Saturday, July 9, 2011

Lectionary Notes

Some Notes for The Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
10 July 2011
The Sunday between 10 and 16 July: Proper 15 Year A
The Sentence appointed for Years A & B, which is taken from Deuteronomy, has no particular relation to any of the readings for this Sunday.
The Collect is a famous prayer adapted from the Confessions, the spiritual autobiography of St Augustine of Hippo. “You move us to delight in praising You; for You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in You (Tu excitas ut laudare te delectet, quia fecisti nos ad te et inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te~ Conf. 1.1.1). Various prayers have been composed on this sentence, of which our collect is one of the simplest.
The Readings
Genesis 25.19–34
The next highlight we come to in our readings from Genesis is the story of Jacob and Esau, the twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah. After their marriage Rebekah went twenty years without having children. With her prolonged barrenness, compare the cases of Sarah, and Rachel (29.31), the mothers of Samson (Judges 13.2), Samuel (1 Sa. 1.2), and John the Baptist (Lk. 1.7). Isaac prayed for her and finally the Lord answered the prayer. It did not easily for Rebekah. The word translated ‘struggled’ together mean literally ‘crushed each other’; the dismayed mother took this as a portent and went to consult the Lord.
We are told nothing of how the Lord was consulted, but may presume that an oracle was given through some holy person. At any rate, the words recorded are rhythmic. The pre-natal struggle is said to prefigure the future rivalries of two nations. The point of the prophecy is in the last line : The elder shall serve the younger.
The name Jacob means "heel holder" or "supplanter" (or even “layer of snares”) and comes from a root that seems to mean “to come from behind”; the reading today is the first part of the story of how he supplanted his elder brother. It continues in Chapter 27, which is not included in the Sunday readings, but is important to know if you want to understand the reading for next Sunday (28:10-19).
The story of Jacob and Esau does not only explain how God’s choice fell on the younger son instead of the elder, but also of why Israel was dominant of the neighbouring kingdom of Edom, which was descended from Esau.
On another level it is also a story about the difference between a nation of hunters and a nation of herdsmen (see v 27).
In relation to this, it is important to note the play on the word “red” in this passage. Esau is born ruddy and hairy. The word for ruddy is 'admoniy; in verse 30, when he sees the stuff Jacob is cooking (the original is indeed that vague), Esau asks for ‘some of that red [‘├ódom ] pottage’ (Skinner suggests translating this as Let me gulp some of the red—that red there!). This, the narrator explains is why he was called “Edom”, which means “red”.
Jacob shows himself to be the supplanter in that he takes his brother’s distress as the opportunity to secure the long-coveted birthright, i.e. the superior status which properly belonged to the first-born son. The climax of the story is Esau’ s unconcern even when he discovers that he has bartered the birthright for such a trifle as a dish of lentil soup. This is not the end of the story. To follow the whole, and see the Sunday highlight in context, it would be helpful to read Genesis 27 and 28:1-9 before next Sunday
Psalm 119.105-112
We have commented before that this very long psalm is a meditation on the Law of the Lord written in the form of an Alphabetical acrostic. In each section of 8 verses, each line begins with the same letter (in this case “nun”, n), and works through a series of words referring to the law (word, judgements, law, commandments, decrees, statutes).
It is not particularly clear to me why this selection is appointed for this Sunday.
The Epistle: Romans 8.1–11
This year I am reading the letter to the Romans with the help of a commentary by P. C. Boylan (Dublin, 1934). The epistle itself, and Boylan’s reflections on it are too lengthy to be easily digested for these notes. For that reason, I only give a brief summary of the passage from his notes. He titles the section of the epistle our reading is from : The Christian's Life In The Spirit (Chapter 8,1-39)
In chapter 7 Paul analysed the condition of those living under the Law without strength to fulfil its commands, and overcome by the power of Sin. Now he goes on to depict the Christian life with its endowment of God's Spirit and all the abundance of aiding grace which that endowment implies.
In verses 1-4 he describes the rescuing act of God by which the power of Sin was broken, and men were enabled to walk according to the Spirit.
In verses 5-8 he contrasts vividly the conditions of "men of the flesh" and "men of the Spirit."
In verses 9-13 Paul shows that the spirit actually dwells in the Christian, and points out that, through that indwelling, the life of the Christian is the life of a spiritual being. Even the bodies of Christians are made to share in the quickening of the indwelling Spirit. The Christian has, therefore, no further obligations to the Flesh so as to be compelled to yield to its demands. Such yielding would bring death. The whole being of the Christian must be' dominated and directed by the Spirit.
It is of the greatest importance in reading this and other passages in St Paul to avoid a simple identification of the “flesh” with the human body. In fact it cannot be so identified, since the body is God’s good creation and is to be redeemed and raised as is the soul. As Canon Boylan puts it, the opposition between Flesh and Spirit is not a dualism within the human being, but “a contrast between types of men living in different circumstances either as united with Christ, or as persisting in sin.” It is illuminating to note that many of the “works of the flesh” listed in Galatians 5.19-21 (as jealousy, anger, party spirit, envy) are indeed spiritual; but as arrayed against God are counted as of the “flesh”.
Matthew 13.1–9, 18–23
See Mark 4.4-8, 14-21 ; Luke 8.5-8, 11-15.
In Matthew 13.1-52 there is a group of parables, massed together in the same way that many of Jesus’ sayings are massed in the Sermon on the Mount. It is not to be supposed that Jesus spoke all the parables in this chapter on the same occasion. For Luke relates the Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Leaven on a different occasion from that of the Parable of the Sower. Matthew has grouped seven (one of his favourite numbers) parables together to illustrate Jesus' parabolic teaching.
This Sunday we read the Parable of the Sower, (1-9) which is followed by a passage in which the disciples ask why Jesus teaches in parables (10-17). This passage is omitted from the lectionary, but should be read. In the next part of the reading (18-23) Jesus gives an explanation of the parable of the sower privately to the disciples.
One commentary gives a helpful definition of parables. Parables are stories drawn from everyday life which convey a spiritual meaning. Jesus used this technique because: 1) Vivid (and sometimes humorous) images made his teaching easy to remember. 2) The stories caused people to think about what he said, to reflect on it. 3) The stories prompted those present to declare for or against his message. 4) By teaching by analogy (or metaphor), he probably reduced hostility to him. [NOAB]
Some things to note, largely taken from the comments of Archbishop Trench:
1. The same day refers to 12.46-50. Jesus went out of the house probably at Capernaum, the city where he usually lived after his ministry began (Matt. 4. 13); it is on the north shore of the sea of Galilee.
2. a boat: St Hilary said, The ship offers a type of the Church, within which the word of life is placed, and is preached to those without, and who as being barren sand cannot understand it. He sat there: sitting was the normal position for a teacher.
3. a sower. In the original it is the sower. Perhaps Jesus looked over from the boat and seeing a farmer on the field taken this starting point for his teaching. The farmer would have scratched shallow furrows on the field and broadcast the seed.
4. on the path: : Not the public road, but the footpath which ran across the field, or, it might be, ran round the edge of it. In 12.1 Jesus and His disciples went through the cornfields by such a path. The soil here may be naturally as good as the best in the field : its fault lies in its being beaten hard by the feet of the passers-by. So the seed could not sink down in the earth, but lay exposed on the surface till at length it fell an easy prey to the birds.
5-6. Rocky ground doesn’t mean and area covered with small stones or rocks, but where the bedrock had only a thin covering of soil so that there is no chance to put down roots. This is why the seeds spring up: all their energy goes into the stalk. So when the hot sun beat down, they withered.
7. among thorns. Archbishop Trench notes that fields were often divided by hedges of thorn (Exod. xxii. 6; Mic. vii. 4), and comments: “This seed fell not so much among thorns that were full grown, as in ground where the roots of these had not been diligently extirpated, in ground which had not been thoroughly purged and cleansed ; otherwise it could not be said that “the thorns sprang up with it' (Luke 7.7).”
9. “The parable describes the experience of Christ in His ministry, which is typical of universal experience. He finds the reason for the varying effect of His ministry in the varying spiritual condition of men. Some were altogether insusceptible ; others were quickly impressed, but the impression passed away. In others the new spiritual impulses struggled to grow, but were finally crushed by stronger passionate evil lusts. In others there were rich and permanent results, though varying in abundance.”
18-23: Matthew, by omitting the disciples' request for an explanation (Mark iv. 10) and Christ's reproach for their not understanding it (Mark iv. 13), makes the interpretation to be given them because they have the capacity to understand it.
Many modern commentators doubt that the interpretation of the Parable is really one given by our Lord, thinking that it is too allegorical and must be the interpretation of Christians reflecting on the parable. This is a question we cannot enter into here: I will only suggest that there is nothing proven, and indeed that we might do well to be cautious in taking the results of modern Gospel criticism as Gospel. One older commentator notes:
“Objections have been raised to the genuineness of this interpretation on the ground of its allegorising the details. But it is expressly stated in Mark iv. 34 that Jesus did expound the parables to His disciples, and there is no sufficient reason for doubting that this interpretation in the main goes back to Jesus.”
19 and does not understand it: The stupidity is not due to a natural want of intellectual power, but to the hardening effect of their habits, resulting in spiritual insensibility. This is the Fool of Psalm 14. Trench: The man 'understandeth it not’; he does not recognize himself as standing in any relation to the word which he hears, or to the kingdom of grace which that word proclaims. All that speaks of man's connexion with a higher invisible world, all that speaks of sin, of redemption, of holiness, is unintelligible to him, and without significance. The evil one: Trench: How natural it would have been to interpret ‘the fowls' impersonally, as signifying, in a general way, worldly influences hostile to the truth. How almost inevitably, if left to ourselves, we should have so done. Not so, however, the Lord. He beholds the kingdom of evil as it counterworks the kingdom of God gathered up in a personal head, ‘the Wicked One.'
20: immediately receives it with joy. Trench: …the joy thus suddenly conceived is not, as the sequel too surely proves, a joy springing up from the contemplation of the greatness of the benefit, even after all the counterbalancing costs, and hazards, and sacrifices, have been taken into account, but a joy which springs from an overlooking and leaving out of calculation those costs and hazards. … We have rather here a state of mind not stubbornly repelling the truth, but woefully lacking in all deeper earnestness ; such as that of the multitudes which went with Jesus, unconscious what his discipleship involved, to whom He turned and told, in plainest and most startling words, what the conditions of that discipleship were (Luke xiv. 25 33 ; Josh. xxiv. 19).
21 such a person has no root: the original is has no root in himself: he has no depths for roots to form in. endures … for a while: literally “is temporary”, is for a time, a fickle nature, without any stability. falls away: literally "is made to stumble," i.e. into unbelief.
22. Trench: It is not here, as in the first case, that the word of God is totally ineffectual ; nor yet, as in the second case, that after a temporary obedience to the truth, there is an evident falling away from it, such as the withering of the stalk indicates : the profession of a spiritual life is retained, the 'name to live ' still remains ; but the power of godliness is by degrees eaten out and has departed. And to what disastrous influences are these mournful effects attributed ? To two things, the care of this world and its pleasures ; these are the thorns and briers that strangle the life of the soul. It may sound strange at first hearing tliat two causes apparently so diverse should yet be linked together, and have the same hurtful operation ascribed to them. But the Lord, in fact, here presents to us this earthly life on its two sides, under its two aspects. There is, first, its oppressive crushing side, the poor man's toil how to live at all, to keep the wolf from the door, the struggle for a daily subsistence, ‘the care of this life,' which, if not met in faith, hinders the thriving of the spiritual word in the heart. But life has a flattering as well as a threatening side, its pleasures no less than its pains ; and as those who have heard and received with gladness the word of the kingdom are still in danger of being crushed by the cares of life, so, no less, of being deceived by its flatteries and its allurements. The old man is not dead in them ; it may seem dead for a while, so long as the first joy on account of the treasure found endures ; but, unless mortified in earnest, will presently revive in all its strength anew. Unless the soil of the heart be diligently watched, the thorns and briers, of which it seemed a thorough clearance had been made, will again grow up apace, and choke the good seed
While that which God promises is felt to be good, but also what the world promises is felt to be good also, and a good of the same kind, instead of a good merely and altogether subordinate to the other, an attempt will be made to combine the service of the two, to serve God and mammon. But the attempt will be in vain : they who make it will bring no fruit to perfection, will fail to bring forth those perfect fruits of the Spirit which it was the purpose of the word of God to produce in them.

Time has run out; we will have to do without the Calendar.

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