I lost a bit of sleep last night as I poured over two new commentaries: 2 Samuel by Robert Barron in the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible and The Gospel of John by Francis Martin and William Wright IV in the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture. I spent a fair amount of time on the former while scanning the latter. It’s hard to know where to start with Barron’s commentary. His discussion of the Uzzah’s death (2 Samuel 6) in particular was theologically rich and profound as he weaved through theological concepts such as the love of God, divine immutability and sublimity. He explains that the “key issue seems to be liturgical impropriety.” (p. 56) But as any reader of this passage knows God seems just a bit over the top in killing Uzzah. Barron writes,
“Once more the temptation is to conclude that a God who would respond with deadly violence to such a minor violation of liturgical law is surely unbalanced. Yet we have to keep the symbolic nature of the language in mind and get to the spiritual truths the author is endeavoring to communicate. The entire purpose of liturgy is to restore humanity to right order, adoratio leading to the harmonizing of self and society.” (p. 56)
As virtually every commentator has noted the ark was not being carried in accordance with the law. Barron continues:
“ . . . Yahweh had instructed that it be carried by poles. A small matter? Perhaps, but obedience is the hinge on which Israelite life turns. God was angry not because Uzzah’s act personally offended him (in point of fact, the one who needs nothing from the world cannot, even in principle, be offended) but rather because it represented a compromising of the liturgical attitude. The church fathers are eminently clear on this score. Chrysostom says, ‘As the wrath of God was drawn down on Uzzah for intruding on an office that was not his own, God’s wrath will likewise advance against those who subvert the gospel.’ Salvian remarks, ‘Uzzah’s punishment for steadying the ark shows that nothing may be considered lightly when it pertains to God.’” (p. 56) “The strangeness of God and his actions has nothing to do with capriciousness of God’s part; rather, it is a function of God’s absolutely unique manner of being and our limited consciousness. . . . Hans Urs von Balthasar speaks of God as a raging Alpine torment, which utterly smashes any receptors designed to channel it and convert it to human use. This divine sublimity is, by turns, thrilling and terrifying. The prophet Isaiah can exult in the overwhelming beauty of God manifested in a temple vision of cloud with angels (Isa. 6:1-3), but as the Letter to the Hebrews has it, ‘It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’ (Heb. 10:31). A one-sided stress on the latter quality gives us an arbitrary God, but a unilateral stress on the former gives us a superficial and manipulable God. Without for a moment rescinding any of the clarifications that I made above, I will also say this: Yahweh’s striking down of Uzzah is finally inexplicable, for it expresses and participates in the sublimity of God.” (57)
This is only one passage of many that I read that I found thought out with theological acumen and depth. This is a commentary I will enjoy for years to come.
Here is one small snippet from The Gospel of John. I’ll have more in future posts.
“The Mother of Jesus. At Cana, we see Mary as the model of the Church. Here words to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you’ (2:5), expresses the same disposition that she voiced to the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation: ‘May it be done to me according to your word’ (Luke 1:38). In both cases, Mary’s words recall those of Israel at Mount Sinai: ‘Everything the Lord has said, we will do’ (Exod. 19:8; see 24:3, 7). The mother of Jesus displays the disposition that all believers should have toward God: humility, receptive openness to God’s will, and lively obedience. These are the basic attitudes of discipleship, and they are fundamental for growing in holiness. We also see Mary acting as an intercessor who mediates between Jesus and the members of the household. She presents the needs of others to her Son, and she instructs others to obey him. Mary has a unique role in salvation history because it is only through her that the divine Word became flesh so as to accomplish the work of salvation.” (pp. 60-61)
2 Samuel (Brazos Press) is a hardcover with 240 pages and sells for $29.99.
Robert Barron (STD, Institut Catholique de Paris) is rector of Mundelein Seminary and president of the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois. He founded Word on Fire, a Catholic ministry of evangelism, and has written numerous books, including Catholicism (over 100,000 copies sold), The Priority of Christ, The Strangest Way: Walking the Christian Path (winner of a Catholic Press Association Book Award), and Heaven in Stone and Glass.
The Gospel of John (Baker Academic) is a paperback with 368 pages and sells for $22.99.
Francis Martin (SSD, Pontifical Biblical Institute), a renowned Scripture scholar, is founder and president of Father Francis Martin Ministries (FFMM). He is professor emeritus of New Testament at the Dominican House of Studies, a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, and chaplain of the Mother of God Community in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
William M. Wright IV (PhD, Emory University) is associate professor of theology at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and is the author of Rhetoric and Theology: Figural Reading of John 9.