Friday, February 11, 2011

Lectionary Notes

Proper 6 in Year A
Sunday 13 February 2011

The Sentence and Collect do not require any comment.


The RCL offers a choice of first readings, Deuteronomy 30.15–20 or Sirach 15.15-20; the point of the readings seems the same. This year we are reading the passage from Sirach, and offer no notes on Deuteronomy.

First Reading: Sirach 15.15–20
The full name of this book is The Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach; it is also known as Ecclesiasticus, which probably means ‘church book’, an indication that it was used by the early Christian community. You may not find it in your Bible because it is one of a number of books known as ‘Apocrypha’. Since some people are not familiar with these books, and some are unclear about the meaning of ‘apocrypha’, here is a note on these matters:


In some editions of the Bible, there is a section between the Old and New Testaments, or following the New, containing a number of books which are commonly called the Apocrypha. In Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Bibles many of these books are found as part of the Old Testament and are referred to as ‘deuterocanonical’ (of a second canon). The books which were included in the Latin Vulgate, as listed in Article VI, are
The Third Book of Esdras [I Esdras],
The Fourth Book of Esdras [II Esdras],
The Book of Tobias [Tobit],
The Book of Judith,
The rest of the Book of Esther,
The Book of Wisdom [Wisdom of Solomon],
Jesus the Son of Sirach [or Ecclesiasticus],
Baruch the Prophet,
The Song of the Three Children,
The Story of Susanna,
Of Bel and the Dragon,
The Prayer of Manasses,
The First Book of Maccabees,
The Second Book of Maccabees.
Modern Bibles also include certain other books from the Greek Old Testament and included in the Bibles of Eastern Orthodox Churches, but not in the Latin Vulgate, to wit:
The Third Book of Maccabees,
The Fourth Book of Maccabees,
Psalm 151
The word Apocrypha literally means ‘things that are hidden’, but it is not clear why it was used to describe these books. It could mean that they are only for an inner group, or that they are not good enough to be read, or simply that they are not in the canon, that is, the accepted list of books counted as scripture. In practice it refers to the fact that these books were included in the ancient Greek Translation of the Hebrew Scriptures known as the Septuagint but not in the canon of the Hebrew Scriptures as settled about AD 100. We do not have the space here to discuss the history of the canon of Scripture or the disagreements over the status of these books that have arisen throughout the Church’s history. A good introduction to these matters may be found in the New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha.
What we must note is that the Protestant Reformers questioned whether the Apocrypha were inspired, or were merely human literature. While many rejected them outright, a more conservative policy was to include them in a special section. In Article VI of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion the Church of England says that the Church reads them “for example of life and instruction of manners, but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine.” The lectionaries for the Eucharist and daily Morning and Evening Prayer include readings from the deuterocanonical books. We may wonder, then, why most editions of the Bible leave out these books. The answer is clearly given in The History of the Bible in English by Frederick Fyvie Bruce (New York : Oxford University Press, 1978), pp 110-111.
Note : A.V. stands for "authorized version", the translation of 1611 commonly called the 'King James'.
“Like its predecessors, the A.V. included a translation of the Apocrypha. Four years later Archbishop Abbot forbade anyone to issue the Bible without the Apocrypha, on pain on one year’s imprisonment. The Church of England, in accordance with Article VI, reads the books of the Apocrypha “For example of life and instruction of manners, but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine.” The Puritan party, however, and those who took their guidance from Geneva rather than from Canterbury, disapproved of the inclusion of the Apocrypha in the Bible at all. Some copies of the Geneva Bible published at Geneva in 1599 omitted the Apocrypha, but this omission was the binder’s work; there is a gap in the page-numbvering between the Testaments. An Amsterdam edition of the Geneva Bible, publisherd in 1640, omitted the Apocrypha as a matter of policy, and inserted a defence of this policy between the Testaments. In 1644 the Long Parliament, in which Puritan views were very influential, decreed that only the canonical books of the Old Testament should be read in church, and three years later the Westminster Confession of Faith declared that ‘the books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are not part of the canon of Scripture; and therefore are of no authority in the Church of God, not to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than any other human writings.’
“This policy prevailed in the Church of Scotland, but was reversed in the Church of England after the Restoration. The Nonconformists, however, continued for the most part to disregard the Apocrypha except for the historical value of the books. It is not without significance that he first English Bible printed in America (1782-3) omitted the Apocrypha. The fashion of printing the A.V. without the Apocrypha was reinforced by the example of the British and Foreign Bible Society (founded in 1804), which in 1826 adopted the policy of omitting the Apocrypha from its editions. It is said that, when this Society offered to provide the copy of the Bible to be presented to King Edward VII at his coronation in 1902, the offer was declined by Archbishop Frederick Temple on the ground that a ‘mutilated Bible’ was unacceptable.”
It is the clear teaching of our Church that the books called Apocrypha are to be read in Church and included in the Bible, and we ought gladly to follow this rather than some publisher’s whim. It is good to see, therefore, that the NRSV is readily available with the books called Apocrypha included, so that we can more easily obtain a Bible that is not ‘mutilated’. If you go to the ABC rather than a secular bookstore to purchase a Bible you can be sure of this.

In Sirach 50:27 the author identifies himself as Jesus son of Eleazar son of Sirach of Jerusalem, a scholar of the Law of God, who wrote this book in about 180 BC. The name Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew Joshua. The Prologue to the book explains that his grandson translated the book into Greek; this was soon after 132 BC. Some fragments of a Hebrew text of Sirach have been discovered. The NOAB introduction notes:
‘Sirach is a significant link in the history of the development of ancient Jewish thought. It is the last great example of the type of wisdom literature represented in the Old Testament book of Proverbs, and the first specimen of that form of Judaism which subsequently developed into the rabbinical schools of the Pharisees and the Sadducees’
Sirach 15.11-20 is described by the NJBC as ‘one of the clearest statements in the Bible on freedom of the will. It teaches that each individual has the radical freedom to choose life by obeying the law of God or death by refusing to obey. Other passages in the Bible make it clear that this is not the whole story, and indeed that whole we are responsible and can choose the good, our condition is so weakened by sin that it is impossible to do all the good we choose (see Romans 3.23; 7.13-25). In short the real choice is between faith and unbelief and our freedom to choose does not mean that we do not require God’s grace.
A further complication to our freedom to choose to keep God’s law comes in the Sermon on the Mount, where the law is reinterpreted in such a way that it cannot be kept in a superficial or punctilious manner.
15-17: The two choices are also mentioned in Deuteronomy 30:15-19. [NJBC] See Deut 30.19: I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life, that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed.
18-19: NJBC notes “It is a lie to say that because God is omniscient he causes sin”. God’s knowledge does not determine future events. God is eternal. ‘Eternity,’ as Boethius wrote, ‘is the possession of endless life whole and perfect at a single moment’. God, eternally ‘now’ knows every human action as present; his knowledge no more makes them necessary than your knowledge of a present act makes it necessary. (See Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy, Book V, chapter VI)
It is not clear to me why only vv. 15-20 are read, when the whole of 11-10 is so clearly a unit. 11-12 declare that God can in no way be held responsible for human sin. Compare James 1.13 [No one, when tempted, should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one] and Wisdom 11.24. This was a very important point in the debates over Predestination that have exercised theologians, particularly in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Psalm 119.1–8
Psalm 119 is an alphabetical acrostic: it is made up of twenty-two stanzas consisting of eight lines, each of which begins with the same Hebrew letter. Almost every line contains the word ‘law’ or a synonym (ways, commandments, statutes, judgements). The predominant mood is one of lament, suggesting that it was meant to be prayer for deliverance from some trouble; it may however be a formal literary exercise in praise of the law of God. This part is a prayer for help in observing the law which is an admirable meditation on the first reading.
In verse 2 those who seek God with their whole heart are praised: see also vv 19, 34, 58, 69, 145. It is the commandment of Deuteronomy 6.4 to love God with one’s ‘whole heart’.

The Epistle 1 Corinthians 3.1–9
This passage continues from the point last week’s ended. According to the NOAB, ‘Paul has apparently been criticized at Corinth for preaching too simple a gospel. He explains that, though he has wisdom to impart (2.6), he could it impart it only to the spiritually mature; and the Corinthians did not qualify. They still do not: their party spirit shows ‘that they have not grasped the nature of authentic community’ [NJBC].
1. And so … I; literally ‘And I (kai ego) and so translated in the AV; RSV has ‘but I’, it is not clear to me why the NJBC adds ‘so’. People of the flesh: where in 2.14 Paul spoke of the ‘unspiritual’ here we have the ‘fleshly’. NJBC says that the ‘fleshly’ are those still dominated by the standards of a fallen world. If in the earlier passage he was using the terminology of a faction in Corinth who looked down on some as ‘unspiritual’ (‘soul-people’, psychicoi), perhaps he is taking them down a peg by calling them ‘flesh-people’ (sarkikoi).
3. Behaving according to human inclinations: literally, ‘walking according to man’ (kata anthropon); that is according to human understanding and estimation, as opposed to ‘according to God’ (kata theon; see 2 Corinthians 7.9-10). ‘By accepting envy and strife as normal they betray their acceptance of the common judgement of what is possible for humanity’.
4. are you not merely human? Their party slogans show that they are just ordinary people and not the spiritual and enlightened leaders they claim to be.
NJBC entitles the section 3.5-4.5 as The Right Attitude towards Pastors.
5. What then is …. ‘Who’ might be expected, but Paul uses the neuter deliberately here and in v. 7 to stress that these leaders are instruments. The question seems to demand the answer “Nothing”, but their ministry is part of God’s plan: they are servants through whom you came to believe. Faith is a divine gift, but it comes through human instruments.
6. I planted, Apollos watered: Paul was first to preach the Gospel in Corinth; Apollos later taught; they were ‘related as evangelist and catechist’. 7. God does not need these human instruments but in his wisdom chose to use them [NJBC]. 8. Since all have a common purpose, they are the same, why set them against each other? Each will receive wages: Paul acknowledges the reality of the ministers’ contribution.
9. God’s field, God’s building: NJBC notes that these images are commionly associated; in stony Palestine, clearing fields were used to build walls. It refers to Jeremiah 1.10: ‘to build and to plant’. The theme of God’s building takes over the discussion in the rest of Chapter 3.
The Gospel: Matthew 5.21–37
This section of the Sermon on the Mount continues the thoughts begun in 5.17-20, which Charles Gore called ‘The Revision of the Old Law’ and in particular the second part, concerning the new which supersedes the old (20-48).
It is probably about time to remind you of the ‘Clippings’ on the Gospel passage at the RCL Commentary site and provide the link: I think some of the notes there are particularly worth checking.
Rather than repeating the same points here, I will repeat a general comment on the whole from Gore’s book on the Sermon on the Mount:
‘There are two points to which I would call attention, which apply to all these modifications or deepenings of the old law.
‘First, notice the authority of the teacher. 'It was said to them of old time’—that is, by God Himself in the Mosaic Law—Thou shalt not do this or that; ' but I say unto you’. Now this is a new tone, and it has only one legitimate explanation. All the prophets had said 'Thus saith the Lord': they had spoken the word of another. Jesus says ‘I say unto you’ thus giving one of many indications that He who spoke was different in kind from all other speakers upon earth ; that He was the fount of the moral law, and could speak as the one supreme legislator with the voice, with the authority, of God Himself.
“Secondly, notice that when our Lord deals with the different commandments, He deals with them on principles which in each case would apply to all the others. You could take the distinctive principle which emerges in His dealing with the law of murder or of adultery, and apply it to the case of all the other commandments. This is only one instance which goes to prove that our Lord does not mean to save us trouble. He teaches in a way which leaves us a great deal to do for ourselves, and requires of us a great deal of moral thoughtfulness.”
The Lord teaches about the laws against Murder (21-26); Adultery (27-31) Oaths (32-37); notice that there are what we might call subsidiary teachings in each section. Thus in condemning anger and malice he adds a teaching of haste in removing any uncharitable relation in which one may stand towards others (24-26).
In each case the Lord moves from the outward act forbidden under the law, such as murder and, far from abolishing the law, applies the ban to the underlying cause of the act. Thus anger is raised to the same level as the act of murder which flows from it, lustful thoughts to the level of adultery, and so on.
Gore: … ‘Our Lord raises the whole standard of guilt. He takes no account of sins of act at all. In the citizens of His new kingdom, sins of act are, as it were, out of the question. The way He deals with the law—specifically the law of murder, but in principle all the laws—is, if we may paraphrase His words, this : Under the new law you are to think of malicious anger, of anger and malice entertained in your hearts, as under the old law men were accustomed to think of ordinary homicide.’
Unfortunately, we were somewhat distracted over the past two days by the news from Egypt and have run out of space and time!
EXTRA NOTE: After I published this post I began to look at the readings for next Sunday. It struck me almost at once that it is worth reading both this and next Sunday's Gospels with the first reading for next Sunday, Leviticus 19.1-2, 9-10. More on this nexty week.
14 Monday: Memorial of Cyril and Methodius, Missionaries to the Slavs, 869, 885
In the older Calendar this was the commemoration of Valentine, Martyr. No more need be said
15 Tuesday: Memorial of Thomas Bray, Priest and Missionary, Founder of SPG and SPCK, 1730
16 Wednesday: Feria
17 Thursday: Feria
18 Friday: Feria
19 Saturday: Feria
There is only one Eucharist at St Columba and All Hallows this Sunday, at 10 am, followed by the Annual Meeting of Vestry

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