Saturday, January 23, 2010

Lectinary Notes and More

On the Week of the Third Sunday after Epiphany
24 January, AD 2010
Proper 3, Year C

Some Resources

The reflections that appear in this blog are distilled from a much fuller set of notes of every comment on the Sunday readings that seems in any way interesting, useful, or amusing. The notes also include the texts themselves in several versions, and are too unwieldy to be posted as they stand. For example, the notes for this Sunday currently run to 13 pages (but so far I have almost no comments on the Epistle, and I have not examined any of the readings in Greek). It is sometimes a little difficult to make a sensible set of notes for you kind readers each week. This week was full of incident, and has left me a little rushed, of which I apologize.
This is why I really do hope you also make use of some of the other references that are so easily available, especially the RCL site, the Catena Aurea (noteded last week), and some articles in Wikipedia (although it is to be used with caution). Another useful site for Bible study is the Parallel Bible, which is found at :

This not only provides access to many versions of the Bible which can be searched by chapter or verse, for comparison two versions at a time, but links to a number of commentaries and notes. Another source I find useful is the Judaica Press Complete Jewish Bible with the Rashi Commentary at
As well, everyone should have a good Reference Bible; those by Oxford and Harper Collins are good.
I am most pleased if my comments spark a hunt for further information about and deeper knowledge of the Sunday readings. They are an inexhaustible mine of riches.
This week’s Readings
The first reading: Nehemiah 8:1-3,5-6,8-10
The first reading this Sunday is apparently the only selection from the Book of Nehemiah appointed to be read on Sundays in the Revised Common Lectionary (I haven’t really checked, but that’s what the archive at the RCL site suggests).
The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah are really one book, which was prepared as a supplement to 1 and 2 Chronicles. For further information on the relation of these two books, see the RCL Commentary for this Sunday; the articles on Ezra and Nehemiah in Wikipedia are useful as a basic introduction. The division into two books seems to have resulted in some material belonging properly to Ezra being inserted in Nehemiah. It is likely that today’s passage is one such, and that the name “Nehemiah” in v. 9 is a later insertion.
A very interesting point in this reading is that while Ezra solemnly read the book of the Law in Hebrew, the Levites had to translate it into Aramaic so that the people could understand it. On verse 7 which is inexplicably omitted from the lectionary, they are said to have “explained the Law to the people,” Rashi commented, “that is, “they would translate the words of the Torah to the people.”
One wonders whether such explanations were part of the beginnings of preaching, as translation moves so easily into paraphrase, and paraphrase into outright explanation.
Reflection on translation, explanation, and preaching links this passage to the Gospel reading. In the time of Jesus, the synagogue service seems to have consisted of the singing of a psalm, the recitation of the Shema [Hear, O Israel] and the Eighteen Benedictions, a reading from the Torah and a reading from the prophets, a sermon on the meaning of the readings, a blessing by the president, and the priestly blessing of Num 6.24-27 [NJBC]. Our Lord declared the meaning of Isaiah’s words and their application in his sermon at the synagogue in Nazareth.
Psalm 19
According to NJBC, this Psalm falls into two distinct parts: 1-6, a creation hymn, and 7-14, a wisdom hymn. The second part, which is in praise of the Lord’s gift of the Law, serves as a reflection on the first reading.

We have no comment to make on the Epistle, I Corinthians 12.12-31a. It is quite straightforward.
The Holy Gospel. Luke 4.14-21.
This reading follows immediately after the account of the temptation in the wilderness (4.1-13) and is linked to it by the opening statement that Jesus returned to Galilee “in the power of the Spirit” (4.14); the Spirit had led him into the wilderness and now, having overcome the Devil, he returns in power. We read the account of the Temptation on the First Sunday in Lent (February 21).
The passage itself has two parts. In verses 14-15 St Luke gives a summary account of Jesus’ preaching in Galilee after his return from the wilderness. Verses 16-21 are the first part of an account of Jesus’ preaching in Nazareth which ends in his rejection by the people of his home town (cf. John 1.11). The remainder of this account is read next Sunday. It would be worthwhile to read through the whole of Luke 14.16-30 and ask what effect, if any, the division into two Sunday readings at v. 21 has on the way we hear and understand it.
St Luke places the account of Jesus’ preaching in Nazareth close to the beginning of his ministry, where it stands as a declaration of his programme: to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord (the Jubilee Year, see Lev 25:8-24). St Luke has arranged the material to stress important points. Remember, however, that vv. 14-15 report preaching over an unspecified period of time.
The description of Jesus’ standing up to read from the scroll of Isaiah and sitting down to preach is vivid. Sitting to preach is the posture of a teacher; it was the custom in the early church for a bishop to preach from the teacheer's chair or cathedra, hence the name for the bishop's church. Throughout the Gospel St Luke stresses Jesus’ status as teacher. That Jesus taught regularly in the synagogues emphasizes the continuity between the old and the new. The NJBC also points out that
“This is the first of six incidents dealing with Jesus’ activity on the sabbath, see 4.31-37; 6.1-5; 6.6-11; 13.10-17; 14.1-6. This account is programmatic for interpreting Jesus’ activities on the sabbath: the sabbath is subordinate to Jesus because he is the eschatological fulfilment of God’s promises for the hungry, the sick and the imprisoned.”
Older commentators more often stressed that it was Jesus’ custom to attend the synagogue on the Sabbath day and that “From this we may learn that it is our duty regularly to attend public worship.” Another put it more bluntly: “If anyone ‘didn't need to go to church,’ it was Jesus - yet, it was His custom to do so.”
We do not have time now to comment adequately on Jesus’ use of the text from Isaiah. It should however, be noted that, despite the vivid description of Jesus unrolling the scroll and finding the place where his text was found, “this Isaiah text is not to be found on a synagogue scroll. It is an artistic text, woven from Isaiah 61.1-2 and 58.6, and resplendent with the colours of Luke’s christology.” having thrown that out for you to chew on, I find I have met, and really passed, my deadline.

We read of the Temptation by the Devil on the First Sunday in Lent. In case there is no time to comment on it then, and lest I forget to do it, I’ll comment on the word “devil” now.
The name ‘Satan’, which we meet in both Testaments, means ‘Adversary’. When the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek, ‘Satan’ was rendered by διάβολος, diabolos, which means “accuser, slanderer”. This in turn became Diabolus in Latin (hence diabolical), and was worn down to deofol in Old English and so our ‘devil’.
Strictly speaking, there is only one ‘devil’, whose fallen angels are usually called ‘demons’. They are sometimes known as ‘imps’, which is short for ‘imps of Satan’, ‘imp’ being an old word for offspring, from the Old English impe, ‘young shoot, graft’. I was terribly dissapointed to learn that an explanation I read years ago, that imps were so called because they were impious, is not true. We must beware of plausible explanations.

More Words:
Explosions and the Plausible
Just the other day in the SCR one of my learned colleagues surprised us all by explaining the origin of the word “explode”. I am ashamed to say that I had never looked it up, for it is very interesting and I am glad to have a chance to make it avialable. My colleague had thought, as I suppose many of us do, that we say that a theory proved false that it has been exploded, and that this meant it had been blown up, as by a bomb. In fact, he said, there is quite a different metaphor at work.
‘Explode’ is from the Latin explodere, originally a theatrical expression meaning ‘to drive off the stage by clapping’ [plaudere, to clap] hence, ‘to drive out, reject’. This came to mean ‘to drive out with violence and sudden noise’ and then ‘to go off with a loud noise’. So the essence of an explosion now is the bang.
Another word we get from plaudere is ‘plausible’, which originally meant ‘worthy of applause’ and then ‘acceptable, agreeable’, and at last, ‘having the appearance of truth’. Many plausible ideas are easily exploded.
Recommended Reading for Canadians
Forsey on the Constitution
With all the brouhaha over the Prime Minister’s proroguing of Pariament, it seems as good a time as any to recommend the late Senator Eugene Forsey’s booklet “How Canadians Govern Themselves”. I had a naïve belief that we all learned this stuff in school. Apparently not. Forsey's book is available on line at:

1 comment:

Felicity Pickup said...

Thank you. Needed this. Barely made it to church on time (luckily our choir takes ages to process in & out) and was distracted throughout.

Didn't even notice that the Collect was going to be one of my favourites (having learned it when singing the Orlando Gibbons of it as a choir piece). But loved the O.T.story.

Thanks for the comment on "unrolling the scroll and finding the place ... Isaiah text." The picture of everyone waiting while the reader found one particle place, not in the regular reading order, in a large Torah scroll had seemed odd to me.