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Introduction To The Scripture For Ordinary 20 - Year B
I Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14; Psalm 111; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (jlss@sympatico.ca) 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 Twenty (Proper 15) B


1 KINGS 2:10-12; 3:3-14  When Solomon succeeded David as king of Israel, he
prayed for the wisdom he needed to rule over God's chosen people.  The
story reflects an attitude toward Solomon probably contained in a laudatory
biography with a few additional sentences from the point of view of the
compilers of the Book of Deuteronomy in the late 7th century BC. 
                         
             
PSALM 111                This classic psalm praises the works and wisdom of
God. Words such as precepts, wisdom and understanding represent the point
of view of the writers of books of wisdom such a Job, Proverbs and
Ecclesiastes. 

                                             
EPHESIANS 5:15-20        The Christian life, wrote the author of this
exhortation, is to be one of simplicity, sobriety, spirituality and song.
This kind of living will make the best possible thanksgiving for what God
has done for us in Jesus Christ.


JOHN 6:51-58             The controversy with the Jews continued as they
protested Jesus' claim that they eat his flesh and drink his blood to gain
eternal life.  John wrote this reflection in story form as if Jesus had
said this himself.  It actually reflects the convictions of the Christian
church at the end of the first century. 
      
By saying that Jesus' flesh and blood are true food and drink, John
referred to that frequent and by then formalized remembrance of. the death
and resurrection of Christ and his continuing presence in the church.  By
that time, of course, the practice of celebrating the sacrament of the Lord
Supper or Holy Communion had become normal whenever Christians gathered to
worship and hear the gospel preached.
     
This long discourse not only revealed how opposition to Jesus developed
during his ministry in Galilee, but also showed that he challenged their
traditional ways of thinking about how God is revealed.  At the end of the
1st century when John composed his gospel, the church had recognized both
its continuity and discontinuity with the Jewish tradition.

************

1 KINGS 2:10-12; 3:3-14  Two main schools of thought about the historical
accuracy of the Bible  have  been described as "minimalists" and
"maximalists."  Between these two extremes most scholars take a more modest
stance and remain open minded as to the exact details of historical events
lying behind the narratives.  The passage of three millennia and the
devastation wrought by so many destructive invasions and reconstructions
have left a pitifully small body of verifiable information outside of the
biblical record for archeologists and historians to decipher.

Old Testament scholars have given us a lot of data about the literary
origins of the so-called historical books of Samuel and Kings.  Originally
a single volume, it was not until the translation of the Greek OT, the
Septuagint, in the 3rd century BCE, that they came to be regarded as four
separate books of "Kingdoms."  Jerome's 5th century Latin translation
followed the same principle and called them "the four books of Kings." 
They constitute the history of Israel's monarchy from the false start with
Saul to its end in the Babylonian captivity in 587/6 BCE.  The compiler of
this history belonged to the Deuteronomic school which favoured the
centralization of worship in the temple in Jerusalem during Josiah's reign
c. 621BCE.  The sources for this compilation appear to have been a
collection of chronicles or annals, some from as early as the reigns of
David and Solomon.  The Deuteronomists' attitude found expression in a
formula defining the way each monarch remained true to Israel's traditional
covenant with Yahweh.

This passage deals with the beginning of Solomon's reign (c.962-922 BCE).
When Solomon succeeded David as king of Israel, he prayed for the wisdom he
needed to rule over God's chosen people.  The story reflects an attitude
toward Solomon probably contained in a laudatory biography with a few
additional sentences from the point of view of the Deuteronomic compilers
in the late 7th century BC.  The introductory section (2:10-12) represents
the formula used by the Deuteronomist throughout the rest of 1 & 2 Kings
whenever a succession to the throne occurred. 

Similarly, the hand of the compiler can be recognized also in Solomon's
prayer (3:3-14).  Since the temple had not yet been built, the story had to
be told from the point of view of worship in the decentralized "high
places," such as Shechem, Bethel and Megiddo.  Most probably, these were
sacred sites taken over from the Canaanites by the Yahwist tradition.  This
process required many centuries to complete, as the Elijah narratives state
unequivocally ( 1 Kings 17-19).  In this segment of the reading, the
Deuteronomist is setting the stage for the later part of his narrative
which served to mandate both Solomon's construction of the temple in the
middle of the 10th century BCE (1 Kings 5) and Josiah's centralizing reform
of the 7th century BCE (2 Kings 22).

Like so many supposedly verbatim accounts of what was said, the words of
the prayer came from the creative imagination of the compiler, not from any
court records.  Yahweh's promise to Solomon of discerning wisdom also came
from the same imaginative process which shaped the whole of the compilers
story.  The words recall Yahweh's directive to the Israelites following the
Deuteronomic version of the Decalogue (Deut. 5:28-33) and Joshua's
exhortation and renewal of the covenant prior to his death (Josh. 24:1-28).
In each instance, the message is clear: This is the way of the Lord; follow
it and you will prosper.


PSALM 111   This classic psalm praises the works and wisdom of God.  Words
such as precepts, wisdom and understanding represent the point of view of
the writers of books of wisdom such a Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.  In
particular, the chief identifier of this type of poetry is the phrase "the
fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (vs.10).  The acrostic form of
this psalm in Hebrew also exhibits another characteristic of wisdom psalms.
Several other psalms adopt this same form.  Scholars attribute them all the
a school of pious Jews concerned about the decline of their traditions in
the late Persian and early Greek periods (5th - 4th century BCE) long after
the return from exile in Babylon (539 BCE).

The content of the psalm uses this artificiality extremely well to
celebrate the goodness of Yahweh  to Israel.  It has a liturgical quality
which points to its creation for use in public worship.  Vs. 1 states as
much.  Despite the  limitations of the acrostic form, it still praises
Yahweh as the one who has so richly blessed Israel.  It briefly recalls the
"mighty works" of Israel's faith-history (vss. 2-4) recounted throughout
the Hebrew scriptures.  As we now know, many of those scriptures had
already reached manuscript form and undoubtedly were familiar to the
psalmist.  Recital of the psalm from memory would be greatly facilitated by
its acrostic form in much the same way that modern worshipers recite 
traditional creeds.

The providence of Yahweh for Israel in fulfillment of the covenant comes to
the fore in vss. 5-9.  Because Yahweh has been faithful and just throughout
history, "his precepts are trustworthy" (vs.7).  Indeed, they are eternal
and requiring a faithful response from everyone (vs.8).  Redemption rests
on this premise (vs. 9). 


EPHESIANS 5:15-20   The Christian life, wrote the author of this
exhortation, is to be one of simplicity, sobriety, spirituality and song.
This kind of living will make the best possible thanksgiving for what God
has done for us in Jesus Christ.  As vs. 15 suggests, the passage deals
with the overall economy of the Christian life, how one is to live in the
real world where clear, wisely chosen standards must govern all our
behaviour and relationships. 

Vs 16 in the KJV has a wonderful preaching text: "redeeming the time
because the days are evil."  The Greek for this text - *exagorazomenoi ton
kairon* - also has much to say to our age.  The verb *exagorazeiv* comes
from the marketplace, which Paul knew so well from his tent-making days. 
It meant to buy up, rescue or ransom something which one considered
valuable.  *Kairos* was the special word NT authors used for meaningful
time, opportune moments, God's time.  Another word, *chronos,*
distinguished it from measured time.  In The United Church of Canada there
was a youth group for older teenagers which bore the name of Kairos.  It
motivated young people to integrate their lives with basic Christian
convictions.  We need to think of all life, be it long or short, as
*kairos.*

The second Greek phrase is just as powerful: *hoti ai h‚merai pornai eison*
- "because the days are evil."  Our English word "pornography" is derived
from the adjective *pornos.*  And how that speaks to us these days when so
much in so many areas of life is measured by whatever aspect of human
sexuality we favour or disfavour.  Vss. 17-18 elaborate the particular evil
Paul had in mind, especially the foolishness of debauchery.  F.W,  Beare
added to his exegesis of the phrase: "Conditions (are) often unfavourable
for Christian witness.  The debasement of contemporary society is not an
excuse for relaxation on our part, or for acquiescence in lower standards;
it is a motive for added earnestness in maintaining the Christian ideal
unsullied." (*The Interpreter's Bible,* vol. 10, 713)

William Barclay has pointed out that these few verses contrast more
effectively a pagan gathering and a Christian gathering.  He says that the
Greek word for a drinking party was *symposium.*  We use the same word
transliterated into English in quite a different sense.  To the Greeks, the
word had all the well-known aspects so frequently advertised as "having a
good time" without any moralistic restraints.  Christians, on the other
hand, had the Spirit to fill them and needed no such artificial means of
being joyful.  The only sound basis for all our living is the unforgettable
gift of God to us in Jesus Christ.


JOHN 6:51-58   The controversy with the Jews continued as they protested
Jesus' claim that they eat his flesh and drink his blood to gain eternal
life.  John wrote this reflection in story form as if Jesus had said this
himself.  It actually reflects the convictions of the Christian church at
the end of the first century.  Nonetheless, John told the story as an
eyewitness, as virtual reality.  From his vivid narrative, one can see the
Jews arguing among themselves (vs. 52).  Jesus stood aside from the fray
letting them have their dispute.  Television news clips from Israel today
give us some idea of the intensity of their debate.

By saying that Jesus' flesh and blood are true food and drink, John
referred to that frequent and by then formalized remembrance of. the death
and resurrection of Christ and his continuing presence in the church.  The
practice of celebrating the sacrament of the Lord Supper long since had
become normal whenever Christians gathered to worship and hear the gospel
preached.  Eduard Schweizer points out that while not necessarily the
climax to every gathering for worship, the Lord's Supper was at once a
proclamation of Jesus' death for each person present, the event through
which the church presented itself as the body of Christ, and everyone's 
exultant anticipation of the table-fellowship of the *eschaton* with the
risen Lord. (*Church Order in the New Testament*. SCM Press, 1961.)
     
This long discourse not only revealed how opposition to Jesus developed
during his ministry in Galilee, but also showed that he challenged their
traditional ways of thinking about how God is revealed.  When John composed
his gospel, the church had recognized both its continuity and discontinuity
with the Jewish tradition.

Once again, the reader of this passage has to understand the difference
between a literal and a metaphorical interpretation of Jesus' words.
Throughout the centuries, and especially since the Reformation in the 16th
century, the church has struggled with this problem.  The various doctrines
about the sacrament - transubstantiation, consubstantiation, representation
and memorial - all find support for their particular viewpoint in this
passage. 

In his *Daily Bible Readings* on this passage, William Barclay proposes a
solution to the dilemma by explaining what lay behind John's reflection. 
In those times everyone, Jew or Gentile, would have been familiar with the
offering of burnt sacrifices on an altar.  This occurred in both Jewish and
in other contemporary traditions.  Only a token of the sacrificial animal
would be burned.  A portion was reserved for the priests and the remainder
would be shared by guests at a feast.  The host at the feast was believed
to be the god to whom the sacrifice has been offered, not the person making
the offering.  The god was believed to have entered into the flesh, so that
by eating it, the guests would be taking the god into himself or herself.
Thus when the feast was over, the guests left the table convinced that they
were now god-filled.

However, strange that may seem to us, John was telling his audience that
Jesus had given himself as a sacrifice for them in the same manner.  His
body broken and his blood shed on the cross were now symbolized in the
bread and wine of the Lord's Supper.  He was not only with them, he was in
them.  Because they had shared in this feast of his body and blood at which
he was the host, they would be with him, they in him and he in them
eternally.  However little we may understand it, the sacrament still may
have this meaning for us today.

                         
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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