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”?

No comments: