Friday, August 28, 2009

Lectionary Notes

Some Notes for the Sunday between 28 August and 3 September
Proper 22, Year B
30 August 2009: the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

The title of this post should probably “A Few Notes”, or “Some Scattered Thoughts”. Not only were there problems in getting the post ready, my computer is causeing difficulties which have limited my ability to format the post as I should like. I trust you will look past that, kind reader, and mnake what use you can of the content.

First Reading: Song of Songs 2.8-13
The course of our readings from the Old Testament moves from following the hstory of Israel to selections from the poetry and wisdom of Israel, beginning with a short passage from the Song of Songs, also known as the Song of Solomon. This is the only passage from this book in the Sunday lectionary, but it occurs twice: now and as a Canticle which may be read for Proper 14 in Year A. For the rest of Year B the first readings are taken from Proverbs, Esther, Job, and Ruth, before returnng to Samuel on the last two Sundays.
The Song of Songs takes its title from the first verse, “The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s”. Although this is sometimes taken to mean the book if made of many songs, the expression song of songs, like Holy of holies, is in Hebrew idiom a superlative: this is the highest and best of songs, or, perhaps, “:the best song in the world”. “Which is Solomon’s” most naturally suggests that he was the author, though this is not widely accepted by scholars today; it might on the other hand, simply derive from the reference to Solomon in Chapter 3. These questions need not concern us too much when we hear the passage read in Church: more important is understanding how a book that simply contains the songs of a woman and her lover, the Bride and the Bridegroom, conveys the word of God. As the New Oxford Annotated Bible puts it, “The Song has no overt religious content corresponding to the other books of the Bible, and can be so interpreted only by assuming that a mystical symbolism is involved in its highly figurative language.” Here we can only mention briefly that in Jewish tradition in the Midrash and the Targum, it is read as an allegory of God's love for the Children of Israel, while in Christian tradition that began with Origen, it is regarded as an allegory of the relationship of Christ and the Church, or else Christ and the individual believer. The western tradition the greatest commentary on this book is found in the sermons of St Bernard of Clairvaux. His sermons are available on line at several sites, which are easily found by googling “Bernard of Clairvaux Song of Songs”. one is :
Some readers may remember being amused by the translation of verse 12 in the Authorized (King James) Version, which says “the voice of the turtle is heard in the land”. Modern versions now say “turtledove”, but it is perhaps interesting to note that the word turtle originally meant the bird and not the reptile. “Turtle” is from the Latin “turtur”, dove. Apparently, English sailors of the seventeenth century found it hard to pronounce the French “tortue” and called the sea-tortoise a “turtle”.

Psalm 45.1-2, 7-10
An ode for a royal wedding. The passage was obviously chosen as a reflection on the reading from the Song of Songs.

The Epistle: James 1.17-27
Having finished with Ephesians, we turn to the Letter of James for the next several weeks. This as been desribed as a sermon in the form of a letter. The author, of whom nothing is known, is concerned that his readers know how a Christian ought to live. For questions of authorship and date, and a general introduction to the letter, you might want to see Other general points about this letter will come up over the course of the selections in the lectionary.
The passage we read today immediately follows the statement , “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren,” which concludes a denial that anyone can say, “I am tempted by God”; it is our own desires that tempt us [1.13-15] and bring forth sin. What come from God is not temptation or evil but good and perfect gifts Note that all of 1.2-18 is headed ‘De tentatione” in the Latin edition of the New Testament. We ought perhaps to keep in mind the contrast with temptation as we read this. passage.
The exhortation to be doers of the word and not merely hearers is founded in the teaching of the Lord Jesus. See Mt 7.21 and. 24-27. As the NOAB introduction to James puts it, “the letter is a remarkably pure specimen of the ethical teaching found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Note the comparison of one who is a hearer but not a doer with a person examining his face in a mirror (v. 23-24)

The Holy Gospel: Mark 7.1-8, 14-15, 21-23
I regret parochial obligations have made it impossible to prepare any comments on this passage in time to include them here. If I had time, I would prepare something on the statement that “from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts ….” (verses 21 to 23) to point out how this goes against the common and mistaken idea that our problems come from a pure soul in an impure body. C. S. Lewis somehwere wrote a dialogue between the soul and body in which the soul complains of the body’s bad habits, to which the body rejoins, “Well, you taught me to like these things”. We come here to a clear idea of the goodness of the body (and of the physical world in general) which is of course grounded in the doctrine of creation. This train of thought becomes very complicated, however.
It may be noted, however, the parallels to this passage are Matthew 15.1-20 and Luke 11.38-9. t is also usefi to compare Matthew 23, especially verses 13-28.

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