INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE

Year B - Proper 28†

 

1 SAMUEL 1:4-20 AND 1 SAMUEL 2:1-10.†† These readings tell the story of Hannah and the song she sang when she dedicated her son, Samuel, to serve God. The early church saw it as a prefiguring of the birth of the Messiah. Almost certainly Luke used it as the model for his narrative of the announcement of the birth of Jesus to Mary and her song in Luke 1, known best by it liturgical name, The Magnificat. The canticle can be read as the psalm for the day.

 

DANIEL 12:1-3.† (Alternate) This somewhat obscure passage prophesies a future time when by Godís action through the archangel Michael justice will come to the nations. The righteous, both living and dead, will be rewarded with everlasting life and the unrighteous put to shame and everlasting contempt. It was a prophesy for a time of great tribulation in the 2nd century BC when in Israel was greatly† oppressed by a powerful Greek emperor, Antiochus Epiphanes.

 

PSALM 16. †(Alternate) This psalm of trust meditates on the spiritual values enjoyed by the psalmist in serving God alone. It yields pleasures and security which those who worship other gods cannot enjoy.

 

HEBREWS 10:11-14, (15-18), 19-25. The author of this theological essay or series of sermons clinches his argument regarding the supremacy of Christ by appealing to his audience to hold on to their faith. He urges them to encourage one another to love and do good deeds as they wait for Christ's return because Christ has made the perfect sacrifice for their salvation and has been exalted to the right hand of God.

 

MARK 13:1-8.†† In spite of the long quotation attributed to Jesus, this chapter may well consist of the teaching of the early church in which are imbedded actual words of Jesus about his return. The incident reported in this passage became the obvious setting for these instructions about what would happen and how believers should act when the time comes. Mark may actually be referring to the temple's destruction which had occurred about the time he wrote.

 


While the return of Christ is still a part of our tradition, scholars debate how much of the detail was actually drawn from the Jewish expectation of the Messiah to bring his reign to Israel, defeat all its enemies and oppressors, and end human history.

 

 

A MORE COMPLETE ANALYSIS.

 

 

1 SAMUEL 1:4-20 AND 1 SAMUEL 2:1-10.†† The second part of this reading< Hannahís song,† is actually a psalm and may be read as the psalm for the day.

 

Very few lectionary readings feature a woman as the main character. Hannah ranks among the OT heroines of faith along with Miriam, Esther and Ruth. These readings tell her brief but simple story and recite the song she sang when she dedicated her son, Samuel, to serve Yahweh under the tutelage of Eli, the priest at the shrine of Shiloh.

 

In his commentary in The Interpreter's Bible, the late Professor George Caird cited this as part of the later of two main sources of 1 & 2 Samuel. Its purpose was to introduce the prophet Samuel as a man of significant heritage which the genealogy omitted from this reading (vss. 1-3). Hannah's barrenness gave her great sorrow and became the cause of additional anguish when she suffered great provocation from her rival, her husband's other, more fertile wife. Caird held that this was also the reason why Elkanah had taken a second wife. No Israelite man could bear the shame of childlessness. The story also appears to recapitulate the story of Abraham and Sarah.

 

Eli, the priest of Shiloh, found her in the doorway of the temple and suspected her of being in a drunken stupor. In reality she was praying and making a vow - perhaps a bargain would be a better word for it - that she would dedicate to lifelong service of Yahweh if the son for whom she pleaded be granted her. Eli promised that her petition would be granted, a prophetic oracle that relieved her sorrow.

 

The story is quite legitimate as the introductory tale about a great hero of the Jewish tradition. More problematic, however, is the second reading. Hannah's song was reputedly sung when she dedicated the boy as per her bargain before his conception. This is a typical psalm praising the providence of Yahweh similar to many others in the Psalter. In the Hebrew text, it breaks into the narrative in the middle of sentence, which gives strength to the argument that it was imported from some other source.

 

The early Christian church saw the story and especially Hannahís song as a prefiguring of the birth of the Messiah. Almost certainly Luke used it as the model for his narrative of the announcement of the birth of Jesus to Mary and her song in Luke 1: 47-55.


The song sounds a strong note of triumphalism. Adversaries and enemies play a large part in the drama it describes, emphasizing these almost to the point of paranoia. This has little to do with Hannah's circumstances, but a great deal to say about the hostility Israel felt toward its neighbours. It is the song of an oppressed people longing for deliverance. Unable to throw off the yoke of their oppression, they had transferred their hope to divine intervention. In the final verse of the passage (vs. 10) a note of messianic eschatology creeps in.

 

Professor Caird's fellow expositor in the Interpreterís Bible, John C. Schroeder, felt that Hannah's song of thanksgiving came very close to moral immaturity. That was prevented by Yahweh's providential intervention on her behalf as an instance of the ethical dilemma always presented to those who ask for divine favors. Yahweh is morally accountable, even if we humans are not.† Because Yahweh is righteous and just, history - if not all human experience - is essential providential. The British historian, Herbert Butterworth, adopted a similar theory of history in his Christianity and History (1954). Perhaps this is why there is hope for a homeland for both Jews and Palestinians in that holy corner of the globe where the biblical story unfolded. This ethical attitude toward divine providence also gives impetus to the global struggle for justice from which all persons may someday benefit.

 

 

DANIEL 12:1-3.† (Alternate) This somewhat obscure passage prophesies a future time when by Godís action through the archangel Michael justice will come to the nations. The righteous, both living and dead, will be rewarded with everlasting life and the unrighteous put to shame and everlasting contempt. It ends an extensive apocalyptic vision beginning at 11:1. It was a prophesy envisioning the end of a time of great tribulation in the 2nd century BC when in Israel had been greatly† oppressed by a powerful Greek emperor, Antiochus Epiphanes.

 

This was by no mean an imaginary event or irresponsible hope.† Although the prophecies of Daniel were set as if the Jews were still in exile in Babylon,

The dire effects of the reign of Antiochus IV and his ardent Hellenization of Jerusalem and Judea had ended or was about to end with the rebellion of the Jewish people under the Maccabees (168-167 BCE). The subsequent turmoil brought about the century long reign of the Hasmonaean dynasty, the last period of Jewish independence in their homeland until the mid-2oth century C.E.

 


This brief excerpt was thought to be the original ending the apocalypse of Daniel. With the death of Antiochus Epiphanes the final consummation of Israelís divinely mandated history would begin. This would come about as Michael, the patron archangel of the Jews, undertook to execute Yahwehís will for the covenant people. The prophecy describes what would happen as if the end of history was about to arrive and a general resurrection take place. Those whose deeds were irreconcilably evil would be condemned while the righteous would reign with justice and peace.

 

As we shall see in the reading from Mark 13 and similar references, Christian apocalyptcism as well as the hope for Godís reign on earth even in modern times of great tribulation has drawn extensively from this passage.

 

 

PSALM 16.† (Alternate) This psalm of trust meditates on the spiritual values enjoyed by the psalmist in serving God alone. Such a life yields pleasures and security which those who worship other gods cannot enjoy. Identified as psalms of trust, this class includes several others such as Pss. 4, 23, 27A, 62 and 131.†

 

While the words of vs. 2 "I have no good apart from you," seem clear enough, a note in the RSV and NRSV point out that this is a translation from the Vulgate of Jerome. Again in vs. 4, the Hebrew text is confused, but the meaning does not appear to have been lost. In the Jewish tradition, only libations of wine were offered to Yahweh. According to Isa. 66:4 libations of blood, possibly that of pigs, were associated with practices considered detestable. The Law permitted only blood sacrifices with the blood of freshly slaughtered sheep, goats and bulls, but never pigs.

 

Vss. 5-11 expresses the psalmist deep sense of security because Yahweh provides for his material and spiritual needs. Several striking metaphors reiterate the way divine providence has blessed this person. In vs. 5, the phrase "my chosen portion" expresses the inherited share of land or goods, while "my cup," drawn from the practice of passing a cup of wine to a guest, may refer to this person's destiny ( cf. Mark 10: 38; Matt. 26:27, 39). In vs. 6, "the boundary lines ... in pleasant places" probably means the way the division of property by lot yielded good land.

 


Vss. 7-8 deal with spiritual matters. Divine wisdom comes during the night when quiet meditation on the way of the Lord keeps the psalmist steadfast in faith. In the final verses (9-11) the psalmist expresses the joy and security he feels because Yahweh has not abandoned him to Sheol, the place of the dead eternally isolated from Yahweh's presence. Imagination pictured it as a shadowy pit beneath the earth into which the unfaithful were cast for all eternity. Peter's sermon in Acts 2:25-28 quoted the Septuagint version of vss. 9-11 based on an interpretive story or midrash which gave them an unusual messianic interpretation.

 

 

HEBREWS 10:11-14, (15-18), 19-25. The author of this theological essay or series of sermons clinches his argument regarding the supremacy of Christ by appealing to his audience to hold on to their faith. He urges them to encourage one another to love and do good as they wait for Christ's return because Christ has made the perfect sacrifice for their salvation and has been exalted to the right hand of God.

 

However much the downgrading of Jewish sacrificial practices may appeal to the Christian mind, Jews did not necessarily feel that the sacrifices of their priests were ineffective. In fact, the Pharisees adopted such meticulous attitude toward ritual because they believed that the worship of the temple did have the intended effect of bringing them closer to God. Jesus enraged them not only because he included notorious sinners in Godís kingdom, but because he, for the most part, disregarded the appropriate sacrifices which would show their true repentance. E. P. Sanders points out that Jesus did not necessarily object to sacrifices, but regarded them as aspects of temporal piety in contrast to the more adequate, eternal relationship with God which he offered. The author of Hebrews regarded them as inadequate too.

 

Commenting on this passage, William Barclay stated that the writer reiterated how perfect the sacrifice of Christ really is by showing that as an act of total obedience it fully revealed the love of God.† All that God requires, even in the Hebrew Torah, is absolute obedience. This Jesus accomplished by his death on the cross. Having done so, God accepted this perfect offering and exalted Jesus in the resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God. Vs. 14 points out the universal effect of his sacrifice: it makes humans holy, i.e sanctify them. Paul would have used the legal term justification, making sinners right with God, for this effect. This writer did not separate justification and sanctification.

 

Vss. 19-25 carries the argument still further. Appropriation of the benefit of Christ's sacrifice, i.e bring about a perfect relationship with God, rests on a steadfast response of faith. Recalling the rituals on the Day of Atonement, the author likens the effect of Christ's sacrifice and the Christians' response to the renewal of the divine-human relationship the temple liturgy was intended to effect. The results of this atonement will show in the way Christians continue to love and do good deeds which reflect the divine love which has sanctified them. They were also meet together for worship and mutual encouragement, all the more so because they expected Christ's return very soon.

 


There may be recollections of Paul's thinking in these final exhortations to faith, hope and love. Paul might not have added "good works" as this writer did. Modern biblical scholar John Knox has said that this author was "a sacramentalist on a grand scale" in that he was steeped in liturgics of Israel and regarded the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ as "the supreme sacrament." (The Interpreter's Bible, XI, 712) Yet, as Knox adds, this author had very little to say about either the Christian sacraments or Christian liturgy. Nor was he a strong ethicist despite knowing that the essence of the Christian ethic is love. He used the word agapť, here, but this is one of the only two times he did. (See also 6:10.) His sole interest was in the extended analogy he drew between the high priestly role and sacrifice of Christ and rituals of Judaism.

 

 

MARK 13:1-8.†† Known as "the Little Apocalypse," this whole chapter remains the subject of much scholarly controversy. In spite of the long quotation attributed to Jesus, this chapter may well consist more of the teachings of the early church in which were imbedded actual words of Jesus about his return. That assumes, of course, that Jesus could foretell his resurrection and return as the NT tradition held. The incidents reported in this passage - one viewing the temple close up and one from a distance on the Mount of Olives - became the obvious settings for these instructions about what would happen and how believers should act when the time comes.

 

Mark may actually be referring to the temple's destruction which had occurred about the time he wrote his gospel. On the other hand, Herod the Great had spent so much money and taxed the people so heavily to reconstruct the temple, that it must have had a startling effect on these Galileans if they had just seen it for the first time. Even today, the site is magnificent although much altered by the total destruction of the temple in the 1st and 2nd centuries and the extensive construction of the area by the Moslems in 7th and 16th centuries. The only remaining element of the temple is the massive stone wall on the western side of the site, the Western Wall, where Jews and tourists alike gather daily by the thousands to pray.

 


While the return of Christ, which is the theme of this whole chapter as well as this passage, is still a part of our tradition, scholars debate how much of the detail was actually drawn from the Jewish eschatological expectations of the Messiah found largely in Daniel. Many† preachers make the grave error of treating the passage literally. One can hear or see such misinterpretations every weekend on religious radio stations and television channels. Their error consists in attempting to answer the same question that the four disciples asked in vs. 3: "When will this be ...?" Of course, no answer can be given. What follows is a composite discourse drawn from several sources including some sayings which may well be part of the authentic tradition of what Jesus said, plus a considerable amount of general apocalyptic material. There is an intriguing possibility that some of the details were drawn from an "oracle" said to have warned the Christians of Jerusalem in 70 CE to flee the city before its fall to the Romans. This tradition was reported by Eusebius, the early church historian (circa 260-340 CE).

 

The current reading includes no more than the introduction to the discourse. Vss. 5-8 are no more than a warning against deceit - very appropriate in the light of the consistent misinterpretation of the signs here defined: false messiahs, international conflicts, and natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes and famines. These have occurred throughout history. We have been witnesses to similar events in our own lifetime on a scale Mark could not have dreamed. All of which has given rise to the contemporary plethora of eschatological predictions.

 

One of our dilemmas in dealing with this and other eschatological passages in the NT is to discover the spiritual message contained therein without falling into the literalist mode. Perhaps Halford E. Luccock put it best in his exposition of the passage The Interpreter's Bible (VII, 856): "If all the attention and concern which in Christian history have been given to last things had only been given to first things, the power of Christianity in the world and its service to the world would have been enormously increased." Luccock concluded by quoting a collect from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer which set the matter in a proper perspective:

 

"Eternal God, who committest to us the swift and solemn trust of life; since we do not know what a day may bring forth, but only that the hour for serving thee is always present, may we awake to the instant claims of thy holy will, not waiting for tomorrow, but yielding today."

 

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