Saturday, September 18, 2010

Lectionary Notes

Some Notes for Proper 25 in Year C
September 19, 2010: The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Jeremiah 8.18-9.1
Lament over Judah
Wecannot be certain, but this passage possibly comes from the closing years of the seventh century BC. The people of the southern kingdom of Judah had long strayed from the way of the covenant and sought security from invasion in foreign alliances. Jeremiah taught repeatedly that such alliances brought the danger of apostasy, from Judah’s following the gods of the nations they courted.
Jeremiah is grieved and sick at heart at the conduct of his people; it distresses him to denounce them.(8.18) As the disaster falls on them, the people cry to the Lord, "Is the LORD not in Zion? Is her King not in her?" But he prophet hears the Lord’s ironic interruption: "Why have they provoked me to anger with their graven images, with their foreign idols?" (8.19)
There are two points in v 19 that need comment. The first is the NRSV rendering, ‘Hark, the cry of my poor people’; this is literally ‘the cry of the daughter of my people’, as is found in the Hebrew, Greek and Latin, as well as the RSV; the AV and a few other had ‘Behold the voice of the cry of the daughter of my people’. ‘Poor’ seems to be a gloss or explanation rather than a translation. Again, ‘foreign idols’ is literally ‘strange vanities, as in the Judaica Press version or the AV.
It seems that on top of all the other disasters there has been a drought (v.20; see Jeremiah 14). However, the mediaeval Rabbinic commentators said, ‘We looked forward to the aid of Egypt, but it did not come. We said, “Let the harvest pass, and they will be free, and they will come.” Now behold, the time of harvest has passed in Iyar, and the summer season in Tammuz, and they have not come.’
The Balm in Gilead is the resin from the Styrax tree, produced in especially in the north Transjordan region of Gilead, widely used for medicinal purposes (46.11; Gen 37.5 ~ one of the commodities being transported by the Ishmaelites to whom Joseph was sold was balm from Gilead.)
There are also three persons in the Old Testament named Gilead: Gilead a great-grandson of Joseph ( see Numbers 26.29, 27.1, and elsewhere, Joshua 17.1, 3) ; Gilead the father of Jephthah (Judges 11.1, 2); and Gilead, chief of a family of Gad (1 Chronicles 5.14).
It is interesting to note that in Greek and Latin Gilead is rendered as Galaad, which has led to the speculation that this is the origin of the name of Sir Galahad, the Arthurian Knight, though it is very uncertain and I know of no good evidence beyond the similarity of the names.
‘Balm in Gilead’ is an expression that has passed into popular culture. Most famously, There Is A Balm in Gilead is an African-American spiritual. See

There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin sick soul.
Some times I feel discouraged,
And think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit
Revives my soul again.
If you can’t preach like Peter,
If you can’t pray like Paul,
Just tell the love of Jesus,
And say He died for all.

Paul Robeson made a great recording of this spiritual:
Finally, for a sermon on this text from 1852 by Joseph Philpot, see:

Psalm 79.1-9
Deus venerunt
\This psalm is categorized as a group lament, a prayer for deliverance from national enemies, perhaps from the period of exile after the destruction of the temple.
1-4: the sacrilege and havoc caused by the enemy
3: they have shed their blood like water: this may be an allusion to the command to pour out the blood of a sacrificial victim at the base of the altar (Lev 18.7, 18, etc.)
no one to bury them: see Deuteronomy 28:26
4. we have become a reproach to our neighbours: compare Ps 44.14; in verse 12 we see that this is tantamount to reviling and mocking the Lord.
5-20: a plea for God to act on his peoples’ behalf.

The Epistle: 1 Timothy 2.1-7
Common prayer, especially for authorities, must be for all, as God’s grace is for all, according to Paul’s preaching (ii. 1-7).
In the outline followed by the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, 1 Timothy 2.1-3.13 is titled, Worship and Leadership in the Church; the first subsection (2.1-15) concerns the Community’s Conduct at Worship and the opening verses thereof —our reading for this Sunday—teaches about intentions in common prayer (2.1-7). The rest of this subsection deals with how men should act in worship (2.8), and how women should act (2.9-15). The next subsection (3.1-13) is concerned with the leadership of the community, the Bishops and Deacons. This concern with directions for the life and leadership of the community is entrusted to Timothy, a companion of St Paul, whom he has established in the oversight of a community. For this reason the two letters to Timothy and the letter to Titus are known as the Pastoral Epistles [for a quick introduction to the question of whether these are authentically by St Paul, see]
The stress in this section is upon God’s desire to save every human being (v. 4; see also 1 Ti 4.10; Titus 2.11; 3:2, 8). The grounding in faith for this is set out in verses 5-6.
2. For kings …. Christians and Jews did not participate in the public state religion and its regular sacrifices to keep peace with the gods. For this reason they were suspected of disloyalty; to answer this criticism they made it clear that they prayed for the welfare of the emperor and civic authorities. The Christian prays even for bad rulers (Rom.13.1). That we may lead a quiet and peaceable life: NOAB says that this is a poignant petition in view of the persecutions of the early church. Another commentary says says that praying for secular authorities will result in respect for Christianity among those outside the faith, and will lessen the risk of persecution.
4. Who wills that all men should be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth. This is one of he strongest affirmations of the universality of God’s grace. Calvin, and others who have taught that the number of the saved is limited in advance, would interpret all as men of all kinds.
“This is the way in which a theory discolours truth ; an equally striking example, however, of the same fact is found in the dogmatic use which universalism makes of this text. The will of God docs not override the will of man. In making free wills He sets over against Himself personalities that act as a limit on His own freedom, because it is a greater enrichment of the Divine nature to win one voluntary and whole-hearted human soul than it is an infringement of it to have some souls that resist His grace. All that is said in this passage is that God’s constant will is to have the heart and the loyalty of all men ; and His salvation applies equally to all by the very nature of the Incarnation (Titus ii. ii : cf. Matt. v. 45) ” [R. F. Horton]
and come to the knowledge of the truth: see also 2 Timothy 2:25; 3:7; Colossians 1:5; 2:2, 7; Ephesians 1:9; 4:13.
5. One God: if God is one God he must be concerned with all peoples, not just this or that group or nation. One man, Jesus Christ: When this Epistle was written, and docetic heresies were in sight, it was more important to emphasize that Christ was man than that he was God (cf. iii. 16) [Horton]. Docetic refers to some who claimed that Jesus only appeared to be human.
The Holy Gospel: Luke 16.1-13
The Dishonest Steward
After the parables in Chapter 15 which were addressed to the Pharisees and the scribes, Jesus addresses a parable to his disciples about a rich man who calls his steward to account and then dismisses him. This man, not knowing where to turn for a livelihood, reduces the amounts of his employer’s tenants debts on their bills, and thus secures their friendship. His lord, hearing of this, commends him for so doing. This parable raises a moral problem, for it appears to praise dishonest behaviour.
The parable of the Steward and its lesson are only in Luke. The saying about not serving two masters is also in Matthew (vi. 24) as part of the Sermon on the Mount.
For a sermon I preached on this passage a couple of years ago, see Further notes may be found at the RCL Commentary:
This year I will only make a couple of points.
The first thing we must notice is that the reading comes in two sections. The parable is in verses 1-9; in verses 10-13 we have a group of sayings attracted here perhaps by similarity of theme, but belonging to a different vein of thought.
1. The steward is not just a manager, but ‘a ruler over all his master’s goods’, as Eliezer was in the house of Abraham (Gen. xxiv. 2-12), and Joseph in the house of Potiphar (Gen. xxxix. 4). He is not a slave, as he is liable to dismissal.
2. What is this that I hear about you? The master isn’t examining his steward; this is an expression of surprise: ‘What’s this I hear about you, whom I have trusted? Since the master is acting on someone else’s report, some have suggested that the steward had been slandered, but there is no ground in the text for thinking this.
In the first conclusion to the parable (v. 9), Jesus advises his disciples to use the things of this world to make friends for themselves who will receive them into the eternal habitations. Except of the mention of unrighteous mammon, this is remarkably similar to the words, Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. For, as Adeney points out in his commentary, in the eternal habitations, the article ‘the’ must point to heaven as the home of eternal life. He writes, ‘The idea of the verse seems to be this : So use earthly property as to win friendships which shall outlast the property and endure to the future life, where the money that is only spent selfishly is no longer of service. This conduct is the opposite to that of the rich fool (xii. 16-21) and that of Dives, who makes no friend of Lazarus with his money on earth to be for his comfort after death (xvi. 19-31). The word eternal is emphatically introduced, as pointing to more than the temporary shelter the debtors gave the steward.’ We can only put unrighteous mammon to use for building eternal habitations by giving alms and otherwise using it for God’s ends.