St. Andrew, by Georges de la Tour…
As noted in On the readings for Advent Sunday, November 30 was the First Sunday of Advent, which means that on Sunday December 7, most churches will be celebrating – and using the readings for – the Second Sunday of Advent. However, on that same December 7, churches with “St. Andrew” in their names (like mine) will be celebrating the Feast Day of St. Andrew. (For more on this saint – whose name means “manly” – see On St. Andrew, the “First Apostle”.)
Thus the readings for Sunday December 7 – when celebrated as the Feast of St. Andrew – are Deuteronomy 30:11-14, Psalm 19, Romans 10:8b-18, and Matthew 4:18-22. For more on the Season of Advent, see Advent Sunday. For more on Psalm 19 – what some call a “masterpiece of poetic literature” and another call “the greatest poem in the Psalter” – see On the Psalms up to December 7. For the complete readings, see St Andrew, Apostle.
Here are some highlights.
The reading from the Old Testament is Deuteronomy 30:11-14:
Moses said to the people of Israel: Surely, this commandment … is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” No, the word is very near to you…
Here’s the background for what the International Bible Commentary (IBC) called a “recap” of the original covenant – or contract between God and His People – from Deuteronomy 29:1 to 30:20, and specifically of Moses’ “appeal to commitment” from Deuteronomy 30:11 to 30:20.
The Book of Numbers ended with the Hebrews on the plains of Moab and/or the territory of Gilead, east of the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee, what is now the nation of Jordan. They were about to enter The Promised Land after their escape from slavery in Egypt, and after 40 years wandering in the Wilderness and numerous battles and other adventures. But as Asimov said, Deuteronomy doesn’t “advance Israelite history but purports to be a series of addresses [“sermons” if you will] given by Moses on the eve of his death.” (Moses getting to the edge of the Promised Land but not allowed to enter was discussed in On the readings for October 26, with a note on the “Transfiguration, where Moses … realized a centuries-old dream.”)
Asimov said these addresses “recapitulate the events of the Exodus and restate key portions of the law as it was received from [Mount] Sinai.” And the IBC said of 30:11-14:
It is natural to emphasize the remoteness of truth and wisdom in daily life and the difficulty of achieving them [see for example Job 28:12 and following]. But God’s law was accessible to every Israelite [see also Psalm 19:7-11, part of the Psalm reading for this Sunday]. In Rom[ans] 10:6-8, Paul uses these words to illustrate the character of the new covenant, based on Our Lord’s incarnation and the free offer of the gospel, in the power of the Spirit, all of which bring the word … very near.
(Page 279, emphasis and ellipses in original.) Which brings up the New Testament reading.
In Romans 10:8b-18, Paul quoted Moses in this Sunday’s OT reading: “‘The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” The emphasized part supports a theory that being in a particular “club” or denomination will neither “save” you nor get you to heaven. (Or as has been said, “there are no denominations in heaven.” See the notes for About the psalms.)
Paul continued that theme in verse 11: “The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.'” In doing so Paul quoted Isaiah 28:16, “this is what the Sovereign LORD says: ‘See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who relies on it will never be stricken with panic.‘” See also verse 13, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Here Paul cited Joel 2:32, “And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the LORD has said, even among the survivors whom the LORD calls.”
And Matthew 4:18-22 tells of Jesus walking by the Sea of Galilee and seeing brothers Simon and Andrew, and saying to them (in the King James Version, the one God uses), “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” But see also On St. Andrew, the “First Apostle”, which noted the different spin given in John 1:35-42 about that first meeting:
The next day John [the Baptist] was … with two of his disciples, when he saw Jesus walking… The two disciples [followed] Jesus[, who] turned, saw them following him, and asked, “What are you looking for?” They answered, “Where do you live, Rabbi?” … “Come and see,” he answered… So they went with him… One of them was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. At once he found his brother Simon and … took Simon to Jesus. [E.A.]
Which brings up the question whether this difference in testimony should shake your faith. After all, if Matthew and John can’t agree on how Jesus met Andrew and Peter, how can you have any faith in the rest of the Bible? The shortest and best answer comes from a theory that the Bible wasn’t written by “giants” but by people just like us. See for example On Harry Truman:
I liked the New Testament stories best, especially the Gospels. And when I was older, I was very much interested in the way those fellas saw the same things in a different manner. A very different manner, and they were all telling the truth… That’s why I always hesitated to call a man a liar unless I had the absolute goods on him.
In turn the Good News is that if the Bible was written by people just like us, we too can accomplish miracles just like Jesus and the rest of the Bible-writers did. See John 14:12, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” (Emphasis added.)
The upper image is courtesy of St. Andrew – Georges de la Tour – WikiArt.org, with notes: “Artist: Georges de la Tour; Start Date: 1615; Completion Date:1620; Style: Tenebrism.” See also Tenebrism – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, “from the Italian, tenebroso (murky), also called dramatic illumination, [a] style of painting using very pronounced chiaroscuro, where there are violent contrasts of light and dark, and where darkness becomes a dominating feature of the image. The technique was developed to add drama to an image through a spotlight effect…”
As to this fifth book of the Bible, see Book of Deuteronomy – Wikipedia, which added:
The book consists of three sermons or speeches delivered to the Israelites by Moses on the plains of Moab, shortly before they enter the Promised Land. The first sermon recapitulates the forty years of wilderness wanderings which have led to this moment, and ends with an exhortation to observe the law (or teachings), later referred to as the Law of Moses; the second reminds the Israelites of the need for exclusive allegiance to one God and observance of the laws (or teachings) he has given them, on which their possession of the land depends; and the third offers the comfort that even should Israel prove unfaithful and so lose the land, with repentance all can be restored.
(Note that the emphasized portion applies to us “even to this day.) See also Book of Numbers – Wikipedia. The notes from Isaac Asimov, as to the end of Numbers and Deuteronomy in general, are from Asimov’s Guide to the Bible (Two Volumes in One), Avenel Books (1981), at pages 190-192.
The promise of John 14:12 was discussed in Quick summary.
The lower image is courtesy of The Raising of Lazarus (Rembrandt) – Wikipedia, with the caption, “The Raising of Lazarus, Rembrandt. Oil on panel. 37 15/16 x 32 in. (96.36 x 81.28 cm). Late 1620s or 1630-32. Los Angeles County Museum of Art.” The article added:
The painting shows the moment Lazarus re-awakens from death and rises from his tomb as Christ calls him. Lazarus is in the darker half of the painting while the figures at left are far more illuminated. Mary and those assembled look on in amazement as Lazarus comes to life. The painting depicts a parable of spiritual life, the miracle of the hardened sinner receiving first grace (sorrow for sins committed in order to seek penitence and redemption).
Which leads to one final word to the wise: “Kids, don’t try this (miracle) at home!“