Theology From Exile is a commentary series on the Revised Common Lectionary by Sea Raven. Each Volume takes one year in the three year lectionary cycle. Volume I goes through year C in the three year cycle or as the commentary calls it the “Year of Luke. We are Currently in Year A, the year of Matthew so as I’ve read through this commentary I’ve been pay particular close attention to the entries for the end of Easter and this Sunday Trinity Sunday, as I’ve been preparing my sermons.
I begin with a caveat: I no longer make use of commentaries in my sermon preparation. I haven’t for a number of years. My disillusionment and eventual disregard for the commentary started in my seminary preaching courses. At first I dutifully read the text, consulted the Biblical Scholarship and got ahold of as many commentaries as I could get my hands on. This process my preaching professor assured me hindered my preaching, and I had to admit that for the purpose of preaching commentaries could always only provide the backdrop for my personal understanding of the text but not really enter into the sermon itself. The problem with commentaries is that they are either too specific and detailed or too general, or they attempt to be both. Now I only consult a commentary when I feel I need a refresher in the basic scholarship around the text, or have a particular problem or conundrum in the text relating to the topic of my sermon that I need help from a scholars in resolving.
Over all I like the idea of a commentary on the Lectionary. Sea Raven in Volume II The Year of Matthew sets the texts, the scholarship and the choices of the Lectionary into the context of the Sunday and Season in which the Biblical texts are assigned. Many I think will find such an arrangement and reflection helpful in preparation of sermons. Also, for those who are seeking a way that contemporary scholarship like that of the Jesus Seminary, and Dominic Crossan might preach, this commentary provides a possibility, (I’ve preached in conversation with Crossan and I’d have written a very different commentary).
In the end like all commentaries this one has it’s limits. The limits of the Year of Matthew are it’s dismissal of most of historic Christian interpretation of the texts and the Dogma of the Church. Not surprisingly as the author is a Unitarian/Universalists, trinitarian theology is dismissed. Also exactly why I should be paying attention to Jesus of Nazareth and the texts of the Bible at all is never really made clear. At moments one could read some entries as seeing some claims of incarnation, and “kenosis” is key to the interpretations provided in the commentary, but there seems to be shrinking back from any sort of actuality to the kenosis, which all remains a bit in the realm of ideas. Like many commentaries one gets the views of the scholar but not always much insight into the meaning of the Scriptures themselves.
For a variety of reasons I’ve found the commentary disappointing. Though that is also not surprising since I long ago found commentaries a necessary but disappointing genre. The Theology From Exile series and Volume II The Year of Matthew are particularly disappointing though because I feel that the idea of a commentary on the RCL engaging contemporary scholarship and Tradition could have produced something quite amazing. As it is Sea Ravens narrow sense of contemporary scholarship that excludes a the opinions of a number of contemporary scholars who apparently are simply too close to traditional interpretations to be of interest or to be taken seriously.
If your looking for a commentary with the attitude of John Shelby Spong and that will show you how to preach from the scholarship of Dominic Crossan and the Jesus Seminar this is the commentary for you. However, if your looking for a wider perspective or actual engagement with the history of interpretation of these texts, this is not the commentary for you.
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