Comments

Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Holy Cross - September 14, 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.

Feedback to is always welcome.


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Numbers

Numbers begins with the first census of Israel, and is named for it. After several chapter containing laws, the narrative section begins in Chapter 9. It follows the people of Israel from near the southern tip of the Sinai peninsula to Moab, east of Palestine, over a period of 38 years. Numbers is not a history in the modern sense but rather a record of how God acted in history: as an indicator of how he would act again on behalf of his people.


Numbers 21:4b-9

The people of Israel are now in the desert in the Sinai peninsula, probably near its northeastern edge (southwest of the Dead Sea.) During their journey from Egypt to Palestine, the Bible tells us of eight rebellions: six of the people against their leaders and God, and two of their leaders against God. In today’s reading, the people rebel against Moses and God.

The people are “impatient” (v. 4) or short-tempered because Moses has refused to engage Edom in battle and, (after being attacked) Israel, with God’s help, has won a military victory over the local Canaanites. In criticizing “this miserable food” (v. 5), i.e. manna, they are resenting what God gives them freely. So God sends “poisonous” (v. 6, or fiery) “serpents” – fiery possibly because the bites become inflamed before the victims die. The people do repent, and ask Moses to intercede for them (“pray to the Lord”, v. 7). God replies that he will heal through a symbol, a bronze snake on a pole. Those who believe in God will be healed. The rebellion stories tell of a lack of trust in God – which led to all those of the generation that left Egypt (including Moses) dying before Israel entered the Promised Land – a punishment for lack of faith, and an example for later generations.

These stories also tell, very frankly, of the issues of human leadership: its qualifications, manifestations and limitations. Moses really has to struggle to be an effective leader. The bronze serpent was preserved and worshipped until, because it had become a symbol of worship separate from the worship of God, it was smashed to bits during the reign of King Hezekiah, in the late 700s BC (see 2 Kings 18:4).


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 98:1-6

Worshippers are invited to sing “a new song” marking new evidence of God’s rule. With truth (“right hand”) and power, he has won the “victory”, i.e. salvation, saving acts, for his people Israel. He has triumphed over all who try to overthrow his kingdom. All peoples can see that Israel is right in trusting him (“vindication”, v. 2). Then v. 3: as he did when the Israelites groaned under oppression in Egypt (Exodus 2:24), he now remembers his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – to lead them and protect them. All peoples will see his saving acts. (These verses are in the past tense, but the reference is to a future event.) Vv. 4-8 call on all creation (“earth”, “sea”, “floods” and “hills”) to acknowledge and be joyful in God’s rule. Per v. 7b, people of all lands are invited to join in. God’s coming to “judge the world” (v. 9) will be a truly marvellous event. He will judge us, but his judgement will be perfectly fair and equitable, for he is righteous.


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 78:1-2,34-38

This psalm, probably written for use at a major festival, recites the history of God’s dealings with Israel; it tells of “the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done” (v. 4), but also of his people’s lack of trust in him, their deviations from his ways.

The word translated “parable” (v. 2) here means wise instruction. The gift of manna is mentioned in v. 25 (“bread of angels”) and of quail in v. 27 (“rained flesh”). Even though the people were “well filled” (v. 29), they wanted more. God gets angry (v. 31): he apparently sends poisonous snakes (as his agents) who “killed” (v. 34) people. Being thus punished, they repent, seek him out, and remember (v. 35) him as saviour. God forgives them, delivers them from the snakes, but again they deviate from his ways (v. 37). Were it not for his compassion, he would utterly destroy them (v. 38). Rarely does he get angry.


1 Corinthians

Corinth was a major port which also commanded the land route from the Peloponnesus peninsula to central Greece. An industrial and ship-building centre, it was also a centre for the arts. Its inhabitants came from far and wide. In this epistle, Paul answers two letters he has received concerning lack of harmony and internal strife in the Corinthian church, a church he had founded. Paul wrote this letter from Ephesus (now in Turkey), probably in 57 AD.


1 Corinthians 1:18-24

In the preceding verses, Paul has urged the Christian community at Corinth to be “in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose” (v. 10). He has heard from members of Chloe’s household that there are “quarrels” (v. 11, or contentions) “among you”. Some claim that they “belong to Paul” (v. 12); others that they belong to Apollos, to Cephas, or to Christ. Paul is thankful that he baptised very few members of the community, because “no one can say that you were baptised in my name” (v. 15), for Christ sent him to Corinth to “proclaim the gospel ... so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power” (v. 17). You can’t have a community in which Christians are at cross-purposes with each other.

Then v. 18: the message of the cross makes sense to the faithful: to us, it is the revelation of God’s power, but to others, it is nonsense (“foolishness”, vv. 18, 21). In v. 19, Paul recalls a verse from Isaiah referring to events that occurred when Assyria was threatening Judah. The king’s counsellor (a “wise” man, one versed in popular philosophy) advised alliance with Egypt, but Isaiah told the king to do nothing but trust in the Lord: God would save Israel and bring to nothing the “wisdom of the wise” and the “discernment” (intelligence) “of the discerning”. From other sources, we know that there were many “wise” citizens of Corinth, each of whom had their own solutions to the world’s problems. The Greek philosopher and the Jewish scribe count as nothing before God; Paul says: God’s wisdom is different: you can’t “know” (v. 21) it in a philosophical way. Knowing God is an experiential matter in which one renders him homage and obeys his will. Jews and Greeks seek knowledge in their cultural ways (v. 22), but we proclaim something different: to those Jews and Greeks who are called, the cross makes a lot of sense. In v. 31, Paul tells his readers: “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord”. Paul is speaking of the cross as a symbol of our faith in our hearts rather than a physical symbol, e.g. one carried in procession. Early Christian art portrays the cup, the fish, and the Greek letters Chi-Rho (Christ); it was in the 300s that, thanks to Constantine, the cross became a physical symbol.


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 3:13-17

John intersperses stories about Jesus with teaching material. In the preceding verses, he has told us about Nicodemus, a powerful and wealthy man, and “a teacher of Israel” (v. 10). Nicodemus is eager to understand this man from God, but to be “born from above” (v. 3) of “water and Spirit” (v. 5) is beyond his comprehension. (This is probably a reference to baptism.) Jesus tells him that some things cannot be understood in human, natural, terms. He continues: if you can’t comprehend things that happen on earth, how can you possibly understand “heavenly things” (v. 12), super-natural truths.

In v. 13, Jesus says: he who comes down from heaven has gone up again. Moses’ bronze serpent preserved from death those who trusted, through this symbol, in God. Note “lifted up” (v. 14): Jesus foreshadows the Crucifixion. In a similar way, whoever believes in Christ will have “eternal life” (v. 15), life in the age to come. Those who willfully refuse to believe will “perish” (v. 16). That’s the whole point of Jesus’ coming: through him, we have salvation, not condemnation.

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