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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

The Presentation of our Lord - February 2, 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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Malachi

We know of no prophet named Malachi, so it is likely that this book is named after a passage well known in later Judaism: 3:1 speaks of "my messenger", malaki in Hebrew. The book was written generations after the people returned to Israel and restored the Temple. The prophet addresses his message of judgement to corrupt priests, and gives hope of a future messenger from God. God will then come to judge, purify, and end the era. This messenger, per 4:5, was expected to be Elijah.


Malachi 3:1-4

Cyrus, King of Persia, has permitted the people of Israel to return to Palestine. The Temple, gutted in 586 BC, has been restored, but Israel is still a Persian province. People expected that their fidelity to God would be rewarded by (material) prosperity, but life has continued to be hard, so after several decades, they have lapsed into waywardness. It is the ungodly who prosper. In the old days, the king was God’s agent, but now (there being no king), the priests have assumed this role. In previous chapters, the prophet has condemned the priests for despising God, corrupting worship and misleading the people.

A “messenger” (v. 1) or angel, God’s agent, will come to prepare a way for him. God, long expected, will come to “his temple”, to the priests. God’s “covenant” with Israel was summed up in the priests. His arrival will be sudden, unannounced. V. 2 implies that when God comes, he will judge the people. (The accused stands to hear judgement.) A refiner used the heat of a fire to separate ore into pure metal and slag; a fuller cared for newly shorn wool or woven garments by cleaning them, purifying them, with lye. The messenger will “purify ... and refine”, (v. 3) the priests (“the descendants of Levi”) until they hold him in proper respect. Their offerings, on behalf of the people, will then again be “pleasing to the Lord” (v. 4). God will judge adversely those who deviate from proper moral behaviour and from his ways (v. 5). 4:5 tells us that the messenger is Elijah; hence the popular belief in Jesus’ day that Elijah would return.


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 84

This psalm praises God as the longed--for goal of the pilgrim. The “dwelling” of God is the Temple (and perhaps also the land of Israel). To live in the Temple is greatly to be desired: those who live there have security and happiness, even the birds (v. 3) who nest in the Temple area. Making a pilgrimage to the Temple offers these hopes. When the pilgrims pass through the arid “valley of Baca” (v. 6) en route to the Temple, it becomes fertile. They become more and more godly (“strength to strength”, v. 7) as they travel, increasing in their knowledge of God. V. 9 is a prayer for the king. (The word translated “anointed” is messiah; later it was taken as referring to the ideal future king who would restore the nation.) Perhaps v. 10 contrasts the fate of the godly and the wicked. God is both “sun and shield” (v. 11), bestower of blessings. (In Malachi 4:2 he is “sun”.) Life for those who trust in God is clearly superior.


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 24:7-10

This psalm is based on a Canaanite myth which tells of the divine conquest of the unruly forces of chaos. It has transformed into a hymn of praise to God, the victorious creator, followed by a liturgy on entering the Temple. In question--and--answer form, it was probably sung antiphonally, as the Ark was borne to the Temple. Vv. 1-2 acknowledge God as creator. V. 3 asks: who will be admitted to the Temple? Vv. 4-6 give the answer: those who are pure, do not worship false gods, and do not harm others with false oaths. They will be blessed by God, with prosperity. In vv. 7-10, the pilgrims identify God in terms traditionally associated with the Ark: he is “King of glory”, the “Lord of hosts” (v. 10), the war hero of Israel (v. 8b). The “doors” (v. 7) are those between the outer court and the sanctuary of the Temple, the “heads” (v. 9) their lintels. Perhaps a priest asks: “Who is this king of the glory?” (v. 10) from within, and the people answer from the court. God dwells in the sanctuary.


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 2:14-18

Hebrews couches the good news in Jewish terms: it sees Jesus as the great high priest. V. 10 says something like It was appropriate that God, the creator, should – in bringing us to share in his glory – make Jesus (the forerunner of our salvation), a priest, but (unlike other priests) a priest who suffers. Why? V. 11 says: because Jesus and we have the same Father. God reveals himself in the Church. There is a close affinity between Jesus and his followers.

In v. 14, “flesh” refers to human nature, considered in its weakness and infidelity. The writer sees the devil as having the power of death – perhaps a reminder of the link between sin and death portrayed in the story of the Garden of Eden. Jesus, through his redemptive act, frees us from the fear of death – death is no longer separation from God. Because of Jesus' death and resurrection, the nature of death has changed: it has become the way out of the domain of sin. The “descendants of Abraham” (v. 16) are those who believe in Christ. Old Testament priests were expected to be “faithful” (v. 17), but Christ, the “high priest” is unique in being “merciful”, compassionate. Before Christ, when

  • one deviated from God’s ways (sinned),
  • God became angry and separated one from him,
  • one offered a sacrifice (thus obtaining purification), and
  • regained a right relationship with God.
  • Christ’s “sacrifice”, death, ends this cycle: he continually takes sins on himself, keeping us in unity with God. Then v. 18: it is because Christ was “tested” in life and when dying that he is able to help those who are tempted to abandon his ways.


    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 2:22-40

    Jesus has been circumcised, marking him as a member of God’s chosen people, Israel, through whom world salvation was to be achieved. After childbirth, it was 40 days before a mother could be purified before a priest in the Temple, so it is at least that long since Jesus’ birth. She was expected to offer a lamb, along with a turtledove or a pigeon; if she were poor (as Mary is), two turledoves or pigeons sufficed. Exodus required that every firstborn boy be consecrated to God. Jesus’ presentation in the Temple is like Samuel’s. Jesus and his family fulfil the requirements of Mosaic law.

    Simeon looks forward to the coming of the Messiah to restore Israel to favour with God (“the consolation of Israel”, v. 25). The Spirit has told him that he will see the Christ before he dies (v. 26). Simeon’s words in vv. 29-32 are known as the Nunc Dimittis, from the first words in Latin. He begins by saying that God is setting him free, as a slave is granted liberty. He is now free to die (for the Spirit’s revelation to him is now fulfilled), and Israel is free of bondage. God has saved Israel, as he promised to “all peoples”; his salvation is for Gentiles too. In v. 33, Joseph is Jesus’ legal father. Simeon prophesies in vv. 34-35 through the Spirit (v. 25). Jesus is destined for the death and resurrection (“the falling and the rising”, v. 34) of many; he will meet opposition, and will cause many to think deeply about him. Mary too will need to decide for or against Christ (“own soul”, v. 35). Simeon and Anna together stand before God; to Luke, men and women are equal in God’s eyes. Anna praises God, and tells many the meaning of Jesus, as Simeon has prophesied. Like Samuel, “the favour of God was upon him” (v. 40).

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