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Introduction To The Scripture For Ordinary 18 - Proper 13 - Year C
Hosea 11:1-11; Psalm 107:1-9,43; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21
alt - Ecclesiastes 1:2,12-14, 2:18-23; Psalm 49:1-12


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 18 - Proper 13 - Year C


HOSEA 11:1-11            The image of God behind this dramatic appeal to
Israel is that of a loving, compassionate parent.  Indeed, here God is
described as the Mother of Israel. Just discipline is also the parent's
role toward her children; and God does this too.  Hosea was one of that
elite company of prophets who from the middle of the 8th century cried out
against the abandonment of Israel's special covenant relationship with the
only true God.  The imminent threat from both Egypt and Assyria as the
dominant powers of the period vying for supremacy is lifted up in vss.5-7
as the judgment of God against apostasy. 


PSALM 107:1-9,43         This selection forms the first two antiphons of a
litany of thanksgiving most likely created as a hymn for community worship
at a relatively late date, no more than four or five centuries BC.  Its 
antiphon chorus celebrates God's enduring love on which all Israel's
history has depended.


COLOSSIANS 3:1-11        Paul's letters follow a usual pattern of first
stating what Christians believe, then declaring the ethical implications of
those beliefs.  Here he states what it means to live out one's baptism
which symbolizes the death and resurrection of Christ.  He emphasizes not
only the way the Christians at Colossae were to use their bodies, but also
the tense relationships which may well have existed between Jews and 
Gentiles.


LUKE 12:13-21            According to Luke's Gospel, Jesus always seemed to
look for a teaching moment thrust at him by someone in his audience.  Here
a man having a quarrel with his brother asked him to be a judge between
them about a family inheritance.  Instead of doing what he was asked, Jesus
told the parable of the farmer so satisfied with his wealth that he forgot
how brief life can be.  The point of the story is that God sees life from a
totally different perspective.  Do we share God's point of view?


          NOTE: There are two alternative lessons from the OT and
          Psalms. The analysis of these passages follow those of
          the regular RCL lessons below. 


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

HOSEA 11:1-11   The image of God behind this dramatic appeal to Israel is
that of a  loving, compassionate parent, the "Our Father" of the Gospels
and the forgiving father of the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  Better still,
because child rearing has always been and still is for many predominately a
mother's role in most cultures, we should see here the Mother of Israel.
This is the Mary we meet in Luke 2:41-52. 

For Israel, history is not a recitation of events, but *heilegeschichte* -
a holy story.  The reference to Israel as a child being called out of Egypt
relates to the Exodus, the formative event in the nation's history and
religious tradition.  Extra-biblical evidence of the event has been
extremely difficult for modern historians and archeologists to discover.
Whether factual or not, the Hebrew scriptures were created around this
formative tradition. 

The image of the Exodus is expressed in the very first words of the passage
and again in vss. 3, 4 and 8.  In vss. 5-7, however, mention of Israel
being returned to Egypt sounds a note of judgment against the apostasy of
Yahweh's chosen people.  The Gospel of Matthew makes another use of vs.1 in
Matthew 2:15 in reference to the flight of the Holy Family to Egypt.  The
authors of the NT read the Hebrew scriptures from a literalist standpoint
and applied what they read to their convictions about Christ without regard
to the historical context.

Yahweh's use of the historical events of Israel's past to call this holy
people to obedience  also comes through very forcefully.  Vs. 2 recalls the
baal-worship and other forms of idolatry which so corrupted the worship of
the Israelites following their settlement in Canaan, especially during the
9th and 8th centuries BCE.  Hosea was one of that elite company of prophets
who from the middle of the 8th century cried out against this abandonment
of Israel's special covenant relationship with the only true God.  Vss.5-7
lift up the imminent threat from both Egypt and Assyria as the dominant
powers of the period vying for supremacy as the judgment of Yahweh against
this apostasy. 

The compassion of Yahweh exceeds the severity of this judgment, however, as
vss. 9-11 assert.  Because Yahweh is one who is merciful and loving as well
as just, the anger of Yahweh, like the frightening roar of the lion,(or an
angry father who only exercises authoritarian discipline?) brings Yahweh's
children to their senses and sends them home trembling like birds
(vss.10-11).  There could not be a more colourful prophetic image.
     
The promise of Israel's return from exile has caused some scholars to
hypothesize that this is a post-exilic addition to the original text of
Hosea.  The issue is ultimately unanswerable because no pre-exilic or other
early texts exist.  Furthermore, there is a vagueness and lack of
specificity about the details of the promise and no mention whatsoever
about the preeminence of Jerusalem and the temple which characterizes so
much post-exilic writing.  The passage really tells us more about Hosea's
concept of Yahweh's true nature as a God of mercy and enduring love than
about the events of those dangerous times.


PSALM 107:1-9,43   This lection forms the first two antiphons of a
liturgical psalm of thanksgiving, one of the true gems of the Psalter.  The
addition of the last verse of the psalm (vs.43) creates an exegetical
problem no one has conclusively resolved: Are vss.1-32 the original
thanskgiving hymn and vv.33-43 another psalm celebrating the providence of
Yahweh and, in the prophetic tradition, the care of Yahweh for the needy? 
     
Vss. 42-43 contain a wisdom saying comparable to those found in Proverbs
and Job (cf. Job 22:19), but only once elsewhere in the Psalter (49:10). 
If this is a valid analysis, one may reasonably conjecture that it was an
editor during the late post-exilic period who forged the unified psalm as
it now appears.  Wisdom and prophetic influences, especially those of
Second Isaiah and Job, can be identified in many other phrases of the text.
     
The antiphonal refrain repeated throughout the first part (vss.8, 15, 21,
31), each with its own extension (vss.9, 16, 22, 32), emphasize the
liturgical character of the psalm.  Note especially how four distinct
groups of worshippers and their particular reasons for thanksgiving have
been identified in vss. 4-7, 10-14, 17-20 and 23-30.  One wonders if these
are descriptions of the many different groups of the Diaspora scattered
abroad in various conditions after the historical disaster of the fall of
Samaria (722 BCE) or of Jerusalem (586 BCE).  If so, then the psalm could
have been composed for one or other of the great festivals when the
Diaspora were required to return to the temple. 

It has been speculated that vss. 22 and 32 give evidence of its use with
the offering of the thanksgiving  sacrifices.  They still ring true in the
praises of modern congregational worship for the universal and steadfast
loving kindness of our God.
          

COLOSSIANS 3:1-11   Where does one begin to comment about this highly
theological and yet very practical ethical passage?  The theology comes in
vss. 1-4; the ethics in vss. 5-11.  As might be expected, the latter is
based on the former.  The resurrection of Christ which we now share,
symbolically through baptism and psychologically through faith, is the
source of the power to live the Christian life.  This life is now available
to all who believe as is the promise to share the eternal glory of Christ
beyond death.  For many of the people to whom Paul wrote this letter, the
implications of this counsel meant radical change in their customary
behaviour.  It may still do so for us.

Paul envisions the risen and ascended Christ "seated at the right hand of
God," and therefore exercising all divine power.  The image of deity as an
all-powerful oriental potentate on a magnificent throne is found in most
ancient religious traditions as well as in children's fairy tales.  One is
reminded of the immense figure of the Risen Christ towering over the altar
in the magnificent Coventry Cathedral rebuilt of etched and coloured glass
and stainless steel beside the ruins of the old cathedral destroyed in the
World War II blitz.  There stands at Christ's feet a life-size figure a
man, his head reaching no higher than Christ's ankles.  Effortlessly, one's
eyes are lifted upward and upward to the full height of Christ whose head
reaches almost to the vaulted roof.  The memory of a visit to Coventry
Cathedral or looking again at a photograph of it brings vss. 2-4 fully
alive.

So what? When it was built in the 1950s the cathedral stood in the midst of
an urban community serving as the parish church for a neighbourhood that
was predominately Christian.  Today the cathedral's community includes
people of all races and faith traditions, most of whom are non-Christian.
It is a microcosm of the world as it is now.  How then is the church to
serve such a world?  That too was Paul's problem in the Gentile cities like
Colossae, one of the few he did not mention as having visited in person.
     
Paul found the impetus for his ethical challenge in vss. 5-8 in similar
conditions.  He focussed on the negative aspects of this "earthly" life. 
It would appear that the Colossians had found a great many sexual
diversions to undercut their new life in Christ.  But were they so
different from our own situation?  Just pick up today's newspaper or watch
the latest television news or sitcoms for a contemporary view of what he
means.  The contrast with what the risen Christ empowers us to be is
startling, as startling as stripping oneself of all one's old clothes and
donning new ones "according to the image of its creator" (vss.9-10)  In
fact, this is exactly what happened when new converts were baptized.  They
were stripped naked and reclothed in new white garments to symbolize their
rebirth to a totally new life. 

In vs. 11 Paul clarifies just how utterly new this life is to be.  All the
old barriers that divide people from one another are swept away and we all
become one in Christ.  Scholars have pointed out the similarity of this
passage with Galatians 3:28-29.  Others have noted the many parallels with
the Letter to the Ephesians, particularly Paul's conception of the unity of
believers in the Christian fellowship as the Body of Christ.  Such is the
missioning reality of the great Coventry Cathedral in its English urban
setting. (See their web site at www.coventrycathedral.org.uk/).  This
mission also calls the church universal in a world longing to see the
living Christ stand among us. 

The latest published edition of the *World Christian Encyclopedia*,
contains the following data: There are more than 34,000 separate Christian
groups in the world, over half of them independent churches not interested
in linking with any major denomination.

As of 2000, Christians made up 33% of the world's population with close to
2 billion followers.  Other main religious groupings were as follows in
order of numerical adherents: Moslems: 19.6 % - 1 billion;  Hindus: 13.4% -
800 million;  Buddhists: 5.9% - 360 million; Sikhs: 0.4% - 23 million; 
Jews : 0.2% - 14 million.

Sadly, the data appears to reveal a decidedly Christian bias.  Does not the
behaviour of so many in our supposedly "Christian" society compare more
closely to the death-dealing description of Colossae's new converts in vs.
5?


LUKE 12:13-21   Many a farmer or business entrepreneur has been troubled by
this parable.  Jesus appears to say that making a good living and
increasing one's wealth is totally wrong.  Not so.  That isn't the issue
Jesus is dealing with in this family quarrel.  What is wrong lies in the
greed, envy and lack of sharing which Jesus challenged as a result of
someone's demand for the division of a family inheritance.  It does sound
very familiar, doesn't it?  That is an issue whether one thinks of it on a
purely personal scale or on the wide spectrum of international affairs
where the gap between the rich and poor nations is growing greater year by
year.
     
A few years ago, the whole world was stunned by the failure of what had
been called  the Asian economic miracle.  Bank failures and a widespread
recession had decisively countered the widely hailed myth as the ultimate
success of capitalism. Yet this debacle did not halt the much hyped growth
of the global economy or caused another global depression of the depths of
the 1930s.  Still today, in 2004, Japan and several others of the
wealthiest nations of Asia are only beginning to recover. 

A similar failure in the supposedly invulnerable "dot.com" and related
electronic equipment industries has caused considerable economic losses in
Europe and North America.  Every decline in the stock market indices
increases the anxieties of those who have invested their savings in widely
held mutual funds.  An article in the financial section of the newspaper
tells us that major banks and investment houses with all their expertise
have suffered as significantly as the modest investor. 

That may not bring much comfort to the baby boom generation of the 1950s
and 60s looking forward to a comfortable retirement.  It is disturbing to
see their investment portfolios dwindle by 20% or more in a few months. As
with so much in the NT, here is the modern version of Jesus' parable writ
large and broadcast so that the whole world may see it happening day by
day. "Guard against greed in all its forms....  That's the way it is with
those who save up for themselves, but aren't rich where God is concerned."
(Luke 12:15,21  *The Complete Gospels*, Edited by Robert J. Miller
Poleridge Press, 1991.)

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

ECCLESIASTES 1:2,12-14, 2:18-23   Qoheleth, the teacher of Wisdom, known
more by the Latin name of the book, Ecclesiastes, was the classical cynic
of scripture.  These selections from the beginning of his collection of
wise sayings express that characterization very well.  Purporting to be
Solomon, the son of David, he used this pseudonym to conceal his identity
as a 4th century observer of Israel's moral and spiritual decline during
the later Persian period. 

According to the late Prof. R.B.Y. Scott, he was not an atheist, but he did
take a position "diametrically opposed to the doctrine that Yahweh (is) a
personal God, had chosen Israel to be a people peculiar to himself and had
made known to her his will." (*The Way of Wisdom.* Macmillan 1971. p. 170)
At the same time, Koheleth was agnostic and fatalistic, which fit well with
his affirmation of the existence and power of Yahweh.  This found
expression in his oft repeated statement that "all is vanity and chasing
after wind."  In this he seemed almost ahead of his time in the direction
that the Prophet Mohammed would take almost a millennium later.

Qoheleth came to the conclusion that life did not have much meaning.  As he
said in 2:18-21, he despaired of his labours yielding anything from which
he might benefit.  Only others gained from what he had wrought.  All one's
efforts yield only pain and vexation.  As a result, he eschewed all but
pleasure and felt that this too was the will of God (vss. 24-25 not in this
reading).  He must have suffered from a prolonged depression or his times
must have been exceedingly oppressive.  


PSALM 49:1-12   In a mood not dissimilar from that of Qoheleth, this
psalmist wrote in a style that can only be classified as poems of wisdom.
Several other psalms also adopted a like position. (See Pss. 1; 37; 73; 91;
112; 128) They sought to instruct and exhort their audience to be faithful
in trying times.  Death and Sheol seem perilously close to this particular
poet.

In the first couplets, the psalmist address a wide audience.  His real
target, however, may have been the wealthy who live pompously and
extravagantly in sumptuous homes.  He appears to be reading or uttering an
oracle which he describes as "a proverb." (Vs. 4)  Some of his
contemporaries obviously benefited greatly from adopted the ways their
Persian overlords.  Was it their ill gotten gain that so distressed this
psalmist.  He wanted people to take life as it came, especially with regard
to riches.

Echoing the strong social justice of the prophets, he wanted nothing of the
self-centred life. He shared Qoheleth's view that the pursuit of wealth
held nothing but vanity. Only others would reap its benefits (vs. 9).
Wisdom itself held no attraction because it too would perish like all
flesh. 

Some scholars see this psalm as a defence of divine providence in the face
of much evil.  That does not appear to be more than superficial.  In fact
the word "God" only occurs twice in the whole psalm.  More fatalism than
faith stands out in this excerpt.  Perhaps too, this is the meaning of the
unusual reference in vs. 15 to redemption from Sheol, although the reading
does not include this.  Was this in the same vein as Job's claim in Job
19:25 "I know that my redeemer lives"?  

                         
copyright  - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006, 2004
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.



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