The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (email@example.com) of the United Church of Canada. John has structured his offerings so that the first portion can be used as a bulletin insert, while the second portion provides a more in depth 'introduction to the scripture'.
INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE
Ordinary 32 (Proper 27) - Year C
HAGGAI 1:15b - 2:9 The rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem
after the return from exile in Babylon was one of the more dramatic events
in Israel's history. This minor prophet Haggai is known for little else
than his encouragement of this momentous task which was completed about 520
BC. The word he delivered in God's name formed the core of his message:
"Work, for I am with you.... My spirit abides among you." This second
temple lasted until destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. The dream of some
modern Israelis is to rebuild it once again where the Dome of the Rock,
sacred to Islam, now stands.
PSALM 145:1-4, 17-21 The Book of Psalms ends with a series of
hymns praising God and meditating on the nature of God. Note that these
reflections are not couched in theological abstractions, but in terms
describing God's actions, as was typical of Jewish thought.
2 THESSALONIANS 2:1-5,13-17 Paul believed sincerely in the early return
of the Risen Christ. This belief combined the prophetic promises to Israel
of a Day of Judgement and the coming of the Messiah. Here the apostle
makes a further promise of salvation for those who have believed that Jesus
is the Messiah/Christ and have been sanctified (i.e. made holy and so
acceptable to God) by the Spirit. The faithful are urged to hold fast to
these gospel traditions which Paul had given them in his preaching and his
LUKE 20:27-38 A group of Sadducees attempt to trap Jesus
into a violation of the rigid Law of Moses concerning the marriage of a
widow. The story is particularly ironic in that this sect of Judaism did
not believe in resurrection. Jesus gave a blunt response: There's no
marriage or sex in heaven! The trick question had only a malevolent intent.
NOTE: There are two alternative lessons from the OT and
Psalms. The summaries and analysis of these passages
follow those of the regular RCL lessons.
JOB 19:23-27a (Alternate) Suffering almost beyond
endurance, Job utters a fervent appeal for understanding and quickly
follows this with a declaration of his faith that his innocence will be
vindicated. His words have often been read by Christians, mistakenly and
perhaps under the influence of Handel's recitative in his oratorio "The
Messiah," as a prophecy of the redemptive work of Christ.
PSALM 17:1-9 (Alternate) The psalmist makes a plea for
vindication and protection in difficult circumstances apparently caused by
false accusations by implacable enemies.
HAGGAI 1:15b - 2:9 Just two chapters long, the Book of Haggai is frequently
lost as tenth among the last twelve books in the Old Testament. As one of
the lesser prophets of Israel, Haggai's message centred on the rebuilding
of the temple under the leadership of Zerubbabel. It also had significance
beyond the faith-history of the Jewish people. Haggai called for a
reassessment of national priorities at a time of economic and spiritual
depression. That is very much a message for our time on this date when we
remember the fallen of past wars and face the problems confronting us at
the start of a new one.
The promises of Ezekiel and Second Isaiah (Isa. 40-66) had not been
fulfilled. The remnant of exiles in Babylon returning to their homeland in
539 BCE with high hopes of rebuilding their destitute city of Jerusalem and
especially its sacred temple. What they had found were extremely
depressing conditions. Chapter 1 of this very brief book describes the
circumstances. Droughts had brought harvest failures and famine; inflation
that made some rich and many poor; the temple lay in ruins and the people
resisted doing anything about it. For nearly twenty years the rebuilding
of the temple had languished although many of the people were very well
About 520 BCE, Haggai again challenged the leaders of Israel, Zarubbabel,
the governor, Joshua, the high priest, and the whole community to rebuild
the temple. They undertook the task with renewed vigour as the prophet
inspired them with a word from Yahweh. The people could easily have become
dispirited because they had memories of the glory of Solomon's temple
(2:3). Haggai urged them to carry on because Yahweh willed that the temple
become a place of splendour greater than before and, once completed, would
be the scene of Yahweh's universal reign. (2:6-9)
Several elements of Haggai's prophecy stand out: Yahweh's ownership of all
the earth's resources (2:8), the inspirational quality of spiritual
leadership, the need for community priorities based on spiritual values,
and the universality of religious faith. Any one or all of these could be
the basis for a sound Christian homily at this time. We struggle for
meaning and inspiration in the midst of economic uncertainty, spiritual
searching, threats of further terrorism under the guise of a perversion of
Islam and a war in which few support but feel forced to fight.
We read and hear many criticisms of our present leadership in what is being
called "a different kind of warfare." To be able to criticize is one of
the great gifts of our free and open society. Everyone can become an
armchair strategist or a television general when actually we are only
trying to settle our anxious minds. Most pernicious of all are those of us
- many preachers and scholars of comparative religion too - who pose as
experts of Islam.
What is the role of religious faith in a time of war? Does this help us to
establish a clearer set of priorities? Does God takes sides in any
conflict causing death and destruction such as we are now witnessing? Or
does God want us to find more appropriate ways of achieving our sincere
hopes of peace and prosperity, not only for ourselves, but for the millions
of refugees and oppressed people of the world?
PSALM 145:1-5,17-21 Like several other psalms, in Hebrew this hymn of
praise takes the form of an acrostic. Each couplet begins with a different
letter of the Hebrew alphabet. (Cf. Psalms 9-10, 25, 34, 37, 111-112,
119). This poetic form developed relatively late and characterized poetry
of the wisdom teachers of the Persian and Greek periods in the 5th and 4th
centuries BCE. Despite that severe structural limitation, the psalm
possesses a surprisingly rich spiritual power.
Though the concept of Yahweh as a powerful monarch had developed much
earlier, the idea of Yahweh's sovereignty over all nations came to the fore
only during the prophetic period from the late 8th to the 6th centuries BCE.
This psalm glorifies Yahweh as a ruler whose greatness is beyond human
comprehension (vs. 3). Yahweh's mighty, miraculous acts give rise to this
praise (vss. 4-5). But it is Yahweh's faithful, compassionate justice and
tender care for all people which draws the greatest praise from the
psalmist (vss. 17-20). Therefore, the psalmist repeats his vow made in
vs.1 to "speak the praise of Yahweh" and summons "all flesh" to join him
Few other OT passages reach the inspirational level found in praising
Yahweh's constant love that this psalm expresses (vss. 8-9). What a pity
that this part of the psalm has been omitted from this reading. These
neglected verses reveal the richness of the psalmist's personal faith. He
fixes his hope not only the sovereignty of divine love (vss. 10-13), but
Yahweh's everlasting faithfulness (vss. 14-18). Herein too lies our hope
for these difficult times.
2 THESSALONIANS 2:1-5,13-17 Written about 48-49 CE, the First Letter to
the Thessalonians expressed the theological viewpoint of Paul's early
ministry. The second letter, however, has caused a continuing scholarly
debate about its authenticity on two grounds: its eschatology differs from
that of I Thessalonians; and the language and content of the second is so
nearly like that of the first that it must be from someone who copied
Paul's style to deal with a later situation. If there is any consensus, it
concludes that Paul wrote both letters, and that the second, written
shortly afterward, deals with a misinterpretation of what he had said
about the second coming of Christ in the first.
The early church focussed much of its attention on the subject of the
Parousia or Second Coming of Christ. Apostolic preaching and teaching
sought to prepare the first members of the church for this event which they
anticipated would happen very soon. The longer the passage of time between
the resurrection and the Parousia, the greater became the uncertainty as to
its imminence. Some scholars believe that this was the situation which the
second letter addressed.
On the other hand, scholarly consensus has settled on Paul dealing with a
special situation which had arisen after he had first taught among these
people. Apparently some of the Thessalonian converts had become convinced,
perhaps persuaded by outsiders, that the Lord had already returned and they
were living in the end time. This rumour greatly distressed the
Thessalonian church. Paul was uncertain whether this had been caused by
Paul's own earlier letter or a forged letter as suggested by vs. 2. He
sought to dispel this idea by referring to his earlier teaching based on
the traditional Jewish apocalypticism about a time of rebellion which must
proceed the promised day of the Lord (vss. 4-12). The recently published
collection of the complete Dead Sea Scrolls contains very similar ideas as
do some of the apocryphal books of the OT. Paul would have been familiar
with the latter if not the former collection.
A recent publication by American scholar Robert Eisenman proposed a
different origin of the Dead Sea Scrolls than has been held for about 50
years. This thesis presented James, the brother of Jesus, as the leader
of the Qumran Community from which the scrolls emanated. Eisenman also
believes that Paul and James were bitter antagonists in the early Christian
community. If this could be proved, then some of the questions about the
background of 2 Thessalonians could be clarified.
Paul had a very specific message for the Thessalonian Christians. Through
their belief in the gospel as they had heard it from Paul and by their
sanctification in holy living they had become the first fruits of the
Spirit. They would share the resurrection glory of Christ himself. So
they must stand firm in what they had been taught and what he had written
to them in his first letter.
Here Paul is speaking from his background as a Jewish rabbi familiar with
the Hebrew scriptures. It is possible if not probable that the concluding
clause of vs. 14, "so that you might possess for your own the splendour of
our Lord Jesus Christ" (NEB) refers not only to the resurrection, but also
to the *shekinah,* "the glory of the Lord" representing God's eternal
presence. It also recalls the words of Ps. 146:5 "On the glorious
splendour of your majesty and on your wondrous works, I will meditate."
To Paul, there was no greater, more wondrous deed done by God's everlasting
love than the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The NT narratives of the
incarnation, transfiguration, the resurrection, the ascension and Paul's
conversion all featured bright, shining light symbolizing the active
presence of God. So too did the OT narratives of the theophany at Sinai
(Exod. 24:17; 34:23-35), the manifestation of the divine presence at the
dedication of the temple (1 Kings 8:11), and the departure of "the glory of
the Lord" in Ezekiel's vision of the chosen people going into exile and
their return from exile in Babylon (Ezek. 10:18-19; 43:2-5).
How else could this passage end than with the moving prayer for the
Thessalonians comfort and strength while they awaited the anticipated
LUKE 20:27-38 Belief in resurrection did not receive much attention in
Jewish thought until a relatively late date. Before that the Jews believed
with most people in ancient times that after death both the wicked and the
righteous would have a miserable, shadowy existence in the underworld, the
Hebrews called it Sheol. The idea of the wicked flourishing and the
righteous suffering in this life, as the wisdom literature of Job and
Ecclesiastes observed, and the idea of reunification of soul and body and
the rebirth of the Jewish nation as found in Ezekiel's vision (Ezekiel 37),
gave impetus to the concept of resurrection. The exiles had brought that
concept back from their stay in Babylon where they had found it in the
Zoroastrian tradition. Later Jewish thought also incorporated the Greek
idea of immortality. In the 2nd century BCE the Book of Wisdom fully
developed the belief that the righteous would be vindicated and live
forever in God's presence.
In Jesus' time the Qumran community who had inscribed the Dead Sea Scrolls
adhered to this belief in the immortality of the righteous. The Pharisees
adopted a more subtle concept of resurrection and life after death. Alone
among the dominant religious parties, the Sadducees rejected all belief in
life beyond death and held to the traditional view of a shadowy existence
in Sheol. This confused background coloured the incident reported in this
The Sadducees' based their challenge to Jesus on the law of levirate
marriage in Deuteronomy 25:5-6. On the death of a husband, the man's
closest next of kin had authority and responsibility for the widow's
protection. The custom sought to maintain the continuation of the Jewish
family and the legal succession of property. This had become important at
different periods of Israel's history as the propertied class prospered.
It is most simply described in the story of Ruth and Boaz (Ruth 4:1-12).
Aware of the trickery the Sadducees had posed in their riddle, Jesus
replied that in a life where death is irrelevant, such a law was
meaningless. Quoting from Exodus 3:6 he argued that quite apart from the
Sadducees' naive view of resurrection, the Torah did indeed imply a belief
in eternal life beyond death. He said, in effect, that all life consists
of a gracious friendship with God, a relationship which Abraham, Isaac and
Jacob still enjoy because it is a relationship which death cannot end. In
other words, Jesus used one scripture to veto another.
To some, this may seem like idle casuistry. Not so. Nothing in the
gospels is there for superfluous reasons. Luke strove to make this the
crucial point in telling this story of the Sadducees attempt to entrap
Jesus. The gospel of the resurrection had introduced a whole new concept
of life beyond death quite beyond anything the Jews had previously
Without question, Luke and all other NT authors, believed in resurrection.
However we may like to interpret this passage, the details of what lies
beyond death is not as important as the faith that whatever happens will be
due to God's act of gracious love in raising Jesus Christ from the dead.
JOB 19:23-27a (Alternate) It is indeed a pity that interpretation of
this text has been skewed by devout Christians, including many scholars,
who read it in terms of their own faith and theology rather than as it
stands in Jewish religious literature. Suffering almost beyond endurance,
Job utters a fervent appeal for understanding and quickly follows this with
a declaration of his faith that his innocence will be vindicated. His
words have often been read by Christians, mistakenly, and perhaps under the
influence of Handel's recitative in his oratorio "The Messiah," as a
prophecy of the redemptive work of Christ.
In its original Hebrew, the text of this passage has many corruptions.
Scholars have tried to decipher it in two ways. Some scholars emend it to
remove all indication of life after death. Others torturously correct it
to make life after death more explicit. In fact. Two interpretations are
possible. Either Job counts on vindication of his innocence before his
death or hopes for it after death.
We find other substantiation of these two points of view in earlier
passages. In 9:33 he seeks an umpire to settle the issue he is having with
his interlocutors. He would like God to do this rather than a man, but he
cannot find God or bring him into court. Some scholar have gone beyond the
meaning of this passage to see in it a prophetic witness to Christ as the
one who is both human and divine. No hint of a messianic figure can be
found in this context. So we must conclude that such an interpretation
comes from an imposed theological viewpoint.
In 16:19 & 21, Job returns to his need for a mediator, someone to be his
witness before God to make the case of his innocence as counsel for the
defence. This is the language of the law courts where Job is only asking
for a fair trial. The idea that the word "Redeemer" in 19:25 constitutes a
prophecy of the redemptive ministry of Jesus Christ stems from Jerome's
Latin Vulgate rather than the Hebrew text.
Job has only one desire: to leave a lasting memorial and protest of his
innocence. To do this he needs help which his friends in the dialogue have
denied him. From this comes his need for a human vindicator to acquit him
of any guilt for his great suffering and to bring God to his side. Yet he
does place his trust in God and believes devoutly that he will be
vindicated whether in this life or in life beyond death.
In a cemetery in Kalispell, Montana, there is a tombstone marking the grave
of a pioneer doctor in that community. During some 45 years as the local
physician at the beginning of the 20th century, he founded several
community institutions including the Boy Scouts of America, the Masonic
Order, the choral society, and the radio station. His tombstone bears the
symbols of a pair of radio towers, the Masonic crest, the Scout crest and
the first notes of Handel's recitative, "I know that my redeemer liveth."
PSALM 17:1-9 (Alternate) Job himself could have spoken these words. The
psalmist makes a plea for vindication and protection in difficult
circumstances apparently caused by false accusations by implacable enemies.
The exact nature of his alleged transgression does not surface anywhere in
this excerpt or in the whole psalm. Vss. 4-5, however, do suggest that he
may have been accused falsely of a violent act of which he claims
innocence. In vss. 6-7 he appeals to Yahweh and seeks refuge in the
temple. Even there he is pursued and surrounded by his enemies (vss. 8-9).
Ps. 65:4 contains similar words. Solomon's prayer in 1 Kings1:31-32
describes a similar situation. While this excerpt does not include the
whole of the psalm, it does end as a typical lament with a note of
Common English speech has many sayings and phrases derived from scripture.
Vs.8a contains one such popular expression. Few who used it may realize
where it comes from. The Hebrew actually reads, "the little man of the
eye." This refers to the pupil of the eye which when looked at closely
reflects the image of the one examining it.
Another common biblical metaphor in vs. 8b, "hide me in the shadow of your
wings," refers to divine protection for those in danger frequently pray.
It may have come from the winged symbol representing the Egyptian sun-god
or from the wings of cherubim depicted in Canaanite and Middle Eastern
mythology as a winged bull. Or it may simply mean the wings of a mother
bird guarding her chicks. The first biblical reference in Gen. 3:24 has
the cherubim guarding the tree of life in the Garden of Eden. The
expression appears several other times elsewhere in scripture.
Only Shakespeare's plays rival the Bible in the use so many commonly used
expressions. Having such masterpieces of literature as the works of the
world's greatest dramatist and the English Bible inevitably meant that they
could become the patois of the people.
copyright - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006, 2004
please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.