Thursday, August 25, 2011

Lectionary Notes

Some Notes for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
The Sunday between 28 August and 3 September
Proper 22 Year A

Here we go again!
Dear Friends: Thank you for your patience while I took a Summer Break from preparing these weekly notes. I wish I could say it had been a holiday.
I was pleased to discover this week that I published a set of notes on this week’s reading in 2008; I have revised them here.

The Collect for this Sunday is adapted from the Prayer Book Collect for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity, used since the First Prayer Book of 1549 :
LORD of all power and might, Who art the Author and Giver of all good things; Graft in our hearts the love of Thy Name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of Thy great mercy keep us in the same ; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
It was in turn translated and adapted from the ancient Latin Collect for the same Sunday. It is interesting to compare the English version of the same Collect in the New St Joseph Sunday Missal:
Almighty God, every good thing comes from you. Fill our hearts with love for you, increase our faith, and by your constant care protect the good you have given us. we ask this through Jesus Christ, your Son …
The difference between 'graft in our hearts the love of your Name' in the Anglican and 'fill our hearts with love for you' in the Roman Catholic version seems to arise from the interpretation of the original, ínsere pectóribus nostris tui nóminis amórem. In Latin there are two almost identical verbs insero, one {insero, inserere. inserevi, inseritum], meaning 'to graft', the other [insero, -ere, -ui, -tum] meaning 'to let in, insert'. The present imperative singular of both is insere. In the first English Prayer Book this was taken as 'graft', which, according to J. H. Blunt (Annotated Book of Common Prayer, new edition, 1892), was suggested by the good and evil fruit' contained in the Epistle for Trinity VII, Romans 6.19-23.

Exodus 3.1–15
In Midian the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob reveals himself to Moses and summons him to the work of delivering Israel from Egypt.
Moses, who had been raised by Pharaoh’s daughter [Exodus 2.1-10] has fled from Egypt because it was discovered he had slain an Egyptian task-master for beating a Hebrew slave [2.11-15]. He fled to Midian, where he married Zipporah, daughter of the priest Jethro. Jethro is elsewhere (Exodus 2:16-19 and Numbers 10:29) called Reuel, but some suggest that is his father’s name; in Judges 4.11 he is called Hobab. The confusion over his name does not affect today’s passage. The Midianites were a people related to the Israelites (see Gen 25.2), who at this time appear to have lived in the north of the Sinai Peninsula.
Meanwhile, the Pharaoh (probably Seti I) died, and “the people of Israel groaned under their bondage and cried out for help”. In Midian God revealed himself to Moses and called him to be his agent for the deliverance of Israel. We hear the first part of the narrative in today’s reading.
The call of Moses is also a revelation of the Lord God as one who cares for his people and hears their cry of anguish. The revelation itself is a miracle both because the bush that burns and is not consumed causes Moses to wonder, since it is outside the known powers of nature and because it is clearly God’s direct action. But how do we imagine this event? Does God speak aloud, actually moving the air and acting on Moses’ ear-drums? Or is the voice that Moses hears an inner one? There is no way to know, but however we think of it, we must decide whether we believe that God did act.
The first verse of this passage is a good example of why comments have to be selective!
v. 1: . beyond the wilderness: is literally ‘behind the wilderness’ or ‘at the backside of the wilderness’ (KJV); although the RCL commentary suggests that this is ‘a mysterious place like the deep in the forest of fairy tales’ the RSV ‘west side of the wilderness’ seems more likely. The Hebrew preposition ‘achar, ‘behind’ is often used to mean ‘West’, as in Judges 18.12; in a common way of speaking, the East was always 'in front' (Genesis 4.16), the North on 'the left' (Ez. xvi. 46), the South on 'the right' (1 S. xxiii. 19). Other suggestions are “after the free pastureland” and “the edge of the desert”. Horeb The mountain of God is called both Horeb or Sinai; Horeb seems to reflect a later tradition. Whatever its name, the precise location of the holy mountain is not known, although tradition places it at Jebel Musa or Mount Catharine in the south of the Sinai.
v.2. the angel of the Lord, as in Genesis 16.7, is not a subordinate spirit but the Lord himself manifested to Moses. (see Genesis 16.13). The bush may have been a thorn-bush or bramble-bush; another suggestion is a blackberry (I will avoid a pretty obvious joke). Since this is a miraculous event, there is no need to be too concerned about what sort of a bush it was. Note that the Hebrew word for bush, seneh’; is possibly a play on the word Sina, sē•nah'•ē;.
v. 4. When the Lord calls from the bush Moses answers “Here am I”. In the Septuagint Greek text, however, what Moses says is τί ἐστι; (ti esti?), “What is it?” In some ways this seems to me a more natural response!
vv 6-10. The Lord declares to Moses that he has seen the suffering of his people and heard their cries, and has come down to free them and lead them into that good land he had promised their ancestors. He will send Moses to Pharaoh to lead the people out of Egypt.
v 11. Moses is reluctant to obey. Like Gideon (Judges 6.11-22) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1.4-10) he raises objections to God’s call. In 3.11-4.17 Moses makes four excuses; this reading includes only the first two: “who am I to do this?” (3.11), to which God replies, “I will be with you”, and “the people will ask the name of the God who sent me” (3.13), to which God replies by solemnly declaring his name.
v. 14. Note that the Lord’s reply, I am who I am, can be translated in different ways: the NRSV offers I AM WHAT I AM and I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE. The Greek version, ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν (egō eimi ho ōn), can mean something like I am he who is, which has serious theological implications (see Eric Mascall, He Who Is, esp. pp 5, 10, 13; Existence and Analogy, pp 10-13).
v. 15. The divine Name, YHWH, is not pronounced under any circumstances in Jewish tradition. Four things may be noted here. Instead of YHWH, the Hebrew word Adonai, Lord, or Elohim, God, was pronounced instead. The vowel-signs for these words were added to the YHWH to ensure the proper word was pronounced. In fact, the proper vowels are not precisely known; the form Yahweh is an approximation
Second, it is from reading it with the “wrong” vowels that gave rise to the name Jehovah, which does not represent any form of the name used in Hebrew.
Third, the Jewish practice has for the most part always been followed by Christians: in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures, the word Κύριος (Kyrios) was used to render the divine name; Dominus was likewise used in Latin: both mean Lord. In English versions the convention has grown to represent the divine Name by “The LORD”, written in small capitals. The Vatican has recently (and rightly) reaffirmed the rule that the name YHWH is not pronounced in worship. Finally, when we understand this background of the word Lord as a rendering of the divine Name, we can see the true implications of such New Testament expressions as “Jesus is Lord”.
The Psalm 105.1-6, 23-26, 45c.
Psalm 105 tells in verse the story of God’s mighty acts of salvation; compare Psalm 78. Verses 23-26 commemorate the sufferings of Israel in Egypt and the call of Moses. “Ham” is a poetic name for Egypt: see Genesis 10.6.

The Epistle. Romans 12.9-21.
St Paul exhorts his readers to the good Christian life. As a statement of the “law of love”, this passage should be read along with Chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians. The most difficult part of this teaching is the absolute prohibition of vengeance in verse 19. Only when we have truly ceased to “conform to this world” and have been “transformed by the renewal of mind” (12.2; see last week’s reading) will the instinct to avenge and justify oneself be rooted out.
It might seem that the teaching in verse 20, that you ought to assist your enemy in need and thereby “heap burning coals on his head” spoils the whole thing by turning an act of love into revenge! In fact, it means that acts of kindness bring the enemy to shame (embarrassment is often accompanied by redness and a rise in temperature) and, it is to be hoped, to repentance.

The Holy Gospel, Matthew 16.21-28
Immediately after St Peter’s confession of him as Christ, the Son of the Living God, Jesus for the first time tells his disciples of the path of suffering before him. It is as if he said to them, You have confessed that I am Messiah; now learn what it means to be Messiah. We note that the Gospel says not that he began to tell them but to show them. the sense is made known, but we should not miss the visual quality of ‘show’ that comes again at the end of the passage. He says that he must suffer at Jerusalem, the city where the prophets were put to death; see Matthew 23.29-39. Although the scriptures of the Old Testament mention only one such death (Zechariah son of Jehoiada; see 2 Chronicles 24.20-22), others were recorded in legend.
Peter could not accept the idea that the Messiah should suffer. He takes Jesus and begins to rebukes him, as if saying, “Ah, Master, don’t say that!”. It should be noted that Luke 9 omits Peter’s rebuke and the sequel. Jesus’ reply needs to be read carefully.
He turned and said to Peter. Matthew seems to mean that Jesus turned to Peter and said to Peter. However, in Mark it is turning and seeing his disciples he rebuked Peter.
Get behind me, Satan! seems to mean “begone from me”, but it was often taken by the early Fathers to mean “Come after me”. We should note that the expression here translated “get behind me”, also appears in verse 24 as “after me” (come after me). With this in mind, we might not be surprised at St Hilary’s comment:
The Lord, knowing the suggestion of the craft of the devil, says to Peter, Get you behind me; that is, that he should follow the example of His passion; but to him by whom this expression was suggested, He turns and says, Satan, you are an offense to me. For we cannot suppose that the name of Satan, and the sin of being an offense, would be imputed to Peter after those so-great declarations of blessedness and power that had been granted him.
Again, Origen wrote on this passage:
Yet the words in which Peter and those in which Satan are rebuked, are not, as is commonly thought, the same; to Peter it is said, Get you behind me, Satan; that is, follow me, you that are contrary to my will; to the Devil it is said, Go your way, Satan, understanding not 'behind me,' but 'into everlasting fire.' He said therefore to Peter, Get you behind me, as to one who through ignorance was ceasing to walk after Christ. And He called him Satan, as one, who through ignorance had somewhat contrary to God. But he is blessed to whom Christ turns, even though He turn in order to rebuke him
Peter’s words seemed to be a continuation of Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the desert: see Matthew 4:10 and Luke 4:8.
Note that there is a parallel between the stumbling block in verse 23 and the Lord’s words about the rock in last week’s reading. The Rock (ver. 18) is now a rock of offence (cf. Isa. viii. 14), a rock in the straight path on which one may stumble and be thrown out of the way. After the sudden revelation ‘from heaven’ the unguarded soul of Peter was now occupied by another spirit. He wished for an earthly Messiah who would not suffer or die: his mind was set not on divine things, but on human. The verb translated as setting your mind is the same used by St Paul in Phil 2.5, ‘Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus’ — where also in verse 8 … he speaks of his ‘becoming obedient even unto the death of the cross. We find this verb in today’s reading from Romans, as well: the phrase translated there as “do not be haughty” is literally “Mind not high things”.
In the second part of the reading (verse 24-28), Jesus tells his disciples that those who would follow him must deny themselves and take up the cross to follow him. In the Roman world, the word “crucify” had come to be a general word for suffering or torture, as is found in secular literature of the time, and in our English word “excruciate”. One condemned to die on the cross carried it, or at least the cross-beam, to the place of execution. “Jesus sees that acceptance of his message with its promise also may bring destruction. Only those who in faith accept the threat of destruction will find life. See also Matthew 5:11-12; 10:38-39; Mark 10:29-31; Luke 14:27; 17:33; John 12:25” [NOAB].
Life; the Greek word is ψυχὴ, psychē; the Authorized version had “soul”. Here it means life not in the sense of physical existence but the higher or spiritual life, the real self. The question for what one would sell one’s soul calls to mind the legend of Faust, who made a pretty shoddy deal for his. Again, Jesus had been tempted to ‘gain the whole world (Matt 4.9) but he preferred the kingdom of heaven: ‘the world’ he left to Caesar (Matt 22.21).
One’s life might be a trifle, worth casting off for the rewards that the world can offer, if this world was everything; but it is not. The Son of man comes to bring the Father’s rewards, which are true life, forgiveness, love and joy.
This Gospel passage can be read well along with the passages from Romans we read last week and this. To deny self is an essential part of being transformed in mind (Romans 12.2). Furthermore, although the Lord’s call to take up one’s cross tell us of suffering imposed on us for our choice to follow Christ, they also speak of the death that is involved in turning away from passions and habits of the old life. Few things can be worse than denying oneself the pleasures of vengeance, of getting one’s own; which is why it is so hard to give it up. To learn to bless those who persecute, and not curse, even in the depths of your heart is part of following our Lord.
In the final words of the passage, Jesus declares that some who are standing with him will not taste death until they see the Son of man coming in his glory. Some interpret this to mean the Transfiguration, which is related in the following chapter. Others, noting that in the parallel passage in Mark (9.1) it is “before they see that the kingdom of God has come in power”, take it as referring to the coming of the Spirit on the Day Pentecost (Acts 2).

God willing, the Calendar Notes will resume in September.

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