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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Trinity Sunday - May 31, 2015



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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Isaiah

This book can be divided into two (and possibly three) parts. Chapters 1 to 39 were written before the exile, from about 740 BC to about 700 BC. These were difficult times for the southern kingdom, Judah: a disastrous war was fought with Syria; the Assyrians conquered Israel, the northern kingdom, in 723 BC, and threatened Judah. Isaiah saw the cause of these events as social injustice, which he condemned, and against which he fought valiantly. Chapters 40 to 66 were written during and after the Exile in Babylon. They are filled with a message of trust and confident hope that God will soon end the Exile. Some scholars consider that Chapters 56 to 66 form a third part of the book, written after the return to the Promised Land. These chapters speak of hope and despair; they berate the people for their sin, for worshipping other gods. Like Second Isaiah, this part speaks of the hope that God will soon restore Jerusalem to its former glory and make a new home for all peoples.


Isaiah 6:1-8

In this passage, Isaiah gives the grounds for his authority as a prophet. The “year” is 742 BC. Assyria is expanding its borders. (“Uzziah” is called “Azariah” in 2 Kings 14:21). The northern kingdom, Israel, is trying to coerce Judah into a military alliance against the Assyrian threat. Isaiah has a vision of God enthroned, surrounded by courtiers, with “seraphs” (v. 2, griffin-like creatures), hovering above him, guarding him. One pair of wings cover “their faces” in the awesome presence of God, and a second cover their genitals (“feet” is a euphemism) as a sign of commitment to purity; the third is used to fulfil commissions from God. “Holy” (v. 3), repeated three times for emphasis, identifies God as all-holy, sinless, apart from earthly things. God is “Lord of hosts”, the warrior for Israel; he rules over “the whole earth”, all peoples. The setting appears to be the Temple, so the “pivots” (v. 4), which shake due to an earth tremor – a sign of God’s presence, are those on which the heavy Temple gates turned. “Smoke” is also a sign of divine presence, as is the cloud of glory in the desert (Exodus 40:34).

Isaiah feels totally inadequate in God’s presence: he feels “unclean” (v. 5), unfit to stand before God, yet he sees God. He also sees the “people” (either Judah or his disciples) as unworthy, but a “seraph” (v. 7), an agent of God, purifies him, rendering him fit and qualified to speak God’s word to his people. God confers with his advisors: “Whom shall I send ... ?” (v. 8), and Isaiah volunteers to be prophet to Judah. In vv. 9-13, God accepts his offer, and tells him that most people will reject God’s message (will not hear it and will fail to understand it), preferring traditional (corrupt) ways. But a small number will accept it. Most will be destroyed; even the remnant will endure difficult times. Within nine years, Assyria had invaded and made Judah a puppet state.


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 29

This psalm is probably based on one to the Canaanite god Baal, the storm God, who brings the annual thunder-storm, the source of fertility for the land. In Israelite hands it expresses God’s supremacy and universal rule. In vv. 1-2, all other gods are invited to acknowledge the Lord’s supremacy and the glory due to him. (Israel was not yet strictly monotheistic.) Vv. 3-9 give us a picture of the storm. The “voice of the Lord” (vv. 3, 4, 5, 7-9) is thunder (repetitious claps). The storm is first seen approaching over the Mediterranean (v. 3); it sweeps in to the land, breaking the tall “cedars” (v. 5), as it advances across southern Lebanon. It vents its power on Mount “Lebanon” (v. 6) and then on Mount “Sirion”; it proceeds on into “the wilderness” (v. 8, the Arabian Desert). (“Flames of fire”, v. 7, is lightning.) “Kadesh” (v. 8) is probably Kedar, part of the desert. The Word of God is indeed mighty. In v. 9, “all” the gods do acknowledge God’s supremacy; they cry Glory be to the Lord! God rules over all from his throne (v. 10). May the Lord strengthen Israel and give it peace.


Romans

Romans is the first epistle in the New Testament, although not the first to be written. Paul wrote it to the church at Rome, which included both Jews and Gentiles. His primary theme is the basics of the good news of Christ, salvation for all people. The book was probably written in 57 AD, when Paul was near the end of his third missionary journey around the Eastern Mediterranean. It is unusual in that it was written to a church that Paul had not visited.


Romans 8:12-17

Paul has told us how Christian experience is dominated by life in the Spirit rather than by the desires of the flesh, or self-centeredness. Christians are still subject to suffering, to bearing crosses and affliction, but not to eternal condemnation. Not being condemned, we have hope.

Now he says that we are under an obligation (“debtors”) to God: to live according to the Spirit. Living this way, rejecting self-centeredness, we look forward to eternal life (v. 13) at the end of time rather than to the finality of physical death. Heeding the Spirit, we are “children of God” (v. 14), sons of God; we have a new relationship with God. When baptised, we do not lose freedom (“slavery”, v. 15) but are adopted by him. As his children, we are “heirs” (v. 17) with hope for the future – unlike slaves who “fear” (v. 15) their master. (In the Old Testament, the land of Israel is God's inheritance for his people.) In seeking his help or proclaiming him as Dad or “Abba! Father!”, we express the close relationship we have with him; our hearts are motivated by the Spirit. (“Abba” is Aramaic for “Father”; slaves did not inherit.) Being “with Christ” (v. 17), by sharing in his suffering, we will be able to attain union with him in heaven (“glorified”).


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 3:1-17

Nicodemus, a prominent Pharisee and teacher, comes to Jesus to ask him questions. He comes secretly (“by night”, v. 2) because a man of his stature could not be seen consulting Jesus. He has understood from Jesus' miracles (“signs”) that Jesus is “from God”. But Jesus (in v. 3) tells him that he has not yet understood the main point: to “see the kingdom of God”, spiritual rebirth is required. Nicodemus misunderstands: he thinks Jesus is speaking of biological rebirth (v. 5). Being “born from above” (v. 3) requires being baptised (v. 6). “Flesh” and “spirit” were seen as constituents of life, of which spirit (breath, wind, pneuma) was the life-giving force. Many things can be seen only in their effect; such is birth in the Spirit (v. 8). Still Nicodemus doesn't understand: in order for him to do so, he needs to have faith (“receive our testimony”, v. 11). Then, in v. 12, Jesus says: you, Nicodemus, don't comprehend what can be told in analogies (“earthly things”, i.e. “wind”, v. 8), so how can you possibly believe mysteries?

Vv. 13-17 are a monologue. Only Christ has descended and ascended. The “serpent” (v. 14) is mentioned in Numbers 21:9-11: there the people were bitten by poisonous snakes; some died and others became gravely ill. Instructed by God, Moses mounted (“lifted up”) a bronze snake on a pole. Those who looked at this emblem (trusting in God) were healed, lifted up, given life. God in his love provides eternal life to all who believe (v. 16). If you wilfully do not believe, you will perish. There is no third alternative! God's intention is that you believe, rather than be condemned (v. 17).

© 1996-2016 Chris Haslam



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