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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost - October 21, 2012



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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Job

The book of Job is about suffering: it seeks to answer the question: why does God allow the faithful to suffer? The first two chapters, which are in prose, tell of a legendary figure of Judaism called Job. In this story (which may be extremely ancient), a very righteous man is tested: is he as godly as he seems, or is his godliness only an appearance, a result of his acquisition of wealth and his position as father of a dynasty? His continuing fidelity through deprivation of all that he possesses demonstrates that he is truly godly. (In the final act of the drama, God restores his greatness.) Most of the book is poetry, and appears to have been written later. It is largely concerned with the meaning of divine justice and suffering. Through dialogues with Job's so-called "friends", we see Job learn that wisdom is God-given. Humans cannot find the way to it; God gives it to those who worship him.


Job 38:1-7,(34-41)

Job has complained of God’s indifference and injustice to him; he has asked why his misfortune happened. He has pleaded that God hear him, answer him. Now God, appearing in a “whirlwind” (as he does elsewhere in the Old Testament) answers him by asking him rhetorical questions. First he asks: who are you to doubt, in your ignorance, the sum total of my plans and works? Stand up like a man; answer the questions I put to you (vv. 2-3). Our reading is only a small part of God’s speech. He asks five main questions:

  • Were you present at creation?
  • Do you know your way around the cosmos?
  • Would you know how to operate it?
  • Would creation and creatures obey your commands? and
  • Are you capable of providing for animals and birds?
  • Question 1, vv. 4-15, has three parts: earth, sea and light. In vv. 4-7, “earth” is pictured as a building: who were the architect (v. 5a) and the surveyor (v. 5b)? Who laid the foundations (“bases”, v. 6a)? “Who laid its cornerstone?” On this festive occasion, the “stars sang” (v. 7) and God’s heavenly court rejoiced. Now for Question 4 (vv. 34-38): even if you gave the right orders, would they be carried out? Only God has the “wisdom”, the combination of great knowledge and experience, to have the “clouds”, etc. obey him. (People believed that a set of pudding bowls covered the earth; here rain is stored in “waterskins”, v. 37. V. 38 describes the effects of rain.) Question 5 is in 38:39-39:30. Nine creatures are described. Can Job care for them and nourish them as the creator does? The last, the war horse, is the most amazing of all.

    After God’s speech, Job says: “See, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? ... I will not answer” (40:4-5). God’s appearance has invalidated the very basis of Job’s complaint. He is at last able to articulate what he has been suspecting all along: he and his friends thought they understood the world; now he realizes that they do not. And so his complaint against God evaporates.


    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 104:1-9,25,35b

    This psalm is a hymn of praise to God, the creator. Vv. 2-4 tell of the creation of the heavens and vv. 5-9 of the earth. To the ancients, “light” (v. 2) was a thing, so likening it to a “garment” made sense. God built his heavenly dwelling on the chaotic (unruly, disordered) “waters” (vv. 2b-3a). The hot wind in v. 4 is the sirocco, a desert wind from the east; the “wind” (v. 3c) brings rain clouds from the sea; both are under God’s control. People saw the earth as a disk supported by pillars (“foundations”, v. 5). Before God’s creative acts, the “waters” (v. 6) covered the earth. God chased away chaos, bringing order; he restricted the waters to the mountain tops (as snow) and the “valleys” (v. 8, as rivers). He will never again permit the waters to cover the earth (v. 9) and all that lives (vv. 10-18): creatures depend on him for their very existence (vv. 27-30). God’s “works” (v. 24) are countless. He has made them “in wisdom”, with perfection of design and ethic, absolute integrity, truth and beauty. Praise the Lord!


    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 5:1-10

    The author has told us that “we have a great high priest” (4:14) who has been raised to heaven, namely “Jesus, the Son of God”. Now he compares the high priests of Judaism with Christ.

    People chose a high priest to lead, on their behalf, in matters relating to God, especially the offering of sacrifices for sins. (The author writes as though the Temple sacrificial system still exists.) A high priest was able to “deal gently” (v. 2, to steer a right path between pure emotion and lack of feeling) with those who committed unpremeditated sins because he himself sinned in this way, being “subject to weakness”; he needed to make sacrifice for his own sins too. He did not appoint himself; rather, he was appointed by God, as Aaron was (v. 4).

    Christ was also appointed by God – at his baptism, when God said: “You are my Son ...” (v. 5). Christ also fulfills Psalm 110:4 (v. 6): unlike other high priests, he is “priest forever”. He ranks with “Melchizedek”, the Canaanite priest who brought bread and wine to Abram, and blessed him. (In 7:2, Melchizedek is said to resemble the Son of God.) During his earthly life (“the days of his flesh”, v. 7), Jesus prayed to God in anguish (at Gethsemane) to the one who would “save him from death”, i.e. resurrect him (bring him back to life). Because of his proper respect (“reverent submission”), the Father heard him. Although already God’s Son (v. 8), he learned a needed human trait, obedience, through suffering. His work of salvation complete (“made perfect”, v. 9), he, as eternal priest, offers salvation forever to all the obedient, the faithful. He is high priest forever.


    Symbol of St Mark

    Mark

    As witnesses to the events of Jesus life and death became old and died, the need arose for a written synopsis. Tradition has it that Mark, while in Rome, wrote down what Peter remembered. This book stresses the crucifixion and resurrection as keys to understanding who Jesus was. When other synoptic gospels were written, i.e. Matthew and Luke, they used the Gospel according to Mark as a source. Mark is most probably the John Mark mentioned in Acts 12:12: his mother's house was a meeting place for believers.


    Mark 10:35-45

    Earlier (in 9:33-34) the disciples have argued about which of them is the greatest. Now two members of the inner circle ask a favour of Jesus: they seek positions of special dignity at the messianic banquet in heaven at the end of time (v. 37). Jesus answers: you do not know the implications of what you ask. In the Old Testament, one’s “cup” (v. 38) is one’s lot assigned by God, be it blessing or condemnation. Here, Jesus is speaking of his suffering and death. To be baptised with Jesus’ baptism is to share fully in God’s ways. James and John confidently answer yes (v. 39) and accept all the consequences. Only the Father knows whom he has called to special places in the kingdom.

    Jesus tells all the disciples: pagan authority depends on power and force (v. 42) but for disciples, it is different (v. 43): to be “great” now and in the kingdom (“become”, v. 43 and “be”, v. 44) one must serve others; to be “first”, one must serve even more humbly, as a “slave”. Jesus, the “Son of Man” (v. 45), in his voluntary abasement, is the example: he gave even his life for the freedom of others, gaining their release from punishment and death for their sins.

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