Saturday, January 16, 2010

Lectionary Notes

Some Reflections for the Second Sunday after Epiphany
(Readings of Proper 2, Year C)
Sunday, 17 January AD 2010

The Collect for this Sunday, praying that as Christ is the light of the world, we his people “may shine with the radiance of his glory,” continues the advent theme of manifestation, the shining forth of glory.
The First Reading: Isaiah 62.1-5
In order to understand a passage of Scripture read in the liturgy it is helpful to know something of its context and original meaning. Some books of the Bible present more difficulty than others for this study: the Book of Isaiah is one of them. It is generally accepted nowadays that differences in literary style and theological emphasis, as well as historical background, show that Chapters 40-66 of the Isaiah are a later composition than Chapters 1-39 and come from the time when Cyrus of Persia allowed the exiles from Judaea to return from Babylon, that is, about 539 BC. These chapters are referred to as the work of Second Isaiah. Further, a notable body of scholars holds that Chapters 55-66 represent yet a later prophet (or prophets), who wrote between 530 and 510 BC, and is called Third Isaiah. The New Oxford Annotated Bible has a good introductory note on the Book of Isaiah and the questions of its authorship and unity; another maybe found in the the RCL Commentary of the Diocese of Montreal [] As always, I recommend that site for the technical notes on the reading: once there, scroll to the bottom of the page and go to “Clippings”.
In the last chapters of the book one is confronted “by the sober realities of life in the restored community” in which the prophet proclaims the coming vindication of Zion. Today’s passage opens with a song of ‘splendid impatience’: the Lord himself will not wait to declare the end of his people’s shame and ignominy.
Verse 3 declares that Zion will be “a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord”; the NJBC notes on this the “the ancient practice of a god’s wearing a crown patterned after the city walls.”
The vindication of Zion is complete in the Lord’s declaration of his delight in her, as great as that of a bridegroom for his bride: although past infidelity had been punished [see Hosea, especially cap 1], God forgives and takes his people back as his spouse. This wedding theme comes to new meaning in the image of the Bride, the wife of the Lamb, Jerusalem coming down our heaven from God [Rev 21.9-11]. This in turn suggests that the Gospel’s wedding at Cana is not merely a suitable background for the Lord’s first sign, but in itself part of that sign.
Here, by the way, is a question of context different from, but no less important than, that of where passage fits in its book and in its historical setting: that is, the question of the context of the Sunday or feast on which it is read and the other passages read with it.

Psalm 36.5-10
The commentators tell us that this psalm contains the elements of many styles of psalm and defies simple classification, but they are agreed that the portion we use today is a hymn praising God for the steadfast love he has toward his people. our experience of his love is described in the language of a banquet. Here again, the meaning is deepened by the Gospel, for it in turn moves us to think about the parables of the Kingdom as a wedding-banquet.
There is an interesting comment in Rashi, a great Rabbi of mediaeval France, on the words “you save both man and beast, O Lord” (verse 6): “People who are as astute as Adam, but who make themselves as humble as beasts, You save, O Lord.”
The Epistle: 1 Corinthians 12.1-11
The epistle readings of the Sundays after Epiphany are selected in order from 1 Corinthians and were not chosen to fit the theme of the Gospel reading. In this passage, St Paul turns to address the first of a series of questions the Church at Corinth had addressed to him. For the others, see 7:25; 8:1; 16:1; 16:12. For comments, see the RCL Clippings
The Holy Gospel: John 2.1-11
The Gospel reading for this Sunday in Year C keeps us firmly in the theme of Epiphany: this first sign that Jesus performed is not only declared by the Evangelist to be a manifestation of Jesus’ glory, it is one of the triad of epiphany moments traditionally commemorated on the feast (see notes for last Sunday). With this in mind it would be useful to consider importance of signs in the Fourth Gospel.
In Readings in St John’s Gospel, William Temple introduces Chapter 2 and the sign at Cana of Galilee by setting out the seven signs recorded in the Fourth Gospel. He writes:
“‘Sign’ is the word chosen by St John to describe them, and he thus warns us that their meaning is something beyond themselves. Moreover, the fact that he selects seven is a way of telling his readers that they are not to be read as mere episodes but as conveying a special truth which finds expression only in the whole series taken together. we may thus set out the signs and their significance in parallel columns thus;
1. The turning of water into wine: 2.1-11 - The difference that Christ makes
2. The healing of the nobleman’s son: 4.46-54 - Faith the only requisite
3. The healing of the impotent man: 5.2-9 - Christ the restorer of lost powers
4. The feeding of the five thousand: 6.4-13 - Christ the Food by which we live
5. The walking on the water: 6.16-21 - Christ our Guide
6. The healing of the man born blind: 9.1-7 - Christ our Light
7. The raising of Lazarus: 11,1-44 - Christ our Life”
We can make a few points in addition to the notes in the RCL “Clippings” and Archbishop Temple’s book.
First, a point of translation. In verses 8 and 9 the original architriclinus is rendered by “chief steward” or “steward” in our version; the AV had “governor of the feast”. While “steward” is not incorrect, it seems to me that it implies a servant, if one of some high rank, and that this might be misleading. Alcuin’s note is instructive: “The Triclinium is a circle of three couches, cline signifying couch: the ancients used to recline upon couches. And the Architriclinus is the one at the head of the Triclinium, i.e. the chief of the guests.” Now the Greek Lexicon of Liddell and Scott, however, gives for architriclinus, the very general sense of “president of a banquet” with “head-waiter” as a secondary definition. Unlike the RCL, I would suggest that “master of ceremonies” might be a good translation, and that if we use “steward” it should be understood as an honorary post held by a guest – rather as great nobles held such posts as cupbearer, steward, or constable to their sovereigns.
We cannot stress too greatly the abundance of the wine. Six water pots of “two or three measures apiece” is usually worked out to the 20 or 30 gallons given in the NRSV with its usual bad habit of explaining rather than translating. It is however not an exact measure. Some commentators of a parsimonious mind insist that the water only became wine as it was ladled out. The only reason for this seems to be a desire to avoid thinking of so much wine. Changing a ladle-full of water into wine is no less a miracle than changing nearly 200 gallons. The point of this passage is the superabundance of God’s grace : infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. That is what should control our understanding. After all, all the world was created with the same gracious abandon and extravagance.
The water made wine does not only stand for a new Judaism (see RCL notes), though it does that: it stands also for the inner change of one who comes to know Christ. William Temple notes:

“Our first intercourse with Christ—such as we have watched in the typical instances recorded in Chapter I —brings about a change like that from water to wine. Christ is not a grim task-master in obedience to whom life becomes gloomy. He compared himself to children playing at weddings in contrast with John the Baptists whom He compared to children playing at funerals (Lk 7.31-35; Mt 1.16-19). Joy is one of the fruits of His Spirit. We wholly fail to represent Him to men if we fail to make men see this in our lives.”
Of greater importance than the quantity of the wine is its quality. I shall quote again from Archbishop Temple.
On “Every man first setteth on the good wine, and when men have well drunk, the less good, but thou hast kept the good wine until now,” Temple notes that there is “a trace of emphasis” on the word man. The word is introduced even though it is not necessary in the Greek, to make an implicit contrast between man and God. This point important point is obscured by the NRSV’s Everyone.
“For here we come to a secondary meaning of this sign. The first is the change effected by the touch of Christ upon our life; the second is the reminder that there is always more and better to come. Every man puts forward first what is best about him. When people first meet us, they find us civil, friendly, considerate; but as they come to know us, especially if they have to live with us, they have to put up with the less good — that which is worse. But in our communion with God it is not so; as we deepen our fellowship with Him, made known in Christ, at every stage we may say, Thou hast kept the good wine until now.”
This sign was an Epiphany, an act in whichChrist manifested his glory, and his disciples believed in him. Here we will end with a final comment from the Archbishop:

“They are first called ‘disciples’ at the beginning of this narrative; and by that name they are designated throughout this Gospel. It is as learners that we are to think of them, and $to take our place among them.

“His disciples believed on him. It is the phrase expressive of personal trust. They are not said to believe Him, in the sense of believing what he said was true, but to commit themselves to Him in personal trust.
“This is the faith which justifies.”

With that we must close for now.

PS: Another Resource for Studying the Gospels

The Catena Aurea of St Thomas Aquinas

The Catena Aura or Golden Chain is a commentary on of the Gospels by the Early Church Fathers compiled together. Catechetics Online includes it in what appears to be the version translated in 1841 by Newman.
The link for today's Gospel is:

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