Friday, November 14, 2008

Lectionary Notes

Some notes for the Twenty-Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 33, Year A
Sunday, 16 November, 2008

The Sentence is founded on John 15.5; notice the link between the servants in the Gospel who gain a profit from trading the talents that had been committed to them, and the description of the members of Christ as branches that are to bear fruit.
The Readings
For more detailed notes on the passages, please see the RCL Commentary, at

First Reading : Judges 4:1-7
From the death of Joshua until Saul was made king, Israel was ruled by twelve successive Judges, charismatic leaders who were raised up at times of national crisis by the spirit of God, to deliver God’s people from pagan oppressors. which included the judicial and military roles. The word Judge [Hebrew shoftim] is from the root from the verb "Š-P-T", "to pass judgment”, A cognate form, which we know from Latin texts as “sufete”, designated the two chief magistrates of Carthage, which had been a Poenician colony.
Chapters 4 and 5 of the Book of Judges tell of Deborah the prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, in whose time the nation was delivered from the oppression of Jabin King of Canaan, whose general, Sisera, had the advantage of iron chariots at a time when the Israelites were not familiar with ironwork. Deborah inspires Barak to raise an army against the Canaanites. Today we read the opening verses of the story, but the rest is not included in the Sunday Lectionary. It seems strange to read only a small part of such a fine passage, partly because this story centres on two women whose actions save the people, but also because of the effective simplicity of the writing. The rest of the story is as follows (Judges 4.8-5.end)
Barak refused to go against Sisera unless Deborah went with him; she said she would, but that Barak’s was not the path to glory, “For the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman”. Deborah and Barak went up with ten thousand men to Kadesh [vv.8-10] Near Kadesh at Za-anannim lived Heber the Kenite and his wife Jael. The Kenute were a nomadic tribe relatd to the Hebrews (see Judges 1.16).
Sisera and his nine hundred chariots of iron (or armed with scythes) went up against Barak at Mount Tabor. Atr Debora’s word Barak and his ten thousand came down from the mountain; the army of Sisera was routed and Sisera himself fled on foot. Barak followed the fleeing army to Haroseth-hagoiim. “All the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not a man was left”. [vv.12-16].
Meanwhile Sisera sought shelter at the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite. She welcomed him into the tent, and covered him with a rug. She gave him a drink of milk.
“And he said to her, “Stand at the door of the tent, and if any man comes and asks you, ‘Is anyoner here?’ say, No.” But Jael the wife of Heber took a tent peg, and tool a hammer in her hand, and went softly to him and drive the peg into his temple, till it went down into the ground, as he was lying fast asleep from weariness. So he died.”
When Barak came by the tent in pursuit of Sisera, Jael came to meet him saying, “Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking” [vv. 17-22]
The story is told again in Chapter 5 “the Song of Deborah and Barak”, which is considered to be “the oldest remaining considerable fragment of Hebrew literature” [NOAB]. In this chapter there are many fine passages, such as the description of Jael’s killing Sisera, but 5.28-30, which pictures the mother of Sisera looking out the window as she awaits his return, is one of the most poignant passages in all literature.
Psalm 127.
This psalm, a prayer for deliverance from enemies, makes an apt reflection on the first reading. The refrain appointed in the BAS, “The earth was still when God rose up in judgement,” makes this more clear.
The Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
In this pre-Advent season we continue to read from First Thessalonians, which gives the impression that some early Christians were like children on a journey, always wanting to know: Are we there yet? In fact, from the very beginning [see Acts 1.6-7], Christians have been asking “how long?” and “when will the end be?” St Paul reminds the Thessalonians of what Jesus himself said, that the coming would be like a thief in the night [see Mat 24,43; Lk 12.39; 2 Peter 3.10; Apoc 3.3. The fact that the day has not yet come should not lull them into a false security, lie sleep; rather they should be awake and alter, living in the Lord’s service, above all encouraging and building up one another.

The Holy Gospel: Matthew 25:14-30:
The Parable of the Talents
The Gospel is one of the three parables of judgment that make up Matthew 25. Last week we read the parable of the Bridesmaids, and next week the parable of the Sheep and the Goats. The parable of the Talents comes between and springs right out of the preceding parable, as is clear from the opening words, “For it is as if a man… ” This is an illustration of the previous verse, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day not the hour”. It is helpful to read all of Matthew 24 and 25 to set today’s passage in context,
We have to be clear that in Jesus’ day the word talent did not mean what we think it mean, a power or ability of mind or body. A talent was a unit of weight, and, as a weight of silver or gold, an amount of money. The meaning of ‘talent’ familiar today in English and other languages in fact comes from the interpretation of this parable as teaching that God gives each of us some talents and opportunities of body and mind, and the judegment on our life depends. This inrerpretation must have been heard so often and clearly that people for whom the “talent” was no longer a sum of money must have taken it to mean a “gift”; the idea that it means “ability” seems to come from the phrase, “to each according to his ability”:. The first known use of “talent” in this sense in English was in Lydgate’s Testament, by the poet John Lydgate, about 1430.
It is useful to recall that for Jesus and his audience “talent” did not yet have this meaning, for this drives us to look at the parable again, and at more ancient interpretations. For many of the Church Fathers, the talents reprsented the “gospel doctrines (Jerome) or the oracles of God (Origen); the different numbers represented the spiritual understanding of the servants. In such an interpretation, “doing business” with the talents means preaching and teaching the Gospel. The profits are the souls brought to Christ —compare the “fruit” of John 15. The servant who hid his one talent is a Christian who kept the good news to himself: For St John Chrysostom, the talents are all that we are given by God, “money, or words,” or anything else that can be used to help one’s neighbour; charity is how the talents are put to work. Here we should read Matthew 24:45-51 and consider what light that has to shed on this parable. When you read it note “gnash their teeth” which is echoed in today’s reading.
If we take “talent” to mean our abilities and opportunities in the broadest sense, then one of the main points of this parable is that they are not our property, but only loans—perhaps “investments: would be a better word in the context—for which we must make reckoning. In the parable of the sheep and the goats [Matthew 25.31-46], which we read next Sunday, it is made clear just how we are to use these investments.
The link to the final words of the Parable of the Bridesmaids tell us that since we do not know when the reckoning will come, we cannot put off doing business with our talents — no matter how we interpret them.
Thso parable, like most, has attracted many comments of varying quality and value. A Google search for “Parable of the Talents” produced about 180,000 results. From those here are two which give unusual interpretations of the parable. I have not checked these carefully, and take no responsibility for their content:
Parables as Subversive Speech: Jesus as Pedagogue of the Oppressed - by William R. Herzog – 1994:
~ id=sG6Bjr7guSAC&pg=PA150&lpg=PA150&dq=Parable+of+the+Talents&source=web&ots=kEUXjNMkeo&sig=s01bAfFAyGXd9QbV7s3ZT3JpI4I&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=10&ct=result#PPA153,M1
There is also the animated “lego” version:

An Historical Note
This Monday, 17 November, is the four hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Accession of Queen Elizabeth I. This was a most significant day in the history of the Church of England and developing Anglicanism.

An Important Note
As I was preparing these notes, I received a message from the Anglican Diocese of Toronto calling attention to a letter from Bishop Colin Johnson that will appear in the Toronto Star next Tuesday, 18 November. You will doubtless hear or read about this in other places; it can’t hurt to mention it here, to encourage you to read it, and to be aware of the suggested actions .mentioned at the end of the letter. As we approach the “time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices”[1] this reminder that “tough economic times” are not the time to step back from commitments against poverty seems particularly apt.
[1] Charles Discken, A Christmas Carol, p. 12,

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