Friday, September 18, 2009

Lectionary Notes

Some Notes for the Sunday between 18 and 24 September
Proper 25, Year A
20 September AD 2009 being the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Dear Readers, I am now back at the grindstone and hope to continue sharing my reflections on the weekly readings with you. Many thanks for your patience over the past couple of weeks.

The First Reading : Proverbs 31.10-31
Proverbs concludes with an acrostic poem in praise of a capable wife, which serves as a summary of to the book. Proverbs. As an interpretetive interpretative framework for the whole book, this picture of the wise and practical mistress of a household is the counterpart to the exalted public figure of Wisdom presented in Chapters 1-9. The medieval rabbinic commentary of Rashi says of her: “this is the Torah”. The RCL commentray suggests that “she may represent Wisdom finally settled down in her house and serving those who have accepted her invitation.”
The NRSV’s “a capable wife” (“good” in the RSV) seems to fall short of the praise given by the original:. The Judiaca Press translation has “a woman of valor “ (although another Jewish translation has “capable”: the Vulgate has mulierem fortem, “a strong woman”. and the Septuagint Γυναῖκα ἀνδρείαν (which is probably best rendered here as “a courageous woman”). The 1611 Authorized Version (King James) has “Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above Rubies”: this is good as long as we remember that virtuous means “strong” as well as “morally upright”. By the way, I have no idea where King James’ translators got “rubies”; “pearls” is found more often in the older versions. But it does give rise to the story of the English schoolboy who heard this verse read in class, put up his hand and asked, “Please, sir, what was Ruby’s?”
Some people might wonder that one translation says "wife" and another "woman". The distinction we make in modern English between the two words in a recent development. "Wife" was originally a word meaning "woman" which only later came exclusively to mean "married woman". In many languages this distinction is not made, or is not made in the same way as in English.
For other passages in praise of a good woman in the Wisdom literature, see Proverbs 5.15-19, 11.16, 12.4, 18.22, and 19.14 as well as Sirach 7.19, 26.1-4, 13-18. The praise of the good woman for wise management and the bringing of wealth is reflected in the Psalm’s assurance that the godly will be prosperous and flourish.

Psalm 1
This psalm is an introduction to the book of Psalms; it contrasts the fate of the godly and the ungodly. Compare Jeremiah 17:5-8. For the theme of two ways, see also Deuteronomy 30:15-20 and in early Christian writing, the opening of the Didache from about AD 100. Verses 1-4 speak of the happiness of the godly. They study the law of God with delight. They are prosperous and floruish like a tree in fruit. Vv. 5-6 declare that the ungodly are not so, but are like chaff blown from the face the earth by the wind [see Zephaniah 2:1-2, Job 21:18 and Isaiah 17:13]: they perish in the judgement while God knows the way of the righteous {verse 7].
For further reading: The Didache: Augustine of Hippo, Exposition on Psalm 1: There is a helpful exposition of verses 1 and 2 in The second part of the information for them which take offence at certaine places of the holy Scripture, about the middle of the section, which may be found at .

The Epistle: James 3.13-4.3, 7-8a
The moral exhortation of the letter of James continues. Having warned against intermperate speech he turns to the sin of arrogance, that bears fruit in envy and contention. This is not the wisdom that comes from God. In the First Book of Homilies [1547] the openng of this passage was quoted in the Sermon against Contention. The Homily asks, “If we be Christian men, why do we not follow Christ, which saith, Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart (Matthew 11.29)? A disciple must learn the lesson of his schoolmaster, and a servant must obey the commandement of his master.”
This reading acts today as a comment on the Gospel passage in which we read that the disciples were arguing about who was the greatest. After the words from James 3 the Homily goes on: “For there shall never be an end of striving and contention, if we contend who in contention shall be master, and haue the overhand”. This is not only about open quarelling for first place: it includes doctrinal questions: “…if we shall heap error vpon error, if we continue to defend that obstinately, which was spoken unadvisedly. For truth it is, that stifness in maintaining an opinion, breedeth contention, brawling, and chiding, which is a vice among all other most pernicious and pestilent to common peace and quietnesse.” We might want to ask how many of our disputes are not really disputes about who is the greatest. It would do us well if this passage, along with the Gospel reading and its parallels, were more seriously read and taken to heart by the leaders and people of our Anglican Communion

The Holy Gospel: Mark 9.30-37
(i)A Second Prediciton of the Passion
30-32: Compare 8:31, 10.33. Parallels: Matthew 17:22-23 ; Luke 9:43-45.
The Gospel passage is in two parts. First, we hear the Lord’s second prediction of his passion. The first and third predictions are at 8.31-32 and 10.33-34 (and parallels). However much we may think that the events of his Passion coloured the memory of his prediction in the writing of the Gospels, it is clear that Jesus saw clearly that rejection and death lay ahead of him. The literature in commentaries and elsewhere on these predictions is too great even to begin to comment on here.
(ii) The Controversy about Greatness
33-37. Parallels: Matthew 18:1-5 and Luke 9:46-48.
In general it may be noted that the teaching here is found expressed in different ways at different points in the synoptic gospels. As well as the parallels, Matthew 18:1-5 and Luke 9:46-48, see Mark 10. 13-16, Luke 22.24-27, Matthew 10.40-42 18.6, 25.40, 45. It is useful to compare the differences between this passage and the parallel in Matthew, where after the Lord stands the child in the midst of the disciples, he says “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” The point in Matt is the child’s attitude, while in Mark it is the atttude of others toward the child. For this reason certain questions about the place of children in the society of Jesus’ day are less pressing than they would be if we were reading the Matthaean account: the present passage does not say that we must become like children. We may defer this point until Proper 27, when the Gopel is Mark 10.1-16! It is enough to take the whole passage as emphasizing the teaching that to be first is to be the servant, even of someone as apparently insignificant as a child can seem to be.

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