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Introduction To The Scripture For Ordinary 33 - Year B
I Samuel 1:4-20, 2:1-10; Psalm 16; Hebrew's 10:11-14,19-25; Mark 13:1-8

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 Thirty-Three (Proper 28) B


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. 


PSALM 16.  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
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, 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 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.

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

1 SAMUEL 1:4-20 AND 1 SAMUEL 2:1-10   Very few lectionary readings feature
a woman as the main character.  Hannah ranks among the OT heroines of
faith, which also include 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*, (Vol. II) 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 could bear the
shame of childlessness.  It is worth noting that this also recapitulates
the story of Abraham and Sarah.

Eli 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 the son she pleaded be granted her.  Eli promised that
her petition would be granted, and prophetic oracle which relieved her
sorrow.

The story is quite legitimate as the introductory tale of a great hero.
More problematic, however, is the second reading which some may wish to use
as the psalm for the day.  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 church saw the whole story and
especially this 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. 

The song sounds a disturbingly 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, 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 favours.  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.


PSALM 16   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; Matthew 26:27,
39). It recalls Ps. 23:5b "my cup overflows."  In vs.6, "the boundary lines
... in pleasant places" probably means the way the division of property by
lot yielded good land.  By no means is all the land of Israel fertile and
suitable for agriculture.  Some of it is very stony and will grow only 
rugged olive trees.

Vss.7-8 deals 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 great pit beneath the earth into which the unfaithful were
cast.  Peter's sermon in Acts 2:25-28 quoted the Septuagint version of vss.
9-11 based on a Midrash which gave them an unusual messianic
interpretation.


HEBREWS 10:11-14,(15-18),19-25   The author of this theological essay
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 place of sovereignty at 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 the traditional rituals 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 the kingdom, but by the way 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.  On the other hand,
Bruce Chilton has argued that Jesus objected violently to the lucrative
temple trade in money changing and approved sacrificial offerings which
prevented the ordinary Jew from offering his own sacrifice on the altar.

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 perfect obedience it fully revealed the love of God.  All that
God requires, even in the Hebrew Torah, is perfect 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
God's right hand.  Vs.14 points out the universal effect of his sacrifice:
it made humans holy.  Paul might 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 that 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.  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,* vol. 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 *agap‚* 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,
the passage may well consist more of the teachings of the early church in
which are imbedded actual words of Jesus about his return. 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 occurred
about the time he wrote. On the other hand, Herod 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
after the total destruction of the temple in the 1st and 2nd centuries and
the extensive reconstruction by the Moslems in 7th and 16th centuries. Of
course, the golden roofed Dome of the Rock, one of Islam's most sacred
mosques, now dominates the site where the temple once stood.

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.  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 ...?"  There can
be, of course, no answer 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 70CE to flee the city's before its fall to the
Romans in70 CE.  This tradition was reported by Eusebius, the early church
historian (c.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, earthquakes 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* (Vol. 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
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."

                         
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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