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Introduction To The Scripture For The Third Sunday In Lent - Year B
Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (jlss@sympatico.ca) of the United Church of Canada. John normally structures 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	
The Third Sunday In Lent - Year B


EXODUS 20:1-17                         This is the best known of three 
different versions of the Ten Commandments.  Comparing this passage with 
Exodus 34:10-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21 leaves those who hold to a 
literalist view of scripture in more than a slight quandary.  How could 
God dictate three versions of the same law code, and supposedly to the 
same person? A more adequate interpretation recognizes the obvious 
discrepancies between various source texts, each having been written at 
different times in different contexts.  Jesus himself acknowledged the 
importance of the Law of Moses and then went on to give a summary of that 
law which has universal application:  Love God with heart, mind, soul and 
strength; and love one's neighbor as oneself.  He drew this from two 
separate texts in the Hebrew Scriptures.


PSALM 19                               This psalm rejoices in the glory of 
creation and in the sanctity of God's moral law.   The closing verse is 
often used as a prayer offered before a sermon.


1 CORINTHIANS 1:18-25                  This is the heart of Paul's 
message, not only to the Corinthians, but to every other congregation to 
which he preached or wrote.  All other arguments aside, he proclaimed 
faith in Jesus Christ crucified and risen as God's sole means of redeeming 
all creation.


JOHN 2:13-22                           Unlike the other Gospel writers, 
John places this crucial incident in Jesus' ministry - the cleansing of 
the temple - at the beginning of the ministry, not the end.  This is in 
keeping with John's view that Jesus' coming into the world created the 
moment when all must decide between following the light which Jesus 
represents or the darkness which separates humanity from God.  Note how 
John says that even the disciples did not understand what Jesus meant in 
referring to his resurrection – the one great act of God's absolute 
sovereignty - as his authority for perpetrating this apparently 
blasphemous deed.


A MORE COMPLETE ANALYSIS:

EXODUS 20:1-17   This is the best known of three different versions of the 
Ten Commandments.  Comparing this passage with Exodus 34:10-17 and 
Deuteronomy 5:6-21 leaves those who hold to a literalist view of scripture 
in more than a slight quandary.  How could God dictate three versions of 
the same law code, and supposedly to the same person?

Scholars have struggled to discover whether or not these commandments were 
exclusive to the Israelite tradition or adapted from other codes existent 
in the ancient Middle East.  A article in the Biblical Archeology Review 
states that no scholar claims to have discovered identifiable 
archeological or historical evidence of an Israelite presence in Egypt or 
of an Exodus at the end of the Late Bronze Age (circa 1500-1200 B.C.E.) 
Rather, Moses is a mythical figure of great theological significance in 
the Hebrew Scriptures.  The most radical interpretation of the Moses saga 
defines it as a theological construct of the post-exilic Persian period 
(circa 500 B.C.E.) when the Jerusalem priesthood attempted to create an 
identity for the Jewish people.  According to Thomas Thompson, of the 
University of Copenhagen, Denmark, we misread these scriptures if we read 
them historically.

Such radical scholarship in no way diminishes either Moses or the 
Decalogue.  In fact, it may actually enhance them from the point of view 
of biblical theology as distinct from scientific archeological and 
historical research.  Nor does this disregard the obvious biblical 
evidence of three separate versions of the Ten Commandments attributed to 
Moses.  A more adequate interpretation recognizes the obvious 
discrepancies between various texts, each having been written in different 
ages in different contexts.  

The commandments have always been a great influence for Jewish and for 
Christian communities.  Moses has always been identified as the great 
lawgiver.  It is more likely, however, that the laws were developed over 
many centuries in different historical contexts and reflected religious 
traditions and practices of their times.  It is not improbable that 
influences from other Middle Eastern cultures of the period had some 
effect on their formation.

As they now stand and viewed from the 21st century, the commandments 
consist of four groups.  The first three deal with the worship of Yahweh 
alone as an invisible, holy God who makes absolute claims on the 
Israelites as their Saviour.  The next two, on the Sabbath and the 
honoring of parents, have economic and family reference.  Rest is 
necessary for productive labor and the family is the fundamental unit of 
human society.  The next three focus on the life of the family or 
individual in the larger community.  They deal with such basic realities 
of human society as the sanctity of life, of marriage and sexuality, and 
the respect for property as an extension of persons.  The last two are of 
a social nature speaking of truth in the law courts and honoring the 
rights of others.  

Taken together and in their negative from, they were not intended to be 
legalistic in character.  Rather, they recognized those forces that could 
have ruined community life.  Jesus acknowledged the importance of the Law 
of Moses as did the apostle Paul.  Jesus then went beyond them to give a 
summary of that law which Paul also espoused as having universal 
application:  Love God with heart, mind, soul and strength; and love one's 
neighbor as oneself.  While the Roman legal system shaped the laws of 
western civilization during the past two millennia, the spirit of the law 
and much of its content derives from the Ten Commandments.


PSALM 19   This psalm rejoices in the glory of creation and in the 
sanctity of God's moral law.  Its two very distinctive parts point to it 
originally having been two psalms brought together to express the two 
chief means of divine revelation - in creation and in the law of Moses.

While the first part (vss. 1-6) celebrates nature as God's handiwork, it 
also reflects an attitude toward the natural world common to all primitive 
religious traditions.  The majesty of brilliantly sunny day and star-
studded sky at night, when seen in a natural setting, still awakens a deep 
sense of awe in the most urbanized of us.  In the Middle East, in ancient 
times as now, the sun provides the most notable feature, especially to a 
visitor from northern climes in winter - "the greatest of the members of 
the heavenly choir," one expositor trumpeted.  The psalmist does not 
describe the sun as a deity in the Egyptian or Babylonian manner, but 
speaks of it as a heroic runner similar to an Egyptian liturgy to the sun 
which likened it to a charioteer (vss. 4c-6).  The 6th century BCE 
Pythagorean doctrine of the harmony of the spheres, of which the psalmist 
may well have heard, may also have been in his mind.  Certain Hebrew words 
of the text indicate that this part of the poem dates from the post-exilic 
period.

The second part of the psalm also reflects the Persian period (6th-4th 
centuries BCE) when the Mosaic Law dominated every aspect of life in 
Israel.  The numerous synonyms for the law, five in all, also recall the 
Wisdom literature such as Psalm 119 and Proverbs.  So too do the phrases 
"making wise the simple" (vs. 7) and "the fear of the Lord" (vs. 9).  The 
poem places great emphasis on separation of the faithful Israelite from 
his pagan neighbors by maintaining rigid adherence to the law and its 
provision for ritual purity and personal innocence.  He prays to be 
guarded from even the most inadvertent sin (vs. 13) that might corrupt 
him.  The poet is imbued with the spirit if not the actual influence of 
the 5th century "prophet" Ezra.

Meditating on such things played a large part in the religious tradition 
of Israel in late pre-Christian times.  The Pharisees of New Testament, 
and in particular Saul of Tarsus, represented prime expressions of this 
legalist tradition.  The closing verse is often used as a prayer offered 
before a sermon, but it has more to do with making a spiritual gift 
acceptable to God equal to a sacrifice on the altar.


1 CORINTHIANS 1:18-25   This passage contains the heart of Paul's message, 
not only to the Corinthians, but to every other congregation to which he 
preached or wrote.  All other arguments aside, he proclaimed faith in 
Jesus Christ crucified and risen as God's sole means of redeeming all of 
creation.  

The issue Paul confronted in Corinth was a division between Jews and 
Gentiles, and how each perceived the gospel several apostles had 
proclaimed there.  Each party heard the gospel from the perspective of 
their own cultural and religious background.  We all still do so.  The 
problem for the Corinthians was - and for us still is - to move beyond 
cultural inhibitions that blind us to the new truth the gospel proclaims.  
Being saved by the power of God in Christ remains as mysterious to us as 
it did to the conflicted Corinthians.  The Jews had the covenant and the 
Torah that assured them of God's favor.  Greeks had their philosophies.  
For them as for us, salvation was a totally unreal and unnecessary 
experience - foolishness, as Paul so bluntly put it.

In his *Daily Study Bible: The Letters to the Corinthians* on this 
passage, William Barclay identified the basic elements of the four great 
sermons of Acts 2:14-39; 3:12-26; 4:8-12; 10:36-43.  He then showed why 
this gospel so alienated both Jews and Greeks.  A Suffering Servant 
envisaged by Second Isaiah (Isa.  52:13-53:12) was one thing; a crucified 
messiah was quite another.  It was just not in Jewish religious tradition.  
An incarnate deity who died on a cross and rose form the dead was utter
nonsense to Greeks.  Yet this is the central theme of Paul's Christology.  
This was the very purpose for which God came into the world as one of us, 
Jesus of Nazareth.  To believing Jews he was the Messiah; to believing 
Gentiles, divine Wisdom.  To Paul, he was neither and yet he was both (vs. 
24).  He was neither in that he did not fulfill the Jewish expectation of 
a political messiah to free them from oppression, nor the Greek 
expectation of a teacher to give them worldly wisdom as had their great 
philosophers.  Yet he was both in that for Jews Christ's death and 
resurrection fulfilled the ancient prophecies about the Suffering Servant 
of God in a new way.  By his self-sacrifice in love, his death and 
resurrection became the only adequate antidote to human sinfulness that 
separates us from God.

For Gentiles, Jesus Christ was God's wisdom in that he was not just an 
idea about which one could reason and debate, but God in the flesh and 
blood of a human being just like them.  He lived and died in the real 
world, then was raised from the dead to be with us always, something 
totally different from anything any Greek philosopher had ever said or 
done.

For a century and more, some scholars have claimed that Paul was the real 
author of apostolic Christology and architect of the Church.  His genius 
transformed the simple message of Jesus into the gospel the apostles 
proclaimed and a Jewish sectarian community into the apostolic Christian 
Church.  Yet Paul's preaching of Christ crucified differed little from 
that of Acts.  His conversion experience changed his life and his theology 
from that of an ardent Pharisee to that of a devoted Christian apostle.  
He accepted the grace of being made "a new creation." As John W. Drane, of 
the University of Stirling, Scotland, said in his article on Paul in *The 
Oxford Companion to the Bible* (1993): "He was certain that Christians 
were already a part of God's new order, and the church was to be an 
outpost of the kingdom in which God's will became a reality in the lives 
of ordinary people.  Through the work of the Holy Spirit, individuals, 
society and the whole structure of human relationships could
be radically transformed, so that in the context of a physically renewed 
world system, God's people should grow 'to the full measure of the stature 
of Christ.'"


JOHN 2:13-22   Unlike the other Gospel writers, John places this crucial 
incident of Jesus cleansing of the temple at the beginning of the 
ministry, not the end.  This is in keeping with John's view that Jesus' 
coming into the world created the moment when all must decide between 
following the light which Jesus represents or the darkness which separates 
humanity from God.

Several speculative questions about the temple precincts come to the 
surface in this passage.  Where were the money-changers in relation to the 
temple itself? 

A few years ago, I sat with a group of tourists on the remnants of the 
steps leading up to the "Beautiful" or "Golden" Gate by which pilgrims 
passed through the east wall of the city into temple precincts.  An 
archeologist told us that a hoard of coins from many parts of the Roman 
Empire had been found at the foot of these steps.  She implied that this 
was the location of the money-changers tables.  Pilgrims could pay their 
temple tax or purchase sacrificial animals only in shekels so they had to 
exchange whatever currency they carried into the sacred coinage as they 
entered the temple gate.  There were several other gates to the temple 
mount where money-changers may have been located also.

Would there have been space for a great gathering of pilgrims as well as 
all the sacrificial animals and caged birds? It was possible, but it seems 
improbable.  Two 19th century investigators, Charles Warren and Claude 
Conder, reported the existence of thirty-seven cisterns on the temple 
mount to supply vast quantities of water for ritual ablutions and the 
flushing of blood from the altar.  In his book, *The Mind of Jesus* 
(Harper, 1960) William Barclay quoted a report by Josephus that 256,500 
sheep were slaughtered during one Passover.  The 2nd century C.E.  
rabbinical Mishnah stated that area of the temple mount to be 500 by 500 
cubits after Herod the Great extended it during his reconstruction, but it 
was not exactly square.  The royal cubit used in the temple equaled 20.9 
inches.  Thus the area measured about 870 x 870 feet.  The temple and 
altar of sacrifice were said to have occupied a space of 187 by 135 cubits 
(320 x 232 feet) and were not located in the exact centre.  That is about 
equivalent to a modern football field plus its sidelines.  Add the space 
for spectator stands and some exterior parking and one gets an image of 
the size of the temple precincts.  No wonder it dominated the whole 
cityscape from whatever direction pilgrims approached it.  One does 
wonder, however, if the author of John's Gospel was familiar with the 
actual site.
     
Note John's comment that even the disciples did not understand what Jesus 
meant in referring to his resurrection (vss. 21-22).  That was an act of 
God's absolute sovereignty.  From John's post-resurrection point of view, 
this apparently blasphemous deed substantiated Jesus' authority as the 
Messiah, but no one really understood this.

Confrontation with the religious authorities forms the main conflict of 
John's whole narrative.  Their demand for a sign (vs. 18) referred to the 
expectation that every prophet from Moses onward would give spectacular 
signs to authenticate his mission.  While John believed that Jesus was the 
Messiah, the demand for a sign implied that the questioners did not.  Most 
likely they belonged to the Sadducees party or served as guards of the 
temple under orders form the high priest.  They only wanted to know what 
authority he had for disrupting the lucrative temple economy.  The 
disciples remained uncertain about the incident until after the 
resurrection (vs. 17).  As proof of Jesus' authority, John quoted from 
Psalm 69:9, which the early church regarded as a messianic psalm.  From 
vs. 22, we can conclude that such scripture references played a large part 
in the shaping of the messianic tradition of the early church.  For the 
author of John's Gospel, this incident forcefully witnessed to that 
tradition.

The Jewish authorities' claim that the construction of the temple lasted 
forty-six years is now thought to have been inaccurate.  Herod the Great 
began its reconstruction in 20 or 19 B.C.E.  He did not finish the task 
before his death in 4 B.C.E.  The project was not finally completed until 
64 C.E., just six years before it destruction by the Romans.  Scholars 
presume this reference to be an early Christian tradition preserved by 
John as a means of emphasizing the place of the temple throughout his 
narrative.

                         
copyright  - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.



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