Scripture Commentary for August 14, 2016

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PROPER 15

Aug. 14 – 20

 

FIRST READING

Isaiah 5: 1 – 7

“The Song of the Vineyard” by First Isaiah needs little comment.  It is an extended metaphor expressing the disappointments God feels at the behavior of his people and announces his intent to punish them.

I have been asked why I have been dating the Sundays so oddly.  Let me explain, if I can.  The precise date of the Sunday is the Sunday that falls within this bracket of dates.  Why use such an awkward dating? The calendars we use daily are not the same as the church calendar.  Some unsung genius came up with an entire set of dates that bridge the gaps, a brief bracket of dates containing one Sunday only, the Sunday in question.  From year to year, that “trapped” Sunday may change its position within the bracket, but will never fall outside it.  For example, today, August 18, is called on the church calendar Proper 15.  18 August is the only Sunday within the brackets set for Proper 15.  But last year, Proper 15, still the only Sunday within the bracket, turned out to be 19 August.  The device can be used for any Sunday of the three year cycle.

 

ALTERNATIVE FIRST READING

Jeremiah 23: 23 – 29

The prophet Jeremiah wrote from about 600 to 550 BCE.  He wrote the individual parts of the Book of Jeremiah at various times.  They were late cobbled together by editors with no regard to the chronology of their writing or of the events spoken of.  In the passage we hear today, Jeremiah speaks for God against false prophets, but not in a rage.  He treats them as pitiable.  First, God assures his people there is nothing going on among prophets that he doesn’t see.  He’s not in a distant heaven, but right here now.  The false prophets have tried to discredit Jeremiah on the basis of their prophetic dreams.  Let them dream on, says God, anyone can see how meaningless are their dreams compared to the brilliant, burning, powerful words of God spoken by a real prophet.

 

SECOND READING

Hebrews 11: 29 – 12: 2

Hebrews closes with a long “call to faith,” part of which we hear today.  This word “faith” is critical.  Faith, for Paul, does not mean simple belief, though belief is part of it.  But faith is something like acting as closely as we can to God’s way, clinging to God.  Such faith has inspired a cloud of witnesses, major figures in Jewish history, lesser figures who benefitted by miracles, and masses who have suffered or died for their faith.  The puzzling part is the author’s saying that for their sacrifices and accomplishments they were “commended,” yet they did not “receive what was promised.”  Although he doesn’t say so specifically, he seems to mean they had to wait for Jesus Christ.  If that makes sense, yet another puzzle waits:  they still did not attain the ultimate goal: they “did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.”  I could make no sense of this until I looked into the New English Bible (a translation I much admire), where the line reads, “God had made a better plan, that only in company with us should they reach their perfection.”  Paul is just repeating himself.  These heroes, like us lesser folk, will be rewarded for our faith only through the new covenant of Christ. I really wish Paul had been in my English class.

 

©Arthur H. Cash

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