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Introduction To The Scripture For Ordinary 27 - Proper 22 - Year C
Lamentations 1:1-6; Psalm 137; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10
alt - Habakkuk 1:1-4,2:1-4; Psalm 37

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman ( 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'.

Ordinary 27 - Proper 22 - Year C

LAMENTATIONS 1:1-6       This whole book is a collection of mournful poems
grieving over the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple.  The victorious
Babylonians had driven away into exile most of the civic and religious
leadership of Israel.  With ethnic cleansing a political reality still, it
seems a fitting time to read all five chapters to recognize how utterly
despairing refugees must feel.  But don(t miss the faint hope for God(s
justice and mercy expressed in 3:19-33.

PSALM 137                Here are the words of the exiles themselves. 
Their despair reaches the depths of advocating the murder of   Babylonian
children in a terrifying outburst of vengeance.

2 TIMOTHY 1:1-14         This letter reflects a period of early church
history when at least three generations were included in its membership. 
This could have been as late as 110-120 AD.  The writer's counsel to his
disciple is to remain faithful to those spiritual values his mother and
grandmother believed in.  Not being ashamed of one's faith in the face of
persistent opposition comes from holding to the standard of sound teaching
with the help of the Holy Spirit.

LUKE 17:5-10             In response to his disciples' request that he
increase their faith, Jesus paints two quite different pictures from
everyday life in ancient Palestine.  Both carry striking spiritual truth,
but neither is to be taken literally.  Their underlying meaning gives some
frank but essential lessons to be learned by anyone who would a disciple of
Jesus.  The transplanted mulberry tree emphasizes that implicit trust in
God enables us to accomplish seemingly impossible things.  The parable of
the farmer and his servant points out that those who carry out God's
commands have no reward other than knowing that they have done what was
expected of them.

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

HABAKKUK 1:1-4,2:1-4     (Alternate)  We have here a lament by a prophet of
the final period prior to the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 586
BCE.  Unlike earlier prophets, Habakkuk addresses himself directly to God,
not to the people.  In the second passage, he sets himself up on a
watchtower on the city's ramparts to hear God answer to wait for the
impending disaster.

PSALM 37:1-9             (Alternate)  This exceptional psalm encourages the
faithful to put their trust entirely in God and, while  waiting patiently
for God's purpose be accomplished, keep their commitment to God's way.


LAMENTATIONS 1:1-6   The Book of Lamentations elicits as much interest for
its form and its authorship as for its content.  Put simply, this
collection of five poems laments the destruction of Jerusalem in 587-586
BCE and the exile of its religious and political leaders.  Variations of
voice in the first two poems alternate between the view of an observer and
that of the city personified.  The third poem explores the causes of the
city's downfall and then moves on to hope for restoration.  The tragic
horrors of the siege and fall of the city fill up most of the fourth poem,
while a liturgical conclusion in the fifth ends with an appeal for divine

Possibly more significant is the way in which these poems ascribe the
terrors of the sacking of Jerusalem and the exile directly to Yahweh. 
Although the agent of divine wrath is the besieging army of Babylon, the
instigator in this tragedy is Yahweh.  This stark truth is reiterated again
and again throughout the five poems: 1:8-9, 14; 2:1, 8, 17; 4:11, 16, 20.  

These events created a critical theological dilemma which the poet voices
in the plaintive question of 3:38.  Can Yahweh be blamed for both good and
evil?  The answer is ambiguous.  The blame lies with the misdeeds of the
people.  This comes to the fore immediately in 1:5 and again in 3:34-36;
4:13 and 5:7.  The implication is that the historical events of the
destruction of Jerusalem and the exile were Yahweh's manifestly just
judgment against Judah for its apostasy.  The closing lines of the last
poem (5:19-22) plead for Yahweh to restore the sinful nation to Yahweh's
favor once again.
Two traditions exist regarding the authorship of Lamentations.  One
ascribes it to Jeremiah, probably from a preface in the Greek Septuagint of
the Hebrew Bible which reads: "Jeremiah sat weeping and composed this
lament over Jerusalem and said: ...." The only possible warrant for this
obvious addition is found in 2 Chronicles 35:25 where Jeremiah is reported
to have composed laments for King Josiah.  
The other tradition finds its support in the placement of the book among
the Writings, the third section of Hebrew canon, with no connection with
the prophet.  Considerable internal testimony of the poems themselves also
point to significant differences from Jeremiah's attitude about the fall of
Jerusalem.  For instance, 1:10 speaks of God forbidding Gentiles to enter
into the temple whereas Jeremiah predicted that this would happen (Jer.
7:14).  Similarly, Jeremiah stood firm against foreign alliances (Jer.
2:18; 37:5-10), but Lamentations expressed mournful frustration that these
alliances had failed (4:17).
Except for the fifth poem, all of Lamentations follows the same poetic
form, that of an acrostic.  Each new stanza begins with a different letter
of the Hebrew alphabet.  Among modern English versions, only the  Jerusalem
Bible shows this pattern clearly.  The fifth poem also has twenty-two
stanzas and so can be said to follow the same stylistic form.  Several of
the Psalms also adopted this form for which no definite meaning has ever
been discovered.  In the original Hebrew scroll, however, the lines and
stanzas were not written as we now print them in English, but like prose,
the words following across the columns of the scroll from right to left
without any breaks or punctuation whatsoever.  Consequently, acrostics made
it relatively easy to distinguish where the lines began and ended.  They
also provided a helpful mnemonic device for easier memorization.

With international terrorism and ethnic cleansing still a political
reality, it seems a fitting time to read all five chapters to recognize how
utterly despairing refugees must feel.  But don't miss the faint hope for
God's justice and mercy expressed in 3:19-33.  It may provide a more
relevant homiletic text in the light of the terrorist attack on New York
and Washington, followed by the tragically mistaken war in Iraq.  

PSALM 137   If one wishes to know how the Israelite felt about their
misfortune following the sack of Jerusalem in 586 BCE, this psalm presents
the best evidence.  A serious question underlies what one commentary called
the charming, descriptive images in this lament.  Relentlessly, the psalm
asks: "Why has God let this happen to us, God's chosen people?" 

The poem appears to have originated in Jerusalem during the time of the
exile when the greater part of Israel's leadership had been forcibly
transported to Babylon a thousand miles away.  The poet's memories of life
in exile were still fresh so perhaps he had escaped and made his way home,
or had been sent on an imperial errand.  The despair of the exiles and
jeering of their captors  urging them to sing some of the songs of Zion
ring through vss.1-3.  The plaintive lament of vss.4-6 gives voice to the
horror of such blasphemy.  The two segments give the sense of an antiphonal
versical and response, a crescendo of antipathy rising as the utterance
Vs. 7 includes a curse against Edom.  That desert kingdom stretched across
the southern reaches of the Negeb as far as the Gulf of Elath and eastward
into what is now Jordan.  The Israelites had passed through Edom during the
Exodus on their way from Egypt to Canaan.  The Edomites had frequently
taken advantage of Israel's weakness during the periods of the Assyrian and
Babylonian invasions.  It would appear that they had done so at the time of
the exile.  Throughout Israel's faith-history, they were treated as
intractably hostile.  In later times, the Maccabeans conquered Edom and
forced the whole population to accept Jewish religious traditions.  Then in
an ironic act of power politics, they named Antipater, great-grandfather of
Herod the Great, as governor of Edom. 
A vengeful curse ends the psalm.  Its vehemence comes through vividly in
the closing words of vs. 9.  The purpose of this proposed act of vengeance
was to wipe out the Babylonians forever.  A similar effort was made by the
Christian Serbs to destroy by raping Moslem women and massacring Moslem men
in Bosnia in the mid 1990s.

2 TIMOTHY 1:1-14   As in most of his letters, Paul (or more probably, the
person of a later generation writing in the apostle's name) never fails to
put Jesus and the gift of the Spirit at the heart of his message.  Here,
however, it is "Christ Jesus" whose name appears most no less than six
times in this passage and three in the introductory salutation alone
(vss.1-2).  The reverse order of names appears only once in the whole
letter (2:8) as opposed to twelve references to "Christ Jesus." It would
seem that the author chose this particular designation to emphasize Jesus'
messiahship above all else, possibly in contrast to the heresy he was
attempting to counter.
"Timothy" was a third generation Christian who had received his faith
tradition from his mother and grandmother.  According to Acts 16:1-3, these
women were Jewish, but Timothy had a Gentile father.  Apparently Timothy
had not been circumcised.  Perhaps the family was so dysfunctional that
Eunice felt powerless to implement the requirements of the covenant law. 
On the other hand, Paul's circumcising of this young man to appease the
Jews of Galatia was a strange initiative for  the apostle who in Jerusalem
had been so eloquent in his defense of the mission to the Gentiles.  So
radically does the report in Acts differ from the Letter to the Galatians
that one has to wonder if in this instance "Timothy" is  no more than a
symbol of all third generation of Christians.   

This passage emphasizes the apostle's encouragement of " Timothy" in his
ministry,  throwing a significant sidelight on misgivings about the younger
companion's competence which the Letter to the Corinthians elucidates (1
Cor. 4:17; 16:10-11).  Was the real Timothy a somewhat fragile disciple
with a low self-image?  Did the bishop who authored the Pastoral Letters
using Paul's name know of this facet of the apostle's relationship with his
disciple and used it as the vehicle for encouraging his fellow bishops
confronting a serious heretical situation?  

Fear and a reticence to witness boldly appear to have a significant place
in the background of this passage.  To openly acknowledge one's faith in
our day can be a cause for derision in some situations and grave danger in
others.  Recent reports from Pakistan have revealed that in that
predominately Moslem country now embroiled in an international crisis,
Christians once more live in fear.  In Sudan, as similar antipathy between
the Arab and Moslem north and the African Christian south brought on a
civil war that lasted through the 1990s and still smoulders despite a
negotiated peace settlement.

To fundamentalist Moslems the great blasphemy of Western civilization is
its secular nature.  As an article, "Faith and the Secular State," by
Lammen  Sanneh in the NY Times on September 24, 2001 stated: "Oddly enough,
what most inflames anti-American passion among fundamentalist Muslims may
be the American government's lack of religious zeal.  By separating church
and state, the West - and America in particular - has effectively
privatized belief, making religion a matter of individual faith.  This is
an affront to the certainty of fundamentalist Muslims, who are confident
that they possess the infallible truth.  For them, this truth is not a
private revelation but a public imperative, and states, like people, are
either Muslim or infidel.  America's government is not anti- Muslim, but it
is among the most secular.  For Moslem Wahabi fundamentalists like Osama
bin Laden, that amounts to more or less the same thing."

That may not be true in 2004 when the American administration led by
President George Bush openly declares its bias toward conservative
Christian values to the point of calling the pre-emptive war in Iraq "a
crusade for freedom." 

So there is still a place in our day for faithful witness by Christians in
even the most dangerous situations.  "Paul" appealed to the gift of the
Spirit which "Timothy" had received from Paul "through the laying on of my
hands" (vs.6).  The church had progressed to the point where ordination was
a recognized facet of ministry.  This helps in dating the letter in the 2nd
century CE.  The role of the Spirit, however, is to "guard the good
treasure entrusted to you," (vs.14) i.e.  "to keep the apostolic doctrine
unchanged," as Eduard Schweizer states in his *Church Order in the New
Testament.* (London: SCM Press, 1961).  The apostolic faith remains the 
mainstay of our hope now as then.

LUKE 17:5-10   Faith like a mustard seed and commending servants for doing
their job do not seem to fit well together in these two brief sayings of
Jesus.  So what is Luke driving at?  Since he apparently drew from both
*Q,* a source he shared with Matthew, and from his own source scholars
usually designate as *L,* he may have been doing nothing more than giving
examples of how Jesus taught his disciples.  If there is a theological
lesson in this brief excerpt, it is that faith and works are contrasted as
clearly as  in Paul's letters, and notably essential to the life of
The example of faith achieving unimaginable ends (vss.5-6) shows how Jesus
used hyperbole for memorable effect.  Those who take the saying literally
will find no comfort in their failure to make any tree move except with
appropriate manual or mechanical equipment.  A conservative Christian 
American, Robert LeTourneau, developed heavy earth-moving equipment to
build roads and airports during and after World War II.  He adopted as his
company motto: "We have what it takes to move mountains."

This particular tree called the mulberry is the sycamine, but in the
Septuagint the Greek word also meant the sycamore.  If this tree was the
latter, it had very deep roots and was impossible to transplant anywhere,
least of all into the sea, with the simple technology then available. 
About this hyperbole Professor George Caird wrote that faith in God "is a
power that takes impossibilities in stride."  (*Pelican New Testament
Commentaries: St. Luke.* London: Penguin Books, 1963).
The example of the slaves who should not be invited to be seated at the
master's table (vss.7-10) warns against the possibility of achieving the
spiritual goal meeting God's demands through human effort.  Spirituality
does not operate with a bookkeeping mentality, as Professor Caird so
eloquently points out.  Merit has to be abandoned in our approach to God. 
Thus the two brief pericopes do point to the same conclusion: have faith
above all.

The request by the disciples that Jesus increase their faith has
significance for the ominous crises of our day.  Some might say that
current events are sufficient evidence that we are in the end times before
the Lord's imminent return.  Others might wonder if God has abandoned
modern civilization to its fate at the hands of more fervent believers in
Allah whose sovereignty has been besmirched but not overthrown.  If,
however, one holds fast to a faith in God as sovereign creator and redeemer
of all humanity, the crisis thrust upon us by the current terrorist menace
and unconscionable wars is not only a vivid demonstration of God's
judgment.  It could also be evidence that God's mercy will be extended once
again to those who will discern what God is saying and carry forward God's
compassionate justice to suffering millions.  We must never forget that
there is more mercy in God's love than sin in us.

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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