Friday, July 31, 2009

Lectionary Notes

Some Notes for the Sunday between 31 July and 6 August
Proper 18, Year B
Sunday, 2 August 2009

The Sentence for Years A & B calls to mind the Gospel today. The Collect and the two other Proper Prayers are on the same theme. Through this the bread God ‘sustains us in all our weakness’; it is the bread that ‘satisfies all hunger’. We pray that having tasted it we may live with God for ever. There is no doubt but that the primary theme for this Sunday is found in contemplating the Most Holy Eucharist.
The other morning after Mass at the Cathedral, a friend pointed out to me something on the Eucharist in Luther’s Small Catechism. The teaching is straightforward, almost blunt, and I commend the whole thing. It was the last question in particular that he wanted to bring to my attention and which I thought might be interesting.
19. What should admonish and encourage a Christian to receive the Sacrament frequently? First, both the command and the promise of Christ the Lord. Second, his own pressing need, because of which the command, encouragement, and promise are given.
20. But what should you do if you are not aware of this need, and have no hunger and thirst for the Sacrament? To such a person no better advice can be given than this: first, he should touch his body to see if he still has flesh and blood. Then he should believe what the Scriptures say of it in Galatians 5 and Romans 7. Second, he should look around to see if he is still in the world, and remember that there will be no lack of sin and trouble, as the Scriptures say in John 15-16 and in 1 John 2 and 5. Third, he will certainly have the devil also around him, who with his lying and murdering day and night will let him have no peace, within or without, as the Scriptures picture to him in John 8 and 16; 1 Peter 5; Ephesians 6; and 2 Timothy 2.
The Readings
The First Reading: 2 Samuel 11.26-12.12.13a

The story of David’s adultery with Bathsheba continues. After the death of Uriah, and Bathsheba’s mourning for her husband, David brought her into his own house and she became his wife. The writer states clearly that the Lord was displeased at what David had done.
So the Lord sent the prophet Nathan to David to tell him a story. It sounded like the sort of law case that was submitted for the royal judgement, but was in fact a parable [12.1-4]. According to a note in the Harper Collins Study Bible, this parable was based in tribal law, which permitted someone to slaughter a neighbour’s animal if it was absolutely necessary to do so in order to provide hospitality. This was not permitted to one whose property included suitable beasts, and it was strictly forbidden when the neighbour’s animal was a personal pet. [I must mention that the note referred to no authority for this statement.].
David is outraged by the case and rises to take the bait. He must pay back fourfold! [Such was the law: see Ex 22.1, but the ancient Greek translation gives ‘sevenfold’.] According to the commentary of Rashi, David did repay his sin fourfold: David “was smitten through four children; the child (born to Bathsheba See v. 18.), Amnon (13:19), Tamar (13:14), and Absalom (18:15).” The same events show the meaning of the words the sword shall never depart from your house (vv. 10-12).
We did not comment last week on the fact that ‘took’ Bathsheba (11.4), but as we meet it again in 12.4, it is good to remember Samuel’s warning to the Israelites when they wanted a king: all a king would do is take (1 Sam 8.11-18).
The passage appointed to be read stops short of the end of Nathan’s prophecy, omitting both the response to David’s confession and the foreseen death of the child of David and Bathsheba (14, 15b-23). However, the passage which tells of David’s reaction to the child’s sickness and death is a beautiful piece of writing
The two passages we have read from the sordid story of David’s crimes show us the two ways we can behave when we do wrong. In the first part, David’s attempts to cover up show that he was aware that he had sinned. By calling Uriah back to Jerusalem and getting him to sleep at home, he is trying to make it seem that Uriah was father of the child David has begotten, and when this fails David moves to more desperate act and arranges for Uriah to be killed in battle. That’s one way, and though we might never go to such extremes of evil, we know the instinct to cover up our mistakes and hope they will just go away. But that never works: God knew, and sent Nathan. In today’s passage David is brought face to face with the truth, and with himself. He sees not only the wrong he did to Uriah and Bathsheba but his base ingratitude toward God, and confesses simply: ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ This is the other way of behaving when we know we have sinned. This is the one which is forgiven.

The Psalm: 51.1-13
Tradition says that after Nathan had come to him, David sang the great Psalm of penitence part of which is our salm for today, Miserere mei, Deus. This psalm is perhaps best known in the wonderful setting by Gregorio Allegri for Tenebrae See or].
Since the available space does not permit us to comment on the Miserere in detail, let us simply note the verse which touches the very heart of penitence, the prayer ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me’ [v. 10, or 11 in the BAS]. The point of penance is not only to have the guilt of sin wiped away but to embrace a new way of living. Here we find both the stupidity and the sad truth of the taunt so often heard that a penitent confesses to sin again with a clear slate. Only the most senseless of folk really think that penance has much value if you mean to go right on with the same sins. To repent and sin again is not the same as repenting so that we may sin again. The sad truth is that we do it without meaning to. Though owning up might seem the hardest part of repentance; really putting sin away and giving up habits one has become so used is truly hard and truly scary. Here we learn that to faith in God’s grace is as much a part of repentance as sorrow for our sins. Let us take to heart the refrain set for this Psalm: Turn from evil and do good. That is the promise and hope of penance.

The Epistle: Ephesians 4.1-16
After the opening doctrinal section of the Letter (1.3-3.21), St Paul passes, as is usual in his letters, to a practical exhortation. Indeed it is stronger than an exhortation: Paul begs his readers to live in a way worthy of God’s call to the new life in Christ. Immediately we are called back to the thought of Psalm 51 and the story of David. God has forgiven us; God does forgive us: what then should be our way of life? His call to lowliness, meekness, and patience brings him to speak of the unity of the Body, and to expound the doctrine that underlies his exhortation.
T.K. Abbott summarizes the passage in the following three sections:
1. Exhortation to live in a manner worthy of their calling, in lowliness, patience, love, and unity [4.1-4].
2. Essential unity of the Church. It is one Body, animated by one Spirit, baptized into the name of one Lord, and all being children of the same Father. But the members have their different gifts and offices [4.4-11]
3. The object of all is the perfection of the saints, that they may be one in the faith, and mature in knowledge, so as not to be carried away by the winds of false doctrine; but that the whole body, as one organism deriving its nourishment from the Head, may be perfected in love.
When we fix our minds on the third section, the object of all, we are reminded of the first words, the call to lowliness, meekness, and patience: all of these are expressed when Christians are “bearing with one another in love”. What is this mutual forbearance? It is “bearing with one another’s weaknesses, not ceasing to love our neighbour or friend because of those faults in him which perhaps offend or displease us”. In the life of the church, in parish, diocese, or among dioceses and national churches, this exhortation of St Paul is of the greatest importance. How much more willing and ready we are to break the unity than to preserve it because some opinions or actions of our fellow Christians displease us than to bear with one another!

The Holy Gospel: John 6.24-35
After the account of the miracles of the Loaves and Fishes and the Walking on Water, there is a brief passage (6.22-23) that leads to the discourse on the Bread of Life. The passage ends with the Lord’s startling claim that he is The Bread of Life, which can mean both ‘the Living Bread’ and ‘the Bread which gives Life’ This is the first of seven parables of the Lord’s Person, also known as the “I am” sayings. The others are found at John 8.12, 10.7, 10.11, 11.25, 15.1 and 14.6.
The quotation from Luther’s Small Catechism above called us to consider our need for the sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood: the opening of the discourse on the Bread of Life calls us to examine this need. The crowd sought Jesus because he had fed them, and as he speaks to them, they come to think that he has some sort of magical bread (like the woman by the well at Sychar in John 4.15). They seem not to see, or at least not to care that the miracle was a sign, that it pointed to and meant something beyond itself. They thought no further than being fed and filled, and if the bread made them immortal, so much the better. In the discourse, Jesus spoke to them of the gift of life from God which is comes in believing in the Son whom he sent into the world.
Since in this form it is not possible to say everything we would like to about this discourse, here is William Temple’s note on Christ’s words to the crowd, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. (It should be noted that this was written just before the Second World War.)
“Whenever we try to use our religion as a solution of our temporal problems, caring more for that than for God and His glory, we fall unto the same condemnation. I have heard speakers commend the cause of Christian Missions on the ground that to spread the Gospel, at any rate under Anglican forms, it a way of consolidating the British Empire; but, short of that sort of vulgarity, we are all under the temptation to call in Christian faith as a means of delivering us from the agony of war, caring more for our own escape from that torture than for God’s glory. It is very natural; it is a state of mind with which we must all sympathize; but it is at best sub-Christian. If what is eternal is valued chiefly as a means to any temporal result, the true order is inverted, and it is likely that the eternal and the temporal goods will be missed alike.” [Readings in St John’s Gospel p. 82].
When I read this a passage from The Screwtape Letters also came to mind:
“On the other hand we [the devils] do want, and very much want, to make men treat Christianity as a means; preferablt of course, as a means to their own advancement, but, failing that, as a means to anything—even to social justice. The thing to do is to get a man at first to value social justice as a thing which the Enemy demands, and then work him on to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice. For the Enemy will not be used as a convenience. Men or nations who think they can revive the Faith in order to make a good society might as well think they can use the stairs of heaven as a short cut to the nearest chemist’s shop Fortunately it is quite easy to coax humans round this little corner. Only today I found a passage in a Christian writer where he recommends his own version of Christianity on the grounds that ‘only such a faith can outlast the death of old cultures and the birth of new civilisations’. You see the little rift? ‘Believe this, not because it is true, but for some other reason.’ That’s the game.” [Letter XXIII see also the opening paragraph of Letter XXV].
That brings us to the end of the available space. If you read the gospel passage carefully, you will doubtless find more ideas and questions to pursue.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Lectionary Notes

Some Notes on Proper 17 Year B
The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
26 July AD 2009

The Collect

This was the Collect for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost in the first Prayer Book of 1549 and in all subsequent revisions. The only substantial change made in this version is in the phrase “that we lose not the things eternal”: the original had “finally lose not”. In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis puts a comment on this Collect in the mouth of the senior Tempter Screwtape, who explains to his nephew Wormwood that people are tempted to sin not so that they can get pleasure but to lead them from good with “nothing given in return”, so that when the come to Hell they may say

"'I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked'. The Christians describe the Enemy as one 'without whom Nothing is strong'. And Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them, in drumming of fingers and kicking of heels, [or] in whistling tunes that he does not like ... [Letter XIII].

First Reading: 2 Samuel 11.1-15
David and Bathsheba
In the chapters between last Sunday’s reading and this one, David’s victories over his enemies (8.1-44, 10.1-19) and his magnanimity to the family of Jonathan (9.1-13) are related. Now, as his armies again go off to make holy war [see v. 11] the narrative focuses on the personal story in a sordid tale of adultery and legal murder, an incident that portrays Israel’s greatest king as a sinful human being. The story continues to 12.25. The narration of Uriah’s death (11.16-25). Next week we read 11.26-12.13a which relates part of the repercussions of David’s sin. Further comments will follow next week.
Like other kings of his time, David had many wives and concubines (see 2 Samuel 3.1-5, 5.13-16). Now that he is established and victorious he seems to be governed by what we might call the temptation to enjoy his position; acting as a despot he takes what he likes, with no respect for the rights of his people. But unlike other despots (as far as we know), David is made to see his sin, as we will read next week.
This sordid story leaves no doubt of David’s sin: He both committed adultery and conspired to bring about her husband’s death when he failed to cover up his own sin. Nevertheless this incident is a central and essential part of the whole history of Israel and of salvation: though the child of David’s adultery was to die, Solomon was also the child of David and Bathsheba, and it was through him that David’s eternal house (see last week’s first reading) was established, and indeed, the lineage from which our Blessed Lord was born, according to human reckoning (see Matthew 1.6-7). Much as we would like the good and evil in human affairs to be clearly distinguished, it cannot be so.
The passage has two parts: I. 11.1-5: the Adultery of David and Bathsheba, and II. 11.6-15: David’s plot against Uriah.
1. Rabbah is the modern Amman, Jordan. On the Ammonites, who were said to be descendants of Lot, the nphew of Abraham (Genesis 19:37-38), see
3. Elim … Uriah. See 2 Samuel 23.34, 39. The Hittite: On the Hittites see Remnants of earlier Hittite settlement in Canaan joined with the Israelites; like Uriah they took Hebrewn names (Uriah means ‘he LORD is my light’). It is clear from v. 11 that Uriah was of Israel.
4. She was purifying herself: see Leviticus 15:19-24 for the law in question. The note makes it clear both the adultery was at a propitious time for conception and that Uriah was not the father of the child. NOAB suggests that the editor who added this sentence “wished to indicate moral uncleanness by a physical symbol.
8. wash your feet. This was a normal custom after a journey, but is apparently a euphemism for sexual intercourse as well, as is suggested by Uriah’s refusal in v. 11. David first tries to cover up by making it seem that Uriah is father of the child; ony when this fails does he comprise his commander’s death.
11. Uriah refuses to go to his home not only, as one might imagine, because he wishes to share the privations of camp life with his troops, but because soldiers consecrated for a holy war (note that the Ark of the Covenant is brought out to the battle, showing that the Lord is leading his people), were expected to be celibate for the duration (1 Samuel 24.4-5).
15. There is an interesting note on this verse in the Mediaeval Jewish commentary of Rashi: David wanted the death of Uriah “in order that she should be retroactively divorced and, consequently he would not have had relations with a married woman; for anyone who departs to war writes his wife a divorce on the condition that he die in battle.”

Psalm 14
Practical Atheism
This Psalm is almost identical to Psalm 53. NOAB gives it the caption “Condemnation of a cynical and unrighteous age”. The fool is not a joker or a silly person, but a person “utterly corrupt in moral character” (see 2 Samuel 13.13, Proverbs 10.33). In fact by his forgetting God’s law and going his own way regardless, David showed himself to be a fool. The fool is not one who concludes by reason that God does not exist, but the one who denies God by his actions (says in his heart). Thus we may speak of sin as ‘practical atheism’.
Verse 3 is quoted in Romans 3:10-12 to show that all people, Jews and Gentiles alike, are sinners.
The particular evil of which the psalmist complains is the oppression of the poor and righteous, which today serves as a comment on David’s treatment of Bathsheba and Uriah, who is shown to have been righteous by his refusal to go to his home while on a holy campaign. The Refrain “”O Lord, you forgave me the guilt of my sin” suggests that such an application is intended. 4. Who eat up my people like bread: see Micah 3.2-3.
The psalmist is assured that the sovereignty of God will be revealed, and yearns for better times (vv. 6-7).
It is interesting to note that the Mediaeval Jewish commentary understood this Psalm as a prophecy of David “concerning Nebuchadnezzar, who was destined to enter the Temple and to destroy it”.
The Epistle: Ephesians 3.14-21
Prayer and Doxology
The first thing one might notice about this passage is that the last two verses are the foundation of the Doxology in the liturgy of the Eucharist in the BAS.
The lectionary has passed over the first verses of this chapter. However, the opening thought of the reading carries on from to last week’s reading. Chapter 3 begins by referring to the statement concluded in 2.22: “This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Jesus Christ for the sake of you Gentiles—“ and at this point goes off into a digression about the Gospel of which Paul is a servant which lasts until 3.13. Then it returns to the initial thought with For this reason. Because his readers are being built up into a holy temple, a dwelling place for God (2.21-22), he prays for them.
I. 14-19: Prayer for the readers, that they may be given spiritual strength; that Christ may dwell in their hearts; and that they may learn to know His love, which surpasses knowledge [T. K. Abbott].
14. I bend my knee expresses the earnestness of his prayer: the normal Jewish posture for prayer was standing (see Mark 11:25 and Luke 18:11, 13).
15. from whom every family: the Greek word for family is from the word for father, and has a sense of ‘fatherhood’. “God is the author of all fatherhood” (NOAB).
18. height and depth: see Romans 8.39, where NOAB suggests that the reference is to the zenith and nadir to which stars rise and set; “i.e. no supposed astrological power can separate us from Christ or defeat God’s purpose for us.” With the first reading in mind, we might also say that not even the depth of sin can so separate us or defeat the will of God.
I. 20-21: Doxology suggested by the thought of the glorious things prayed for.
The object of the prayer was a lofty one, but lofty as it is, God is able to give far more than we ask, and even more than we understand. Neither the narrowness of our knowledge not the feebleness of our prayer will limit the richness of his gifts. Surely a ground for this ascription of praise, which gives a solemn close to the first portion of this Epistle. [T. K. Abbott]
21. Note the close and necessary connection of the Church and Christ Jesus. The Church is that by whose greatness and perfection the glory (doxa) of God is exhibited, as it is also exhibited in Christ Jesus.
The Holy Gospel : John 6.1-21
The Feeding of the Five Thousand and the Walking on the Water
The Gospels for today and the next four Sundays comprise almost the whole of the sixth Chapter of John, which begins with John’s account of the miracle of feeding the five thousand and continues with the Discourse of the Bread of Life. “This is the only incident in which the Ministry of the Lord prior to the triumphal entry is recorded by all the four evangelists. This … strongly suggests that a special importance was attached to it” [Archbishop Temple Readings in St John’s Gospel].
On one level it is a story of our Lord confronting human need: his disciples are daunted by the sheer magnitude of the task and give up. Then the Lord takes what is available, “gives thanks and distributes, and the need is met. It is unneccesary to draw the moral. The need of the world is not too great forour resources if it is the Lord who directs the use of these resources” {Temple].
On another level it is a symbol of the Eucharist. St John does not record the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, but he has the most extensive eucharistic teaching of all the Gospels, in the discourse on the Bread of Life and in that on Jesus the True Vine (Chapter 15). Space does not permit us detailed comments on the eucharistic meaning of the miracle, except to point out that the word translated “he had given thanks” (v. 11) is eucharistēsas. This, along with the note that the time of the Passover was near (v. 4), are among the notes that put us in mind of the eucharist. On the fact that there is no reference to ‘breaking the bread’, see Temple and the RCL Commentary.
Possibly the best introduction to this passage would be, as we suggested last week to read it in parallel with St Mark’s account (Mark 6.30-51). Other resources that are available include the RCL Commentary ( and St Augustine’s 24th Tractate on St John’s Gospel, available at ( In the opening of his tractate Augustine makes some helpful remarks on the understanding of a miracle.
Since I am providing a few hard copies of these notes at my parish on Sunday, and want to make them available on line in time to be read before Sunday, I have imposed on myself a deadline of Friday afternoon for completing them. Like a sermon, it has to be 'ready or not, here I come!' This deadline, along with the need to conserve resources, limits the comments to two pages. I trust that the directions to additional resources will help make these slight and glancing introductions more useful!
As our Gospels for the next month are from St John, I wish to recommend once again Archbishop Temple's wonderful book as a companion volume for anyone who wishes to delve more deeply into this Gospel. I got my copy at a used book store, and have not checked if it is in print; I have noticed that several copies are listed on at reasonable prices. This is a book I cannot recommend too highly.
While I have your attention, might I ask that if you find these notes useful and interesting to let me know? Other than hearing from two readers from time to time, I have no sense whether this exercise is of much use, except as a personal discipline. Even better, tell your friends, or at least the ones who go to Church, (or at least to Churches that use the RCL)!
Finally, there may an interruption in the notes in a week or so. I am planning (tho' not very efficiently) to take some vacation time. I'll try to warn you when this is coming.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Lectionary Notes

A Few Brief Notes for Proper 16, Year B
The Sunday Between 17 and 23 July
Proper Prayers are found in the BAS, p. 369.

The opening words of the Collect which speak of the “new and living way into the presence of God” opened for us by Christ is related to the words of the Epistle: “through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father”.

First Reading: 2 Samuel 7.1-14a:-
“David wishes to build a temple, but God wills that he establish an everlasting dynasty” [NOAB]
David has been established as King over all Israel and has peace at home and with the enemies on every side. He now dwells in a palace, a house of cedar. He desires to construct a fitting house, a temple, for the LORD. Since the exodus, the community’s worship had centered on the Tabernacle a portable sanctuary in which the ark of the covenant was kept. Both NOAB and the RCL commentary note that verse 6 “ignores the temple at Shiloh”, where the tabernacle had been established by Joshua (see 1 Samuel 3.3); however, Rashi commented that “The tabernacle of Shiloh did not have a ceiling but consisted of a stone edifice below and curtains above.”
The word ‘tabernacle’, by the way, is one we get from Latin. Tabernaculum is from taberna, a hut or cabin, and came to mean a tent. Another English word derived from taberna is tavern, of course. The Greek translation uses καταλύμα, a word we meet again in the Gospels, for the inn where Mary and Joseph could find no room is called a καταλύμα and a καταλύμα was what the disciples were to ask for when Jesus sent them to prepare the Last Supper [Lk 22.11]. But I digress.
It is suggested by scholars that this passage is “a late theological commentary inserted into an early historical source,” which was meant to explain why David was not chosen to build the temple. NOAB adds that it “seems to have been based to some extent on Ps. 89 (compare Ps. 132.11-12)”. A reason to support this suggestion is that the Prophet Nathan appears in this story, even though he seems to be introduced in the Early Source several chapters later (12.1). TO go further into this question, consult a good scholarly commentary on the Books of Samuel.
We know that ‘house’ can mean a dwelling or even a palace, a temple (do we not speak of a church as the ‘house of God’?), and a royal family or dynasty (our Queen is of the House of Windsor). This passage depends on all three meanings and the play on words is the same in the original. God’s response to David’s plan for a temple is to declare that he will make of David an everlasting dynasty.
“Historically the dynasty of David was not everlasting. It fell in 587 (586) BC, probably sometime before our author wrote. He may have been dreaming of a literal restoration of the kingdom of David, while at the same time vaguely anticipating the Kingdom of God, the only eternal kingdom.” [NOAB] When we read this passage in Church we see the promise to David fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
We should also note that God, through Nathan, calls David “my servant”. This subtly declares that David is like Moses, for in the historical books and the Psalms this title is given only to Moses and David. (I have not checked all the Prophets, but it is used of Isaiah and, in that book, of the Suffering Servant.)
The passage appointed ends after the first part of verse 14. The text goes on to say: “When he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men” {RSV]: the same warning is found in the Psalm, in verses 30-32..

Psalm 89.20-37.
This portion of Psalm 89 recalls the prophecy of Nathan from the first reading. Note that “in the sky” (verse 37) can be translated as “in heaven”. The RCL notes (From NJBC): “He says that a throne established forever in heaven means a dynasty exercising supreme dominion, unaffected by earthly adversaries.” In verses 38 to the end of this Psalm, which are not read today, “the king has been defeated in battle (v. 43), and it seems that God has forsaken the covenant” [NOAB].
The Epistle: Ephesians 2.11-22.
As we shall see, to read this passage just after the first reading and Psalm adds a dimension to our understanding of those passages.
Here is Abbott’s summary of this section of the Epistle: Ye Gentiles were formerly aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and had no share in the covenants of promise; but Christ by His death has cast down the barrier which separated you from the City of God, and has reconciled you both to God. Now, therefore, all alike have access to Him, the Father, and all alike form part of the holy temple which He inhabits.
Verse 11. Therefore: this refers to the opening section of Chapter 2, in which Paul declares salvation in Christ. “God …. even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).” He repeats the great declaration: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God — not because of works, lest any man should boast” [verses 8, 9]. These blessings should move the readers to think more of their former state, so that they should be the more thankful.
The enmity between Jews and Gentiles is symbolized by “the dividing wall of hostility”, which has been broken down by the death of Christ; the law which caused the separation has been abolished “in his flesh” [verse 14-15]. The image of the dividing wall seems to have been “suggested by the partition that separated the Court of the Gentiles from the temple proper, and on which there was an inscription threatening death to any alien who passed it” [Abbott].
The purpose of Christ is the creation of one new humanity in place of the two [v. 15]. Chrysostom said that this meant not that the Gentiles had been brought to “that nobility” of the Jews, “but both us and them to a greater as if one should melt down a statue of silver and one of lead, and the two should come out gold”. The image of “far” and “near” [vv 13, 17] comes from Isaiah 57.19 (see also Acts 2.39). It did not originally refer to the admission of the Gentiles to God’s people, but easily lent itself to this conception and was so used by Rabbinic writers with reference to proselytes.
The union of Gentile and Jew in the “new man” leads Paul to speak of the household of God [v. 18], which should resonate with the word play on “house” in the first reading. In the church all the members are to grow into a holy temple in the Lord [v. 21]. The individual members are to see themselves as being “built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit”. Note that this is in the present tense: the building is still going on

The Sentence for Year B does not seem to fit the readings in any particular way, except for the one verse of the Gospel: “and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things [Mark 6.34]. It would probably be flippant to suggest that when Jesus and the disciples tried to get away to a lonely place, the crowd followed him {6..33]

The Holy Gospel : Mark 6. 30-34, 53 -56.
This selection seems odd: it contains the prefatory material to Mark’s account of the Feeding of the Five Thousand [6..35-44] and an incident of healing in Gennesaret which follows the account of Jesus’ walking on the water [6.45-52]. The account of the miraculous feeding and the walking on water from John’s Gospel will be read next Sunday [John 6.1-21]. It makes some sense to read the first part of today’s passage to prepare for next Sunday’s; was the second part aded to make it long enough? The notes in NOAB consider vv. 30-34 as part of the narrative of the miraculous feeding. The RCL commentary notes: “I suggest that the creators of the Revised Common Lectionary have made an unfortunate choice in skipping v. 35-44 (the Feeding of the Five Thousand). Reading these verses helps to understand today’s reading. I note that the Feeding of the Five Thousand (from John) is the gospel next week. Mark’s version is the most complete.”
Note in v 30 that the disciples are called apostles. This is fitting since they are returning from the mission on which they had been sent, the meaning of apostle.
The mention of a lonely or deserted place prepares us for the miraculous feeding. There is no source of food other than God’s gift. [With the reading from Ephesians in mind we remember that the root meaning of grace is a free gift.] We should have in mind the wilderness where God gave the manna [Exodus 16:12-35] and Christ’s being tempted in the wilderness to provide turn stones into bread [Mat 4.1-4; Lk 4.1-4]
v. 34: They were like sheep without a shepherd: see Num 27.17; 1 Kg 22.17; Ezek 34.5.
v. 53. Gennesaret is on the N-W shore of the Sea of Galilee.
v. 56: For the fringes of Jesus’ garment, see Num 15:38-40, Deut 22:12. “That Jesus wore this fringe indicates his observance of Mosaic law”[RCL]. Compare the crowd touching the fringe of his garment and being healed with Mark 5.25-31].
NOAB: The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha. NJBC: The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. RCL The Revised Common Lectionary Commentary, RSV: Revised Standard Version. Abbott: T. K. Abbott., The Epistles to the Ephesians and to the Colossians, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh, T & T Clark, (1991). For Rashi’s Commentary on the Hebrew Scriptures, see:

Friday, July 10, 2009

Lectionary Notes

Salome, by Aubrey Beardsley

Proper 15, Year B
12 July 2009,
The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

The Collect

The opening of this Collect is founded on Augustine, Confessiones I.1: “You move us to delight in praising You; for You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in You.”

The First Reading: 2 Samuel 6.1-5, 12b-19
The Ark is brought to Jerusalem.
This reading continues the highlights of the story of David that are followed in Year B. When King David had captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites and established it as his capital city, he brought there the Ark of the covenant to make it the religious centre of the nation.
The ark was a portable wooden chest which was kept at the heart of the tabernacle as the symbol of the presence of the Lord. In Exodus 25.10-22 are the orders for its construction. While Israel journeyed in the wilderness the Ark was carried ahead (Numbers 10.33-36). In this passage are preseved fragments of an ancient Song of the Ark;
And whenever the ark set out, Moses said, Arise, O LORD, and let thine enemies be scattered; and let them that hate thee flee before thee.”And when it rested he said, “Return O LORD. to the ten thousands and thousands of Israel. (See Psalm 68.1)

The ark, then, was the most revered embled of the Hebrew religion. The box contained the ‘testimony’ [Ex 25.16, 21], apparently the stones of the law from Mt Sinai. According to the Letter to the Hebrews [9.4], it also held the urn containing manna and Aaron’s rod that budded (but see Exodus 16.31-34).
The Hebrews believed that the presence of the ark brought them victory in battle (particularly memorable is the fall of Jericho, Josh. 6.6-20). Nonethless, in the time of the Judges, the ark was captured by the Philistines. They returned it, for it seemed to bring them ill-luck, but after that they ark remained at Kiriath-Jearim, whence David brought it to Jerusalem.
In the temple of Solomon the ark was placed in the Holy of Holies. It was presumably lost at the fall of Jerusalem, and Jeremiah prophesied that it would no more be remembered or missed (Jeremiah 3.16-17).
6.2. Baale-judah is either an error or another name for Kiritah-jearim (1 Sam 7.1, 1 Chron 13.6)
6.3: a new cart. Rabbinic commentators noted that it was not right to move the ark this way: “He erred in a matter that even school children know: “Because the service of the holy things belonged unto them, they shall bear them upon their shoulders” (Num. 7:9).”
The next passage (6.6-12a). is omitted from the lectionary These verses tell that when he touched the ark to steady oit when the oxen stumbled, Uzzah the son of Abinadab was struck down by the Lord and died. In Numbers 4.15 it is laid down that none but priests should touch the ark. In verse 8, David is said to be angry about the death of Uzzah, but in verse 9 he is said to be afraid. These verses are apparently from different strands of tradition: the NOAB suggests that 8 is the work of a later editor, as suggested by “to this day”.
NOAB comments: “Uzzah was apparently trying to steady the ark as the oxen stumbled. At this point Uzzah died Most ancient peoples attributed disaster to the anger of a deity.
The ark was left at the home of Obed-edom the Gittite, where it brought prosperity. David thereupon decided to bring it into the city (verse 12)
6.13-15 describe the jubilant procession of the ark into the city.
6.16. On the marriage of David to Michal the daughter of Saul, see 1 Sam 18.20-27, 2 sam 3.15-16. Though promised to David, she had married a certain Paltiel, and when David became king he took her from her husband. This may be a reason she “despised” him: another is that she had no child by him. Or she may simply have thought the was behaving in an undignified way: see further, 6.20-23.
Note that Michal “looked out of the window, and compare the descriptions of Sisera’s mother (Judges 5.28-30) and Jezebel (2 Kings 9.30-32). The narrative force of the window in these passages was pointed out by Max Beerbohm in his essay “Fenestralia” (1944).
6.13, 17. Note that David offers sacrifice though he is not a priest, and compare 1 Sam 13.10-13.
6.18-19: The celebration concludes with a great feast. The meaning of verse 19 is a little unclear. The Judaica Press version gives: “And he distributed to all the people, to the whole multitude of Israel, both to men and women, to each individual a loaf of bread, and a portion of meat, and a barrel of wine. And all the people departed, every one to his home.”
Psalm 24
is described in NOAB as “a liturgy on entering the sanctuary, probably used in connection with a procession of the ark. Several commentaries apply verses 7-10 to the ark as symbolizing the presence ofthe3 God of Israel. There is a parody of this psalm in T. H. White’s The Once and Future King (Collins, 1958), pp. 128-9. White’s point is about the use of religion in the service of the state, especially in time of war. This is a question which would probably never entered the mind of David or the priests of his time, but creeps into one’s mind while it ponders the passages appointed this Sunday.

The Epistle: Ephesians 1.3-14
Since we will be reading from Ephesians for the rest of the summer, it would be helpful to provide briefly some general comments on this Epistle.
Ephesus was the capital of the Roman province of Asia, which was the western part of what we now know as Turkey. For St Paul’s time at Ephesus see Acts 19.
The traditional belief that this Epistle was addressed to the Church at Ephesus it is more likely that it was a sort of circular letter to the churches in .Asia and Phrygia. The reasons for this are:
1. The earliest and best manuscripts lack the words “in Ephesus” in verse 1
2. It is a very impersonal letter for a place where St Paul had spent a number of years and had close personal attachments.
3. Some expressions in the Epistle which seem impossible to reconcile with the supposition that it was written to the Church at Ephesus [1.15; 3.2; 3.4; 4.21, 22].
If it was a circular or encyclycal letter, then it is easy to explain the ascription “to the Ephesians” and the addition of that name in verse 1. When the letters of St Paul were collected, because it was from Ephesus that the copies would reach the Christian workd generally . “Once accepted as addressed to the Ephesians, the analogy of other Epistles in which τοῖς οὖσιν is followed by the name of the place would naturally suggest the inertion of ἐν ᾿Εφέσῳ” [T. K. Abbott].
Contents and Outline.
The introductory note from the NOAB is worth summarizing:
The theme of this letter is God’s eternal purpose in establishing and completing the universal Church of Jesus Christ. The Ephesians were drawn from various backgrounds and nationalities but have all been called by God the Father, redeemed and forgiven through his Son, and incorporated into a fellowship that is sealed and directed by the indwelling Spirit of God. “This Trinitarian emphasis, in a lyrical mood, appears in 1.5, 12, 13; 2.18-20; 3.14, 16, 17; 44-6”. The author suggests both glorious privilege and destiny and the duties of the believers through developing such figures of the Church as the Body of Christ (1.23; 4.16), the building or temple of God (2.20-22) and the Bride of Christ (5.23-32).
Written while Paul was a prisoner (3.1; 4.1;6.20), probably at about the same time as Colossians, with which it shares many phrases and expressions.
The Epistle has two main sections:

I. A mainly doctrinal section; 1.1-2.31
1.1-2 Salutation:
1.3-2.22: On the Plan of Salvation
*1.3-14: Hymn of the divine purpose
1.15-23 Prayer for the Knowledge of the Power of Christ
2.1-10 God’s love in Christ
*2.11-22 Jew and Gentile
3.1-21: On the Apostle and the Church
3.1-13 Paul: Apostle to the Gentiles
*3.14-21 Prayer for the Church
II. Various Exhortations: 4.1-6.24
*4.1-6: To keep the Unity of the Spirit
*4.7-16 Of the gifts given for buildng up the Church
4.17-24 Of the Old and New Man
*4.25-5.2 The Duty to the Neighbour
*5.3-21 Once Darkness, but now light [5.15-20 is read]
5.22-6.9 The Christian Household
*6.10-20 Put on the Armour of God
6.21-22 Conclusion and Blessing

This week's reading, 1.3-14, is a prayer of thanksgiving. It was usual in ancient letter-writing to follow the opening salutation with a short thanksgiving or prayer on behalf of the person addressed. It was the Apostle’s practice to expand on this element in a distinctively Christian way. In his commentary, Abbott summarizes the passage thus:
1. 3-8: Praise to God for the blessings of salvation. The granting of this was no new thing in God’s purposes, but had been determined before the creation of the world. The object to be attained was the we shoold be holy and blameless, and with a view to this He has admitted us to the adoption of sons through Chriost, in whom we have received our redemption.
1. 9-11: God hath made known to us His purpose to sum up all things in Christ, whether they be things in heaven or on earth.
1.12-14. We Jews had even in former times the promise of the Christ., which has now been fulfilled ; but the same blessings are now extended to you the Gentiles, and as the earnest of your inheritance, ye have been sealed with the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Gospel: Mark 6.14-29
The Death of St John the Baptist
Last week’s Gospel ended with Jesus’ sending the Twelve on a mission of preaching and healing. Before their return to Jesus is reported, St Mark relates the death of St John Baptist at the hands of Herod Antipas.
6.14-16. Last week we read of the negative reaction of his fellow Nazarenes to Jesus. Now we hear the reaction of the official world. Herod has heard of the work of Jesus and wonders who he is. There are various ideas, but Herod is convinced that it is John the Baptist come again.
14. King Herod: This is not Herod the Great, but his son Herod Antipas, who was not a king but puppet ruler of Galilee and Petrea under the Romans. He is given his proper title of Tetrarch in Mt 14.1.
15-16. It is Elijah … It is a prophet: see also Mt 16.14, Mk 8.28, Lk 9.19.
17-29: The account of the beheading of John Baptist is also found in Mt 14.1-12. Luke reports that John was beheaded but does not tell the story (9.7-9).
17 According to Josephus [Jewish War, 18.5], John was imprisoned at Machaerus, a fort and prison 8 km (5 miles) east of the Dead Sea, on the Nabatean border. Josephus does not report the other events in this passage. The RCL notes “A little strangely, in this story, Herod appears not to have seen John as a political threat; however Josephus says John was imprisoned as one.”
The text of Josephus may be found at
21-26: On the similarity of this narrative to the Book of Esther, see the note in RCL
22. Where the NRSV has “His daughter Herodias”, another reading is “Herodias’ daughter”, agreeing with Mt 14.6. According to Josephus, the girl’s name was Salome. (Hence the play by Oscar Wilde and the opera by R. Strauss ).
On the place of this passage in the Sunday readings, it might be enough to quote the RCL page: “Mark inserts a flashback to the story of John the Baptist to tell what discipleship may cost; vv. 16-29 anticipate Jesus’ fate, and that of some disciples.”

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Lectionary Notes

Some Notes for Proper 14, Year B
The Sunday between 3 and 9 July
Being in the Year of Grace 2009 Sunday the 5th of July
the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost and Fourth after Trinity
The first Reading, 2 Samuel 5.1-5, 9-10 continues the highlights from the story of King David by narrating his acceptance as King of both Israel and Judah. Two different accounts of this even have been combined. (Two sources have been identified in the books of Samuel, the Early Source, from the time of Solomon, and the Late Source, from the latter days of the monarchy: on this see the introduction to 1 Samuel in NOAB). Verses 1-2 seem to be the work of the Late Source, which was concerned to show that God had promised the kingdom to David, while verse 3 is “the unembellished story of what was done” (NOAB),
Note that verses 6-8, which tell of David’s capture of Jerusalem from the Jebusites, are omitted. There is a different account of this event in 1 Chronicles 11.4-9. The conquest of Jerusalem provided a capital which had been part of neither the northern nor the southern territory. It was common for a conqueror to rename a city.
The Millo is translated in the Judaica Press version as “the mound”, and described as “A low walled enclosure which is filled with earth and [where] the top of the mound is in the center with a gradual decline in all directions.” It is usually understood to have been an earthwork south of the temple area.

Psalm 48 is a hymn of praise in honour of Jerusalem.
In the BAS psalter part of verse 2 refers to the hill of Zion as “the very centre of the world”. The Judaica Press has “by the north side”, while the RSV has “Mount Zion, in the extreme North”. This seems to be more accurate. The NOAB notes that this is “a curious phrase which apparently identifies the Israelite holy mountain wiuth the Canaanite mountain of the gods”. For “ships of Tarshish, NOAB also gives the ever so helpful note, “ships capable of making long voyages”. Tarshish is a place, far from Israel, which has never been identified. When I was young I always read that it was Spain, but this doesn’t seem to be true.
If you will forgive a personal reminiscence, verses 11-12 of this Psalm (the the Prayer Book version came to me when I was walking on the walls of Jerusalem in 1997.
Walk about Sion, and go round about her; / and count the towers thereof
Mark well her bulwarks, consider her citadels, / that ye may tell them that come after.

The Epistle, 2 Corinthians 12.2-10, is the last selection from this letter that we read in this part of the lectionary. Next week we begin a selection from the Letter to the Ephesians which will run to the end of August. Might I suggest that reading the whole of Ephesians through in advance might make it easier to see the passages selected for the Sundays in context?
As to this week's passage, I hope that a note adapted from the New St Joseph Sunday Missal might suffice. "Paul encounted problems similar to those of .... Jesus himself. 'False preachers' have confused the congregation of Corinth. They have bragged about ... extraordinary revelations from God. Paul, on the contrary, will boast of nothing except his physical condition, which is miserable: "I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me..... for when I am weak, then I am strong." He thus invites his converts to see in him Christ whom he represents.
It is also worth noting that Paul asked three times that the 'thorn' whatever it was, might be removed, but was refused. This must always be remembered in considering prayer answered and apparently unanswered.

The Holy Gospel, Mark 6.1-13, falls into two sections. In the Roman lectionary these two parts are read this Sunday and next. There is, however, a connection between the two parts, as is noted below.
The first section, verses 1-6, tells of Jesus’ rejection in his home town; the second, 7-13, narrates the mission of the Twelve on a tour of preaching and healing. A number of interesting and important points come up in these verses.
The synoptic parallels to verses 1-13 are Matthew 13.53-58 and Luke 4.16-30. Textual questions arise in these verses that are beyond the scope of these notes, so I suggest that you consult a good commentary (or more than one!).
The NRSV gives “hometown”, but the word patris can equally well mean “own country”, as we read in the RSV and other versions. It has been pointed out that this double sense is important, since the rejection by his home town foreshadows is rejection by his nation. See John 1.10-11. Here we find a link between this first section and the second in the theme of rejection. Jesus, by telling the disciples what to do when folk refuse to welcome them or hear their word (v. 11) is warning them that they will sometimes be rejected, as he was.
Much has been written on the natural disinclination of the people of Nazareth to accept that a “local boy” they know well could be something special. Likewise, much has been written about the faith as a requirement for miracles. Note that in Matthew 13.58 “he could do no mighty work” is softened to “he did not do many mighty works”. The people of Nazareth are tupical of those who “see and do not perceive, hear and do not understand”.
The unbelief of his own people, which caused Jesus to marvel, is the central point of this passage.
Some other points that ask for comment.
Is not this the carpenter, the Son of Mary? is the likely reading, but there is a respectable alternative reading, “Is not this the son of the Carpenter and Mary?”, which agrees with Matthew and Luke. Carpenter is better understood as ‘builder’ than ‘joiner’ or ‘cabinet maker’. This was the meaning of 'carpenter' in older English. Indeed, the original word, tekton, is an element in our ‘architect’ (understood as ‘master builder’). It has been suggested that since buildings were more often of stone in that part of the world, that "mason" might be used, and the many Gospel references to rocks and stones and cornerstones support this. The Vulgate renders it as faber, which one might read as "smith". This appears to be the way the Venerable Bede took it: "For although human things are not to be compared with divine, still the type is complete, because the Father of Christ works by fire and spirit" (from the Catena Aurea).
On the identification of Jesus as “son of Mary” and its possible implications, see R. E. Brown, Birth of the Messiah, Appendix V: ‘The Charge of Illegitimacy”, esp. pp 537ff. It is possible that it means nothing stronger than, "We know his mother", with the inference that the father is dead.
The mention of the brothers and sisters of Jesus raises many questions, and is complicated by the very ancient belief in the perpetual virginity of our Lady. A few points may be in order”
1. From Old Testament usage (for example, Genesis 13.8) it is clear that the word translated “brother” can also mean “kinsman”.
2. As the old Catholic Encyclopaedia points out, “Mary's annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem (Luke 2:41) is quite incredible, except on the supposition that she bore no other children besides Jesus. Is it likely that she could have made the journey regularly, at a time when the burden of child-bearing and the care of an increasing number of small children (she would be the mother of at least four other sons and of several daughters, cf Matthew 13:56) would be pressing heavily upon her?”
3. William Temple notes of the mention of Jesus’ brothers in John 7 that they were
“were (no doubt) the sons of Joseph by an earlier marriage. They attempt to exercise the authority commonly claimed by older brothers. They are sceptical, as elder brothers might be expected to be. They are not hostile, but are puzzled by their younger brother’s reputation in Galilee, and would like it and its grounds to be subjected to the test of the more sphisticated minds in Jerusalem.”
3. There is the question of why Jesus on the Cross committed his mother into the care of the Beloved Disciple (John 19.25-27) if she had other sons who could care for her.
C. B.Moss notes these last two points as well: “The ‘brethren of the Lord’ treated Him as a younger rather than as an elder brother (St. Mark 3:31: St. John 7:3), and it was to St. John, her nephew, that our Lord entrusted His Mother, which would have been strange if she had had sons of her own (St. John 19:26). For this reason it seems highly probable that the tradition of the Church is true, that our Lord was the only son of His Mother, and that His "brethren" were the sons of St. Joseph by a former wife (pp 73-4).”
Moss also notes that, while the belief in our Lady’s perpetual Virginity is “a very ancient and almost universally held tradition … the historical evidence for the Perpetual Virginity is not sufficient for us to be able to regard it as a dogma. We cannot say: ‘It must have been so, therefore it was so’; belief must be based on positive evidence.”
Those inadequate notes will have to suffice for now.
The synoptic parallels to the second section are Matthew 10. 1, 9-11, 14 and Luke 9.1-6.
We may note that the instructions Jesus gave to the Twelve to travel lightly vary in the different Gospels (see Matthew 10.9, Luke 10.4). Alec Vidler notes: “No doubt account was taken of the fact that what was feasible in Palestine was not so elsewhere. These are not to be regarded, nor were they from the first regarded. as timeless laws for missionary activity, though in many respects they have an enduring point, e.g. travelling light and not fussing about superfluous accessories. ‘The young Church understood that the instructions of Jesus which were suited to that time do not remain literally obligatory, as is shown bu the divergence in Matthew and Luke. What counts is the spirit of apostolic simplicity’.
One should not interpret “take nothing … except a staff” as the biblical foundation of ecclesiastical bureaucracy.