Lectionary Year A
September 1, 2002
Step IV: Context
A. Primitive Christianity
(JFC) We might imagine these early Christians could see this litany of virtuous
attitudes and actions to have been personified in Jesus Himself. He would have been the very personification of these characteristics of love, honoring, glowing in the Spirit, rejoicing in hope, etc., etc. Of course, the love theme here is "exactly similar to that in I Corinthians xii, xiii and obviously suggested by it", according to ICC. And, II Corinthians 6:5-10 lists another similar set of valuable postures and practices Christians pursue. I Thessalonians 4:9, states that God has taught Christians to love one another, following which Paul lists more proper ways for Christians to behave. I Peter 2:17 calls for respecting everyone as Jesus preaches in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:43f). Hebrews 10:30 also quotes the words written in 19 here. They are still relevant then, too.
B. Old Testament and Judaism
(JFC) As mentioned above, the Decalogue might readily come to mind when this
week's Epistle passage is read/heard by first century Jews and/or converts to Christianity. Amos 5:15 calls for hating evil and loving good and Psalm 97:10 declares that God loves those who hate evil. Proverbs 3:7 says "Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil" and Proverbs 25:21f states, "If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat; and if they are thirsty, give them water to drink." Isaiah 5:21 also exclaims against conceit and Deuteronomy explains that "Vindication is God's prerogative, not ours, according to the NRSV's footnotes here at verse 19. And, in the early centuries of the Common Era (second through the fourth), the Apocalypse of Sedrach questions God at 7:9f, "How is it that you said, Lord, 'Do not repay evil for evil'? How is it, Master, for the word of your divinity never lies? And why did you repay thus man, if you do not wish (to return) evil for evil?" Then, in II Enoch (late first century CE) 50:4, we read, ". . . and every evil word, if they happen to you on account of the Lord, endure them; and, being able to pay them back, do not repay them to (your) neighbor, because it is the Lord who repays, and he will be the avenger for you on the day of great judgment."
C. Hellenistic World
(JFC) Differentiating two distinctive outlooks on evil as opposed to good would get
the attention of these philosophically oriented thinkers. Hospitality (verse 13b) was a big concern to and for them. Harmony, in 16a, was a high value in their thoughts but we have to wonder what they would do with the haughtiness mentioned in verse 16b. Could they ever picture themselves as haughty elitists as some have called them? And, "First found in Mid. Exodus Rabbah 26:2 (on 17:8), 'God said: 'Remember me; just as I repay good for evil so do thou also repay good for evil,' as it says Who is a God like unto Thee, who pardoneth the iniquity, and passeth by the transgression [Mic 7:18]' (Lehman), . . ." as cited in Hellenistic Commentary to the New Testament.
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