocabulary and literary style from epistles we know to be Paul's. They also present a more institutionalized church. For these reasons, most scholars believe that the Pastorals were written a generation or so later than the letters we are sure are Pauline. 2 Timothy is the most personal of the Pastorals: most of it is directed specifically to Timothy. From the Book of Acts, we know that Timothy was from Lystra in Asia Minor, and was the son of a Greek father and a Jewish mother who had become a Christian. He accompanied Paul on his travels.


2 Timothy 1:1-14

Paul was made an apostle as part of God’s plan of salvation (vv. 1, 11) to bring eternal “life”, found in the Christian community (“in Christ Jesus”), to all. Paul worships God in continuity with his Jewish “ancestors” (v. 3). V. 4a probably recalls Paul’s departure from Timothy: may sorrow be replaced by “joy”. Timothy’s faith has been handed down from generation to generation (v. 5). He was given and received “the gift of God” (v. 6), through Paul (“my hands”) but now this gift, “a spirit of power ... love ... self-discipline” (v. 7, or ethical behaviour) has become dormant through neglect. God has not withdrawn it, so, Timothy, “rekindle” (v. 6) the gift! The teaching of Jesus (or the preaching about him, “testimony ...”, v. 8) and of Paul’s servitude (“prisoner”) are not shameful; rather Timothy should emulate Paul in suffering for spreading the good news (“the gospel”). Our godly “calling” (v. 9) is based on God’s plan and his gift of love (“grace”). Grace, in Jesus’ becoming human, was part of the plan since “before” God’s creative act. In his “appearing” (v. 10, in taking on human form) Christ brought eternal life (“abolished death ... immortality”). The body of faith (Christian doctrine) has been entrusted to Paul until “that day” (v. 12) when Christ comes again. So, Timothy, faithfully hand on the valuable teachings you have received from me, with the help of the “Holy Spirit” (v. 14), which is present and active in us.


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 17:5-10

Jesus has told his followers that

  • there will be times when you lose your faith, but if you cause another to do so, your fate will be worse than death! (vv. 1-2) and
  • if a fellow Christian sins, rebuke him; if he repents, forgive him – however often he sins and repents (vv. 3-4).
  • The twelve (“the apostles”, v. 5) now speak to him, asking him to give them enough faith to remain faithful. (The “mustard seed”, v. 6, is very small. The “mulberry tree” is large with an extensive root system, making it hard to uproot. It would not normally take root in the sea.) Jesus tells them that with genuine faith, however small, anything is possible. Quality of faith matters more than quantity.

    Jesus now tells a parable (vv. 7-10). Slaves were expected to do their duties, and no master would absolve a slave of them, so the disciples would answer of course not! to the question in v. 7: should a slave eat before his master? The master stands for God and the slave for his people. The Greek word translated “worthless” (v. 10) means those to whom nothing is owed, to whom no favour is due, so God’s people should never presume that their obedience to God’s commands has earned them his favour. (The Revised English Bible translates v. 10b as We are servants and deserve no credit; we have only done our duty.) However, as 12:35-38 says, God will reward those who are prepared when Christ comes again.

    © 1996-2003 Chris Haslam



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