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Introduction To The Scripture For Ordinary 28 - Proper 23 - Year C
Jeremiah 29:1,4-7; Psalm 66:1-12; 2 Timothy 8:15; Luke 17:11-19


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 28 - Proper 23 - Year C


JEREMIAH 29:1,4-7        In a letter to the exiles in Babylon, Jeremiah
sends a message from God that they are to make their homes in that foreign
land.  They are to seek the welfare of Babylon.  In doing so they will
advance their own welfare.  This advice counters the traditional view that
only in Jerusalem's temple in their own homeland could the exiles worship
and serve God.  It conveys a message for our time as we struggle with the
implications of a global threat to peace and reconciliation among people of
many religious and cultural traditions.


PSALM 66:1-12            This passage may have been a psalm woven together
with another (vss.13-20) to celebrate God's omnipotence  and grace, and to
provide a suitable liturgy for a person of wealth and status making a
public offering in the temple.  It later became a hymn of thanksgiving for
use in public worship.    


2 TIMOTHY 2:8-15         Suffering hardship while imprisoned for their
faith had become a source of encouragement and even joy for Paul and other
New Testament authors.  Nothing could stop the Good News from being
proclaimed.  It was the resurrection of Christ which really gave Paul such
a distinctive attitude to his suffering.  This ultimately redemptive act of
God would bring about the salvation of all who believed.  This was the
bedrock of their faith and their one great hope for salvation in a hostile
world.


LUKE 17:11-19            This is one of those fascinating stories  showing
Jesus' attitudes in direct conflict with the majority of his fellow Jews
and especially the religious and political leadership.  He attributes faith
only to the Samaritan whereas the other nine who were cured, presumably all
Jews, simply followed the traditional custom of seeking a priest's
authentication of their healing.  This story points out that faith in the
gospel not obedience the Jewish law was the hope of the future.

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

JEREMIAH 29:1,4-7   In a letter to the exiles in Babylon, Jeremiah sends a
message from Yahweh that they are to make their homes in that foreign land. 
They are to marry and to attend to the marriages of sons and daughters, so
that their numbers may not dwindle away.  They are to seek the welfare of
Babylon or anywhere else they may be exiled.  In doing so they will advance
their own welfare.  They are to reject the prophecies and dreams of those
who would lead them in any other course.

This advice counters the traditional view that only in Jerusalem's temple
in their own homeland could the exiles worship and serve Yahweh.  In many
ways it was revolutionary for the exiled generation.  All previous
prophetic counsel had been that Israel was the only land where Israelites
would be comfortable and prosperous.  Now Yahweh was directing that they
make use of the great crisis which had been visited upon them.  They were
still the chosen people of Yahweh, but their future did not necessarily
depend on residence in the land promised to Abraham forever.  

Historical data indicates that in some instances, this actually happened. 
Some Jews did prosper during the exile and never returned to their
homeland.  They became the Jewish Diaspora spread throughout  the Persian
and Greek empires.

The passage stands in striking contrast to the mournful, depressed attitude
expressed in Psalm 137.  Jeremiah was advocating turning the adversity of
the exile into an opportunity for social progress and spiritual
advancement.

This passage conveys a message for our time.  We struggle with the
implications the global threat of terrorism to peace and reconciliation
among people of many religious and cultural traditions.  Our national
anthems, patriotic songs and political propaganda may sooth our sorrows,
but they also tend to glorify our own land as  especially favoured by God. 
That may be particularly true in western European nations and  North
America, as well as in Australia and New Zealand where British settlers 
were exiled or emigrated.  

Have we tended to make patriotism into a substitute religion?  If so, we
have created an idol of our nation and its culture.  This has lent an air
of superiority to our patriotism and created resentment among people of
other countries, cultures and races.  Such feelings may lie at the roots of
current international terrorism.  We all need to look in a mirror and try
to see what others are seeing in us which causes such bitter hatred toward
us.

On the other hand, we do need to appreciate the benefits of our advanced
circumstances while not gloating over it or neglecting the needs of others. 
Wealth and political power have not been widely distributed in many of
those nations which have harboured terrorists.  Jeremiah was not favouring
Babylon over Israel as the exiles homeland.  Rather, he was advocating
settling in Babylon as the means for the exiles' survival.  So too, we need
to look carefully for creative means to make peace with our enemies,
develop justice and self-determination among all people, and share the
resources of the world so much under our control with those in greatest
need.  Only so will the prophetic vision of Shalom become the real-politic
of our time.


PSALM 66:1-12   This passage may have been a psalm woven together with
another (vss.13-20) to celebrate God's omnipotence  and grace, and to
provide a suitable liturgy for a person of wealth and status making a
public offering in the temple.  It later became a hymn of thanksgiving for
use in public worship.    

There is a note of universalism in the first segment which forms the
lectionary passage.  The psalm begins with a call to acclaim Yahweh as God
not only of Israel, but of all people.  All people fall down and worship in
Yahweh's presence.  (Note that the position of prayer is that adopted by
Moslems today.) The mighty works of Yahweh testify how Yahweh deals with
all humankind.  Although vs. 6 recalls the Exodus from Egypt, the formative
event of Israel's religious history, vs. 7 turns the eye toward other
manifestations of divine sovereignty.  

The concluding verses of this segment (vss. 8-12) may also refer to the
Exodus and settlement of Israelites in the Promised Land.  It is also
possible to render them as an interpretation of the return from the exile
in Babylon.  In both instances, there are allusions to defeat, enslavement
and liberation.  Since the psalm is probably of post-exilic date, it is
likely that the later event could only be made meaningful by being
interpreted in a manner similar to the more ancient traditions of the
Exodus.

This is not an unusual way to find meaning in current events.  In fact, it
may be the only way we can do so.  Our understanding of what is happening
now is based on experiences through which we have lived in the past or
which have been part of our inherited tradition.  The attack on the World
Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington reminded many first
and foremost of the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.  The shock and
grief which followed reminded me of the painful experiences borne by the
British during the blitz.  Those responsible for this totally unexpected
attack cast their actions in the historical tradition of the defenders of
Islam against European Crusaders in the 12th century.  Is this not the same
historical motif the psalmist used to remind his fellow Jews at worship
that Yahweh had brought them "through fire and water... into liberty?" (vs.
12 NEB)


2 TIMOTHY 2:8-15   If the Pastoral Epistles date from the early 2nd
century, as many scholars believe, then this brief selection may be a
hinge-piece between the Apostle Paul himself and the later generation of
Christians.  There is both a personal reference to Paul's imprisonment and
a developing doctrinal and liturgical stance of the more established
church.

Paul took a position with regard to his incarceration which may seem
somewhat suspect to our generation.  Or perhaps this was the view of the
2nd century church leader as he reflected on what Paul had experienced. 
This presents a different view than the house arrest related in Acts 28:16-
31.  Here Paul is suffering, at least to the extent of "hardship" which he
endured "for the sake of God's chosen ones." This sounds very much like the
vicarious suffering of  Isaiah 53:4-5.  On the other hand, Paul did take
such an approach to the trials of every  Christian who confronts the
worldly system of values (2 Cor. 1:5-7;  Col. 1:24).  Suffering for the
faith was a characteristic theme of most New Testament authors including
those who wrote the four gospels, the letters of Peter, James and the
Revelation.

"Paul" was dealing with a variety of heretical views of the Christian
faith.  Currently we are dealing with terrorism masked as a religious war
arising from a perversion of the historic Islamic faith.  As extensive
retaliation against terrorist aggression proceeds, many Christians have to
struggle with their conscience about being involved in war.  Is this a just
way to respond to a criminal attack in which thousands died?  The American
president and British prime minister have declared it a just war.  Those
who oppose this approach protested in the streets and to point to insidious
policies of the wealthier nations which have led to this desperate
reaction.  Some see it as a wider struggle in which justice should be on
the side of the victimized poor of our global village.

In earlier wars, conscientious objectors were bluntly denounced in the
public media  and quickly interned in prison camps.  On the outbreak of
World War II, 75 ministers of The United Church of Canada signed a
manifesto proclaiming their pacifist convictions and demanding that the
Canadian government not declare war against Nazi Germany.  The church's
national administration quickly denounced this stance and declared that the
church would support the nation's war effort.  Before the war ended in
1945, many of those who had signed the pacifist document had reversed their
position and had enlisted either as chaplains or on active military
service. 

Paul protested against the way in which his evangelistic ministry was being
thwarted by civic and religious officials unwilling to let his preaching
disturb the status quo of their communities.  His situation was not unlike
that of the Islamist mullahs in Pakistan who were placed under arrest when
the assault against the Teleban and El Qaeda terrorist network began in
neighbouring Afghanistan.  But like them too, such prohibitions and
incarcerations did not stop the witness of their followers.  After several
years, the war effort in Afghanistan and Iraq against these fundamentalist
Islamists, had become the major recruiting agent for the terrorists
throughout the Moslem world.

Paul claimed that the word of God could not be shut up.  His faith remained
undaunted because it rested on the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  This
ultimately redemptive act of God would bring about the salvation of all who
believed (vs. 10).  Subsequent history revealed that the more the early
church suffered persecution, the more its message spread through the Roman
world.  Is this the future awaiting our own era?  Dare we also ask whether
fundamentalism in various religious traditions leads to conflict in which
one or other will win in the long run?

At this point, Paul  - or the author of the Pastoral Letters making use of
Paul's experience to strengthen the church - breaks into song.  Vss. 11-13
may well be an early Christian hymn which contained a very simple but
effective statement of faith in the resurrection not only for Christ but
for all who believe.

Then he turns to exhort the recipients of his letter to avoid disputes with
their adversaries who apparently had a penchant for speculative argument. 
The only effective way to deal with such people was to go on proclaiming
the truth whatever their opposition might say in their vain attempt to
engage in the minutiae of debate about words.  In the light of what had
already been said, one might well suspect that these arguments concerned
the nature and reality of the resurrection.  The concept of resurrection
has been rejected by many Jews and was the laughingstock of most Greek
intellectuals.  But for Christians, it was the bedrock of their faith and
their one great hope for salvation in a hostile world.


LUKE 17:11-19   This is one of those fascinating pericopes that shows
Jesus' attitudes  in direct conflict with the majority of his fellow Jews
and especially the religious and political leadership.  He attributes faith
only to the Samaritan whereas the other nine who were cured, presumably all
Jews, simply did as they were told to do.

Any Jew healed of leprosy was required by the covenant law to appear before
a priest in Jerusalem who alone could authenticate their cure.  It was only
as they set out on their journey as Jesus had directed them that they were
healed.  So the nine were doing no more than following the accepted custom
of the time.  This would not apply to the Samaritan, however.  Aware of
what had happened to him and who had intervened to cleanse him of his dread
disease, he turned back praising God, fell at Jesus' feet and thanked him.  

Jesus reacted with surprise.  "Were not all ten cleansed?" He marveled that
the other nine had been so less grateful.  He assured the Samaritan that it
was his faith rather than his observance of the tradition which had brought
about his healing.

Some scholars have suggested that Luke added these rhetorical questions and
the concluding assertion to reiterate the distinction between law and
gospel.  Others tend to emphasize the difference between one man's
gratitude and the ingratitude of the nine.  By his commendation of the
Samaritan, Jesus was really saying that something new and different had
occurred with his coming.  The old ways were no longer valid.  As with so
many of his healing miracles, this was one more instance declaring in an
action parable that the new order where faith rather than obedience to law
had broken through into human affairs.  

In beginning the story, Luke noted especially that this occurred on the
borderlands between Galilee and Samaria while Jesus was en route to
Jerusalem.  This particular location had more than usual significance as a
prelude to what lay ahead.  By Luke's time (circa 85 CE) the separation of
Christianity from Judaism had been had been widely acknowledged.  Most Jews
rejected the gospel and clung to old traditions.  Gentiles, like Luke
himself, readily accepted what they had heard and were grateful to receive
it.

                         
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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