Thursday, October 28, 2010

Lectionary Notes

Some Notes for Proper 31 in Year C
Sunday, 31 October 2010
The Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost

The Readings
Habakkuk 1.1-4, 2.1-4
Nothing is known about Habakkuk except that he is called a prophet (nabî’) in 1.1 and 3.1. The appearance of the prophet Habakkuk in the Greek addition to the Book of Daniel known as Bel and the Dragon (33-39) is not based on history, The main clue to the date of Habakkuk’s prophecies is the reference to the Chaldeans in 1.6 is the: that people had replaced the Aayrians as he leading power in the Near East in the late 7th-early 6th century BC. The prophecies of this book probably date from between 608 and 598 BC, but not all scholars are agreed on this. The Book of Habakkuk has three main sections:
I. 1.1-2.5 Dialogue between the Prophet and God
II 2.6-10 The Five Woes
III 3.1-19 The Canticle of Habakkuk
Our reading today, which is the only Sunday reading from Habakkuk in the Revised Common Lectionary, comes from the first section. In the dialogue between the prophet and God, Habakkuk first protests that because the Lord allows violence and destruction, he makes law and justice mere nothings. we read this objections today [1.2-4]. The Lord’s response, which is not part of our reading, is to point to the Chaldeans. This gives nothing of the expected comfort or promise of rescue; for the moment, only further fear an suffering can be expected [1.5-11].Such an unexpected response draws a further complaint from the prophet: he asks how long the Holy One will look on while the wicked one swallows up the righteous [1.12 -2.1]. Today’s reading continues with the final verse of this complaint (2.1) in which the prophet declares I will take my stand to watch … and look forth to see what he will answer … The Lord’s respnse is now that while the prophet cannot see the outcome, divine justice is inexorable and will come in God’s time [2.2-3]; in the meantime, the righteous must live by faith [2.4] This last verse received a wider application in St Paul’s letter to the Romans (1.17).

Psalm 119.137-145

In form Psalm 119 is an alphabetical acrostic: each stanza is made up of eight lines all beginning with the same Hebrew letter. Almost every line contains the word ‘law’ or a synonym such as ‘commandment’, ‘decrees’, ‘precepts’, and the like. There is an overall mood of lament which suggests that it was meant to be a prayer for deliverance. It is also possible that this psalm is a purely literary exercise in honour of the law and the language of lament is just an imitation of other psalms.
In this stanza each line begins with the Hebrew letter sade. It is an acknowledgement of God’s justice, and acts today as a meditation on and a balance to the complaints of the prophet Habakkuk.

The Epistle: 2 Thessalonians 1.1-4, 11-12
In New Testament times, the port city of Thessalonica was the capital of the Roman provnce of Macedonia in what is now northern Greece. In about AD 50 St Paul came with his companions Timothy and Silas and preached in the synagogue there for three weeks (Acts 17.1-15). The ministry had some success among the Jewish and Gentile inhabitants of the city, but some of the Jews there caused disturbances; Paul and Silas escaped the city by night. Paul’s concern for the small community at Thessalonica is seen in the two letters that have been preserved in the New Testament. Scholars are not agreed whether the second of the letters is the authentic work of St Paul or is to be attributed to a follower; there is a helpful note in the RCL commentary on this question see:

1.1-2 Salutation. Silvanus is Latin form of Silas, which is in turn either a Semitic name or a shortened Greek form of Silvanus. Silas is mentioned in Acts 15:22, 40; 16:19-25; 17:1-9; 18:5. [NOAB] The Silvanus mentioned in 1 Peter 5:12 may be the same person. On Timothy see Acts 16.1; 2 Timothy 1.5, 3.15. He is often mentioned in Acts and in named in the opening salutations here and in 1 Thessalonians and 2 Corinthians. Grace to you and peace: Paul combines the greetings usual in Greek and Hebrew society, but this greeting is not simply his own good wishes, it is the grace and peace of God in Christ Jesus.
3-10. Thanksgiving Paul followed the customary practice in ancient letter-writing of opening a letters with a thanksgiving or prayer to God on behalf of the person addressed. Although the Thanksgiving and Prayer are spoken of separately, in the original they form one long, involved sentence (so NJBC). 3. as the Thessalonians’ faith grows abundantly, their love for one another is increasing. Since mutual love is Christ’s great commandment for his disciples, so it is the greatest sign and test of Christian faith. A community in which love for one another is not growing is one that lacks in faith. 4. Because their love increases they are steadfast in the face of persecution and affliction, and Paul can boast of them to the other churches: their life shows the truth of the Gospel he preaches. The mention of their steadfastness and faith recalls the words of the Lord to Habakkuk — the vision will not lie. If it seem slow wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.
3.11-12. Prayer. The thanksgiving is followed by a prayer that the Christians at Thessalonica may be made worthy of God’s call. The purpose of this is not their benefit alone, but that the name of the Lord Jesus may be glorified in them. 12. The NJBC has an important note on the words according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ: grace ‘describes the sovereign gift both of God (the Father) and of the Lord Jesus Christ. The two personal subjects (under one article, developing 1.1-2) function as one being.’
The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke
xix. 1-10. Zacchaeus. A rich tax collector named Zacchaeus, who is short, climbs into a sycamore tree to see Jesus as he passes through Jericho. Jesus looks up and tells Zacchaeus that he is coming to be his guest, at which the people all make complaint. When in his house Zacchaeus promises great generosity to the poor, and ample amends for his extortions; and Jesus declares that salvation has come to his house, since the Son of man came precisely in order to save the lost. This narrative is only found in Luke.
This passage is followed by one more parable (of the Pounds, 19.11-27) before the narrative of the Lord’s Entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday, 19.28-40), the lament over Jerusalem (19.41-44) and the cleansing of the Temple (19.45-6).
1. Jericho was on a main trade route and was an important customs centre. It lies 7 km west of the River Jordan, 10 km north of the Dead Sea and 30 km east of Jerusalem. It lies 250 metres below sea level and thus it is considered to be the lowest city in the world [Source, website of the Jericho Municipality].
2. The name Zacchaeus means ‘clean’. He is described as a chief tax collector; this title appears nowhere else in ancient literature. Telones (Latin publicanus), which we translate ‘tax collector’, in fact had the wider meaning of a collector of tolls, customs, or taxes. Jericho, a frontier city through which merchandise passed, would be likely to have a main sub-collectors. We might describe Zacchaeus as ‘a superintendent of customs’. The NJBC notes that Zacchaeus ‘straddles two Lucan symbolic worlds: he is a toll collector, one who responds generously to God’s call (see 3.12-13; 5.27-32; 7.29-30; 18.9-14); he is also a rich man, one who finds great difficulty liberating himself from attachment to possessions (18.24-27)’
3. He sought to see Jesus. Zacchaeus must have heard of Jesus’ kindness to tax collectors and sinners, and wanted to see him. It is most unfortunate that the NRSV renders this as ‘was trying to see Jesus’; this obscures the fact that the same verb (to seek) appears in verse 10. the crowd: another reference to the multitude of people now accompanying Jesus. (see 18.36). The same people made up the procession in the triumphal entry to Jerusalem. They would be Galilean pilgrims going up to the passover. …because he was short of stature: the details of this story are such that R. Bauckman holds that if they ‘really are recollected, rather than the product of storytelling imagination, they can only have been recollected by’ Zacchaeus (Jesus and the Eyewitnesses p. 55).
4. … he climbed up into a sycamore tree: this is the fig-mulberry tree (Ficus sycomorus), not our sycamore; a tree with fruit like figs, and leaves like those of the mulberry tree. It has been remarked that, ‘with its short trunk and lateral branches forking in every direction, it would be easy to climb.’
5. Jesus … looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus’…: Jesus may have heard of this man before, and some of the people may now have pointed him out in his strange position. The evangelist does not say that he was trying to hide himself in the tree. He had climbed it simply that he might see Jesus, regardless of what people would think of his action. … make haste and come down: these words have often been interpreted as a call to humility. For I must stay at your house today. See 2.49: ‘Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ Must which occurs 18 times in Luke’s Gospel, conveys the theme of necessity: it is in accordance with God’s pan that Jesus invite himself to take Zacchaeus’ hospitality. Today is an equally important word in Luke: God’s salvation is not in some distant future, but is already being inaugurated in Jesus Christ. See verse 9 and 2.11.
7. All, that is not only the Pharisees and Scribes but the whole crowd of pilgrims murmur against Jesus’ crossing of the boundary between clean and unclean. But while before Jesus answered complaints about his associating with tax collectors (5.27-32) it is now the tax collector who answers the objection.
8. … I give to the poor … I restore it. The present tense here is open to two interpretations. It may mean that Zacchaeus was in the habit of practising the extraordinary generosity he here describes, or taken as a vow, his words indicate his intention to do so. By the first interpretation, Zacchaeus is arguing that he is not a sinner, because it is his customary conduct to be generous and just, but by the second, he is saying he is no longer a sinner; he resolves to change his ways The second interpretation is more generally accepted, and more indeed more likely. As Adeney wrote, ‘He speaks of giving half his goods, not half his income, as though contemplating a distribution of his property. Besides, the reference to restoring fourfold what is wrongly extorted could not apply to a constant habit. Nobody would make extortions at all under such circumstances. Lastly, it is less likely that Zacchaeus is boasting of his settled habits than that he is proving himself a new man at the coming of Jesus to his house.’ The promise of four-fold restitution goes beyond the demands of the Law, which required only that a thief caught and punished (Exod. xxii. i). In a case of voluntary restitution it was enough to restore the property with the addition of one-fifth of its value (Lev. vi. 5 ; Num. v. 7) (but see Exodus 22.1; was Zacchaeus calling himself a sheep-stealer?).
10. For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost: The presence of Jesus makes possible what is humanly impossible. A wealthy man gets through the needle’s eye! But not without some radical change (NJBC). It is interesting to note that Zacchaeus ‘sought’ to see Jesus, but at the same time Jesus was seeking to save Zacchaeus. We must always remember this as a caution against thinking that religion is our ‘search for God’.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Lectionary Notes

Some notes for Proper 30 in Year C
Sunday, 24 October 2010
The Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost

The Readings
Joel 2.23-32

The name Joel (Hebr. yô’el) means ‘The LORD is God’; it appears elsewhere in the Old Testament, but there is no other reference to the prophet Joel son of Pethuel (1.1). The book gives us no biographical information about its author, nor does it give the date of his prophetic ministry. (Among the twelve ‘minor’ prophets, such information is given in the books of Hosea, Amos, Micah, Zephaniah, Haggai, and Zechariah but not for the others.) The most widely accepted interpretation of the evidence in the text is that he lived in Judah during the period after the exile, in the time of Persian rule. He shows an acquaintance with the priesthood and worship of the temple, which has led to the suggestion that he was a ‘cultic prophet’ (i.e. a prophet who ministered within the life of the temple), but, as the NJBC points out, this may be arguing more than the text will bear, ‘appreciation for the cult does not necessarily make one a cultic functionary.
Joel’s prophecy springs from a terrible plague of locusts that visited the land which he saw as God’s judgement on his people and a call to repentance (1.2-2.27); from this reflection he goes on to depict the coming of the Day of the LORD and the final judgements and blessings (2.28-3.21). Today’s reading ends the first section and begins the second. It is a promise of the land restored after devastation.
23. He has given the early rain for your vindication or he will give you a teacher for righteousness: The meaning of the text here is uncertain. The word translated as ‘early rain’ is môreh; there is another word môreh which means ‘teacher’. While ‘early rain’ fits this context very well. NJBC points out the connection between rain, justice, and teaching in Isaiah 30.19-26; 1 Kings 8.35-35; 2 Chronicles 6.26-27. The importance of the early rain was that before it came the dry land was too hard for the light plough used in ancient times. The rains softened it.
27. And you shall know …: The removal of the locusts and the alleviation of the drought are not just phenomena that would occur anyhow in the course of nature. They are saving acts of the LORD, giving knowledge of his presence.
The second part of the book, which speaks of the effect of the Lord’s presence in the midst of Israel, begins at Joel 2.28. In the ancient Hebrew, Greek and Latin versions, this is the beginning of Chapter 3. I do not know why the Chapter divisions were altered in our English versions. 2.28-32 was quoted by St Peter in his sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2.17-21).
28. I will pour out My spirit upon all flesh: The commentary of Rashi interpreted ‘all flesh’ as ‘anyone whose heart becomes soft as flesh’, citing Ezekiel 36:26, ‘And I will give you a heart of flesh.’ NOAB notes that ‘:For Joel all flesh means primarily the Jews (3.2, 17, 19-21; Ezek 39.29); for Peter at Pentecost it included all nations. NJBC suggests that the charismatic outpouring of the spirit which accompanies the LORD’s presence amidst his people is reminiscent of Moses’ prayer, ‘Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his spirit upon them!’ (Numbers 11.29). See also Isa 32.15 and 44.3-5.
31. The sun shall be turned to darkness: compare 2.2, 10-11, where darkness is the effect of the army of locusts. When the insects are removed, the LORD takes over their astronomical effect, and his terrible day becomes a day of vindication for Israel. Rashi says that the sun will be turned to darkness to embarrass those who worship the sun. turned to blood is an indication of colour.

Psalm 65
Te decet hymnus
We used this hymn of praise for the rain and thanksgiving for the harvest on Thanksgiving; now it is a reflection on Joel’s promise of bounty coming after disaster in response to Israel’s turning back to the LORD. The difference is seen in the suggested refrain: on Thanksgiving it was ‘You crown the year with your goodness, O LORD’; now it is ‘’Deliverance belongs to the LORD’.
2-3: Confession and the forgiveness of sins are necessary, for sin was believed to prevent the coming of the rain (NJBC refers to 1 Kings 8.35-36 and Amos 4.7-8)
9. The river of God: See Psalm 46.5; Isaiah 33.21; Ezek 47.1-12; Zechariah 14.8; Revelation 22.1-2.
13. the wilderness: Perhaps steppe is a better translation here than wilderness. It is countryside that looks most infertile during the dry season but comes to life when the rains arrive. the hills be clothed with joy: this phrase uses a figure of speech called ‘elipsis’: the meaning is the hills were clothed with (the vines that produce the wine that brings) joy.
The Epistle: 2 Timothy 4.6-8, 16-18
In 4:6-22 Paul gives his concluding exhortations. He expects to die soon (6-7) and looks back on his life and work, using metaphors of sacrifice and athletic games (see Philippians 2.17, 3.12; 1 Corinthians 9.24-25). Though among Jews crowns or wreaths of leaves and flowers were worn as symbols of joy and honour at feasts and weddings [NOAB], it seems more likely that Paul is thinking of the Greek practice of crowning the winners of athletic contests with wreaths [8].
In 14-18 Paul describes his legal situation. He writes—or if the letter is by one of his followers, is imagined as writing, between his first and second trial. At the first he was abandoned by ‘everyone’ (but see 4.11), as Jesus was at his trial; but the Lord Jesus does not abandon Paul (17). Nonetheless, he is in real danger of his life. The lion’s mouth is a common metaphor in the Hebrew Scriptures for a violent death (Ps 7.2; 17.12; 22.21). So far he has been rescued from physical death, but that the Lord will save him does not exclude his death.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke 18.9-14
The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-Collector (Publican)
Following right on from the passage we read last Sunday is this parable, unique to Luke, which Jesus told to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt. It has been suggested that these were Pharisees, but as Archbishop Trench wrote:
‘What profit would it have been to hold up to such, the spectacle of a Pharisee praying as this one prays in the parable? They would have seen nothing unseemly in it; they would have counted it the most natural and fittest thing in the world that he should pray exactly in this fashion. But a disciple, one already having made some little progress in the school of Christ, yet in danger, as we are all in danger, of falling back into pharisaic sins, such, a one would only need his sin to be plainly shown to him, and he would start back at its deformity; he would recognize the latent Pharisee in himself, and tremble and repent. It was in some of his own disciples and followers, that the Lord had detected symptoms of spiritual pride and self-exaltation, accompanied, as these will be ever, with, a contempt of others; and it is to their disease that He proceeds in the parable to apply a remedy.’
Thus the lesson is aimed at, and is meant to be heard by, none other than you and me.
10: went up: The temple was on a hill, Mount Moriah, approached by a magnificent flight of steps. In (better into) the temple: they went into the courts of the temple, not the Holy Place, which was reserved for priests. To pray: probably at one of the hours of prayer, such as 12 o clock (Acts x. 9) or 3 o clock (Acts iii. i). See also Isaiah. lvi. 7.
11. standing by himself has been interpreted as a sign of the Pharisee’s pride, but it was the normal custom for Jews to pray standing. Hannah stood praying in the temple (i Sam. i. 26); and Jesus says, Whensoever ye stand praying, forgive, &c. (Mark xi. 25). Moreover, the publican, whose prayer was an humble one, also stood (ver. 13). Nonetheless, as Trench points out, ‘when we weigh the word of the original, this ‘stood’ may very well be emphatic, indeed we may confidently assert that it is. It implies that he, so to speak, took his stand, planted and put himself in a prominent attitude of prayer; so that all eyes might light on him, all might take note that he was engaged in his devotions (Matt. vi. 5 ). Even worse is the statement that he stood by himself: the name ‘Pharisee’ means "separated, separatist," it is from the Heb. parush, from parash "he separated." Trench notes: ‘separatist in spirit as in name, and now also in outward act, he desired to put a distance between himself and all unclean worshippers’. St Basil said that the Pharisee ‘”prayed with himself," that is, not with God’.
His prayer seems to begin well with God, I thank you, but it is possible to use the language of thankfulness while being ungrateful to that help, allotting to oneself the first share in virtuous actions, to God the second. The good beginning is soon eclipsed, for the Pharisee cannot thank God for the good which he fancies that he finds in himself, without insulting and casting scorn upon others for the evil which he sees, or fancies that he sees, in them. For he thanks God that he is not like other people, or more correctly. not like the rest. St Augustine wrote of this: ‘He might at least have said, "as many men;" for what does he mean by "other men," but all besides himself?’ He divides the human race into two sorts: himself and all others: ‘I am righteous,’ he says, ‘the rest are sinners.’ And what sinners: thieves, rogues, adulterers! As he cannot think too good of himself, so neither can he think too bad of others. …even like this Tax-collector: ‘To despise the whole race of man was not enough for him; he must yet attack the Publican,’ wrote St John Chrysostom.
He goes on to mention his merits. I fast twice in the week. The law enjoined only the Day of Atonement as a fast-day(Lev. xvi. 29), but in Jesus’ day many observed Monday and Thursday as weekly fasts. Fasting is good, and many Christians keep Fridays as days of abstinence (a thing our own Church teaches). But what we do as discipline is not something we brag about to God. I give tithes of all I possess: the Law prescribed a tithe (Num. xviii. 21); but the rule was understood to apply only to farm crops, not to small garden produce, which the Pharisees tithed as a work of supererogation (‘mint and cumin’; see Matt, xxiii. 23). He goes further even that that. He tries to make God as his debtor.
In his prayer there is nothing but this self-praise disguised as thanksgiving. 'Had he then,' asks Augustine, 'no sins to confess?’
The Tax-collector also stood, but far off. Adeney takes this to mean far from the Pharisee, too humble to pray near the holy man. But Chrysostom thinks it was not so far but that ‘He heard the words, that I am not as the Publican. He was not angry, but pricked to the heart. The one uncovered the wound, the other seeks for its remedy.’ Augustine wrote, ‘The Publican stood afar off, yet drew near to God.’ He beat his breast, which is a sign of repentance. In fact, he was striking his breast again and again in the agony of self-reproach. Archbishop Trench suggests that the Pharisee was moved to greater pride by the sight of him, thus standing humbly with eyes cast down, and ‘drags him into his prayer, making him to furnish the dark background on which the bright colours of his own virtues shall more gloriously be displayed; finding, it may be, in the deep heart-earnestness with which the contrite man beat his breast, in the fixedness of his downcast eyes, proofs in confirmation of the judgment which he passes upon him. He, thank God, has no need to beat his breast in that fashion, nor to cast his eyes in that shame upon the ground.’
The Tax-Collector’s prayer, Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner, or more literally, the sinner, is the foundation of the ancient prayer known as the Jesus Prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner’. Helpful information on this devotion may be found at several sites:
~ Introduction to the Jesus Prayer by Mother Alexandra, formerly Her Royal Highness, lleana Princess of Romania and Archduchess of Austria:
~ The Jesus Prayer, from the Orthodox Church in America:
It was the Tax-collector who went down from the temple to his house ‘justified’, made or counted righteous and so forgiven, rather than the other. That is, he is acquitted in God’s court of justice, because he has recognized his need of God’s forgiveness and shown sorrow for his sins. Both were in need of forgiveness, but not only did the Pharisee not ask for forgiveness, he showed no awareness of the slightest need to be forgiven. In truth he did not know himself. One who truly knows oneself will be humble; one who is honest will never exalt oneself.
The model that the true disciple of Jesus is to follow is the Tax-Collector.