by Fred Plumer, President Progressive Christianity.org
I must admit for twenty three years in the pulpit, I was not a great fan of Lectionary commentaries. The commentaries always seemed too contrived, were overly concerned with nuance and often seemed dated in the scholarship. And now as someone who has spent nearly a decade in the pews in possibly a hundred churches, I have grown weary of pastors struggling to create a sermon out of the lectionary selections, often trying to force two or three of the selections into something meaningful. So when I agreed to do a review for Sea Raven’s second year set of commentaries, I was hesitant. However, I was delighted to discover that Sea Raven has created something of great value here. Drawing on some of the best and latest scholarship available, she brings new life to words and texts that have lost their meaning and their intention for far too many people, including those leading churches. She accomplishes this with clear and even simple language and a clarity that I find rare with scholars.
As in her first commentary, The Year of Luke, Sea Raven frames her commentaries by responding to four questions: 1) What is the nature of God? Violent or nonviolent? 2) What is the nature of Jesus’s message? Inclusive or exclusive? 3) What is faith? Literal belief, or commitment to the great work of justice-compassion? 4) What is deliverance? Salvation from hell, or liberation from injustice?
I realized as I went over the questions several times that these are questions all churches should have been wrestling with for the last hundred years. It is no less true today in our challenged world. As she weaves through the biblical text, offering fresh translations and context, the picture of the struggling people of the bible becomes much clearer, as does their response. And no surprise, the picture of Jesus and his message is clearer as well.
We live in an era when the people of our nation are trying to decide if we want to continue our trend toward an empire nation, saddled with empire thinking or something else. In the meantime, the “haves and have nots” grow further and further apart. We are faced with some horrendous issues that require our serious considerations. There could not have been a better time for people of faith to address these issues. It seems obvious to me that they will not be dealt with in our political system without new voices. The very clear message and story that comes out of The Year of Matthew may not be appealing to many pious people who attend our institutional churches. It will take some courageous clergy and some equally committed church leaders to create faith communities around teachings that confront the powers and principalities of our world. But if someone wants to preach, teach or simply live the biblical message of “distributive justice-compassion,” they will find all of the supportive material in they need in this commentary.
I only wish I had had this great resource when I was in the pulpit every week.