Saturday, February 5, 2011

lectionary notes

Some Notes for Proper 5 in Year A
The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
6 February AD 2011

The First Reading : Isaiah 58.1-9a, (9b-12)
The Lord does not desire fasting, but kindness and justice. In the past few centuries, scholars have suggested that the latter part of the Book of Isaiah (Chapters 40-66) contains writings from during and after the Exile in Babylon, and perhaps even a third set of writings from after the return to Jerusalem. These are referred to as Deutero- (that is, second) Isaiah, Chapters 40-55, and Trito- (third) Isaiah (56-66). More about this and suggestions for further reading may be found at :
This passage speaks of fasting, but its implications are wider: it encompasses the whole of the people’s attitude towards God. Fasting was an ancient insititution in Israel; it was a sign of the people’s grief at times of bereavement (see 2 Sam 1.12, 3.35) and national tragedy ((Joshua 7.6, Judges 20.26). During the exile in Babylon and after the return, the number of fast days increased (Zechariah 7.1-5, 8.18-19, Joel). During the exile in Babylon and after the return, the number of fast days increased (Zechariah 7.1-5, 8.18-19, Joel). Eventually one great day of fasting was established on the day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).
Beginning with fasting, the prophet speaks of the whole religious system, which is superficial. This is the theme of true religion from last weeks’s reading from Micah 6.6-8. The passage begins as a true prophetic judgement, but it does not conclude with a verdict of guilt; rather there is an announcement of salvation vv. 8-12)
1. The summons. The trumpet was used to proclaim a fast (Joel 2:15 and Ezekiel 33:3). The sound of the trumpet was also associated with the giving of the law on Mount Sinai (see Exodus 19)
2-4a. The indictment. Note the contrast between ther people’s desire to know God and his ways (‘delight’, v. 2) and the Lord’s desire for compassion towards the poor.
3. Why humble ourselves?, literally, ‘we have afflicted our soul’. In the Hebrew there is a play on words: the people ‘afflict’ themselves through fasting but they neglect the poor (‘afflicted’) (verse 7). You serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers: let it never be thought that social justice is some strange idea brought into religion in modern times!
5. This is not the fast I choose. sackcloth was worn by mourners (Ezekiel 7.18), by prisoners (3.24) and by prophets (20.2).
6-9b: It is one’s relationship with others that reveals one’s relationship to God. See Luke 10.25-37.
7. to share your bread … bring the homeless poor into your house … the naked, to cover them: compare the parable of the judgement in Matthew 25:31-46.
8-14: The announcement of salvation.
8. your light. see Isaiah 42:6-7, and obviously today's Gospel reading. The glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard: The Hebrew word, which seems to mean ‘gather’ has a range of senses: The Judaica Press translation has the glory of the Lord shall gather you in, while the Complete Jewish Bible has and ADONAI's glory will follow you. The ancient Greek version has and the glory of God shall compass thee ; the Vulgate gather thee. Wyclyf had gather thee; the Douai-Rheims version has: and the glory of the Lord shall gather thee up. Both Geneva and the Bishops’ Bible had and the glory of the Lord shall embrace thee. Something called the God’s Word Translation has the glory of the LORD will guard you from behind. See Isa 52:12.
9. The pointing of the finger: see Proverbs 6:12-15
12. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt: the temple and walls of Jerusalem have apparently not been restored.
Although this passage contrasts with the external and ritual fasting a true fast of compassion and active aid to the afflicted, this does not mean that fasting in the literal sense is wrong. The simple fact that Yom Kippur is still a fast day proves this, as does the fact that our Lord’s teaching on fasting (Matthew 6.16-18) begins with the assumption that his followers will fast. But literal fasting is a tool, not an end in itself.

Psalm 112.1-9(10)
Beatus vir
This is an acrostic poem; each half verse begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. We might show this, as the ancient Latin version does by printing the names of the letters, thus:

ALEPH Happy are they who fear the Lord BETH and have great delight in his commandments!
GIMEL Their descendants will be mighty in the land; DALETH the generation of the upright will be blessed.
And so on.
This psalm is strikingly similar to Psalm 111. It is quite straightforward and needs no particular comments here except for one point of translation. In verse 9, our version has, They will hold up their head: this is literally their horn will be exalted, the horn is often used in the Old Testament as a symbol of strength and power, an image taken from bulls and such animals.

The Epistle: 1 Corinthians 2.1-12 (13-16)
1-5: The cross as central to Christian life and faith. The first five verses of the passage conclude the section begun last week.
1. Paul develops what he wrote in 1.17: For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. Despite this, the Church was to find that it had to speak to the world, and turned both rhetoric and philosophy to the service of the cross. Nonetheless, this passage reminds us of our purpose, which is to proclaim Christ, the word of the cross which to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1.18). The testimony of God is Christ, whom Paul refused to adorn with rhetorical devices or clever arguments.
2. I decided to know nothing …. Paul focussed all his attention on the crucified Christ, who was not the kind of Saviour expected either by Jews or Greeks (1.220-24).
3. in weakness and in much fear and trembling: There were many itinerant philosophers in those days, wandering teachers who made a living and sometimes took advantage of the credulity of the simple. Today they would be on television or talk radio. They would persuade people of their opinions by clever arguments and the art of rhetoric. Paul declares that when he came to Corinth he was entirely unlike these self-assured and clever teachers.
4. the Spirit and of power: a figure of speech meaning the power of the spirit. This is the only explanation of the conviction that gripped the Corinthians when Paul spoke.
5. not in human wisdom: a faith that is based on human wisdom is liable to be challenged by more persuasive arguments; but in the power of God: that is, in God as active in history, and not just in a concept.
6. the mature, is ironic; see 3.1. Among believers there is no special knowledge reserved to a few chosen souls. The wisdom of God and the power of God is the word of the cross, which is for all. of the rulers of this age: there are three interpretations of this expression: they are human rulers, they are demonic powers, or they are human rulers used by demonic powers. See Ephesians 1:20-21; 3:10; 6:12, which speak of supernatural spiritual agents, and Acts 4.25-28, which refers to human rulers. The NJBC thinks that it most likely refers here to human rulers.
7. The only true wisdom is God`s plan of salvation in Christ crucified.
8. Had the rulers known that God`s plan of salvation would be achieved through the suffering and death of Jesus, they would have tried to frustrate it by letting him live.
9. As it is written: unusually for Paul, this does not introduce a quotation from the scriptures. So NJBC, but another suggestion is that he could be quoting from memory (see Isaiah 64.4 and Psalm 31:19).
14. The unspiritual man: literally, the ‘psychic’ man, as opposed to the spiritual man (15), but not 'physical' as I believe it is translated in another place. The Greek words here are from ‘psyche’, or soul, and ‘pneuma’, or spirit. It may help to know that the Latin translation of ‘psychic’ is ‘animal’ which is of course from anima. But then again it may not. Some of the Corinthians seem to have thought themselves to possess a ‘wisdom’ which made them mature or perfect and gave them the right to look down on others as children. NJBC says that here: Paul turns the Corinthians’ own distinction against them. If the ‘spirit-people’ do not understand him, it is they who are the ‘soul-people’.
The Holy Gospel according to St Matthew 5.13-20
13-16: The Salt and Light of the World
‘How is a character such as the beatitudes describe, planted in a world such as this is, to effect good ? It is to purify by its own distinctive savour, it is to be conspicuous by its own splendid truth to its ideal, it is to arrest attention by its powerful contrast to the world. about it. This is the meaning of the metaphors which follow the beatitudes’ [Bishop Gore].
13. Salt has a great importance in human life: it adds flavour to otherwise lifeless food, and brings out flavours that might be hidden; for this reason it metaphorically adds wit to thought and conversation; it is a preservative; it is a cleaner. It was also used in sacrifice under the law of Moses: see Lev 2.23. if the salt shall become tasteless, in what will it be salted? Bishop Gore writes: “The savour of a Christianity which does not mean what it says, wherewith can it be salted? How can it recover its position and influence? Would it not be better never to have been Christians at all than to be Christians who do not mean what they say ? What is so useless as a hollow profession of religion? ' It is thenceforth 'good for nothing, but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men.' 'I would thou wert cold or hot. So because thou art lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spew thee out of my mouth.’ Christians exist in order to make the contrast of their own lives apparent to the world.” The RCL Commentary notes that salt ‘does not really lose its taste, but in Judaism it can become ritually unclean and need to be “thrown out”. (It was used to season incense and offerings to God.) Jesus may also be thinking of the salt deposits around the Dead Sea: when heavily rained upon, they still look like salt but no longer are. A follower who loses his faith is useless, and will be discarded.’
On salt, this comment of St Remigius is worth noting: ‘Moreover, salt is changed into another kind of substance by three means, water, the heat of the sun, and the breath of the wind. Thus Apostolic men also were changed into spiritual regeneration by the water of baptism, the heat of love, and the breath of the Holy Spirit. That heavenly wisdom also, which the Apostles preached, dries up the humours of carnal works, removes the foulness amid putrefaction of evil conversation, kills the work of lustful thoughts, and also that worm of which it is said their worm dies not. … The Apostles are the salt of the earth, that is, of worldly men who are called the earth, because they love this earth.’
14. You are the Light of the World. Compare John 8.12, the Gospel sentence for today. Bishop Gore noted that ‘Light is that which burns distinctively in the darkness’. On the lamp on shining on the lampstand compare the parable of the lost coin, in which the woman lights a candle whereby she can see to sweep and look for the coin.
And glorify your Father, who is in heaven. This is the earliest use of the expression ‘Our Father in heaven’; Matt. vi. 9. The relation of the righteous to God is shown by works, Matt. v. 48 ; i John iii. 3-9. 1 Pet. 2. 12, seems to refer to this saying.
17-19: The Revision of the Old Law: 1) The Continuity
Bishop Gore writes: Our Lord explains that the new law stands in a double relation to the old. First, it is in direct continuity with what had gone before (w. 17-19); and. secondly (vv. 20-48), it supersedes it, as the complete supersedes the incomplete.
17. Think not that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. Bishop Gore: ‘The character of the citizens of the new kingdom as described by our Lord was so surprising, so paradoxical, that it was inevitable the question should arise, Was He a revolutionary who had come to upset and destroy all the old law was this a revolutionary movement in the moral and religious world? To this question, then, our Lord directly addressed Himself. The rest of the first chapter of the Sermon on the Mount—St. Matthew v. 17 to the end—is simply a statement of the relation in which this new righteousness, this righteousness of the new kingdom, stands to the old righteousness of the Mosaic Law.’ The law and the prophets are the first two great sections of the Jewish canon [Law, Prophets and Writings ] are mentioned, but the whole may be intended, Luke xxiv. 44. To fulfill: to ‘bring to completion’ or ‘make perfect’.
18. verily, in Aramaic amen. not one letter, not one stroke of a letter; literally, not one iota or one horn. Iota was Yod, the smallest Hebrew letter; keraia, horn, referred to the point or serif of a letter. The NRSV version has nothing to commend it over the older ‘one jot or one tittle’. This and the subsequent verses raise important questions about the permanence of the Law of Moses. It is obvious that a perfectly literal interpretation of our Lord’s words will not do, for he himself did break and change the law (see Mark 7.19 as well as the places where he relativized the law of the Sabbath). It is also obvious that we cannot tackle this issue in these notes.
19. will be called least in the kingdom: Slater notes: not shall be excluded from, but shall not attain the highest honour. See also Matt. 11.11

20-48: The Revision of the Old Law: 2) The Supersession
20. Bishop Gore notes: Then our Lord passes to the other side of the question. The old law was imperfect ; the new law is to supersede it. The new law is to supersede it both as it is represented in the actual standard of its professors, the scribes and Pharisees (v. 20), and then, more than that, it is to supersede it even in its actual principles (w. 21-48).

The Calendar

Sunday 6 February The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
Monday 7 Feria
Great and Manifold: A Celebration of the Bible in English’ opens today at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto. See for details
Tuesday 8 Feria
Wednesday 9 Commemoration of Hannah Grier Coome, Founder, SSJD, 1921
Hannah Grier Coome was born in Ontario but spent most of her married life in Britain. After her husband’s death in Chicago in 1878 Mrs Coome decided to try her vocation as an Anglican nun in England. While staying with family in Toronto on the way, she met a group of women who wished to found a community in Canada. Mrs Coome was trained as novice in the United States and in 1884 returned to Toronto where the Sisters of St John the Divine was begun. Mother Hannah was Superior until 1916. The Community is still active in our diocese. Please see for further information.
Thursday 10 Feria
Friday 11 Feria
Saturday 12 Feria
Sunday 13 The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

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