Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: Monday in Holy Week - March 26, 2018

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.

Isaiah 42:1-9

41:1: The legal summons.

41:1: “Listen to me in silence”: In Zephaniah 1:7, Yahweh says through the prophet: “Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is at hand; the Lord has prepared a sacrifice, he has consecrated his guests”. See also Habakkuk 2:20. [ NJBC]

41:1: “coastlands”: A word found frequently in Deutero-Isaiah: see also 40:15 (“isles”); 42:4; 49:1; 51:5. [ NOAB]

41:2: “a victor from the east”: Cyrus, King of Persia, was of Indo-European stock and was descended from a people who settled in the high plateau southeast of Babylon. In 559 BC he became king of Asham, a vassal state within the larger domain of the Medes. In only ten years he went on to capture Ecbatana, the Median capital. During the winter of 541 BC, he led an army over the frozen mountains of Lydia (now in central Turkey) for a surprise attack on Croesus’ capital. In 539 BC he became master of Babylon. [ NJBC]

Deutero-Isaiah portrays Yahweh summoning the world to his court of justice to witness the fulfilment of God’s eternal purpose: see Isaiah 1:2-3; Micah 6:1-2 (“plead your case before the mountains”). The prophet draws on the legislative procedures of the ancient Near East. [ NJBC]

41:2-4a: The trial procedure.

41:4b-7: The verdict.

41:4: “I, the Lord ”: God is at the beginning of every event, no matter how cosmic and colossal (see 40:12-13), how familiar and insignificant (see 40:27-28); he is also at the conclusion, ensuring perfect fulfilment of his designs (see 55:10-11). In the NRSV (as in other translations into English), L ord and God (with small capitals) translate the Hebrew YHWH. While it is almost, if not quite, certain that the Name was originally pronounced Yahweh, when the Masoretes added vowel sounds to the written Hebrew (in which only consonants were written), they added those of the Hebrew word Adonai (meaning Lord ). The reason for so doing was that YHWH was considered too sacred to be pronounced. See also 42:8. [ NJBC]

41:4: From other poems, this is the great new prophecy on the verge of fulfilment. In 43:10-11, Yahweh says through the prophet: “You are my witnesses, says the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no saviour”. He is “the first” and “the last” in 44:6 and 48:12. In Revelation 22:13, Christ is “the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end”.

41:5-7: Other nations, and the gods they choose, are powerless, for they seek “courage” in what is made by humans.

41:6-7: These verses harmonize well with the arguments against idolaters in poems on the “first” and “the last”: see 41:21-29 and 42:8-9. [ NJBC]

41:21: “Jacob”: i.e. Israel.

41:22-24: Unlike Yahweh, the idolaters can neither predict nor bring about changes in human destiny.

41:25: “I stirred up one from the north”: Earlier these words referred to Assyria (in 14:31) and Babylonia (in Jeremiah 6:22). Cyrus came from the northeast (“from the rising of the sun”). In contrast to the futility of pagan gods, God has stirred up Cyrus to enable Jews to return to their land. See 41:2 and 45:13. This image is anticipated in Jeremiah 50:9 and 51:11.

41:27: NJBC points out that the Hebrew is extremely difficult. He suggests that this verse is a later addition.

41:29: 40:18-20 say: “To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him? An idol? – A workman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold, and casts for it silver chains. As a gift one chooses mulberry wood – wood that will not rot – then seeks out a skilled artisan to set up an image that will not topple”. [ NOAB]

41:29: “empty wind”: The word translated “empty” is that used in Genesis 1:1 for the dark, chaotic mess before God’s spirit (ruah) began creating. Ruah can mean either wind or spirit.

42:1-4: The other Servant Songs are 49:1-6; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12. [ NOAB] For a good understanding, they should be read together. They appear to have been skilfully inserted into the text. An example: the first one ( part of our reading), 42:5 could naturally follow 41:29. 42:1 starts a new section, but the transition from 42:4 to 42:5 is scarcely noticeable; indeed, the authors of the Lectionary saw fit to put them in the same reading. Even so, the courtroom scene of 41:1-29 continues in 42:5-9. Christians interpret these songs as predictions of Jesus: they tell of his deeds but do not reveal his identity.

42:1: “Here is my servant”: This phrase is used of Jesus at his baptism (see Mark 1:11) and at his transfiguration (see Matthew 17:5). [ NOAB]

42:1: “my chosen”: Like Moses (see Psalm 106:22), David (see Psalm 89:4) and all Israel (see 1 Chronicles 16:13 and Isaiah 41:8). [ NOAB]

42:1: “spirit”: Again, ruah. See also 11:2. In Matthew 12:18-21, Matthew points out that Jesus' actions fulfil this prophecy. [ NOAB] God’s spirit was promised to the messianic king (see Isaiah 11:1) and later to the whole messianic community (see Joel 3). [ NJBC]

42:3: “justice”: 5:16 says “... the Lord of hosts is exalted by justice, and the Holy God shows himself holy by righteousness”. Legal decisions were usually taken by kings, priests and magistrates. [ NJBC]

42:4: “teaching”: 1:10 advises: “... Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!”. Only prophets and priests taught. For prophets, see Isaiah 8:16 and Zechariah 7:12; for priests, see Jeremiah 2:8 and Ezekiel 7:26. [ NJBC]

42:5: “who created ...”: For Yahweh as creator of all, see also 40:21-22. [ NOAB]

42:5: “gives breath”: i.e. is the source of life. Genesis 2:7 says “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”. In Acts 17:24-25, Paul tells those gathered in front of the Areopagus in Athens: “The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things”. [ NOAB]

42:5: “the people”: The Hebrew word, ‘am, usually refers to Israel. See also 42:6. [ NJBC]

42:6: “called you in righteousness”: i.e. with righteous purpose: in 41:8-10, Yahweh tells Israel: “... I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”

42:6: “light”: A source of warmth and life, and therefore of liberation from slavery. [ NJBC]

42:7: “open the eyes that are blind”: i.e. to open the eyes of those who admit they are blind – similarly for the rest of the verse. [ NJBC]

42:8: “I am the Lord ”: Yahweh is the only God: see also 41:23-24 and Deuteronomy 4:23-24. [ NOAB]

Psalm 36:5-11

This psalm contrasts the self-deceit of the wicked with the assurance of the faithful that God is active in ordering the universe and in caring for his own people.

Verses 1-4: Perhaps this is a parody of an oracle from Yahweh: Psalm 110:1 says: “The Lord says to my lord, "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool’”. The wicked are ruled by sin and heed the voice of evil rather than God’s voice in their lives.

Verses 5-9: The character of God is to be a source of blessing to the godly and to provide them with refuge. [ NOAB]

Verse 7: “in the shadow of your wings”: On God’s protection, 17:8 says “Guard me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings”. See also 63:7.

Verses 8-10: In Psalm 63:5-7, a psalmist writes: “My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips when I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy”. [ NJBC]

Verse 9: “fountain of life”: Jeremiah 2:13 speaks of God as “the fountain of living water”. [ NOAB]

Verse 9: “in your light”: 4:6 says “ There are many who say, “O that we might see some good! Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!’”. See also 31:16 and 89:15.

Verse 9: “we see light”: In Job 3:16, Job, in his distress, wonders: “‘Or why was I not buried like a stillborn child, like an infant that never sees the light?’”. See also Job 33:28 and Psalm 49:19. [ NJBC]

Hebrews 9:11-15

Verses 1-10: The specifications for the furnishing of the tabernacle are found in Exodus 25:10-40. [ NOAB]

Verses 2-3: Strangely, Hebrews speaks of two tents while Exodus speaks of one tent divided into two parts. [ NJBC]

Verse 2: “tent”: The forerunner of the Temple was the tent of meeting: see Exodus 25-26 and Numbers 9:15-23. [ CAB]

Verse 2: “the bread of the Presence”: The law regarding it is given in Leviticus 24:5-9. [ NOAB]

Verse 3: Exodus 26:31-33 prescribes the curtain separating “the holy place from the most holy”. [ NOAB]

Verse 3: “second curtain”: This is the second one because there was also one at the entrance: see Exodus 26:36. [ NJBC]

Verse 4: “the golden altar of incense”: In Hebrews, it is said to be in the “Holy of Holies”; however, in Exodus 30:6 it is in the “Holy Place”. NJBC believes that the author made a mistake here, misinterpreting the Exodus text. Similarly, the Old Testament does not say that the “golden urn” and “Aaron’s rod” were in the ark: see Deuteronomy 10:5.

Verse 4: “the ark of the covenant”: The specifications for this chest containing the tablets of the Law are given in Exodus 25:10-22. [ NOAB]

Verse 4: “a golden urn holding the manna”: Moses tells of Yahweh’s command that manna be preserved, and specifies how it shall be kept, in Exodus 16:32-24. [ NOAB]

Verse 4: “Aaron’s rod that budded”: Numbers 17:1-10 tells of the budding of Aaron’s rod, a sign that his tribe, Levi, has special status. [ NOAB]

Verse 5: “mercy seat”: It was so called because the blood of the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement were sprinkled on it. The word is also translated as place of expiation (of sins). [ NJBC]

Verse 6: “the priests go continually into the first tent”: i.e. to take care of the lamps on the lampstand (see Exodus 30:7), to burn incense on the incense altar morning and evening (see Exodus 30:7), and to replace every week the loaves on the table of showbread (see Leviticus 24:5-8). [ NJBC]

Verse 7: For the law concerning the Day of Atonement, see Leviticus 16:1-34, especially v. 14: “He [the high priest] shall take some of the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it with his finger on the front of the mercy seat, and before the mercy seat he shall sprinkle the blood with his finger seven times”. [ CAB]

Verse 7: “blood”: It was seen as the element in which life resided. Insofar as it is life, the blood is the peculiarly divine element in the human person, so sprinkling it on the mercy seat was an effective symbol of the purification of sin and of re-establishment of union between God and the offerer. [ NJBC]

Verse 8: “the way into the sanctuary has not yet been disclosed”: NJBC offers revealed. The goal of worship was access to God. That only the high priest could enter that part of the tabernacle (the earthly counterpart of God’s heavenly abode), showed that Old Testament worship did not attain that goal.

Verse 9: “the present time”: This is not merely a chronological indication. The Greek also means present age, in contrast to the age to come. Even now the age to come is present, in an anticipatory way, and Christians have experienced its powers: see 6:4-5. [ NJBC]

Verse 10: “deal only with food and drink and various baptisms”: NJBC offers only [to cleanse] in respect of food and drink and various kinds of ritual washings. He says that the author limits the efficacy of Old Testament sacrifices to a cleansing from defilements caused by the violation of ritual laws, i.e. the dietary prescriptions of Leviticus 11 and Numbers 6:1-4 and ritual washings: see Leviticus 14:8 and Numbers 19:11-21. This low estimate of their efficacy would hardly have been accepted by any Hebrew. [ NJBC]

Verse 10: “the time comes to set things right”: i.e. the period of the new covenant, inaugurated by the death of Christ. [ NOAB]

Verses 11-12: The author seems to be stretching the metaphor of Christ as high priest beyond understandable limits. A scholar devotes several pages to interpreting these ways without reaching a definitive interpretation.

Verse 11: “high priest of the good things that have come”: Perhaps a reference to Christ’s saving act of sacrificing himself on the cross, or an oblique reference to the Gospel (good news), but many manuscripts have good things to come. [ NJBC]

Verse 11: “the greater and perfect tent”: This may be a reference to John 2:19-21: “But he was speaking of the temple of his body.” On the other hand, the “tent” may be the heavenly regions, the heavenly counterpart of the outer tabernacle, through which Jesus passed ( 4:14) into the highest heaven (“heaven itself”), the abode of God ( 9:24). [ NJBC]

Verse 12: “not with the blood of goats and calves”: The high priest gained access to the Holy of Holies because he bore the blood of the sacrificial animals; Jesus’ life offered in sacrifice gives him access to the heavenly sanctuary. Jesus’ entrance into the sanctuary is part of his sacrifice begun on earth and completed in heaven. [ NJBC]

Verse 12: “obtaining eternal redemption”: The Greek word translated as “redemption” must be understood in the light of its usage in the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament. In Daniel 4:34, it expresses the notion of deliverance. It is frequently used with reference to deliverance from Egypt (see Exodus 6:6 and Deuteronomy 7:8), from captivity in Babylon (see Isaiah 41:14; 44:22, 24), and from sin (see Psalm 130:7-8). In none of these cases is there a notion of ransom. [ NJBC]

Verse 13: “the ashes of a heifer”: The ashes were mixed with water and used to cleanse those who had become “defiled” by contact with corpses, human bones, or graves. See Leviticus 16:6, 16; Numbers 19:9, 14-21. [ NJBC] [ NOAB]

Verse 14: “eternal Spirit”: 7:16 speaks of Christ having become a priest “through the power of an indestructible life”. So it is likely that this is what is meant by “eternal Spirit” here. Christ’s priesthood differs from that of the Old Testament priesthood in that it will never end; his sacrifice is once and for all future time. [ NJBC]

Verse 14: “without blemish”: This recalls the Old Testament requirement that a sacrificial animal be physically unblemished: see Exodus 29:1. Here the phrase is used in a moral sense, as it is in 1 Peter 1:19. [ NJBC]

Verse 14: “to worship the living God!”: This is primarily sharing in Jesus’ sacrificial worship, through which Christians have access to God: see also 4:16; 7:25; 10:19-22. The author also thinks of the way Christians live being a cultic action. Paul shares this view: in Romans 12:1, he writes: “I appeal to you ... brothers and sisters ... to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship”. [ NJBC]

John 12:1-11

The parallels are Mark 14:3-9 and Matthew 26:6-13. Luke records a similar event in 7:36-50. [ JBC]

In full knowledge of a plot against his life ( 11:53, 57), Jesus returns to the vicinity of Jerusalem.

Verse 1: “Six days before the Passover”: BlkJn argues that the “dinner” (supper, the main meal of the day) was on Sunday evening. Mark tells us that this meal took place two days before the Passover, i.e. after Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Luke places it (or a similar event) in a Pharisee’s house, presumably in Galilee, long before the Passion.

Verse 1: “Bethany”: 11:18 tells us that “... Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away”. [ NOAB]

Verse 1: “the home of Lazarus”: “Home” is not in the Greek. BlkJn offers where was Lazarus. The mention of “Martha” in v. 2 suggests that the dinner was in her house. The reference to “Lazarus” in v. 2 as merely one of the party is consonant with this but contrasts with NRSV’s translation “the home of Lazarus”. Mark tells us that the meal was “in the house of Simon the leper”; Luke also says that the host’s name was Simon.

Verses 2-3: “Martha ... Mary”: The contrast between Martha the worker and Mary the thinker is presented in Luke 10:38-42: “... Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks ...”. Jesus considers both to be worthy. [ BlkJn]

Verse 3: Comparison of the vocabulary in the three gospels is interesting:

  • Mark, Luke and John have the same Greek word for “perfume” and “ointment”
  • While Mark and Luke mention “an alabaster jar”, John says “a pound”
  • Mark and John have the same words for “nard”; Luke does not name the ingredient of the ointment
  • Both Mark and John say that the ointment is “costly” [ BlkJn]

Verses 7-8: Mark 14:6-8 is fuller and much clearer in meaning: “‘Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial’”. So if John borrowed from Mark, he has not only abbreviated his source, but also obscured the meaning. [ BlkJn]

Verse 8: “You always have the poor with you”: A paraphrase of Deuteronomy 15:11: “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbour in your land’”. [ JBC]

Verse 9: “the great crowd”: i.e. pilgrims mentioned as looking for Jesus in 11:56. 11:45 tells us that they are not hostile to Jesus, but ignorant and curious. See also 12:12. [ BlkJn]

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