Lection Notes
Lection Notes
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B
August 31, 2003
by Michael Phillips

Song of Solomon 2: 8-13

The excited cry of a woman as her heart's desire approaches - she hears his voice, and he comes, (like a gazelle), leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills (showing great strength). The word for gazelle in Hebrew has a homonym meaning "beauty" (Isa. 13:19; 23:9). The lover announces the arrival of spring (or the end of winter). The winter would have been the rainy season, and now the land is in bloom. The time of "singing" may also be read as the time of "pruning." The Oxford Annotated NRSV notes an ancient Hebrew calendar from Gezer places the time of pruning between the month of harvesting and the month of summer fruit.

Psalm 45: 1-2, 6-9

This is an ancient, royal wedding song, it's meaning unclear in several places (Oxford Annotations). The king is an ideal figure, possessing both physical beauty and military valor. The most debated verse in the psalm, v. 6, seems to attribute divinity to the king (Ps. 2:7; 89:25-27). It is often emended to read, "Your throne is a throne of God, it." removing the onus from the verse attributing divinity to an earthly ruler. The function of the king is 'the cause of truth and right, equity, and righteousness.'

James 1: 17-27

James suggests that righteousness comes only from the 'implanted word' that is able to save your soul. He also insists that this implanted word must bear fruit. This is dependent upon the perseverance of the hearer who will act on the word (in faith) and be blessed in their doing. The epitome of pure and undefiled actions is the care of orphans and widows in distress, to whom mercy and love are shown by offering real and timely assistance.

Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23

In an exchange with the "Pharisees and (some Scribes from Jerusalem)," Jesus makes the case for ritual cleanness that focuses on the state of the heart, in response to his opponents' questioning of his disciples concerning their failure to observe purity codes in preparing and eating food. Jesus insists that whatever enters a person from the outside winds up in the sewer. Yet, whatever comes forth from the heart of a person may defile the entire social structure / order. It is an argument from the lesser to the greater - a tactic used in debate, not so much to say the other side is wrong, but to say their position is irrelevant (they miss the larger point). However this exchange unfolded between Jesus and his hearers, there's no question that Mark is saying the other side is wrong (hypocritical) in the way they observe the tradition of the elders which 'set aside' the teachings / commandments of God in practice. Setting aside ritual practice is better than setting aside a heart devoted to the sincere worship and service of God.

(Comments to Michael at mphillip@epix.net.)

First Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Berwick, Pennsylvania (Susquehanna North Branch)