These verses are an almost verbatim repetition of Jeremiah 23:5-6. In the precritical age, readers would have had no difficulty in supposing that Jeremiah spoke the same oracle on two separate occasions.
The common opinion among scholars today is that Jeremiah 23 contains the prophet’s original oracle, and that Jeremiah 33 is a revival of this oracle by one of his disciples in a later situation.
Jeremiah had predicted that the Davidic dynasty would be restored shortly after the fall of Jerusalem in 586. But the years of exile were prolonged and the promise went unfulfilled. The exiles were tempted to abandon their ancestral religion and adopt the religion of the surrounding nations.
In this situation a later writer repeats Jeremiah’s prophecy. No doubt its partial fulfillment was discerned in the return from exile, but Christian faith has seen in it a promise that was not fulfilled until the coming of Jesus, the real Messiah.
While we should not read into the phrase “The Lord is our righteousness” the full Pauline meaning of “righteousness,” the use of the word here provides a background for Paul.
Righteousness is not an ethical or moral quality but the saving act of Yhwh. The restoration of the Davidic monarchy after the Exile will be seen as Yhwh’s mighty act of salvation. Christian faith will see the advent of Christ as God’s final act of salvation.
Other verses of this psalm are used on the twenty-sixth Sunday of the year in series A, the first Sunday of Lent in series B, and the third Sunday of the year in series B.
The idea of Yhwh’s righteousness is picked up in the words “truth” (that is, God’s fidelity to his promise) and “salvation” in the first stanza, and “steadfast love,” “faithfulness,” and “covenant” in the third stanza.
The psalm, accordingly, should not be interpreted moralistically. It speaks of patient waiting for the advent of Yhwh’s righteousness.
This passage comes from the opening thanksgiving (first paragraph) and intercession (second paragraph) of Philippians. If we accept the recent theory that Philippians is a compilation of three different letters sent by Paul to that community within a short period of time, this passage would come from the second letter. Paul is in prison at Ephesus (?). The Philipplans’ envoy, Epaphroditus, who has brought along a “care package” for the incarcerated Apostle, had fallen sick but has now recovered.
Paul has also heard rumors that false teachers had either arrived or were about to arrive to stir up trouble in this faithful community, and so he is somewhat anxious about them. He sends his second letter (Phil 1:1-3:1; 4:47) to tell them the news about himself and Epaphroditus, and to exhort them to unity. These concerns are reflected in the thanksgiving and the intercession.
As in 1 Thessalonians (see last Sunday’s Second Reading), Paul regards the “day of Jesus Christ” (that is, the parousia) as the terminal point of Christian maturation. Of course, he thought that he and his readers, the majority anyhow, would still be alive on that day and that therefore all spiritual growth would take place entirely within their earthly existence.
Yet, by this time he had already written 1 Thessalonians and had faced the problem of Christians who had died before the parousia. It is therefore a reasonable extension of his meaning to suppose that the parousia remains the term of spiritual growth for all believers, including those already dead.
It is interesting that Paul characterizes Christian growth in the ethical terminology of Stoicism: “knowledge,” “discernment,” “approve what is excellent.” Most interesting is the word for “discernment” (aisthesis).
Knowing that the will of God in concrete situations requires a kind of aesthetic sensibility, John A. T. Robinson once spoke of the Christian as having a set of built-in antennae to tell him or her what love requires in a particular situation. This, of course, is not the whole truth about Christian ethics, but it is an important factor and one to which the Apostle here gives countenance.
In series C we will be reading the Gospel of Luke in course. Today’s selection, however, is out of course in order to present Luke’s future-apocalyptic teaching on the first Sunday of Advent, where it is particularly seasonable.
Although Luke follows Mark in his location of the apocalyptic discourse (just before the passion narrative), he draws much of its content from his special material. Only in Luke 21:25, 26b, and 27 does he follow Mark closely.
The synoptic apocalypse was constantly adjusted so that it could speak to the ever-changing situation of the early Christian community.
Luke’s version, unlike Mark’s, regards the Church as here to stay. This lengthy period is marked by “distress of nations” and by human fear and foreboding. And in the Christian community, slackness is setting in.
There is dissipation, drunkenness, and the “cares of this life” (see the interpretation of the parable of the sower). In such a situation Luke calls upon his contemporaries to watch and pray.