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Introduction To The Scripture For Ordinary 33 - Proper 28 - Year C
Isaiah 65:17-25; Isaiah 12; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19
alt - Malachi 4:1-2a; Psalm 98


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 33 (Proper 28) - Year C


ISAIAH 65:17-25          The vision of a new creation and a time of
prosperity and peace sprang from  Israel's hope for a return from exile in
Babylon in 539 BC.  Nowhere is this vision more beautifully expressed that
in these words associated with an unknown  prophet  whose poetic messages
form the latter part of the Book of Isaiah (chapters 40-66).  This vision
still remains the hope of the whole human race as well the primary
motivation of the modern state of Israel and its desire that Jerusalem be
its capital city.


ISAIAH 12.               Not all psalms in the Bible are in the Book of
Psalms.  Here are two very brief hymns of thanksgiving.  Verses 1-2 praise
God for deliverance from some personal danger.  Verses 3-6 give thanks when
God's mighty deeds are remembered amid the ordinary tasks of life such a
drawing water from a well.  


2 THESSALONIANS 3:6-13   Paul counsels the faithful that they avoid
debilitating idleness as they wait for the coming of the Lord.  In so doing
they would imitate his practice of working for a living while carrying on
his ministry.  It was a poignant message to the many servants and slaves
who had found hope for a better life in the gospel Paul preached.  The
Letter to Philemon suggests that it was not uncommon for slave owners to
free their slaves, but what then could they do?


LUKE 21:5-19             This passage is part of an edited version taken
from Mark 13 known as "The Little Apocalypse." It appears to quote Jesus as
predicting the destruction of the temple and the end of the present age. 
Many scholars believe that it was originally a Jewish document adapted for
use in the Christian mission, but also incorporating some genuine words of
Jesus.  Its essential message is that Jesus changed all of history.
     
          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.  

MALACHI 4:1-2A           (Alternate) The keeping of the covenant
relationship with God was the great concern of this little known prophet of 
the period soon after the return of the exiles from Babylon.  Christians
have interpreted the promise that for those who revere God's name "the sun
of righteousness shall rise with healing on its wings" as a prophecy
fulfilled by Jesus.
     

PSALM 98                 (Alternate) One of series of five psalms (Pss.95-
100) probably used in celebrating the sovereignty of God at the New Year
festival, this poem uses different sounds in nature as well as the human
voice and musical instruments as the means of praise.

************
  
ISAIAH 65:17-25   Isaiah 56-66 can no longer be viewed simplistically as
the work of a Third Isaiah, although this segment has some claim to being
different from Isaiah 1-39 (First Isaiah - 8th century BCE) and Isaiah 40-
55 (Second or Deutero-Isaiah - 6th century BCE).  The main themes in Isaiah
56-66 are the many visions of the restoration of Israel and of the new
Jerusalem where social justice and peace are established and the temple is
open to worshipers from all nations.  This goes much farther into what is
known as eschatology than most other parts of the Book of Isaiah.  It deals
with life in a new age when Yahweh's attitude toward Israel has turned from
judgment to a promise of joy and peace.  Scholars date from the period
immediately after the return from exile in Babylon (538-520 BCE) and before
the rebuilding of the temple.

This reading contains one such vision with emphasis on tranquility and
prosperity.  It consists of the two closing strophes of the ten in the poem
contained in 65:1-25.  As a whole, the poem expresses a traditional
eschatological view of judgement and restoration.  The closing strophes
emphasize the latter state when new heavens and a new earth come into
being.  The poet/prophet wrote as if God spoke through him, as evidenced by
the use of the pronoun I and the typical prophetic phrase, "...says the
Lord" (vss. 7, 8, 13, 25).  
     
The felicitous new age will be centred in Jerusalem, the symbol of divine
intervention in the nation's history (vss. 18-19).  Since the creation of
the newly independent state of Israel in 1948, Jerusalem has again become
the sacred symbol of Jewish identity in both the religious and the secular
context.  The promised redemption will be marked by long life (vs. 20), the
rebuilding of homes and planting of fruitful vineyards in which to dwell
enjoyably (vss.21-23).  
     
The final strophe of the poem begins by reiterating the divine initiative
before being sought as first stated in vs. 1-2.  It ends with a vision of
wild and domestic animals "red in tooth and claw" completely transformed
into peaceful co-habitation in God's holy mountain.  This vision
subsequently became a symbol of the messianic age (cf. 11:6-9, Ezekiel
34:25, 28) and frequently appeared in art depicting that redemptive ideal.  

What a powerful lesson to be read in this particular year as destructive
wars set their death grip on the helpless people of several countries.  


ISAIAH 12   The Book of Psalms does not contain all the psalms in the
Bible.  Here we find two brief hymns of thanksgiving (vss. 1-2 and 3-6) of
unknown origin and date which seem to provide a conclusion to the messianic
visions of chapter 11.   Similar psalms were included in other prophetic
books, e.g. Jonah 2 and Habakkuk 3.  Each of these two psalms has an
introductory rubric, "You will say in that day ..." similar to those found
in Deuteronomy 26:5a, Isaiah 25:9a and 26:1a.
     
Other parallels to the wording of the both psalms appear elsewhere in the
Hebrew scriptures.  For example, the second part of vs. 2 appears in Exodus
15:2 and Ps. 118:14.  Several phrases of the second psalm (vss. 3-6) can be
found in Pss. 105:1, 148:13, 66:2, 67:2 (vs. 4-5); while Zechariah 2:10
compares with vs. 6.  

This cannot be considered unusual since thanksgiving hymns of temple
liturgies always  reflected two significant aspects of ancient Israelite
life: the saving covenant relationship with Yahweh and the ordinary
experiences of daily life.  In this instance, vs.  3a reflects the communal
well to be found in every village which becomes the symbol of Yahweh's
saving acts as in Numbers 21:16-17.  John's Gospel echoes this same
metaphor in 4:13-14.  For most Israelites, religious practices were not
centred in the sacred precincts of the temple in Jerusalem, but in their
village homes and the institutions which sustained their daily life. 
Celebrations relating to the simple acts of drawing water and gathering the
harvest offered them a direct means of expressing their joy and trust in
divine providence.  


II THESSALONIANS 3:6-13   Commenting on last week's reading, we saw that
the second Thessalonian letter came quickly after the first to correct
certain misinterpretations of Paul's teaching about the Parousia.  This
reading amplifies that analysis.  Apparently some of the Thessalonian
converts had decided that since Christ would soon return, there should be
no further need to work, but depended on other members of the community to
support them in idleness.  Paul here gives specific instructions that they
continue to support themselves as he had done while he had lived among
them.  Being a craftsman himself, he repeated what may well have been a
common workshop proverb that gave moral meaning to ordinary labor: "Anyone
unwilling to work should not eat." (vs. 10b) 

This proverb does not imply that those unable to work due to physical or
mental disabilities should not be provided with support.  Nor does it mean
that the indigent should be neglected.  During recent economic recessions,
many people have been thrown out of work through no fault of their own. 
There is no work for them to do; they are redundant, to use a term common
in Great Britain.  In a feverish drive to reduce taxes, governments have
drastically contracted the social safety net leaving some vulnerable people
destitute.  These were not the people Paul had in mind, although we have
heard this proverb carelessly thrown out at some of the poor forced to live
on the streets.  Rather, Paul was thinking of those who deliberately
dropped out of normal ways of providing for themselves in anticipation of
the imminent return of Christ and the establishing of the messianic kingdom
on earth.
     
He goes even further to advise other members of the Christian community to
avoid those who had taken to idleness.  One can envision them standing
around waiting for something to happen and passing the time gossiping.  In
the background of vss.11-12 lies an insightful juxtaposition of the
chattering busybodies gathered in the marketplace and the quiet industry of
those earning their own living in the many small shops around the
periphery.  

Avoiding these shirkers, as Paul urges, would shame and warn them rather
than create open hostility.  Or so he hoped.  Yet he recognized that such
an attitude involved certain dangers.  His closing benediction emphasizes
peace - the peace of the Christ himself - which Paul prayed would exist
among the Thessalonians "at all times in all ways." Like a devout Jew who
knew the writings of the great prophets, Paul recognized that communal
justice is a significant part of salvation.


LUKE 21:5-19   Long before Jesus' ministry, a rich eschatological
tradition existed in Judaism.  The apostolic church took over this
tradition and reinterpreted it as being fulfilled is the messianic age
Jesus inaugurated.  After the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem about
40 years after the resurrection, Mark expressed this tradition in words of
prophecy ostensibly spoken by Jesus himself (Mark 13).  Parts of this
passage in Luke 21 had their source in Mark's gospel; other parts came from
Luke's own source, known to scholars as *L.* Vss. 5-11 and 16-17 belong to
Mark, while 12-15 and 18-19 are from *L.* The two are so cleverly fused as
to be almost indistinguishable.  The fusion extends to the end of the
chapter.  

The late Professor George Caird, of Oxford, commented that in doing so,
Luke made his own special contribution to New Testament eschatology.  He
distinguished those parts of the Church's expectation which had already
been fulfilled in his day from those that remained to be accomplished. 
(p.229,  Caird, George B.  "The Pelican New Testament Commentaries: St. 
Luke." Penguin Books, 1963.) Writing about 50 years after the resurrection,
this reading includes only already fulfilled events.  
     
Luke has Jesus predict the persecutions which his disciples would
encounter, even to betrayal by members of their own families.  This may
well have been happening in Luke's audience.  Jesus had also promised that
they would be given the words with which to defend themselves before their
persecutors (cf.  Acts 4:8ff).  Despite this, they would not be harmed (vs. 
18).  Luke surely knew that this promise, if Jesus in fact made it in so
many words, did not hold true.  For instance, he obviously knew of
Stephen's martyrdom (Acts 7:54ff) and he also recorded that James the
Apostle had been executed by Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:2).  Why, then, would
he report these reputed words of Jesus in such a contradictory promise. 
Was this merely hyperbole? 
     
By its very nature, eschatology is hyperbolic.  It can never be literally
interpreted.  Its purpose was to warn of judgment to come and to encourage
the faithful that, come what may, God is still in control of historical
events.  Instead of predicting what would inevitably happen in coming
troubles and persecutions, he was warning that things would get worse
before they got better.  

There have been many attempts to interpret current events eschatologically. 
Some preachers may be tempted to seize on New Testament eschatology as a
means of predicting (and condoning!) what will be the outcome of the
present warfare instigated by criminally irresponsible terrorism or
American assertive self-defense.  Biblical scholarship has never had
complete consensus on what passages such as this one really mean for a
modern audience.  Exactly what it meant for Luke's audience in similarly
uncertain.  

The core of Christian eschatology is that God as revealed in the life,
death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is sovereign in love over all
historical events.  This does not mean that God intervenes in the outcome
of specific historical processes such as the way a particular battle will
be won or lost.  God is not a mechanic customizing an antique car with
expert skill.  Nor is God an artist painting a canvas and changing the
appearance of her work by a simple sweep of a brush.  At the same time, we
do put our trust in divine providence.

As with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, God has a purpose in
which all events of human time and place are being gathered up.  In the end
God's reign will come to pass as God  determined from the beginning.  In
the coming of Jesus as a human being into the world where human history
takes place, God has inaugurated this reign of sovereign love.  The Spirit
of God is now at work within human beings and all their myriad
relationships, good and bad, to bring about what God ultimately intends for
creation.  

Human history is still unfinished business, but it also is the place where
God is at work.  The full consummation of God's purpose is yet to come. 
Eschatology attempts to describe what this consummation will be like as the
writer imagined it.  To reiterate, no eschatological passage in the New
Testament can be read literally.  To do so is to destroy the kaleidoscope
of changing patterns and images so vividly described in words heavily
dependent on Jewish antecedents.  What is literally true is that God
reigns.

We live in God's world, the God who came in Jesus and is coming to complete
God's historical purpose of reconciling all creation to God's eternal love.


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

MALACHI 4:1-2A  (Alternate) The name Malachi literally means "my
messenger," but we do not know whether this was the name of the prophet or
a description of his office.  The rebuilding of the temple had already been
completed (circa 515 BCE).  The keeping of the covenant relationship with
God was the great concern of this little known prophet of  the period soon
after the return of the exiles from Babylon.  To maintain the sanctity of
the temple and its sacrificial rituals has become the chief expression of 
this relationship.  To achieve this had become the chief role of the
priesthood in difficult times during the first hundred years or so after
the exile.  In fact, the priests had replaced the monarchy as the chief
authorities and representatives of the nation as well as serving a strictly
religious function.

In this passage, speaking for Yahweh, the prophet utters a grave warning
that all unfaithful Israelites would be destroyed like the stubble left and
burned after the harvest.  The season of harvest in Palestine comes in the
late spring or early summer.  In the intense heat of summer may indeed feel
like the oven metaphorically describing what awaits those unworthy of the
covenant relationship.  The colourful phrase "root and branch" has come
into the English language to describe the total destruction envisaged.  

In vs. 2, the threat to the unfaithful vanishes as a totally different set
of metaphors describes how the faithful will be rewarded for their
righteousness.  They will receive the  welcome refreshment and healing the
rising sun of the early morning brings.

Christians have interpreted this promise that for those who revere God's
name "the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing on its wings" as a
prophecy fulfilled by Jesus.  Charles Wesley used the metaphor in verse 3
of his famous exultation of the coming of Christ set to Felix Mendelsshon
Bartoldy's tune, *Hark! the herald angels sing."


PSALM 98   (Alternate) This is one of a series of six so-called
"enthronement psalms" psalms probably used in celebrating the sovereignty
of Yahweh at the New Year festival.  It uses different sounds in nature as
well as the human voice and musical instruments as the means of praise. 
(See Pss. 47, 93, 96-99) The reason for such an outburst of rejoicing lay
in the mighty saving acts of Yahweh extending in mercy to Israel.  Their
purpose was to draw the attention of the whole world and thus inform all
peoples of what Yahweh was doing through this specially favoured people.

Vs. 4 identifies the songs of praise as worshipers parade into the temple.
In vss. 5-6, musical instruments add to joyous cacophony.  Finally, all
nature and all creatures are summoned to support the noisy disharmony.

The idea of Yahweh as a monarch to be enthroned each new year conveyed the
spiritual truth of a supreme being to whose will the people owed obedience. 
This concept went as far back as the times of Gideon (Judges 8:23) and
presumably also reflected the double roles of an ancient Middle Eastern
monarch as ruler and chief religious figurehead or priest.  The Israelites
had adopted this concept after their settlement in Canaan.  Yahweh was
their King-God similar to the monarchs of other cultures.  In the post-
exilic period when there were no reigning monarchs, the annual ritual of 
the enthronement of Yahweh has taken the place of royal coronations.  Ps. 
72 refers to a coronation when the monarch ascended Israel's throne as the
representative and "son" of Yahweh.  From these customs and practices came
the concept of the saving messiah so familiar to Christians in the gospel
depictions of Jesus as the Messiah and King of the Jews. 

                         
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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