Friday, June 27, 2008

Some Notes on the Feast of St Peter and Paul the Apostles
29 June

This day is one of the oldest of Christian festivals; as far back as we know, the two great apostles have been commemorated together with great solemnity. Both Apostles are said to have been martyred at Rome in the persecution of Nero. The feast on June 29th celebrated with either their death or the translation of their relics.. St Augustine, St Leo and others of the fathers have left sermons for this day. In the first Prayer Book a feast only of St Peter was kept on this day. Although Bishop Cosin attempted to restore the feast as of both Peter and Paul at the Restoration, his provisions were not adopted in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. The two Apostles are commemorated together in the Canadian Book of 1962.
St Augustine explains the celebration of both Apostles on this day:
Both apostles share the same feast day, for thee two were one; and even though they suffered on different days, they were as one. Peter went first and Paul followed. And so we celebrate this day made holy for us by the apostles’ blood. Let us embrace what they believed, their life their labours, their sufferings, their preaching, and their confession of faith. [Sermon 295, FAS p. 596]
The feast of Peter and Paul has been given an additional interest this year as the opening of the “Pauline Year” declared by the Pope to celebrate the 2,000th anniversary of the Apostle’s birth. Although the date of his birth is unknown, it is a reasonable guess that it was sometime in the first decade AD.

The Readings
First Reading: Ezekiel 34.11-16. The ministry of the prophet Ezekiel extended from 593, before the conquest of Judah to 563 BC, during the captivity in Babylon. Over this period we may distinguish “oracles of warning” of the first period of his ministry (chs 1-24), “oracles against the foreign nations” of the middle period (chs 25-32), and “oracles of hope” from the final period, after the fall of Jerusalem (chs 33-48). The book contains many visions and images from which Jewish and Christian apocalyptic literature has arisen. By the way, it should be noted that “apocalypse” mearely means “revelation” and only later took on the sense of a :final catastrophe”. Despite the difficulty of the imagery, as the RCL notes comment, “the prophet's message to the exiles is clear: he assures his hearers of God's abiding presence among them, and he emphasizes God's involvement in the events of the day, so that Israel and all nations ‘will know that I am the Lord’".
The Prophet is commanded to prophesy that God himself will seek out his scattered sheep and feed them as a shepherd. This is not only a prophecy for the people, it is also against their rulers and priests. It had long been the custom of kings in the Middle East to refer to themselves as shepherd of the people. When we read it today in conjunction with the passage from St John’s Gospel, we find a resonance of the words “feed” and “sheep”. Christians understand that God’s promise “I, I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out” was fulfilled in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, and that he has given the commission to feed his sheep to his apostles.

Psalm 87. When he preached on this psalm, Saint Augustine of Hippo began by saying, “The Psalm which has just been sung is short, if we look to the number of its words, but of deep interest in its thoughts.” It is also full of interest for scholars, since the text has suffered in transmission. Nonetheless, it is clearly a hymn in praise of Zion, the City of God, and the true mother of all who believe (see Galatians 4.26). In the Annotated Book of Common Prayer, Blunt wrote: “Whatever application this Psalm may originally have had to the earthly Sion has been transfigured and glorified byteh subsequent Revelation of the City of God in the prophetic vision of St John.” So when we sing that the city is founded on the holy mountain, we remember that the household of God is “built upon te foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (Ephesians 2.20). The psalm looks from God’s gathering together of scattered Israel to the gathering of all nations as children of Zion;, and so to the work of Paul and Peter in preaching to the nations.
Note that “Rahab” (v. 4) was the name of the sea monster. The name came to be applied, poetically, to Egypt. Verse 7 is apparently only a fragment.

The Epistle: 2 Timothy 4.1-8. First and Second Timothy and Titus are know n as the “Pastoral Epistles”. Since they are similar to one another but different from the other Pauline letters in style and vocabulary, “it is difficult to ascribe them in their present form to the apostle Paul” (NOAB).. While a case may be made for Paul’s authorship, the fact that in ancient times it was very common to produce a work under the name of a admired teacher (see below), it is easier to assume that a disciple of Paul used some of his unpublished messages to address problems in the Church in the generation after his death However, while it is very likely that this is the case, and that the letters date from sometime after Paul’s death, there is no warrant for stating this as if it were an absolute fact (as in the RCL notes: “To understand this letter, it helps to know that, while it appears to be written by Paul, it was actually written by one of his followers (in his name) some time later: it reflects the Church’s situation about 100 AD, so we contend with a time warp.” Emphasis is mine). Whatever the date, and however much of the letter is by Paul (as we would understand it), 2 Timothy is an earnest letter from a veteran missionary to a younger colleague, urging endurance as the most necessary gift. The passage today includes the moving words of farewell (verses 6-8) which testify to Christian strength in the face of certain martyrdom. This indeed speaks to the condition of St Paul at the end of his life.
Note the exhortation in verse 2 to “be urgent in season and out of season” or “whether the time is favourable or unfavourable” (as the NRSV explains rather than translates the verse). RCL notes: “This clause is unusual because, in the ancient world, one was urged to speak only at the appropriate time; however, for Christians, time is for God to determine, so the speaker should leave the question of timeliness to God (see Titus 1:3; 1 Timothy 2:6,6:15). The word of God is always in season”.
The warning that people will turn from sound teaching and accumulate “teachers to suit their own liking” is probably ture of every age, but seems very apt in this time when the many teachings available seem to be a smorgasbord from which one may choose this pretty thing or that, making no commitment to anything but themselves.
A note on Pseudonymous Authorship from the New Oxford Annotated Bible might be of interest and use: “In antiquity pseudonymous authorship was a widely accepted literary convention. Therefore the use of an apostle’s name in reasserting is teaching was not regarded as dishonest but merely a way of reminding the church of what it had received from God through the Apostle.” The note further states that the New Testament’s authority depends not on “their human authorship, but upon their intrinsic significance, which the church, under the guidance of the Spirit, has recognized as the authentic voice of apostolic teaching.”
The Holy Gospel, John 21.15-19. After his Resurrection, the Lord Jesus three times asked Simon Peter, “Do you love me more than these”, and three times gave him the commission “Feed my sheep”. This is a threefold forgiveness and restoration matching Peter’s threefold denial of Christ.
This event is part of the third resurrection appearance described in St John's Gospel. After the resurection, seven of the disciples were fishing on teh Sea of Galilee or Tiberias, but caught nothing. When morning came the risen Jesus stood on the beach amd asked if they had caught anything. They did not recognize him. When they said they hadn't, he directed them to cast the net on the right side of the boat. Doing so, they caught more fish than they y could haul in. When the came ashore (to leave out some details) Jesus fed them bread and fish [John 21.1-14]. After this breakfast comes the passage we read today.
On the north-west shore of the Sea of Tiberias or Galilee, not far from Capernaum, is Tabgha, the traditional site of this event, called “the Primacy of Peter”. In the church there in front of the altar is the rock on which, according to tradition, Jesus and the disciples ate. Outside the church is a beautiful garden with round stone seats and an open-air altar on which, as I recall are carved in Latin, the words “Here the Lord gave Peter the Primacy of Love.”
The notes on this passage over at the RCL “Clippings” are helpful, and do not need to be repeated here, but there are some other points to be noted.
The passage begins “When they had finished breakfast”. This does more than link this passage to the one immediately preceding, it reminds us that it is the risen Lord Jesus who fed his disciples by the sea of Galilee that now commissions Peter to feed his flock.
In the three-fold question, Jesus uses the name Simon, rather than Peter (Rock), perhaps in token that the disciple has not yet been rehabilitated and restored.
The difference between “sheep” and “lambs” and “tend” and “feed” does not appear to be of great significance in this passage.
In the conversation two different verbs meaning “love” are used, agapē, godly love or charity, and philia, the love of friends. Jesus first asks Peter “Do you love (agapas) me more than these”, to which Peter answers “Yes, Lord, you know that I love (philō) you. The second time Jesus asks, “Do you love (agapas) me?” and Peter again says, “I love (philō) you”. The third time, however, Jesus asks “Do you love (phileis) me?” to which Peter, sad at being asked yet again, responds “Lord, you know everything, you know that I love (philō) you.” Just what the difference signifies in this passage is not entirely clear to me, but two points may be noted. First, Simon Peter’s use of philō, denotes affection rather than devotion; recalling the extravagance of his assurance of devotion before he denied the Lord, we can recognize here a new humility. Second, at the third question, Jesus adopts the word Peter has been using, almost as if to accept that Peter can only go so far. Here we see the courtesy of the Lord, for in the end he counted Peter’s affection as devotion, and gave him the strength to follow him even to death. So we should never fear to go to him when we feel cool in our love, and think we are unnacceptable. He will take what we have and make it what he needs. If our love is cool, he will blow it into fire.
Note: For the next month I will be serving Sundays at Saint Bartholomew's, Toronto, where the lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer is followed. For those Sundays the lectionary notes (if I can manage them!) will be on those readings.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Some Notes on the Readings of Proper 12, Year A

The first Reading : Genesis 21.8-21
Tradition ascribes the first five books of the Bible to Moses, but in the past couple of centuries scholars of the Old Testament have generally identified four literary sources in these books (the Pentateuch). These are known as the Yahwist [J] the Elohist {E] the Priestly [P] and Deuteronomist [D]. J and E are so called from the name of God that each uses. A discussion of this point would go beyond the scaope and intention of these notes: if you are interested in knowing more, you might begin wirh or more deeply in an older and more conservative article at: Some confusions and apparent contradictions in the biblical text may be explained on the theory of multiple sources. Today’s reading is one of them.
This reading continues the series of selections from the history of Israel. These verses are from the Elohist (E) tradition. For a parallel account of Ishmael’s and Hagar’s expulsion, from the Priestly (P) or Yahwist (J) tradition, see 16:1-14. [NJBC] Now aged three, Isaac is weaned, which in thise days usually happened at the age of three, and was celebrated with a feast to celebrate the child’s having survived that long.
In 16:11, 16:16 the son of Hagar is named Ishmael, he is not named here. which may indicate that he ranks lower than Isaac. Hagar was a slave-girl of Abraham, when it seemed that Sarah would not bear a son to him, Abraham “exercised the legal option of producing an heir by his slave woman.” (Haslam) Sarah refuses to consider Ishmael as joint heir with her own son, and demands that Abraham to cast out Hagar and Ishmael. Abraham hesitates, for he loves Ishmael and knows that such an act is wrong. God tells Abraham to do as Sarah asks nonetheless his line will continue through Isaac, and Ishmael will also become father of a nation (vv. 12-13). Abraham is obedient to God: he provides Hagar with provisions, and throws her and her son out. In the desert , when Hagar fear they are at the point of death from thirst God hears Ishmael's cry and saves them (Ishmael means God harkens);. As he had promised Abraham, God now promises Hagar that the boy will become a great nation. As Haslam notes, Ishmael “grows up and becomes a nomad (“expert with the bow”), lives in northern Sinai (“Paran”, v. 21) and marries an Egyptian – all points which indicate his exclusion from God's specific plan. Genesis continues with the story of Isaac” (the italics are mine). Ishmael is claimed as the ancestor of the Arabs. For more on Ishmael, see: (as always, to be used with caution).

Psalm 86 is a lament, a prayer for deliverance from personal enemies. It s use in today’s readings reflects the cry for help of Hagar and her son in the desert, and God’s deliverance of them. This is clear from verse 16: Turn to me and take pity on me; give thy strength to thy servant and save the son of thy handmaid. In its original context the psalm appears to have been the lament of a king: “I am poor and needy” is a phrase found in royal inscriptions from the ancient Near East (Haslam). This psalm and others like it can be used .in one’s personal prayers in time of trouble.

The Epistle: Romans 6.1b-11
At the end of Chapter 5, Paul said that under the Law, sin increased (since under Law there were specific rules that could be broken), but grace abounded more and more. Now he poses the rhetorical question, Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? That this question was a real concern is shown by the fact that some people charged Paul with teaching just that (Romans 3.8, see also 6:15). Haslam: “Another way of putting the question is: if God brings about salvation of humans through Christ, as a sheer gift, why try to live an upright life? But, says Paul, Christ died to free us from sin; to live the upright life is true liberty. He centres this teaching on the fact of Baptism. See further the comments on this at We might put the whole matter thus in practical terms: We do not act rightly in order to be saved, but as a response, or better as a thanksgiving to God for what he does for us in the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus our Lord.

The Holy Gospel: Matthew 10.24-39.
In this passage, although there is a general unity, many of the sayings might well have been collected and organized by the gospel-writer from among Jesus' sayings. It does appear to jump rather, as at verse 26: “have no fear of them; for nothing is covered that will not be revealed …” Compare Luke 12.2-12, where much the same material is organized differently. The Gospel-writers were not concerned so much in producing biographies of Jesus as proclamations of him as Lord and Saviour. This affects the way they set out the teachings of Jesus they heard and passed on. Since we are again at a point that would expand these notes beyond endurance, I will content myself with recommending the notes on “How to read the Bible with Understanding” and “Modern Approaches to Biblical Study” in the New Oxford Annotated Bible which can be obtained at many fine bookstores, including the Anglican Book Centre.
In Matthew this passage tells how Jesus continues to prepare the twelve for the continuation of his mission. He is both “teacher” and “master”. His disciples are students. The word “disciple” in fact means “student” or “pupil”. In the saying that the disciple is not above the teacher or the slave abve the master, he warns the disciples that as he is rejected they may also expect rejection. It might be useful to ponder the next verse (it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher) along with Saint Paul’s saying that in Baptism we have been united with Christ (our teacher and Master) in a death like his.
Verses 26-27: If Jesus told his disciples anything in private, they are to proclaim it publicly: there is no secret teaching in Christianity for an inner elite.
28-31: Do not fear those who persecute and even kill; God knows and cares for you intimately.. Hell here translates the Greek word Gehenna. “This was the valley of Hinnon (geHinnon) outside Jerusalem where garbage (rubbish) was gathered and burned. Per 2 Kings 23:10, Hinnon had been the site of child sacrifice: see also Jeremiah 7:31; 19:5-6. It provided a physical reminder of the place of eternal punishment. …” (Haslam).
32-33 Therefore nothing should stop them from confessing Jesus before the world. “Honest and forthright witness – and outright refusal to do so – will have eternal consequences (vv. 32-33). At the Last Day, Jesus will testify to the Father for those who have witnessed faithfully; he will declare those who turn against the gospel unworthy of life in the Kingdom” (Haslam).
34-39. This is one of the “hard sayings” of Jesus. To see how the material has been arranged, compare 34-36 to Luke 12.52-53, and 37-39 to Mk 8.34-45 and Luke 9.23-34, 14.26-27, and 17.33. The sword that Jesus brings is not his intention, but the result of the decisions individuals will make to follow him or not. On verse 35, compare Micah 7:6:: “Put no trust in a friend, have no confidence in a loved one; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your embrace; for the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; your enemies are members of your own household. But as for me, I will look to the LORD, I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me”. Jesus puts a new interpretation on this verse.
A question to consider. Scholarly study of the scriptures has led to many conclusions such as the four-source theory of the Pentateuch. Is it more difficult to think of the inspiration of Holy Spirit working in the editing and compiling of a book than in a single author? What is really meant by “inspiration”?

Monday, June 16, 2008

New Blog: Sermons

Please note that the texts of Sermons have been moved to a new Blog, "Sermonets for Christianets" which can be found at It seemed reasonable to keep the sermons together in a grouip, and not scattered through all the other items.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Some Notes on the Readings for Proper Eleven, Year A

The Sentence for today, “The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel,” is from Mark 1:15, and appears in today’s Gospel reading: when Jesus sends out his apostles he tells them to proclaim: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (“Kingdom of heaven” is the more usual expression in Matthew.) Jesus’ teaching is centred on the thought of the kingdom; so must the Church’s be.

The Readings:
First Reading, Genesis 18. 1-15, 21.1-7:
On the “ordinary” Sundays of Year A the first lessons follow the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Patriarchs of Israel (to Proper 20), and then the story of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt (to Proper 33). Since these Sunday readings are selections, it would be very helpful if we all read the Genesis and Exodus so when we hear the readings in Church it will be clear where they fit into the whole story. This is a good method of home Bible-study, which can be done by individuals or by families.
Last Sunday we began to read the story of Abraham, and heard how he answered God’s call and migrated to the land of Canaan. Today we continue with the story of the birth of Isaac. When God promised Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation, Abraham was already seventy-five; now he is almost a hundred. Not knowing how else the promise should be fulfilled, he had a son by his Egyptian servant Hagar, the boy Ishmael. God said that Ishamel would become a great nation, but that the promise he made would come through a child of Abraham and Sarah. Abraham laughed at this (17:15-17; compare today’s reading, 18.12-15). God commanded Abraham to circumcise himself and his son Ishmael (17.22-end).
Today’s passage begins with an appearance of the Lord to Abraham, technically known as a “theophany” (18.1). Three men appear, and in typical oriental courtesy Abraham greets them with honour and offers them hospitality. (18.2-8). A rabbinic commentary says that the “servant” (literally “boy” or “youth”) who prepared the calf was Ishmael, who was now about fourteen years old. When they had eaten, the visitors asked about Sarah. Although Abraham has been talking to the three men, suddenly we are told that “the Lord” promised that she would have a son (18.10). At this Sarah laughs, and is upbraided for her lack of faith. It is important to know that the name Isaac means “he laughs”.
The reading then omits the next two sections of Genesis, 18.16-19.38, which tells of Lot and the destrruction of the cities of the Plain, and Genesis 20 which tells the story of Abraham, Sarah, and King Abimelech of Gerar. The reading continues with the birth and naming of Isaac in 21.1-7.
The immediate meaning of the reading is the fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah, which drives on the story of the chosen people and the whole history of universal salvation through Abraham’s descandant, Jesus of Nazareth.
In these brief notes we cannot discuss in detail the difficulty of understanding the appearance of the Lord God to Abraham in the arrival of three strangers. Is this an ancient myth of the appearance of three deities who reward the hospitality of mortals that has been adapted to a monotheistic narrative? Are they three angels, or the Lord with two angel attendants? How do we understand the change from the plural to the singular at verse 10? A start can be made by consulting a commenary such as the Jerome Bible Commentary, or the volume on Genesis in a series such as the Anchor Bible. Here we should note that in patristic and Eastern Orthodox tradition this passage is seen as a revelation of the Trinity. You may know the famous icon of the three angels seated at table. This isnterpretation is also found in St Augustine’s great De Trinitate. You might be unfamiliar with this interpretation, but it is a good idea to think about it. It is hard not to think of this appearance as one of the Old Testament hints of the Trinity. A question you mght ask yourself is, If we believe that God is from all eternity three Persons in one Essence, and further that God the Son is the Word and Revelation of the Father, how do we understand accounts of God's appearance or speaking in the Old Testament.

Psalm 116.1, 10-17
Psalm 116 is a psalm of thanksgiving for healing. It is one of the “Hallelujah” Psalms (113-118) which in the Jewish liturgical tradition are used in connection with the great festivals. The same passage from Psalm 116 is used on Maundy Thursday, a choice that is obvious from the verse, “I will lift up the cup of salvation. Its place in this Sunday’s readings is most likely a reflection of the thanksgiving of Abraham and Sarah for the gift of Isaac.
Note that the BAS does not number the verses in the same way as other translations, which number today’s passage as verses 1-2, and 12-18. Use these verse numbers if you want to look up the psalm in your Bible or Book oof Common Prayer instead of the BAS

The Epistle: Romans 5.1-8
The famous verse “for God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3.16) is sometimes called “the gospel within the gospel”. Today’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans ends with a verse of equal power: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5.8). As we noted in these notes last week, the history of salvation as recorded in Scripture is the story of God’s reaching out in love to save us, not of our blundering our way to God. Since selections from the letter to the Romans are appointed for the next thirteen Sundays, it might be useful to take a quick overview of that letter today.
Of Paul’s letters the one to the Romans comes first in the New Testament order but was not the earliest. It is also “the longest, the weightiest and the most influential of them”(NOAB). It was written between AD 54 and AD 58, perhaps in 57, at a time when he was getting ready to go to Jerusalem with a collection from the Churches of Greece and Asia for the community in Jerusalem (see 25). He then planned to go to Spain, and visit Rome on the way (15.28). He knew of the church at Rome but had never visited them; indeed this is the only letter of Paul to a community he had not seen. Here is a simple outline of the letter, based on one in the NOAB:
After the salutation and thanksgiving , which are a regular feature of his letters (1.1-17). Paul describes the world’s need of redemption (1.18-3.20). The he discusses God’s saving act in Christ: its nature (3.21-4.25) and the new life which it has made available (5.1-8.39). After a section dealing with the role of the Jewish nation in God’s plan (Chapters 9-11), he ends with ethical teaching and some personal remarks (chapters 12-16)
Today’s passage is from the beginning of the section on the new life in Christ. It was part of the epistle for the third Sunday in Lent this year. Many years ago W. Sanday wrote on this passage in a commentary on Romans:
A description of the serene and blissful state which the sense of justification brings. Faith brings justification; justification brings (let us see that is does bring peace—peace with God through the mediation of Jesus. To that mediation it is that the Christian owes his state of grace or acceptance in the present, and his triumphant hope of glory in the future. Nay, the triumph begins now. It begins even with tribulation for tribulation leads by gradual stages to that tried and approved constancy which is a virtue most nearly allied to hope. Such hope does not deceive. It is grounded on the consciousness of justifying love assured to us by the wonderful sacrifice of the death of Christ. The one great and difficult step was that which reconciled sinful man to God; the completion of the process of his salvation follows by easy sequence. Knowing this, our consciousness, just spoken of, takes a glow of triumph.

The Holy Gospel according to St Matthew 9.35-10.8 (9-23).
I probably don't need to mention said that the Gospel readings iin Year A are (mostly) from St Matthew's Gospel. If you have never read the whole of Matthew's Gospel now would be a perfect time. It is a good practice, apart from study of any particular passage, simply to read through the gospel just like any other book,
This passage tells how Jesus sent out the twelve apostles to preach and heal, with power over the unclean spirits. Much of the passage is taken up with his instructions for their journey.
The general lesson from this passage is that the disciples of Jesus are called in order to be sent out. Compare Jesus’ words in John 15.16: “You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit …” We are not all called to go on missionary journeys, but we are called to bear Christ’s love to the people among whom we live.
The notes on this passage at are very good, and it would be pointless [and possibly unethical] to redo all that work here. However, a couple of details and questions need further comment.
The words “When he saw the crowds he had compassion on them” are a somewhat weak rendering of the original. To the ancients the seat of the emotions —what we would call the heart— was the abdomen. The underlying image is that the misery of the people hit him in the stomach. Another translation might be “He was gripped in his heart concerning them.”
In 10.1 it is said that Jesus called his “Twelve disciples”; in 10.2 they are called the “Twelve apostles”. I have not yet found a helpful comment on the distinction here, and point it out for you to think about. We know from other passages that there were more disciples than the twelve.The names of the Twelve are also given in Mark
3:16-19; Luke 6:14-16; Acts 1:13.; there are some differences in the less well-known disciples. You could do worse for further information on this subject than to consult to Wikipedia article Apostles” []. Wikipedia, like all sources, should be used with caution.
Jesus instructs his disciples to proclaim that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In the Gospels the kingdom is sometimes pictured as future, to be inaugurated in the coming in glory of the Son of Man, and sometimes as already present in the world, growing to a final consummation in the coming of the Son of Man. In the preaching of Jesus, the kingdom is coming into the world in and with himself . So in Matthew 12.28, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” In this passage the kingdom is at hand, present and working in Jesus’ teaching, as shown in the healings that accompanied it. The kingdom of God is present in the world when the soul of a man or woman is ruled by God. It is more than simply doing God’s will; it is God’s power in one, both requiring that his will be done and giving the power to do it.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Tales From the Slippery Slope VIII: Hannibal fools the Cretans
The other night we were all sitting in The Slippery Slope after a good dinner. We got to talking about travel. It aparently made no difference that none us has been anywhere recently, for almost any subject can lead to talk about travel. Within a few minutes of my mentioning the news that my niece had successfully completed her PhD viva in England, we were talking about England, about getting around in England, about getting to and from England, and at last, in general, of the pains of travel
“That’s redundant, you know”, said Tom Chillingworth.
John Strype, the undertaker, asked “:What is?”
“Pains of travel. The only reason it's called travel is because it’s painful.”
“Tell us more, Tom,” said Canon Hawker, though I’m sure he already knew what Tom meant.
“Travel,” said Tom, “is a form of ‘travail’, which means suffering or trouble, from the Old French ‘travailler’, 'to toil, labour', but originally 'to trouble, torture'. Travail is still sometimes found used in connection with childbirth. The source seems to be a vulgar Latin verb “tripaliare”, 'to torture', from “tripalium”, an instrument of torture, and that is probably from “tripalis”, which means “something with three stakes”. In English it started to mean ‘journey’ sometime around 1300, when it took over from the Old English ‘faran’. Travel is torture. Maybe it started out as somebody’s idea of a joke.”
“I love to be in new places and see new things,” said Hawker, “but I shudder at the thought of getting there. Even the best trips – a car trip with a friend, say – will be tiring and uncomfortable. But the worst of it all is the luggage. No matter how I try to keep the baggage light, there’s always something I have to bring just because I know it will come in handy.”
“Of course it often does," said Tom, "which reminds me of a story about Hannibal.
“Do elephants come in handy when travelling?” said John?
“There is more to Hannibal than elephants! In his life of Hannibal Cornelius Nepos keeps calling him the shrewdest of all men. This story is about his exile, long after the famous war, when the Romans were convinced that he would always be spinning intrigues against them, and they would never be safe while he lived. Sounds rather familiar, doesn't it? ”
“Yes," I said, "and I think I remember this story from Selected Latin Readings in school. But I’d like to hear how you retell it.”
The other two agreed, and Tom began.

It’s surprising what some people take with them when going into exile, when a quick escape might make the difference between life and death. For example, when Hannibal went into exile from Carthage some years after the war with Rome, for some reason he brought a number of bronze statues. This might seem like a nuisance, but they did actually come in handy at one point.

After the war with Rome, Hannibal settled down for quite a few years; he ran for public office and settled the public finances. But one day Roman ambassadors arrived at Carthage. Hannibal feared that they had come looking for him, and that his own people would hand him over to them; so he escaped secretly and sailed to Syria to seek refuge with King Antiochus. When this became known (it could hardly be a secret for long) the Carthaginians seized his property and razed his house to its foundations, and declared Hannibal himself an exile. One can only assume that the Romans really had come looking for him.

Hannibal’s refuge with Antiochus was not a success. He was hardly ready to settle down to a quiet exile, grumbling now and then about how things might have worked out. He kept intriguing to get back at Rome. To cut a long story short, it ended with Antiochus’ defeat in a naval battle. Hannibal knew that the king would hand him over to the Romans if he had a chance, so he fled to Crete.

On Crete Hannibal went to stay at the town of Gortys while he considered where he could settle more permanently. Cornelius Nepos says that Hannibal, the shrewdest of all men saw that he was in danger on account of their avarice, unless he took some precautions. It seems he had a lot of money with him, and knew that rumours were going around it. So he came up with a plan.

He filled a large number of those earthenware pots called amphorae with lead and covered the tops with gold and silver which he deposited in the temple of Diana for safe-keeping. He made a big show of it, in the presence of all the leading citizens, telling them that he was entrusting his fortune to their protection. Having deceived the Cretans, he then put all his money into the bronze states he was carrying around. Nepos says he cast them away (abicit) in the forecourt of his house; I think the picture he wants to give is that he left them standing round carelessly, as if they were of no particular importance.
So while Hannibal’s treasure was all in his front yard, the leading citizens of Gortys kept the temple of Diana under close guard, not so much against others as against Hannibal, so that he couldn’t remove his money without their knowledge and take it away with him.
Thus, concludes Nepos, the Carthaginian preserved his property, fooled all the Cretans, and went off to king Prusias in Pontus. It was in Pontus that the Romans finally tracked him down. But perhaps I’ll save the story of Hannibal’s end for another time

“A good story,” said Hawker, “but it seems a bit hard on the people of Crete. It reminds me of the famous ‘Eumenides Paradox’, ‘all Cretans are liars, said Eumenides, a Cretan.’ It’s even in the New Testament, though not as a paradox.”
“Where’s that?” asked John
Titus 1.12-13 warns Titus against the many false teachers on Crete, it quotes Eumenides: ‘One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, Cretans are always liars, evil beasts lazy gluttons. This testimony is true.’ That’s not to be taken, I hope, as an infallible truth.”
At that the conversation turned off onto the problems of being a fundamentalist. Perhaps we’ll get the story of Hannibal’s death. another time.
If you have recently joined us, you might like to know that the first Slippery Slope episode apppeared in this Blog on March 28th.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Some Notes on the Readings of Proper 10, Year A

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
The main theme of today’s reading is “living by faith”. In order to keep the notes manageable and brief, I must be selective. So I recommend that you also refer to the comments for today at the RCL comments page (the link is to the left), or to any other good Bible commentary you may have.

The First Reading: Genesis 12.1-9
Chapter 12 of Genesis begins the story of Abram, later named Abraham, ancestor of the people of Israel and of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We should note before all else that the story begins with God’s action. A far as we are told God calls Abram unexpectedly and without preparation. All we know about Abram we learn from the tale of the new life he entered into in response to this call. In fact, little or nothing in the biblical history speaks of human beings seeking God; from the moment of the first sin that estranged us from God, it is the story of God seeking, calling, and saving. While it is true that knowledge of the world may lead the thoughtful person to a knowledge of God (what is called “natural theology”) this is not the purpose of the Bible
In this passage we learn that at God’s command Abram left his home and journeyed to the land of Canaan, where he erected altars at Shechem and Bethel. From Bethel he migrates to the south, to the Negev.
We should note the pathos in the lingering description in verse 1 of the well-known things he is to leave, country, kindred and home, and the contrasting vagueness of the promise. He is to go to “the land that I will show you.” He is to become a great nation, even though he is seventy-five years old and has no son. In all this. Abraham typifies the man of faith (on this see Acts 7:2f; Romans 4:1-25; Galatians 3:1-29; Hebrews 11:8: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going”). In verse 7 the Lord adds to the promise: “And the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him: To thy seed will I give this land.”
The final clause of verse 3, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” may also be rendered as “by thee shall all … bless themselves.” It has been suggested that this is the better translation, the idea being that because of the blessing on Abram people will use such words as ‘God make thee like Abraham, &c.’ when they bless one another. In our reading of the passage we do well to keep both interpretations in mind, for it was indeed through Abraham’s seed that blessing has come to all the world. It is often the case that new meanings are opened in a passage of scripture by the work of God recorded in a later passage, or later interpretations revealed through God’s people.

Psalm 33 is a hymn of praise to God as creator and as lord of history. Praising God is a fitting activity for the righteous, the upright. A song of praise, therefore, is always a song of faith. In the the letter to the Romans which follows this St Paul says of Abraham, “No distrust made him weaver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God.”

Epistle: Romans 4.13-25
Because we kept Corpus Christi at Saint Matthias’ last Sunday, we missed an earlier reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans [1.16-17; 3.22b-28(29-31)]. In that section Paul began to write on the theme that righteousness comes through faith, and life through righteousness (1.17). After a discussion of the spiritual state of Jews and Gentiles, he concludes that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” justification comes “by his grace as a gift”. Therefore, justification depends not on the works of the law, but on faith.
In Chapter Four Paul considers Abraham as an example of faith. Chris Haslem notes (in the Comments on the RCL), that “At the time, rabbis argued that God’s blessings came to Abraham because he kept Mosaic Law (which, they said, he knew in advance – before Moses received the tablets on Mount Sinai).” This idea Paul rejected, showing from texts in Genesis that it was Abraham’s faith that was “reckoned as righteousness” (4.5, 22-23).

The Holy Gospel Matthew 9.9-13, 18-26
At first sight the Gospel passage appointed for today seems to have two separate and distinct passages. First we have the call of Matthew from the customs office and its sequel, a dinner at Matthew’s house where the Pharisees complain the Jesus welcomes tax collectors and sinners. Then four verses are omitted which tell of the disciples of John Baptist ask about fasting. Then we have the story of the ruler of the synagogue who calls on Jesus to save his little girl, who is dead. This story is interrupted by the incident of the woman who touches the hem of Jesus’ garment to be healed.
Two themes might be identified to link the two parts.
The first is healing. In verse 12 Jesus speaks of his work in calling sinners as healing: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” Both the miracles of the second part are concerned with healing. We must remember in this context that the ideas of healing, being well, and saving from evil an sin are all wrapped up in the word salvation
The other is faith, the theme that runs through all of today’s readings. Matthew’s response to Jesus’ call is immediate trust. The commentaries all say that he must have had some acquaintance with Jesus before, and that Jesus calls at the decisive moment. This is likely enough, but the Gospel does not tell us so, and we might think it likely that Jesus called Matthew quite unexpectedly. One is reminded of the famous painting of the call of Matthew by Caravaggio, where Matthew responds to the call pointng to himself with an expression that clearly says “Me?!”
. However that may be, when he hears Christ say, “Follow me,” Matthew simply follows, just as Abram immediately obeyed the call in his day; like Abram, Matthew was given no information about where Jesus was going.
We may not immediately think of the publicans and sinners as examples of faith. They may have flocked to Jesus because no one else would welcome them. But who are the people of faith: those who know they are sinners and outcasts, and come to one who offers aid and healing, or those who are sure of their righteousness?
The ruler of the Synagogue and the woman with the haemorrhage both had faith.
Something else that we must note in this Gospel is the claim to God’s authority that Jesus makes. When he quotes the prophet Hosea (6.6) to show the pharisees God’s true demand, he then adds “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners”, elevating himself and his work to the level of the Lord’s word.
Another interesting point: Jesus rather ironically concedes the pharisees their own self-description by speaking of them as “righteous” and the people who come to him as “sinners”