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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Holy Saturday - April 15, 2017



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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Lamentations

In 587 BC, the Babylonian army destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple, and deported many of the inhabitants, leaving only the poor and weak. The five poems which make up this book were almost certainly written in Palestine at this time of political, social and religious crisis. Perhaps these laments were recited at the site of the Temple. An ancient tradition holds that the author was Jeremiah - largely because 2 Chronicles 35:25 says that he uttered a lament upon the death of King Josiah at Megiddo; however, Lamentations mourns the loss of the city, not the king. Lamentations is therefore considered anonymous.


Lamentations 3:1-9,19-24

The Babylonians first invaded Judah and occupied Jerusalem in 597 BC. They deported King Jehoiakim, Ezekiel and many leading citizens to Babylon and installed Zedekiah as puppet king. Judah rebelled, thus gaining a degree of freedom until 587, when Nebuchadnezzar attacked again; this time he destroyed Jerusalem (including the Temple) and other fortified Judean towns. Many people were deported. The five poems of Lamentations were written as communal laments; this is the third.

Now “one” writes on behalf of a nation; the Hebrew says that he is a man. He experiences what all the people do. The Hebrew (and other translations) have his wrath, so the reader is in suspense: is the wrath the conqueror’s, or God’s? In v. 2, he tells of a terrifying walk in “darkness”, probably inability to comprehend what has befallen the city. At times, God used “his hand” (v. 3) to strike his people, when they were wayward. Here he seems to so continually. “My flesh and my skin waste away” (v. 4) and bones are brittle in old age. He seems his trials like the siege of the city; he feels surrounded by “bitterness” (v. 5) and anguish. By “the dead of long ago” (v. 6) he means those forever dead. Its was believed that, at the Last Day, the righteous dead would live, but the wicked would not. He feels like he has physically died, and then thrust into “outer darkness” (Matthew 25:30), annihilated. Vv. 7-8 speak of imprisonment; God does not hear his “cry for help” (v. 8). Further, he is truly hemmed in, with closely fitting “hewn stones” (v. 9); trying to escape, he has found himself on crooked paths, blind alleys. In v. 19, “wormwood” is a bitter-tasting plant and “gall” is a bitter and poisonous herb. His experience is really bitter. Despite his despair, he still has “hope” (v. 21). He truly believes that God is ever loving and merciful; “great is your faithfulness” (v. 23). Probably near starvation, he is content with “the Lord” (v. 24) being his “portion”, and his basis for hope.


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 14:1-14

Job lives in “Uz” ( 1:1), south-east of Palestine, and so is a foreigner; as such, he is drawn to God by faith, not ethnic origin. God had blessed him with many children, huge herds of animals, and many servants; he has responded to God by ritual sacrifices. 1:9 asks: do humans serve God because of what they receive from him? Job is tested, to discover whether his faith is genuine. The process is to deprive him of his children, possessions and health, and see whether he still trusts in God. While Job remains convinced that his faith is genuine, his three friends have doubts, and go to great lengths to convince him that his misfortunes are due to his lack of faith. While they do console him, they also ask difficult questions. Each of the friends pose questions to him, about his fidelity, to which he responds. Our reading is part of Job’s response to one friend’s (Zophar’s) speech, in which Zophar insists that Job’s supposed guilt deserves to be punished.

Now Job addresses God. Humans have a limited lifetime, as does a “flower” (v. 2); like “a shadow” humans are transient – unlike God. Why do you, God, bother to consider us? (v. 3). Why make the effort to decide whether we are good or evil? How, being “born of woman” (v. 1), can you make humans “clean” (v. 4)? In vv. 5-6, Job suggests that God, because he determines lifetimes and limits what humans can do, ignore us. We would then be able to lead simple lives, like “labourers”. Then vv. 7-10: a tree can live again, “sprout again”, after dying, whenever there is water, but “humans expire”. When humans die they are truly dead; “the heavens” (v. 12) are forever. Perhaps Job could hide away from earth, in “Sheol” (v. 13), the abode of the dead, until God is no longer angry with him. God might then remember him. Finally, Job wonders whether humans will “live again” (v. 14). Will God “cover” (v. 17, forgive) his waywardness?


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 31:1-4,15-16

In the Middle East, then and now, honour and “shame” were and are important: to lose face is horrible. The psalmist asks God to shelter him from those who think he is far from God. He asks God to “rescue” (v. 2) him from his detractors “speedily”. Being his solid reference point in life, he asks God to “lead” (v. 3) and “guide” him in difficult times. Perhaps v. 9 is a clue to his problem: “my eye wastes away ... my ... body also”; perhaps he is terminally ill, or has leprosy (“an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me”, v. 11). Good health was seen as a sign of oneness with God. He feels trapped (v. 4). His destiny (“times”, v. 15), are in God’s hands. Deliver me! May he experience God’s enduring love (v. 16)!


1 Peter

An elder in Rome wrote this pastoral exhortation to those in charge of churches in Asia Minor. ("Babylon" is a common code-name for Rome; see Revelation 17:5-6.) The opening greeting claims that Peter is the author, but today most scholars agree that it was written in his name, to give it authority (a common practice at that time.) The addressees appear to be Gentiles, rural folk, both resident aliens and household slaves, in Asia Minor. Christians can expect to suffer, to be ostracized, to be "called names": they are in the midst of a pagan culture. Though they are "aliens" in this world, God has given them "a new birth ... into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading" (1:3-4).


1 Peter 4:1-8

The author writes at a time when Christians suffered from bad neighbourly relations. They were seen as being like Jews, for some were Jews, and many read the Old Testament. Strange stories circulated about their worship practices: some thought that they worshipped an ass. They were thought to be anti-social. They were seen as unpatriotic because they refused to worship the emperor, and avoided Roman spectacles and festivals. Neighbourly relations are important; without good ones, you suffer. The author continues to give new Christians, many converts from paganism, guidance on being, and living as, Christians.

3:18 has told of Christ’s suffering and death. He endured bodily suffering, so be prepared to suffer bodily too: “arm yourselves ...”, v. 1. In Romans 6:2-14, Paul links Christ’s death with baptism. You who are baptized are no longer eternally encumbered by sin; you are able to live as God wills, rather than satisfying your own “desires” (v. 2). 1 Peter calls Christians “a chosen people” in 2:9 and “people of God” in 2:10, so “Gentiles” (v. 3) means pagans. “Lawless idolatry” is worship of idols, a practice forbidden to Christians. They don’t understand why you abstain from loose living, so they abuse you verbally (“blaspheme”, v. 4). But they will have their immorality judged when Christ (“him”, v. 5) comes again. To be “judged in the flesh” (v. 6) means to die; we all die. Jesus, after his death “made a proclamation to the spirits in prison” ( 3:19). So Christ will judge all, including those who have died, when he comes again – so they too can live eternally (“in the spirit”, v. 6), as God lives.

The author expects Judgement Day to be soon (v. 7) so he counsels his readers:

  • calmness and self-control will help you pray better;
  • be fervent in brotherly love, for love overwhelms sin (v. 8);
  • exercise hospitality (v. 9) to fellow Christians, especially those travelling;
  • manage the various gifts given to you, using each to help others (v. 10);
  • if you speak in tongues, ensure that the utterance is truly from God (v. 11); and
  • if you serve others (or are a slave), do so to your best ability.
  • “In all things” may God be honoured by how you live.


    Symbol of St Matthew

    Matthew

    This gospel is the first in the New Testament, but it was probably the second to be written. Scholars recognize that it borrows material from Mark, and from a sayings source containing sayings of Jesus and known as Q (for Quelle, German for source). The author shows an understanding of Jewish culture and religion not found in the other gospels. It was probably written about 80 to 90 AD, possibly for a largely Jewish audience.


    Matthew 27:57-66

    Joseph of Arimathea, a man of means, asks the Roman authorities to release Jesus’ body. Here the burial shroud is a “clean linen cloth” (v. 59), the tomb is “new” (v. 60) and the stone door is “great”. Mark lacks these details. Joseph lays the body in a tomb presumably intended for himself. He rolls a disk-shaped rock “to [against] the door” (v. 60); “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary” (v. 61) witness this. (A body was normally washed and then anointed with oil before burial, but in Jesus’ case, there was no time to do this.)

    Vv. 62-66 prepare for the resurrection. The religious authorities wish to ensure that the faithful do not steal Jesus’ body and falsely claim that he has risen from the dead. A false rumour of resurrection (“the last deception”) would be worse than the “first” (Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah). The tomb is “made secure” (vv. 64, 66) and is guarded by soldiers.


    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 19:38-42

    Jesus has been crucified with “two others” (v. 18); because the Jewish authorities did not wish the bodies left on the crosses over the Sabbath, Roman soldiers have hastened the death of the others, but Jesus was “already dead” (v. 33), so they pierced his side; “blood and water came out” (v. 34).

    Later (“after these things”, v. 38), Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin but opposed from its decision, bravely asks for Jesus’ body. Nicodemus, another sympathizer with Jesus on the Sanhedrin, who had earlier “come to Jesus by night” (v. 39), now comes openly. He brings spices for embalming the body. The quantity is probably exaggerated, but is a sign of the great honour due to Jesus. In John, Jesus is wrapped in “linen cloths” (v. 40), as was the custom. V. 40b indicates that this gospel was written for a Gentile audience. Jesus is buried in a “new tomb” (v. 41) nearby, because the Passover would begin at sunset (v. 42).

    © 1996-2016 Chris Haslam



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