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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Second Sunday after Christmas - January 5, 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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Sirach

Sirach is also known as Sira and Ecclesiasticus, probably meaning church book, an indication that it was used by the early Christian community. It is in the Apocrypha of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, and is considered deutero-canonical by Roman Catholics. Adherents to Judaism excluded it from the Bible, as did the Protestant Reformers. We know (from 50:27) that Jesus ben Sira, a native of Jerusalem, wrote it. Ben Sira ran a school in biblical studies for young Jewish men. Written about 180 BC, it is faithful to the author's Jewish heritage and tradition and makes use of ideas from other cultures where they are compatible with his heritage.


Sirach 24:1-12

To followers of Judaism, the created world is God’s, so faith and reason go hand in hand; learning about creation is learning about God; reasoning is done in the context of God. They and we seek knowledge of God as we pursue faith. In the last centuries BC, people saw that the acquisition of knowledge about God led to wisdom. The author of Sirach, Jesus ben Sira, understood wisdom as leading to prosperity. 1:1 says: “-all wisdom is from the Lord ...”. In our reading, ben Sira, has wisdom (abstracted, personified – but in a metaphorical way) introduce herself “in the midst of her people” (v. 1), Israel. She does so in the presence of the heavenly court (“the assembly ...”, v. 2). Wisdom “came forth” (v. 3) by the word of God, and permeated the earth (“like a mist”) as the spirit of God. She existed before creation. (Genesis 1:1-2 says in a Jewish translation: At the beginning of God’s creating ... rushing-spirit of God hovering over the face of the earth ...) Wisdom was involved in the “pillar of cloud” (v. 4), the way God showed his presence during the Exodus. Wisdom is present and active throughout creation, (from heaven to “the depths of the abyss” (v. 5), Sheol, the repose of the dead in Jewish thinking), and throughout history, to all people and with them.

God commanded Wisdom to dwell among the people of Israel (v. 8). Her earthly residence is the Temple at Jerusalem, the home of Mosaic Law; she gives rules for the appropriate worship of God (v. 10). Jerusalem is God’s “beloved city” (v. 11). Wisdom “took root” (v. 12) in Israel, inheritors of God’s blessing. In vv. 21-22, she concludes by offering an unusual meal, in which the more one eats, the more one desires. Wisdom leads to godly living.


Jeremiah

From Chapter 1, we know that Jeremiah was either born or began his ministry in 627 BC. During his life, Babylonia succeeded Assyria as the dominant power in the Middle East. He was a witness to the return to worship of the Lord (instituted by the Judean king Josiah), and then (after Josiah's death in battle in 609), the return of many of the people to paganism. When Babylon captured Jerusalem in 587, Jeremiah emigrated to Egypt. God called him to be a prophet to Judah and surrounding nations, in the midst of these political and religious convulsions.


Jeremiah 31:7-14

Jeremiah probably wrote this message of hope about 600 BC. Most of his book is directed to the people of Judah (the southern kingdom, conquered by Babylon in 587 BC) but this passage is directed to Israel, the northern kingdom, which was at the time loosely subject to Assyrian rule. Vv. 7-8 are a call for celebration. “Jacob” refers to Israel; the “chief of the nations” means the foremost: Israel is paramount because God cares about it. The “land of the north” (v. 8) is Assyria. The people – even the “blind and the lame” – will be gathered together, and will return from exile. (They were deported in 722 BC.) Such a caravan crossing the Arabian desert will indeed be a miraculous event.

Joy will be mixed with “weeping” (v. 9) and compassion (“consolations”). God will “lead them back”, but (unlike in the first Exodus), the going will be easy. Back then water was in short supply (recall that God caused water to spring forth from a rock, Exodus -17:1-7), but this time “brooks” will provide plentifully. Being Israel’s father, God will restore the nation to the state already enjoyed by Judah. (“Ephraim” is part of Israel.) Other nations, including the “coastlands” (v. 10) of the Mediterranean, are invited to witness this marvellous happening. In the first Exodus, God rescued Israel (“ransomed Jacob”, v. 11) and defeated their enemies (“hands too strong”); he will do so again. When they return, they will celebrate God’s goodness with feasting (v. 12). They will be sad no longer. Per v. 14, the priests will have life and prosperity (“fatness”) as will all “my people”. Bountiful harvests will mark the start of this new era of well-being.


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 147:12-20

This hymn is an invitation to praise God for his universal power and providential care. In vv. 1-11, God is praised for rebuilding Jerusalem, gathering the people, healing, creating, and providing for the needs of those he creates. V. 5b says that there is no limit to his wisdom. In vv. 12-14, worship is due to him for protecting Jerusalem, for blessing her children, and for bringing peace and prosperity. Vv. 16-18 tell of the activity of God’s “word” (v. 15) in the phenomena of nature, from the winter cold to the spring thaw. Only to Israel has he declared his covenant.


Wisdom

Wisdom has been a book of the church since the earliest times. For some Christians, it is part of the Apocrypha ("hidden books"); for others, it is in the Old Testament. Until this book was written (about 50 BC), the best that could be hoped for when one died was to exist in some inderterminate state. Wisdom tells us that being made in the image of God includes sharing with him in immortality. Only the godly, the ethical, will be granted eternal life; those who choose to deviate from God's ways will be punished and will disappear into nothingness.


Wisdom of Solomon 10:15-21

Wisdom, the spirit of God, is personified as Lady Wisdom. In vv. 1-14, the author says that wisdom has been God’s agent in saving some important people in the past. Wisdom was also active in saving the people of Israel, through Moses. They are “-blameless” in that they are chosen and set apart by God. The “nation of oppressors” (v. 15) is Egypt. Wisdom entered the “soul” (v. 16) of Moses (v. 16) and withstood Egyptian “kings”. She compensated Israel for its slavery with liberty, and precious objects carried on the Exodus. The pillar of cloud both guided them and shielded them from the desert sun (“shelter”, v. 17). V. 21 recalls a legend spoken in synagogues in the author’s time (about 50 BC).


Ephesians

This letter of Paul was written from prison, probably in Rome. Whilst the Bible states that it was written to the church at Ephesus, the some early manuscripts do not contain an addressee in 1:1. This would imply that Ephesians was a circular letter, sent to a number of churches. If so, it introduced a new idea into letter writing: we know of no other circular letters from this period. This book celebrates the life of the church, a unique community established by God through the work of Jesus Christ, who is its head, and also the head of the whole creation.


Ephesians 1:3-14

Our reading begins immediately after Paul’s greeting to his readers. “Blessed be ...” echoes Jewish and early Christian prayers. God has brought us, by way of Christ, “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places”, blessings in our hearts which are unseen and eternal, which bring together the physical world and God, “just as” (v. 4, or because) (before time) he planned for Christ to come to us, for Christ’s followers (us) to be holy, set apart for him, living “in love”, for his followers (the church) to be made members of his family (“for adoption as his children”, v. 5), and to be able to appreciate and reflect the Father’s splendid gifts to us (“to the praise ...”, v. 6). God gave this to us freely; it was his will and his “pleasure” (v. 5). (After Jesus’ baptism, a voice from heaven says “ -You are my Son, the Beloved; with you, I am well pleased.”, Mark 1:11)

It is through Christ’s death that we are set free, rescued (“redemption”, v. 7) and forgiven our deviations from God’s ways (“trespasses”). Being now “holy and blameless” (v. 4), we have intellectual knowledge of God (“wisdom”, v. 8) and are able to apply it (“insight”); so we can know and participate in his plan for creation – which he disclosed in the Christ-event (Christ’s life, death and resurrection.) This plan, which will come to fruition when God’s eternal purposes are completed, is to unite (“gather”, v. 10) all creation (“heaven” and “earth”) in Christ. In Christ, we Christians have been adopted by God (“inheritance”, v. 11), per his plan, so that we, forerunners (“the first”, v. 12) of many to “set our hope on Christ”, may live to praise God’s manifest power (“glory”). In Christ, the recipients of this letter, having heard the gospel and believed in him, were baptised (“marked with the seal of the ... Holy Spirit”, v. 13), incorporated into the Church. The inner sanctifying presence of the Spirit is a guarantee (“pledge”, v. 14) that God will carry his promise to completion.


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 1:(1-9),10-18

Our reading is the continuation of the book’s prologue, or the whole prologue. The Word, God, Christ, has been born into this imperfect world – a world that per v. 3, “came into being through him” – but most people did not embrace him as who he is. (To know, to a Semite, involves personal commitment as well as awareness.) He came to Israel, but its people generally rejected him, but some did receive him for who he is; some became committed to him. (To know someone’s name meant more than it does today.) These received the power to be adopted as sons and daughters of God: they were reborn into God’s family, through the Holy Spirit (“of God”, v. 13).

“Flesh”, humanity, per Isaiah 40:6-8, was seen as weak, imperfect and transitory. Christ does an amazing thing: he becomes a human being (albeit, being God, a perfect one). The author is a witness to the divine presence shown in Jesus (“glory”, v. 14). John the Baptizer was the first of this gospel’s witnesses of the Christ-event, God become human.

From all that is in God (“fullness”, v. 16), we have received gift after gift (“grace upon grace”). The Mosaic Law was given by God, and Christ brought the full revelation of God’s ways. Judaism said that God could not be seen (v. 18). (Even Moses, in Exodus 33:30-44, was not permitted to see God’s face.) It is through Christ, who is in complete intimacy with the Father, that we have been given access to the Father.

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