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 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ammon.
3. Elim … Uriah. See 2 Samuel 23.34, 39. The Hittite: On the Hittites see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hittites. 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 eucharist─ôsas. 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 (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1701024.htm) and St Augustine’s 24th Tractate on St John’s Gospel, available at (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1701024.htm.) In the opening of his tractate Augustine makes some helpful remarks on the understanding of a miracle.
News
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 Amazon.com 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.

1 comment:

Felicity Pickup said...

Aah!! One other person in the world who plans "(tho' not very efficiently) to take some vacation" How very reassuring.