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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost - September 11, 2016



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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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 4:11-12,22-28

Our reading is verses selected from a poem. God, speaking through Jeremiah, warns that a foe “from the north” (v. 6, probably the Babylonian army) is approaching. The people of Judah have not heeded God’s call for conversion, so God expresses his anger through invasion. False prophets have deceived Judah into complacency (v. 10), but the enemy marauds like a “lion” (v. 7) in the north of the land. The political leaders will lack courage and the religious ones will be “appalled” (v. 9) when the army arrives. God’s judgement will sweep over the land like a “hot wind” (v. 11, a sirocco). (A normal wind was used to “winnow or cleanse”, v. 11, to separate the wheat from the chaff.) The enemy, with his chariots and cavalry, will come like a “whirlwind” (v. 13) and “swifter than eagles”. There is still a chance for conversion but the people, stubbornly set in their ways, will not heed God’s call (v. 14). Judah will be besieged, for she “has rebelled against me, says the Lord” (v. 17). The people’s conduct has brought “doom” (v. 18) upon them. In vv. 19-21, Jeremiah tells of his mixed emotions. Even though devoted to his people, God has called him to announce destruction and punishment. May the disaster be as short as possible! How “foolish” (v. 22) and “stupid” his people are! They may have intellectual knowledge of God, but true “understanding” is living lives inspired by his truths.

Vv. 23-28 present another picture of the coming devastation. It will be as though the earth has returned to its primordial un-ordered (chaotic) state, “waste and void”; the scene will be shocking to “the heavens”. The “fruitful” (v. 26) land of Israel will be utter “desolation” (v. 27), incapable of supporting a population (“there was no one at all”, v. 25), and unable to feed even the “birds”. But this will not be the complete “end” (v. 27c) of life on earth, for some (not necessarily people of Judah) will see the disaster and “mourn” (v. 28). Those remaining will see the darkening of the skies (“the heavens above [will] grow black”) as though the end times have come. In the final images (vv. 30-31), Jerusalem is personified – as a prostitute dressed to seduce the enemy – but the city will suffer great anguish, like a woman in childbirth.


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 14

This psalm laments the breakdown of moral order. “Fools” are not atheists, but rather those who deny that God is concerned with human behaviour. (Proverbs 10:23 contrasts the “fool” with the “person of understanding”.) To the psalmist, the world is full of such fools, people who are “corrupt” (v. 1) and do terrible things. God, he says, sees no one who seeks to follow God’s ways (v. 2). V. 4 asks: do these wicked people not understand God at all? (Micah 3:2-3 too speaks of preying on the godly as eating them.) But (v. 5) the ungodly will be “in dire alarm” (Revised English Bible), for God is in the community of those who follow his ways. Even though the godly seem to be under the thumb of the deviants, God will protect them. Oh that God, whose earthly residence is the Temple (“Zion”, v. 7) would deliver the oppressed from the ungodly! When he does, all Israel, Jacob’s descendants, will rejoice.


1 Timothy

1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus are known as the Pastoral Epistles because the author addresses the needs and responsibilities of the leaders of Christian communities. The styles and themes of these letters are so similar that many think they were written by the same person. Although they claim to be written by Paul, the structure of the church they show and the specific content of their teaching indicate that they were written a generation or so after Paul. 1 Timothy begins by emphasizing the importance of correct belief and by cautioning against false teachers. The leaders are mentioned as bishops, deacons and elders. The term used here for the coming of Christ is not found in Paul's letters but is common in pagan Greek writings. In those days, a writer sometimes honoured an earlier leader by writing in his name.


1 Timothy 1:12-17

The author has warned against false teachers (“teachers of the law”, v. 7) who indulge in elaborations on, and deviations from, the faith (in the sense of the facts of Christianity) rather than living the kind of life these truths demand. “Love” (v. 5) should be the basis for Christian conduct – through personal integrity, “a good conscience” and “sincere faith”. Mosaic “law is good” (v. 8) but those who have “understanding” (v. 9), who lead Christ-like lives, have no need of it.

Now, in vv. 12-17, the author speaks as Paul. God has given his free gift of love to Paul, even though he previously distorted God’s message (“blasphemer”, v. 13) and persecuted Christians. God showed him mercy because he did not know Christ, “had acted ignorantly in unbelief”. The doctrine that “Christ ... came into the world to save sinners” (v. 15) is found in the gospels; it is worthy of belief (“sure”). Paul is the greatest of sinners (“foremost”) for his pre-conversion activities, but God pardoned even him. (God did seek out Paul.) As such, he is a prime “example” (v. 16) for all who come to believe, who are converted. As “King of the [earthly] ages” (v. 17) and yet “immortal, invisible”, God is transcendent.


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 15:1-10

Jesus is keeping company with “tax collectors and sinners”, people avoided and despised by apparently godly people like “the Pharisees and the scribes” (v. 2). Their observation begs the question: are any beyond God’s mercy? . The Roman authorities contracted out collection of taxes; how a tax collector got the money was up to him. Usury, fraud and excessive profits were common. Tax collectors worked for tax farmers, who were often foreigners, making them ritually unclean.

Now Jesus defends associating with these people, using parables. Our reading includes two: vv. 4-6 and 8-9. “Sheep” (v. 4) left in the “wilderness” were defenceless from wolf and lion attacks. Jesus asks if you had many and lost one, wouldn’t you search until you found it? expecting the answer of course I would!

He explains the parables in v. 7 and v. 10: God is shepherd/housewife; the lost sheep/coin are people who repent, who turn to God. God willingly accepts them; in fact, he rejoices, as does the community (“friends and neighbours”, vv. 6, 9)! Neither the sheep nor the coin can find their owner; God cares about those unable to find him; he seeks them. But, as so often in parables, there are twists to them which helps people remember them: what shepherd would leave his flock “in the wilderness” (v. 4)? The Pharisees would find God symbolized by a woman as outrageous, and first-century shepherds were considered lawless and dishonest. (The coin, v. 8 was a drachma, a day’s wage.) Would a shepherd really care about one sheep out of “a hundred” (v. 4)? God is like that.

© 1996-2016 Chris Haslam



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