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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Annunciation of our Lord - March 25, 2014



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.

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Isaiah

This book can be divided into two (and possibly three) parts. Chapters 1 to 39 were written before the exile, from about 740 BC to about 700 BC. These were difficult times for the southern kingdom, Judah: a disastrous war was fought with Syria; the Assyrians conquered Israel, the northern kingdom, in 723 BC, and threatened Judah. Isaiah saw the cause of these events as social injustice, which he condemned, and against which he fought valiantly. Chapters 40 to 66 were written during and after the Exile in Babylon. They are filled with a message of trust and confident hope that God will soon end the Exile. Some scholars consider that Chapters 56 to 66 form a third part of the book, written after the return to the Promised Land. These chapters speak of hope and despair; they berate the people for their sin, for worshipping other gods. Like Second Isaiah, this part speaks of the hope that God will soon restore Jerusalem to its former glory and make a new home for all peoples.


Isaiah 7:10-14

Threatened by invasion by Assyria, the kings of “Aram” (v. 1, Syria) and Israel (also called “Ephraim”, v. 2) have tried to convince Ahaz, king of Judah, to join their alliance; he has refused. Now they try to replace him on the throne. Isaiah has advised him to trust in God, not in human counsel.

God now tells Ahaz: ask any “sign” (v. 11), any confirmation of my promise delivered by Isaiah – any at all in all creation. (“Sheol” was the subterranean abode of the dead.). But it seems that Ahaz has already made up his mind (v. 12) so, through Isaiah, God gives to the “house of David” (v. 13) not a “sign” (v. 11) to convince Ahaz, but one which speaks to future generations. God will keep the promise he made to David (through Nathan) of an everlasting “house and ... kingdom” (2 Samuel 7:16). “The young woman” (v. 14, most likely Ahaz’s wife) is pregnant; David’s line will continue; she will name her son “Immanuel” (meaning God with us).


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 45

The psalmist writes an ode for a royal wedding. In vv. 2-5, he lists the king’s admirable qualities: he is “most handsome”, full of God’s grace, splendid (“glory”, v. 3), a conqueror “for the cause of truth” (v. 4) and of justice. “Your throne ...” (v. 6) probably speaks of God rather than of the king (although the word translated “God” can mean superhuman being, so it may say the king is superior to all other humans). God has made the king greater than the kings of other nations (v. 7). His robes are perfumed with fragrance: with “myrrh” (v. 8, an aromatic gum from Arabia, Ethiopia or India), “aloes” (a fragrant wood) and “cassia” (a tree native to India and the Far East). Stringed instruments play music in his palace which is decorated with “ivory”. The ladies of the court include daughters of fellow kings (v. 9). The bride’s dress is ornamented with gold from Arabia or east Africa (“Ophir”). She is a foreigner, perhaps from “Tyre” (v. 12). She is to forget her people, to please and honour the king, her master. The rich seek her favour with expensive gifts. A glorious sight (v. 13), she enters, followed by bridesmaids (v. 14); it is a joyous occasion. May the king have male heirs who will be “princes” (v. 16, rulers over all peoples); may his reign be celebrated for ages; may the peoples praise him for ever.


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 40

This psalm may have been two psalms (vv. 1-11 and 12-17) later joined through use in a liturgy. Vv. 1-3 tell of the psalmist’s experience (but not what troubled him). The “desolate pit” (v. 2) may be Sheol, the subterranean abode of the dead; perhaps he was near death, and recovered. This hymn is his “new song” (v. 3) of thanksgiving. The “proud” (v. 4) trust in themselves (not God) or in materialism. The psalmist marvels at God’s innumerable “deeds” (v. 5) and “thoughts” for his people. God prefers people listening to him and doing his will over sacrificing to him (v. 6). (It was thought that God kept a “book”, v. 7, a record of how ethically each person lived.) In thanks, the psalmist has told “the glad news” (v. 9) in the Temple, “the great congregation”. He has not held back (“restrained”) in telling of God’s “faithfulness” (v. 10) to him and all God has done for him, so may God not withhold his “mercy” (v. 11), “love” and fidelity to him. V. 12 tells us his situation: he is weighed down by sin. Vv. 13-17 are his prayer for deliverance; he suggests that some others are making his situation worse than it really is (v. 13), while others are supportive. He has faith that God will help him, but when?


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 10:4-10

In v. 1, the author has said that the sacrifices offered annually in the Temple on the Day of Atonement (according to Jewish law) foreshadow (point forward to) “the good things to come” through Christ. He has then argued: if the temple sacrifices were “good things”, i.e. cleansing of all inner guilt that sin causes, why did these sacrifices need to continue? (v. 2) These sacrifices, he has said, did not wipe the slate clean (v. 3); they can’t (v. 4).

Now, quoting Psalm 40, the author explains that God prefers obedience (“a body ...”, v. 5) to sacrifices: doing God’s will is what counts (v. 7). In v. 8 the author interprets the psalm. He lists the four types of sacrifice offered in the Temple, offered according to Mosaic “law” (v. 8). Jesus, he says (v. 9), came to do away with “the first” (the sacrificial system) and to inaugurate “the second” (the self--offering of Jesus). It is “by God’s will” (v. 10), carried out through Christ, that we have been “sanctified”, been made ceremonially clean and been perfected, made complete, through Christ’s death on the cross – “once for all” time.


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 1:26-38

In vv. 8-17, Luke has told us about Zechariah seeing an angel in the Temple who has told him that his wife, Elizabeth, will bear a son, who will be named John. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit and “turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God ... to make ready a people prepared for the Lord”.

Elizabeth is now in the “sixth month” (v. 26) of her pregnancy. God sends the angel Gabriel to Nazareth. It is through Joseph (not Mary) that Jesus is of the lineage of David. Mary’s name in Hebrew is Miryam, meaning exalted one (“favoured one”). The angel, speaking Aramaic, probably said shalom! Peace be with you! Mary is especially “favoured” (vv. 28, 30) with God’s love, and as such has long been part of God’s plan. “Perplexed” (v. 29), she reflects on this greeting (“pondered”, v. 29), drawing on her faith: in what way am I “favoured”? She might have panicked in the presence of God’s messenger: awe can easily turn into fear.

Gabriel now tells her (vv. 30-33): she will bear a son, Son of God, a king. (God says “do not be afraid” to Abraham when he tells him he will have a son.) V. 31a recalls Isaiah 7:14, read today. Psalm 89:26-27 also speaks of the link between the dynasty of David and sonship of God. (“The Most High”, vv. 32, 35, is God.) The prophet Micah often speaks of the house of Israel as the “house of Jacob”; in his book ( 4:7), we read “the Lord will reign over them ... forevermore.” (Jacob is renamed Israel after his struggle with God at Peniel (Genesis 32:28), but we find both names used for the man and the people from that point on.)

While Mary does not doubt Gabriel’s message from God, she does wonder how can this be?. The last clause in v. 34 can be rendered since I have no husband. Mary is engaged to Joseph. Gabriel, in v. 35, answers Mary’s question by telling her that she will conceive through the power of the Holy Spirit (not through sexual union): a gift from God. The child will be filled with the Holy Spirit (“holy”), dedicated to the service of God, and “will be called Son of God” . V. 37 is like Genesis 18:14, where God says “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?”. There (as with Elizabeth) in advanced years (“in her old age”, v. 36), after a normal gestation period, Sarah gives birth to a son. Jesus’ birth is even more exceptional than those of Isaac and John the Baptist. To be a “servant of the Lord” (v. 38) is special: God calls David “my servant” in 2 Samuel 7:5. Luke is doing more than telling the story of the Annunciation: he is placing Jesus in the context of Old Testament prophecies.

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