Lectionary Reflection for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from 1 Samuel (BTCB) by Francesca Aran Murphy, commenting on 1 Samuel 17: (1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49:

None of the scenes of single-handed combat in Homer’s epic of war or in Vergil’s Roman successor has achieved the mythic universality of this historical, biblical tale. One reason is that it is much simpler and more naïve. Both Achilles’ fight with Hector in the Iliad and Aeneas’s climactic defeat of Turnus in the Aeneid are psychologically and artistically complex. Achilles and Hector, kings of the Greeks and the Trojans, and “Trojan” Aeneas and Turnus king of the indigenous Sabines, are evenly matched in their social status and military prowess. The deaths of Hector and Turnus both have tragic overtones. They participate in the grandeur of the epic milieu from which they spring. No Greek or Roman epic poet would dream of matching a shepherd against a giant. As against the tragic endings of the Homeric and Vergilian epics of war, the slaying of the hulking Goliath by the youthful shepherd is a straightforward happy dénouement.

At the same time, all is not quite what it seems, and we know that. It is not the uneven conquest of a Philistine champion by an anonymous boy that it looks like on the surface. Few are taken in. It is not about a habiru, a socially marginal migrant, taking on a terrifying tyrant, and anyone who has read the preceding chapters of 1 Samuel knows that. In this story, a secretly anointed king throws down the gauntlet to a representative member of the most God-mocked tribe in sacred scripture.

…You don’t have to know God’s injunction to Samuel, “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (16:7 ESV), to intuit that this is what the story is about. It is the secret of its universal, mythic appeal, because everyone knows that appearances are deceptive and because everyone likes it that way. Or, they’d like to like it that way.

The truth that Plato wrote a philosophy to expound is told in 1 Sam. 17 as an adventure story. But Platonists are not all that sure that the deceptiveness of appearance is amiable. It is a conundrum for them, and a tragedy: Socrates was a martyr to truth over the common opinions of the Athenian jurors, their susceptibility to false appearances. Whereas, for the Bible, the deceptiveness of appearance is weighted to winning: it launches the heart to triumph over the appearance. It is because we yearn to believe that “strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9) that the inspired authority of scripture is humanly gripping. That weakness is deceptive is what launches the underdog to victory. This is why David is a great comic hero, and the biblical vision is ultimately a comedy.

©2010 by Francesca Aran Murphy. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Lectionary Reflection for the Third Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from 1 Samuel (BTCB) by Francesca Aran Murphy, commenting on 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13:

On God’s instruction, Samuel anoints David, and his name is then shared out too: “Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward” (16:13 NKJV). No ugly duckling, David is the jolt to the system that the all-knowing God had selected. The Psalms speak of the striking innovation of this election, which overturns the traditional familial hierarchy known to all tribal cultures:

I made a lad ruler in preference to a warrior, I exalted a youth above a hero.

I found David my servant, with my holy oil I anointed him. (Ps. 89:19– 20, trans. Flanagan 1988: 201)

A transition is occurring within Israel’s religious self-understanding, bound up with its cultural self-understanding and with the self-understanding of all peoples after Christ.

To modern Western readers, instructed by countless fairy tales, bypassing of the elder sons for the youngest is about as surprising as the appearance of an unlikely hero in a Disney movie. Our culture has been steeped in the Christ event for so long that it takes an imaginative effort to see that, because Samuel’s culture was one in which “the elders were an important component of the social stratum” and the “gods of the progenitors,” their own “ancestors influenced the Israelites to structure themselves hierarchically according to age. To be a gibbor (‘firstborn’) accorded a son special status, not because the firstborn was stronger, wiser, or more experienced, but because he was the closest one in line to the ancestors.”

What we, no less than the “African and Israelite communities . . . organized along family hierarchical structures,” have to learn from the upheaval and transformation represented by the anointing of the youngest son is that Christ, and like him his forefather David, creates a change in the register of God’s action. In the world of the patriarchs and the tribal cultures of the judges, where God acted in the seen (the naturally beautiful), the order and beauty of the family and tribe, henceforth God will often act in the unseen (the invisible and yet providential gesture). There are no miracles in 1 Sam. 16–31. God’s working has gone underground, and hence a signature theme must be the contrast of the heart and the externals that mortal family members can see.

©2010 by Francesca Aran Murphy. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Lectionary Reflection for the Second Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from Genesis (BTCB) by R. R. Reno, commenting on Genesis 3:8-15:

God creates for a purpose, and when the original choices of the man and woman go against his purpose, God does not wash his hands of creation. “They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden” (3:8).

He speaks to the man and woman: “I will question you, and you shall declare to me” ( Job 38:3). Both respond, “I ate” (Gen. 3:12–13). Now the initiative returns to God, and he fulfills their choices. The man and woman chose sentient life, the realm of physical pleasures and the project of natural survival. Their punishment is to have what they have chosen.

As Chrysostom says, imagining God speaking directly to the man and woman, “Lo, you have become what you expected—or rather, not what you expected but what you deserved to become” (Homilies on Genesis 18.6 in FC 82.7). Divine justice is not only incorruptible and beneficent (“the Lord reproves him whom he loves”; Prov. 3:12); it is also fitting. According to Augustine, “The retribution for disobedience is simply disobedience itself. For man’s wretchedness is nothing but his own disobedience to himself ” (City of God 14.15, quoted from Bettenson 1972: 575).

We try to live according to Satan’s lie, as if the material world were sufficient for life. But just as the restless loneliness that Adam experienced extends beyond the bodily union of man and woman, so also do we twist and turn in order to extract more than survival from our innerworldly projects. We tie ourselves into knots of self-contradiction in our efforts to use finite goods to satisfy our infinite longing.

©2010 by R. R. Reno. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

The Weekly Hit List: May 22, 2015

Jonathan Merritt interviewed J. Todd Billings, author of Rejoicing in Lament, for Religion News Service blog On Faith & Culture.

In a classroom in Holland, Michigan, a 39-year-old man in a bowtie stands to deliver a lecture. Peeking out from behind his glasses, he surveys the eager students who have come expecting a lecture on theology. Instead, he tells them that he has just been diagnosed with a rare and incurable cancer.

J. Todd Billings is the Gordon H. Girod research professor of Reformed theology at Western Theological Seminary and author of several award-winning books such as The Word of God for The People of God and Union With Christ. After being diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2012, Billings and his wife decided to be open with others about his condition. But they didn’t know what they would learn through the process.

The knowledge that he faces a “narrowed future” has raised fresh theological questions about life, death, and faith for Billings and taught him how to rejoice in the face of possible death. He has recorded his thoughts in a critically-acclaimed book, Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling With Incurable Cancer and Life With Christ. Here we discuss what he has learned and hopes to teach others in the time he has left.

Read all of “Prominent theologian finds joy amid incurable cancer diagnosis” here.

 

Spiritual Friendship (Wesley Hill) Media:

Wesley Hill’s interview with Peter Smith for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was picked up by LaCrosse Tribune and by My San Antonio.

James Matichuk reviewed Spiritual Friendship and gave it five stars.

 

Quick Hits:

On Word on Fire, Robert Barron announced his 2 Samuel contribution to the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible series, and he shared the entire introduction to his commentary.

Scot McKnight, author of Kingdom Conspiracy, appeared on White Horse Inn.

Rejoicing in Lament was recommended by Liberti Church: “This book on lament, hope, and prayer is both deeply personal and profoundly theological.”

Dennis Okholm, author of Dangerous Passions, Deadly Sins, was interviewed on Jesus Creed blog.

Learning for the Love of God by Donald Opitz and Derek Melleby was recommended by Byron Borger of Hearts & Minds Books.

Scot  McKnight began discussing Glittering Vices by Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung on Jesus Creed.

Lectionary Reflection for the Day of Pentecost

From Ezekiel (BTCB) by Robert W. Jenson, commenting on Ezekiel 37:1-14:

If then there is to be an eschatological resurrection of Israel, how are we to conceive it? Clearly, our passage intends a resurrection of the people as a single reality.

It speaks, however, of graves and their occupants in the plural, and there is a reason for this: at such an end as, for example, →7:1–9 describes, the only Israel available to be raised will be the ensemble of dead Israelites. At the absolute end, the distinction between national resurrection and individual resurrections must be moot.

Therefore we may conclude that this passage indeed envisions something like what later Judaism and Christianity conceive as a “resurrection of the dead.”

Thus a full version of the question the Lord put to Ezekiel would be: When the Lord comes to the end of his ways with his people—to an eschatological assembly at Zion and a universal gift of his own life-giving Spirit—will he raise the diachronic whole of his people into this new life?

It is this question that effectively concludes the dooms and promises given through Ezekiel. Christian faith and theology begin with the conviction that Jesus’s resurrection is God’s own answer (Jenson 1997–99: 1.4–5). The Lord spoke by Ezekiel, and in Christ’s resurrection he has acted on what he said (37:14).

There remains only a subordinate question: Who will be included in the Israel that will rise at the end? Gentile Christians, baptized into the body of Christ, cling to Paul’s image: by incorporation into Christ we have been grafted into Israel herself (Rom. 11:17).

Will there be a resurrection also of those who are neither of the original tree nor grafted-in branches? And if so, a resurrection to what?

Ezekiel’s vision does not reach so far.

 

 

©2009 by Robert Jenson. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

David the Priest-King (an Excerpt from 2 Samuel by Robert Barron)

The following is an excerpt from the Introduction to 2 Samuel (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible) (April 2015) by Robert Barron.

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King David is one of the most pivotal persons in the entire corpus of scripture. He is the terminus of a trajectory that runs from Adam through Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, and Samuel. Many of God’s promises to those patriarchal and prophetic figures seem to come to fulfillment in David’s rule over a united Israel.

At the same time, David looks beyond himself to a new David, one who would definitively fulfill what he himself left incomplete and unfinished. In a word, he is perhaps the cardinal point on which the biblical revelation turns both backward and forward.

One of the themes that emerges most clearly in 2 Samuel is that of kingship. On the biblical reading, the bad rule of Adam in the garden led to the disaster of the fall, and ever since that calamity, humanity has been in search of right rule. At the heart of the Old Testament sensibility is the conviction that God chose a people, Israel, whom he would shape according to his own mind and heart so that they might draw all of humanity into right relationship with God. Hence, they would be a kingly people.

But this holy nation would endure only in the measure that they themselves were rightly ruled, and therefore the search for a righteous and godly king of Israel—an Adam who would properly govern a reconstituted Eden—became a preoccupation for biblical Israel. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Judah, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Samson, and Samuel were all, after a manner of speaking, kings of Israel, but they ruled to varying degrees of adequacy. Having united the northern and southern tribes, established his fortified capital at Jerusalem, and subdued the enemies of Israel, David emerged as the most stirring and successful king of Israel.

Adam was not only a king; he was also a priest, which is to say, someone who affects a mystical union between divinity and humanity. After him, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, and Samuel were also, to varying degrees of intensity, priests.

Wearing the sacred vestment of the priesthood and dancing before the ark of the covenant, King David emerged as David the high priest and hence recapitulated and brought to full expression the priesthood of the work of his predecessors. Samuel’s anointing of David the shepherd boy could thus be seen as both a kingly and priestly designation. When the first followers of Jesus referred to him as Christos (anointed), they were appreciating him as David in full. The Christian reader will thus see in David the most compelling anticipation of Jesus, the definitive priest-king.

 

2015 by Robert Barron. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

This Just In: 2 Samuel (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible) by Robert Barron

Print2 Samuel (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible)
by Robert Barron

 

The Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible encourages readers to explore how the vital roots of the ancient Christian tradition should inform and shape faithfulness today.

In this addition to the series, highly acclaimed author, speaker, and theologian Robert Barron offers a theological exegesis of 2 Samuel. He highlights three major themes: God’s non-competitive transcendence, the play between divine and non-divine causality, and the role of Old Testament kingship.

As with other volumes in the series, this book is ideal for those called to ministry, serving as a rich resource for preachers, teachers, students, and study groups.

 

Robert Barron (STD, Institut Catholique de Paris) is rector of Mundelein Seminary and president of the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois.

He founded Word on Fire, a Catholic ministry of evangelism, and has written numerous books, including Catholicism(over 100,000 copies sold), The Priority of Christ, The Strangest Way: Walking the Christian Path (winner of a Catholic Press Association Book Award), and Heaven in Stone and Glass.

 

Praise for 2 Samuel:

“Robert Barron is a great teacher of the Church and a gifted biblical commentator who breaks open the Word of God for our day as Ambrose and Augustine did for theirs.”
George Weigel, distinguished senior fellow, Ethics and Public Policy Center

“In this book, Barron brings his theological erudition to the task of interpreting sacred scripture. The result will be a delight for all his readers. Not only will they relish the many profundities of the text, but they will be able to join the author in wrestling with its various conundrums. Even the challenging parts of David’s life are handled in fresh, creative, and—most important—productive ways.”
Gary Anderson, Hesburgh Professor of Catholic Theology, University of Notre Dame

“Robert Barron has written a beautiful commentary on 2 Samuel, and it will be a tribute to the series. He has a keen sense of the subtlety of the narrative and the imagination to draw theological and spiritual meaning from particulars. Yet he is neither doctrinaire nor heavy-handed; his interpretations always grow out of the story and do not become theological disquisitions. Barron writes well, and this commentary is a pleasure to read. Even serious readers of the Bible will delight in the surprising things he discerns in the narrative.”
Robert Louis Wilken, William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of the History of Christianity Emeritus, University of Virginia

“In this impressive example of theological exegesis, Robert Barron shows that he is both an outstanding theologian and a masterful interpreter of scripture. The unforgettable narrative of the rise and fall of King David springs to life in Barron’s hands. Along the way, he demonstrates that the book of 2 Samuel is not just a literary masterpiece but an essential bridge between the Old and New Testaments.”
Brant Pitre, Notre Dame Seminary; author of Jesus the Bridegroom

“Robert Barron is one of the clearest and most compelling Christian communicators I know. He is a scholar, yet he relates easily to all the faithful. As a preacher he reaches both mind and heart. Now, in this major biblical commentary, he has given us a book that measures up to the standard already established by this excellent series. The story of 2 Samuel ‘lives and breathes’ in Barron’s words.”
John H. Armstrong, president, ACT3 Network, Carol Stream, Illinois

 

Praise for the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible series:

“What a splendid idea! Many preachers have been longing for more commentaries that are not only exegetical but theological in the best sense: arising out of the conviction that God, through his Word, still speaks in our time. For those of us who take our copies of Martin Luther’s Galatians and Karl Barth’s Romans from the shelves on a regular basis, this new series in that tradition promises renewed vigor for preaching, and therefore for the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church in our time.”
Fleming Rutledge, author of The Bible and The New York Times and The Seven Last Words from the Cross

“This new series places the accent on ‘theological’ and reflects current interpretive ferment marked by growing resistance to the historical-critical project. It may be that scripture interpretation is too important to be left to the exegetes, and so a return to the theologians. We will wait with great anticipation for this new series, at least aware that the outcomes of interpretation are largely determined by the questions asked. It is never too late to ask better questions; with a focus on the theological tradition, this series holds the promise of asking interpretive questions that are deeply grounded in the primal claims of faith. The rich promise of the series is indicated by the stature and erudition of the commentators. Brazos has enormous promises to keep with this project, and we wait with eagerness for its appearing!”
Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary

“The Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible makes a most welcome contribution to the church, the academic world, and the general public at large. By enlisting a wide range of Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox theologians who differ on much, but who agree on the truth of the Nicene Creed, the series also represents ecumenical activity of the very best kind. It is always a daunting challenge to expound the church’s sacred book both simply and deeply, but this impressive line-up of authors is very well situated for the attempt.”
Mark A. Noll, University of Notre Dame

“Preachers and teachers in particular, but thoughtful Christians more generally, have long lamented the slide of biblical scholarship into hyper-specialized critical studies of ancient texts in remote historical context. It is no wonder, therefore, that the Brazos Theological Commentary is being so warmly welcomed. The outstanding array of authors, beginning with Jaroslav Pelikan’s splendid commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, are, at long last, reclaiming the Bible as the book of the living community of faith that is the church.”
Richard John Neuhaus, author of American Babylon: Notes of a Christian Exile

“Contemporary application of the Bible to life is the preacher’s business. But no worthy contemporary application is possible without a thorough understanding of the ancient text. The Brazos Theological Commentary exists to provide an accessible authority so that the preacher’s application will be a ready bandage for all the hurts of life. We who serve the pulpit want a commentary we can understand, and those who hear us expect us to give them a usable word. The Brazos Commentary offers just the right level of light to make illuminating the word the joy it was meant to be.”
Calvin Miller, author of A Hunger for the Holy and Loving God Up Close

“For pastors, wanting to get at the theological heart of a text, there is some good stuff. When I am preaching, I usually try to take a peek at the Brazos volume.”
Nijay K. Gupta, assistant professor of New Testament, Northeastern Seminary, Roberts Wesleyan College

Lectionary Reflection for the Third Sunday of Easter

This excerpt comes from Luke (BTCB) by David Lyle Jeffrey, commenting on Luke 24:36b-48:

After the Lord has left them, at “that very hour” the pair return to Jerusalem, presumably arriving later in the same evening, to find “the eleven and those who were with them gathered together [athroizō]” (24:33), already talking in amazement about the Lord having appeared by now to Simon Peter (24:34). And so Cleopas and the other tell their story too, notably “how he was known to them in the breaking of bread” (24:35).

But even while they are in this joyous exchange, flushed with the excitement and wonder of it all, suddenly Jesus is standing “in the midst of them” and saying, “Peace to you” (24:36).

Despite the collective witness of previous encounters with the risen Lord, they are “terrified and affrighted” (ptoeō and emphobos—the doubling indicates extremity of apprehensive emotion) and think he is a ghost (24:37).

As so often, he calms them down: “Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts?” (24:38). He points to his hands and his feet, inviting them to touch him, “for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (24:39). When he does this (24:40), they can scarcely believe for their joy and wonderment (thaumazō has the sense we employ when we refer to something wonderful as “fantastic” or “incredible,” not meaning the word literally but hyperbolically for something so marvelous our minds cannot take it in).

Luke here is as emphatic about the physicality of the resurrected body of Jesus as Paul will be later (1 Cor. 15:35–49); it is of the essence of what he is showing to have happened that every expectation of mortal nature in death has been broken through, the corruptible body having been restored and now, recognizably flesh and bones, yet an entirely new phenomenon.

It can scarcely be overstressed how contrary Luke and Paul are to modernist metaphorizing and sidestepping of this absolute foundation of Christian faith and hope.

John Updike, himself a modern and no pietist, nevertheless underscores this point beautifully in a poem directed against the evasive liberalism of many theologians when he insists that Jesus’s bodily resurrection is the lynch-pin of any plausible Christian future: “if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules / reknit, the amino acids rekindle,” he says, “the Church will fall.”

 

©2012 by David Lyle Jeffrey. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

 

Lectionary Reflection for the First Sunday in Lent

This excerpt comes from Genesis (BTCB) by R. R. Reno, commenting on Genesis 9:8-17:

Aside from the ark, the flood story has all the features of decreation and a return to the beginning of creation. Yet the ark would seem to be the main point, and it introduces the dominant pattern in the rest of scripture: “For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you” (Isa. 54:7).

Floods of trial, slavery, exile, persecution, and even the flood of death on the cross—all these winnowing and purging episodes of suffering are for the sake of finding our way into the future of fellowship with God. In this sense, the flood sets out patterns of divine loyalty to his creatures: “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it” (Song 8:7).

The covenant with Noah, however, is the ambiguous first stage in the divine project of realizing this loyalty in the flesh and blood of human life. It does not so much move history forward as stay the destructive effects of sin. For this reason, the flood is best understood as the covenant of God’s patience. The protecting mark of Cain stays the hand of those who seek to kill him. The covenant with Noah has similar effect.

The blessing that changes human relations to animals and establishes the basic duty to punish transgression lays the foundations for human survival. The family tribe, held together by rough justice, enters the flow of history. This human-centered change is mirrored in the divine-centered promise never again to unleash the primal forces of nature against humanity.

Water will return as a remedy for sin in the history of the covenant, but it will be the irrigating, life-giving water of Gen. 2 rather than the primal waters of Gen. 1 that overwhelm the world in Gen. 7: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses” (Ezek. 36:25).

Looking back on the flood episode, therefore, we can see that the massive project of worldwide cleansing does not create a new future for humanity. It hits the pause button on the doleful, destructive thrust of sin and brings a modicum of stability to human history.

 

©2010 by R. R. Reno. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Lectionary Reflection for Transfiguration Sunday

This excerpt comes from 1 & 2 Kings (BTCB) by Peter J. Leithart, commenting on 2 Kings 2:

The story of Elijah’s departure into heaven follows the sequence of a sacrificial rite (Lev. 1). By their mutual journey around the land, Elijah and Elisha form a unit, a “two of them” (2 Kgs. 2:7). They cross the Jordan, as parts of a sacrificial animal will be washed before being placed on the altar.

Fire descends from heaven, dividing them in two, one ascending in fire to God, as the altar portions of the animal ascend in smoke to heaven. In the ascension (or “wholly burnt”) offering, the skin of the sacrificial animal is given to the priest, and the mantle-skin of Elijah, the hairy garment of the “baal of hair,” is left for Elisha.

Through this human “sacrifice,” Elisha becomes a successor to Elijah, and a new phase of prophetic history begins. In this sense too the story is a type of the sacrifice of Jesus, who is washed in the Jordan, gives himself over to be cut in two, ascends into a cloud, and leaves his Spirit and his mantle with his disciples.

Sacrifices are completed in celebration, in a meal, and following the “sacrificial” departure of Elijah, Elisha embarks on a ministry of feasting. Already in 2 Kgs. 2 Elisha is characterized by what he eats. When Jesus promises that his Father will not deny the Spirit to those who ask, he uses food metaphors: a father will not deny bread and fish to his children, so the heavenly Father will not deny the Spirit (Luke 11:11–13).

Elijah’s response to Elisha’s request for the spirit also uses a food image. In the Hebrew Elisha asks for “two mouths of your spirit” or “a double mouthful of the Spirit” (2 Kgs. 2:9). For both Elisha and Jesus, the Spirit is food, and Elisha can provide abundant food because his mouth is filled with the Spirit.

Following on the sacrifice of Jesus, our Father offers bread and wine, a token that he will not deny the Spirit to those who seek him. And more than a token: through this meal, we eat and drink spiritual food (1 Cor. 10:1–4), as we feed on the Son through the Spirit. “Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it,” says the Lord, and the greater Elijah who has ascended into heaven fills us with a double mouthful of his Spirit.

 

©2006 by Peter J. Leithart. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.