This week has been one of business and distractions, and not at all conducive to study and reflection on the readings for the coming Sunday. Nonetheless, here are some observations as we enter the weekend.
The First Reading
Some things to be noted:
In verse 1 we are told that Israel journeyed “by stages”, that is, from camp to camp. A more detailed narrative is found in Chapter 33 of the Biik of Numbers.
The motif of water from the stricken rock is also found in Numbers 20.2-13. In later legend this rock was said to have followed the Israelites on their journeys. St Paul refers to this legend in 1 Corinthians 10.4, where also speaks of the rock as a type of Christ.
Although I am not always happy with the New Revised Standard Version, I must give them credit for using “Israelites” where the literal meaning is “sons” or “children of Israel”. It is generally thought better to avoid “sons” in modern English; and while “children” is inclusive it has other drawbacks. But the ending “–ite” signifies “one belonging to”, and in the plural “the people of” so that Israelite avoids the problem of exclusivity while nicely capturing the sense of the original.
Although Psalm 78 is chosen as the reflection on this readng in today’s mass, and the Roma Missal uses selections from Psalm 25, the classic link is to Psalm 95.8-11, which also ties in Numbers 20.1-13 and Numbers 14.33. This is all brought into sevice of the Christian religion in the reflection in the third chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews.
As is often pointed out, verses 6 to 11 are considered to be an ancient Christian hymn. The reasons for this are set out in RCL “Clippings” [see http://montreal.anglican.org/comments/apr26l.shtml.]
In the first verse the words translated “any compassion and sympathy” are literally, “any bowels and mercies” This is our friend σπλάγχνα again, compassion in the very lteral sense of feeling the other person’s condition in your guts. In the Elizabethan Book of Homilies, the econd part of the Homily against Contention comments on this verse:
Who is he that hath any bowels of pity, that will not be moved with these words so pithy? Whose heart is so stony that the sword of these words, which may be more sharp than any two edged sword, may not cut an break asunder? Wherefore, let us endeavour to fulfil St Paul’s joy here in this place, which shall be at length our great joy in another place.
This week I nothing much to add to the notes on this passage in the RCL Commentary. I do think that the words “the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you” deserve to be stressed. I suspect that some people read this correctly but are thinking instead of you. The phrase can in fact, mean go ahead of you in the sense of “lead the way”. It would do no violence to the text to read it as “the tax collectors and prostitutes will lead you into the kingdom.” There’s something to meditate on this week!
Tomorrow is the Feast of St Michael and All Angels. Don’t forget the goose.