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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

The Naming of Jesus - January 1, 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.


Lessons for this week from the Vanderbilt University web site

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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 6:22-27

Numbers interrupts the story of preparing to leave Sinai by stating several case laws regarding maintenance of purity and, assuming that members of the Israelite community will keep these laws and others, tells us of the priestly blessing to be bestowed on all. The law in 5:1-4 states that those who have skin diseases (“leprous”, 5:2) or have been in contact with a dead body shall be excluded from the tabernacle. 5:5-10 prescribes to whom restitution should be made where the injured party has died and has no next of kin. 5:12-31 state how marital harmony can be restored where a man suspects his wife of adultery. 6:1-21 state the terms of a vow required of a Nazirite, one who separates himself to the Lord for a time, rather like a monk or nun, and what is required of this person if the vow is broken. All restitution shall be before the Lord.

Now, in words used today in Christian and Jewish liturgies, God tells Moses the blessing to be given by the priests (“Aaron and his sons”, v. 23) when the Israelite community keeps these and other laws. While “you” is singular in v. 23, it is the whole community who will benefit from God’s blessing and protection. May God be present (“face”, v. 25) with them and grant them divine favour (“gracious”); and give them “peace” (v. 26, wholeness, well-being, both material and spiritual welfare). In so blessing them, the priests will put something of God’s very self (“name”, v. 27) on them. He will identify himself with them.


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 8

This is a psalm of praise of God as creator and of man as head of creation. Because of the modest means God uses (“babes and infants”, v. 2), his majesty is even more evident. The “foes” may be the powers of chaos, as in Genesis 1:1. In vv. 3-4, the psalmist contrasts God’s majesty with “the work of ... [his] fingers”, especially humans, for whom he cares. (“Mortals” is ben’adam, literally son of man.) Vv. 7-9 recall Genesis 1:26-28: we share in God’s dignity for he has conferred on us mastery of, and responsibility for, the rest of creation.


Galatians

There were some teachers in Galatia who claimed that a convert to Christianity must first embrace Judaism, that a Christian must observe Mosaic law. Paul wrote this letter to rebut this argument, to insist that one comes into union with God through faith in Christ, and not through ritual observances. This book is a charter of Christian liberty; it was instrumental in transforming Christianity from a sect of Judaism into a world religion. Galatia is in central Turkey, and was settled soon after 300 BC by Celts. In 25 BC, the province of Galatia was extended southwards. (Modern-day Ankara is in Galatia.)


Galatians 4:4-7

Some teachers in Galatia have claimed that a Christian must first embrace Judaism, observing Mosaic law. Paul wrote this letter to rebut this argument, to insist that one comes into union with God through faith in Christ, and not through ritual observances.

In vv. 1-3, he takes the example of an orphaned boy of minor age, an heir: although he owns his dead father’s property, it remains under the control of trustees until the date his father set (per Palestinian practice.) He cannot speak or act on his own behalf. So it is with Paul and his readers: before “we” accepted Christ, we had no power to speak or act, being slaves to spiritual elements , celestial beings that control the physical elements of the universe.

But, at the time our Father set (“fullness of time”, v. 4), “God sent his Son”, born a human (“of a woman”), indeed a Jew (“under the law”). God sent him so that we Jewish Christians might be adopted as God’s children, be made part of him. Then v. 6: being his children, he sent the “Spirit of his Son”, God’s Spirit, to empower us to call him Father. (“Abba”, v. 6, is Aramaic for father. Jesus prayed “ -Abba, ...” in the Garden of Gethsemane: see Mark 14:36.) So, v. 7, you are free from the obligations of Mosaic law, and being his child makes you an heir to God’s kingdom, through Christ.

In vv. 8-9, Paul questions how, now that God has chosen them to know him, can they go back to spiritual elements. (Contemporary Jewish belief was that at Mount Sinai the Law was spoken by angels, celestial beings, spiritual elements.) How can they want to be enslaved again?


Philippians

Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, a prosperous Roman colony in northern Greece, from prison. We do not know whether this imprisonment was in Ephesus or in Rome. It appears that he was held under house arrest. It is possible that the epistle is actually made up of three letters. It contains many personal references, exhorts members of the Philippian church to live the Christian life and to good ethical conduct, introduces Timothy and Epaphroditus as his representatives, and warns against legalists and libertines. Lastly, he thanks the Philippian community for their material support.


Philippians 2:5-13

In vv. 1-4, Paul has urged the Christians at Philippi, through “encouragement in Christ”, and moved by God’s love for them, to “be of the same mind[set], having the same love, being in full accord ...”. They are to “regard others as better than ... [themselves]”, freely adopting a lowly, unassertive stance before others, replacing self-interest with concern for others.

Vv. 5-11 are an early Christian hymn to which Paul has added v. 8b. He exhorts his readers to be of the same mindset as Jesus – one that is appropriate for them, given their existence “in Christ” (v. 5). Christ was “in the form of God” (v. 6): he was already like God; he had a God-like way of being, e.g. he was not subject to death. He shared in God’s very nature. Even so, he did not “regard” being like God “as something to be exploited”, i.e. to be grasped and held on to for his own purposes. Rather, he “emptied himself” (v. 7), made himself powerless and ineffective – as a slave is powerless, without rights. He took on the likeness of a human being, with all which that entails (except sin), including “death” (v. 8). As a man, he lowered (“humbled”) himself, and throughout his life in the world, was fully human and totally obedient to God, even to dying. (Paul now adds: even to the most debasing way of dying, crucifixion – reserved for slaves and the worst criminals.) God actively responded to this total denial of self, his complete living and dying for others, by placing him above all other godly people (“highly exalted him”, v. 9), and bestowing on him the name, title and authority of “Lord” (v. 11) over the whole universe (“heaven”, v. 10, “earth”, “under the earth”). God has given him authority which, in the Old Testament, he reserved for himself. (Isaiah 45:22-23 says: “-Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other ... ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear’”); everyone shall worship him; confessing that “Jesus Christ is Lord” (v. 11) is equivalent to proclaiming the victory and might of God. The ultimate goal is the “glory of God the Father”, the reclamation of God’s sovereignty, his power over, and presence in, the universe. So may the Christians at Philippi follow Jesus’ example, living with due respect for each other (“fear and trembling”, v. 12); God is within them, helping them in setting Christ’s example as a goal and acting on it.


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 2:15-21

Luke has told us of Joseph and Mary’s visit to Bethlehem (his ancestral town) to register in the census, and of Jesus’ birth. He lie “in a manger” (v. 12), a trough from which animals eat; he is sustenance for all peoples. Shepherds, living in the field with their flocks have heard the angel’s announcement of the birth of “a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (v. 11). Many heavenly beings have appeared, praising God and pronouncing peace: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!” (v. 14).

Now the shepherds decide to see the glorious event for themselves (v. 15). It is appropriate that the first visitors to the newborn child be shepherds: Jesus is our shepherd. Note “with haste” in v. 16; as Mary set out to visit her cousin Elizabeth “with haste” in 1:39; Jesus will later stress the urgency of his mission. The shepherds look for, and find, the infant where the angel has told them in v. 12, “in the manger” (v. 16). They make known, tell Mary and Joseph – and others – the good news the angel has delivered. Mary and Zechariah have already told us something of the meaning of the birth and the destiny of Jesus in 1:31-33, 1:46-55 and 1:68-79. What the shepherds have been told provides another perspective on this event. Mary tries to understand (“pondered”, v. 19) all that she has experienced and been told, especially the great news told by the angels, but she does not immediately grasp the full significance of God’s action of Jesus being born into the world. Later, after Jesus as a boy has asked his parents “Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?” (v. 49), she understands a little more. Luke does not tell us directly about Jesus’ circumcision but infant boys were named on this occasion; being a Jew, he is circumcised (v. 21). As a member of God’s chosen people he will bring salvation to the world. Before Jesus was conceived, an angel has said “‘you will name him Jesus’” ( 1:31). His name means God saves. The Hebrew and Aramaic forms of Jesus are similar to he will save.

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