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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Good Friday - April 14, 2017



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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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 52:13-53:12

Our reading is the last of four poems found in Isaiah 40-55 which are known as Servant Songs because each speaks of a “servant”. They were seen as foretelling the coming of the Messiah in the centuries before Jesus was born; Jesus saw himself as fulfilling these prophecies.

In 52:13-15, God announces a time when “my servant” (possibly the prophet himself) will be raised to “very high” status with him – due to (as the word translated “prosper” implies) his obedience to God’s will. As many were stunned into silence (“astonished”) at him, disfigured (and so unfit for sacrifice), so will he “startle” people everywhere; they will see the unexpected and “contemplate” ideas strange to them.

The prophet speaks in 53:1-9, beginning with two rhetorical questions: who has believed what Israel has heard? To whom has God’s power (“arm”) been shown? The victor had humble beginnings (although “root”, 53:2, does link him to 11:1: from the stump of Jesse, ... out of his roots”, Jesse being David’s father). The servant was disowned by his own people; they hid their faces from him, as they did from a leper. Illness was seen as God’s punishment for waywardness ( 53:4), but the servant’s punishment was different: it restored “us” ( 53:5), rebellious as we were against God (“transgressions”), to total well-being (“whole”). God placed our sins on the servant ( 53:6). The servant suffered harsh treatment and death silently, despite the agony ( 53:7). He was wrongfully convicted ( 53:8); he was completely innocent ( 53:9). His humiliation was unexpected. It was in God’s plan for him to suffer ( 53:10). Victory, exaltation, will not come in his lifetime but by God’s “will” being done in future generations.

In 53:10b, God speaks again. Through the servant’s union (“anguish”, 53:11) with sinful people, he will bring widespread oneness with God (“righteous”) through his “knowledge” (of God). For what he has done, God will make him “great” ( 53:12).


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 22

Jesus quoted the opening words of this psalm on the cross. In his suffering, the psalmist feels deserted by God, despite his cries for help day and night (v. 2). Even so, he convinced that God is “holy” (v. 3). His forebears trusted in God (as he does), and God helped them (v. 4), so may God help him now (v. 5). His misery is aggravated by those who mock him; they see his suffering as a sign of God’s ineffectiveness: they jeer and grimace (“make mouths”, v. 7) at him. But he is convinced that God has been with him since his infancy (vv. 9-10); only God can help him now. His detractors behave like savage animals, seeking to devour him (vv. 12-13). (Bulls from “Bashan” were particularly strong.) His suffering (vv. 14-15) may be physical and mortal: his dry “mouth” may be due to fever; it leaves him weak. His detractors are so sure he will die that they have already auctioned off his clothes (v. 18). May God help him soon (v. 19). When God restores him, he will spread the word of God in the community and will praise him in the “congregation” (v. 22), the Temple. God will rescue him, and all “nations” (v. 27), and those who have died (v. 29). “Future generations” (v. 30) too will be told of God’s saving deeds, and will proclaim them.


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 10:16-25

The author has told us:

  • how much greater is Christ’s sacrifice of himself than the annual sacrifices of the high priest on the Day of Atonement, and
  • what any priest offered daily in sacrificial ritual for the forgiveness of sins was worthless,
  • unlike Christ’s “single sacrifice” (v. 12). After Jesus died and rose, he became king. (Kings “sat down”, but priests stood.) Since that time, he has been awaiting the final defeat of his “enemies” (v. 13). For by offering himself on the cross he has “perfected” (v. 14), completed, the removal of sin from those whom God has “sanctified”, made holy, set apart for his service. (Elsewhere salvation will be completed when Christ comes again.)

    The writings of the Old Testament, divinely inspired through the “Holy Spirit” (v. 15), foretold this: Jeremiah wrote that there will be a new covenant, one in which God’s ways will be written in peoples’ very being (v. 16), and where God will, in effect, clean off the sin slate (v. 17). We have a new covenant, a new deal with God (v. 18).

    Vv. 19ff tell of the consequences of the new covenant: since Christ’s sacrifice allows us to enter into God’s presence (“sanctuary”, v. 19) boldly, now that there is no longer a barrier (“curtain”, v. 20) between the faithful and God, and since Christ is “a great [high] priest” (v. 21) who has sacrificed for the Church (“house of God” ), we have three privileges/duties: we can and must

  • approach God in faith with clear consciences (v. 22);
  • “hold fast” (v. 23) to our statement of faith (made at baptism), reciprocating God’s fidelity to us, and
  • stimulate the expression of “love and good deeds” (v. 24) in others.
  • These duties must be performed in the context of the liturgical community, especially since “the Day” (v. 25, Christ’s second coming), is approaching.


    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 4:14-16;5:7-9

    The author has written that Christ, the sympathetic and trustworthy “high priest” ( 2:17), took on being human in every way; he was tested by suffering. He came to help humankind ( 2:16). Through his death he is able to restore us to oneness with God, freeing us from the power of evil forces – unlike those who fear death because they will be judged harshly for unforgiven sins ( 2:14-18).

    Now he says that because our “great high priest” ( 4:14) has become human and returned to God (“passed through the heavens”), we should “hold fast” to our (baptismal) creed (“confession”). God knows each of us and sees us clearly; we “must render an account” ( 4:13) of our fidelity to him. Christ can “sympathize with our weaknesses” ( 4:15), because he has been “tested as we are”, but without erring. So let us confidently present ourselves before God (“throne of grace”, 4:16), to receive both forgiveness of sins and his gift of love (“grace”) to help us “in time of need”.

    Indeed, Christ is the ideal high priest for two reasons:

  • he is “able to deal gently” ( 5:2) with those who do not know God (“the ignorant”), and with those who deviate from God’s ways (the “wayward”), having been able to sin while he was in human form, and
  • he is divinely appointed (“called by God”,
  • 5:4): the author sees Psalm 110:4 as his appointment. He is high priest “for ever”, (“Melchisedek” being the prototypical priest), unlike the Temple high priests.

    Vv. 7-8 speak of his time on earth, “the days of his flesh”: then he

  • prayed to the Father,
  • showed his supplication to, and reverence for, him,
  • suffered the agony of the Cross, and
  • was obedient to the Father’s plan.
  • This discipline completed the Father’s making him the great high priest; thereafter he is the source of forgiveness of our sins permanently, for all time.


    Symbol of St John

    John

    John is the fourth gospel. Its author makes no attempt to give a chronological account of the life of Jesus (which the other gospels do, to a degree), but rather "...these things are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name." John includes what he calls signs, stories of miracles, to help in this process.


    John 18:1-19:42

    Jesus has prepared his disciples for his departure; he has prayed to the Father that believers may have both the Father and the Son within them. May they express their unity in love, thus fulfilling the mission of the Church to lead all people to believe.

    He and his disciples now leave Jerusalem; they cross “the Kidron valley” to “a garden” on the Mount of Olives. The “police” ( 18:3) are Temple police, under the control of the high priest. The Jewish and Roman authorities collude. While there was only one high priest, there was a high-priestly family (“chief priests”); “the chief priests and the Pharisees” is John’s term for the Sanhedrin. It is night-time, so those who are to arrest Jesus carry lights as well as “weapons”. Having fore-knowledge, and having chosen his destiny, Jesus takes the initiative ( 18:4). Jesus the Nazorean is a better translation than “Jesus of Nazareth” ( 18:5, 7; 19:19); in Acts 24:5 an attorney for the Jewish authorities calls Christians Nazoreans . “‘I am he’” ( 18:5) fits the context; it also recalls God’s name in Exodus 3:4,6. Perhaps “they stepped back ...” ( 18:6) because they saw Jesus as a magician casting a spell using the divine name. Their action also emphasizes Jesus’ divine majesty. In 18:8, Jesus secures the release of his followers; earlier, in 17:12, he has promised safety for those entrusted to him ( 18:9).

    Peter’s action leads Jesus to ask him whether he intends to prevent Jesus from going through with the destiny the Father has for him ( 18:11). “The cup” is what is allotted by God, whether pleasant or unpleasant. The “officer” in 18:12 is the equivalent of a colonel, and “the soldiers” are a cohort (“detachment”, 18:3), hundreds of men. The number is probably exaggerated – to show that Jesus is in charge of what happens to him. “Annas” ( 18:13) had been high priest until deposed by the Romans; he has been succeeded by relatives, of whom “Caiaphas” is one. “The Jews” ( 18:14) are prominent ones; the ordinary people (when not whipped up by the Jewish authorities) are sympathetic to Jesus.

    We do not know who “another disciple” ( 18:15) is. People may have still seen “Annas” ( 18:24) as the rightful “high priest” ( 18:15). That the gate/door-keeper is a “woman” ( 18:16) is surprising; she does appear in all four gospels. Peter’s first denial is in 18:17.

    In 18:19-23, Jesus is interrogated by Annas. He tries to indict Jesus for training his disciples as revolutionaries. Jesus replies that he has always taught in public places, for all to hear. Those who heard him “know what ... [he] said” ( 18:21): ask the crowds about me! He has not conspired (“said nothing in secret”, 18:20). His refusal to answer annoys the hearing. In 18:23, Jesus is not deterred; he deals boldly with his questioners. By sending him to Caiaphas, Annas holds him overnight ( 18:24).

    18:25 contains Peter’s second refusal to identify himself as a follower of Jesus, and 18:26 his third. As in the other gospels, the “cock” ( 18:27) then crows, announcing dawn. Jesus had predicted that this would happen: see 13:38.

    Pilate’s official residence, his “headquarters” ( 18:28) was the praetorium; it was part office and part living-quarters. It is about 6 a.m. (“early ...”), the time when sessions of Roman courts began. Whether entering the public part of the building would make the Jewish authorities (“they”) ritually unclean (“defilement”) is disputed by scholars.

    In 18:29, Pilate begins the hearing with the formula usually used in Roman courts. “They” (some prominent Jews, 18:30) have no charge to bring, so they obfuscate. In 18:31, Pilate tries to get out of his pact with them; their answer reveals that they seek the death penalty. It also reveals the “kind of death” ( 18:32) that Jesus is to die: the Jewish authorities could stone a person to death (a foreigner found in an inner court of the Temple), but only a Roman court could order crucifixion. Jesus has predicted this: “lifted up” in 3:14-15; 12:32-33.

    Pilate is suspicious of the motives of the Jewish authorities, so he questions Jesus again ( 18:33). He cannot believe that the man before him is kingly material. He focusses on the political aspect of Jesus’ popularity. Jesus answers Pilate’s question with a question: did other put you up to this? ( 18:34). Jesus offers Pilate the opportunity to follow his own conscience rather than serving as a channel for hatred. Pilate begins his reply by showing his scorn for Jews, and affirms that some of them have put him up to it. Why would the high-priestly family want you gone?

    Jesus answers in Pilate’s terms ( 18:36): my kingship is no threat to Roman authority, because it is not worldly . If it were, supporters would be fighting to free me. Pilate recognizes that Jesus is, in some sense, a “king” ( 18:37), and seeks elucidation. Jesus answers that he and Pilate have different ideas of kingship: Jesus is sovereign over “truth”, and took on human form to explain it and bring people to it.

    Pilate is intrigued by the idea of “truth” ( 18:38), and understands just enough to find Jesus innocent of political insurrection. He would like to release him, but needs a way of doing so that will not foment riots. The “custom” ( 18:39) of setting a prisoner free at Passover is unknown outside the Bible. The crowd, whipped up by the authorities, choose a “bandit” ( 18:40), a robber. The Greek word often means one who stirs up rebellion. In 10:1,8, Jesus contrasts himself, the good shepherd from such a person.

    Jesus is “flogged” ( 19:1). Usually part of the punishment, it would significantly hasten the death of a crucified person. The flogging, and the mockery in 19:2-3, assume that sentence has already been passed: a scholar suggests that the verses have been rearranged. The “crown of thorns” was probably made of woven palm fronds, a symbol of kingship, rather than being an instrument of torture. A Roman soldier wore a scarlet tunic; “purple” is mock-scarlet.

    Again Pilate declares to the crowd that he finds Jesus innocent ( 19:4). Coronation of king would include announcement of his throne-name; perhaps, ironically, “the man” ( 19:5) is Jesus’ throne-name, and slaps across the face replace the usual kisses. In Daniel 7:13, the Aramaic bar nasha (son of man) is a circumlocution for “man”. Jesus called himself son of man, exemplary human being, because it was apolitical, unlike messiah.

    Again Pilate finds Jesus innocent, but refuses to act: the Sanhedrin could not order crucifixion ( 19:6). This time the Jewish authorities state that Jesus is guilty of breaking Mosaic law: he has committed blasphemy by claiming “to be the Son of God” ( 19:7). (The law is in Leviticus 24:16.) Pilate is “more afraid ...” ( 19:8) perhaps because he has some inkling of what Jesus is about. In asking “Where are you from?” ( 19:9) Pilate is asking what is your origin?. He may have grasped that Jesus’ “kingdom is not from this world” ( 18:36). Perhaps Jesus does not answer him because understanding about God requires commitment to the truth. Pilate takes Jesus’ silence as a slight against his authority and ingratitude of one whose life he is disposed to spare. 19:10-11 point out that even though Pilate thinks that he has ultimate, Roman, authority (“power”) he does not: all authority is under God. Caiaphas (“the one”, 19:11) is “more guilty” than Pilate.

    In 19:12, the high priests raise the spectre of Pilate being thought disloyal to Caesar. Under Tiberius, any hint of disloyalty could be fatal. One who “sets himself against the emperor” opposed him. They shift away from a religious charge against Jesus to the political one – of being a king opposing Caesar.

    Roman courts met in the open air (“outside”, 19:13). The Greek translated as “sat” is ambiguous (probably intentionally); it can mean seated him (Jesus): who is on trial? While there is no doubt that Pilate was the judge, the notion that all authority is under God is present. For “Hebrew”, read Aramaic, the common language in Palestine. The high priests have placed Pilate in a no-win situation, so he takes revenge: in “‘Here is your King!’” ( 19:14) he speaks contemptuously, and causes them to commit blasphemy: in answering “We have no king but the emperor” ( 19:15) they deny that God is king.

    The antecedent of “them” in 19:16 is logically “the chief priests” ( 19:15), but this doesn’t make sense. A scholar suggests that this verse originally followed 19:2, making “them” refer to “the soldiers”. John is keen to show that Jesus is fully in control of the situation, so he does not mention that Simon of Cyrene relieves Jesus of the weight of the cross part-way to “The Place of the Skull” ( 19:17), a location with skull-like appearance outside the city (“near ...”, 19:20).

    In his “inscription” ( 19:19) Pilate unwittingly affirms the truth that Jesus’ opponents have rejected. Being tri-lingual, it can be read by most people in the Empire. Caiaphas and Annas object ( 19:21): they will not have Jesus thought to their king. Perhaps Pilate did understand something about Jesus.

    It was a Roman custom to divide the clothes of a crucified person ( 19:23). There were five items of clothing and four soldiers. The “tunic” (inner garment) being “seamless, woven in one piece ...” was like the one a high priest wore. The soldiers toss dice (“cast lots”, 19:24) to decide whose it will be. Even they fulfill Old Testament prophecies.

    Note the dramatic contrast between the soldiers and the women close to Jesus ( 19:25). There are various conjectures as to “the disciple whom he loved” is in 19:26. “Here is” can be rendered as see or behold. Today Jesus would probably say Mother rather than “Woman”; he speaks to her affectionately and respectfully. Jesus is really human, and cares. “Hour” ( 19:27) means from that time on. He provides a guardian for his mother.

    Jesus knows that he has accomplished all that he set out to do for the restoration of humankind ( 19:28), and in saying “‘I am thirsty’” shows genuine human weakness. The “sour wine” ( 19:29) is what soldiers drank. We do not know who raised the sponge to Jesus’ lips, nor how. “Hyssop” grows at most waist-high, so probably the “branch” was attached to a staff (or javelin). Hyssop was used to sprinkle the blood of the Passover lamb on doorposts (Exodus 12:22). Jesus confirms completion of the task the Father has given him (“‘It is finished’”, 19:30). No one has taken his life; he gives it up himself (“gave up his spirit”).

    For “cross” ( 19:31), read crosses. Deuteronomy 21:22-23 requires that the body of a person hung on a tree be removed before dark. That year, the first day of Passover was a Sabbath. So “that sabbath” is especially holy (“a day of great solemnity”), and there was a special need to remove the bodies from the crosses. This work could not be done on the Sabbath. Breaking the men’s legs would hasten the onset of suffocation, and death.

    That “blood and water came out” ( 19:34) of Jesus’ side did really happen (19:35), and also has symbolic significance:

  • the “blood” symbolizes life flowing from the crucified Jesus, and made available to us in the Eucharist (see 6:53-56); and
  • the “water” symbolizes the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church.
  • 19:35 is John’s comment: he was an eye-witness to Jesus’ death. It really did happen the way he describes. He has written it down so that his readers “also may believe”. The quotation in 19:36 refers to the Pascal lamb; Jesus is the new Pascal lamb, whose life is given that others may live.

    The quotation in 19:37 is Zechariah 12:10, part of a passage that refers to the end-times. The soldiers have “pierced” Jesus on behalf of those who have opposed Jesus; when Christ returns, his opponents will see Jesus vindicated, and them in the wrong.

    12:42 tells us “many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue”. “Joseph of Arimathea” ( 19:38) was one of Jesus’ “secret” followers and Luke 23:30 says that he was a member of the Sanhedrin. “Nicodemus” ( 19:39), also a member of the Sanhedrin, has earlier “come to Jesus” secretly; he now cones openly, in the day-time.

    These brave men give Jesus a proper burial. (The bodies of men who had been crucified were usually left for the vultures to devour. Perhaps this is why the site of the crucifixion was called The Place of the Skull.)

    “Myrrh”, a resinous gum, mixed with crushed “aloes”, a fragrant wood, was used as an embalming paste. They wrap Jesus’ body in strips of linen (“linen cloths”, 19:40), as had been done earlier for Lazarus: see 11:43-44. “A hundred pounds” ( 19:39, 30 kg or 75 lb) may not be meant literally; perhaps the weight is exaggerated to be a sign of the great honour due to Jesus. The embalming paste was inserted between the layers of the “cloths”. Both Jesus’ death makes Joseph and Nicodemus active followers.

    Only John tells us that the tomb is in a “garden” ( 19:41) near the place where Jesus had been crucified. The Greek word suggests the private garden of a friend.

    © 1996-2016 Chris Haslam



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