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The Church in Ephesus. Chap. 2:1 7
These seven Epistles are marked by certain features common to them all. (1) They are all dictated by the Lord Himself. (2) The command to write to the Angel of the particular Church. (3) One of the great titles of our Lord taken for the most part from the Vision in chap. 1. (4) An address to the Angel of the Church, always commencing with ‘I know,’ describing the circumstances of the Church, exhorting to repentance or to constancy, and ending with a prophetic announcement. (5) A promise to “him that overcometh” generally accompanied with a call to earnest attention, ‘he that hath ears, &c.’ (See Alford).
1. the angel of the church of Ephesus ] Some think that this would be St Timothy, and go so far as to find in St Paul’s Epistles traits of his character analogous to those here noted. But even if the “Angel” here be a bishop, it is likelier that he would be one appointed by St Timothy, if not by St John himself. 2 Timothy 4:9 , 2 Timothy 4:21 , compared with Titus 3:12 , seems to prove that permanent residence in one diocese was not implied by the apostolical commission which St Paul, toward the end of his life, gave to his disciples.
he that holdeth the seven stars ] Ephesus being the chief city and, to some extent, the mother Church of the district, the Lord addresses the Church there in the character of Lord of all the Churches: as though (to illustrate by the later organization of the Church) he addressed all the Churches of the Province in the person of their Primate.
2. canst not bear ] As too heavy a burden.
them which say they are apostles ] Cf. 2 Corinthians 11:13 sqq. For the question who these false Apostles at Ephesus were, see Excursus II.
hast found them liars ] Rather, didst find them false . They had profited by St Paul’s warning, Acts 20:28-30 .
3. and hast borne , &c.] Read and hast patience; and didst bear for my Name’s sake, and hast not been weary .
4. thy first love ] It is to be remembered that these words have not in ecclesiastical (or indeed in any) Greek the same sentimental associations as in English; nevertheless it is not unlikely that conjugal love is meant: cf. Jeremiah 2:2 . Some understand the word of love to the brethren, because we have “the first works” in the next verse: but the argument is a bad one. Of course those good words (whether of “charity” in the narrower sense or not) proceeded from love to Christ.
5. repent ] Neither this word, nor the cognate subst. repentance , is used in St John’s Gospel or Epistles.
do the first works ] He does not say, “Love with the first love,” though the works were only valuable as proceeding from love: for to love, though depending on the state of the will, is not a directly voluntary act. But He says “do the first works,” for that is in thy power. Do again what love made thee do, that thou mayest learn to love again. The paradox is as true of spiritual graces as of natural virtues (Arist. Eth. Nic. II. 4:1, 2) that the good habitual character is only gained by good acts, while really good acts are only possible as the product of the good character.
I will come ] Literally, I am coming the verb having, from its own nature, the sense of future time: cf. 1:4 and note.
remove thy candlestick out of his place ] i.e. make thee cease to be a Church. It seems scarcely relevant to point to the destruction of the city by the Turks, and its present desolation, as a fulfilment of this threat. We may presume that the Church of Ephesus did repent, as it was famous and prosperous, and fertile in Saints, for centuries. It is likely enough that the Turkish conquest was God’s judgement on the sins of the Eastern Empire and its Churches: but we cannot conclude that the Church of Ephesus was in the 14th century more corrupt than e.g. that of Smyrna, because it was more entirely exterminated.
6. But this thou hast ] This is one point in which thou art not wanting. Compare 2:25, 3:2, 11, where faithfulness is conceived as a treasure possessed and to be guarded.
thou hatest the deeds ] Compatible with love to the persons: cf. St Jude 1:23 .
Nicolaitans ] See Excursus II.
7. He that hath an ear ] A repetition, with a merely verbal alteration, of one of our Lord’s characteristic phrases in His teaching while on earth: St Matthew 11:15 , &c.
what the Spirit saith ] Speaking through the Risen Christ to John who was “in the Spirit.”
To him that overcometh ] A promise thus expressed, and an invitation to attention like that preceding it, are found at the end of each of these seven Epistles the invitation standing first in the three first, and the promise in the four last. From this change in the order, it appears that attention is invited, not to the final promise only, but to the whole Epistle to each Church, as the Spirit’s message.
the tree of life ] Cf. Genesis 2:9 , as well as Revelation 22:2 , Revelation 22:14 , Revelation 22:19 . The Tree of Life appears, though not under that name, in Enoch xxiv., where we are told that there shall be no power to touch it until the period of the great judgement.
in the midst of the paradise ] Read simply in the Paradise : the insertion is no doubt from Genesis 2:9 . “Paradise,” a Persian word adopted in both Greek and Hebrew, means simply a park or pleasure-ground, and hence is used in the LXX. ( not the Hebrew) of the garden of Eden: in 2 Corinthians 12:4 ; Luke 23:43 , we have it used of a region of the spiritual world, inhabited by the blessed dead. Whether the Paradise of God, where the Tree of Life is now, is identical either with the earthly Paradise where it grew of old, or with the New Jerusalem where it shall grow in the new earth under the new heaven, it would be rash to speculate.
of God ] So “the garden of God” in Ezekiel 28:13 , 31:8, Ezekiel 28:9 , and “the garden of the Lord” in Genesis 13:10 ; Isaiah 51:3 . Some read “of My God,” as in 3:12, but on the whole the omission has more authority, and the exact O. T. phrase seems likelier.
The Church in Smyrna. 8 11
8. The angel ] Supposed by many of the ancient commentators to have been Polycarp.
which was dead ] See on 1:18.
is alive ] Lit., lived, i.e. came to life, revived. So 13:14, and Matthew 9:18 , John 5:25 . The attributes of death and life are here especially ascribed to Christ, because the message He sends is a promise of life to them who die for His sake.
9. thy works, and ] Should be omitted.
poverty ] Perhaps the effect of the persecution, Jewish converts being, as in Hebrews 10:34 , deprived of their property when put out of the synagogue on their conversion. Or perhaps rather the cause of the persecution being more intense here the Christians being people of no dignity or influence, it was safe to attack them.
but thou art rich ] Contrast 3:17, and compare James 2:5 .
blasphemy ] Probably rather in the sense of calumny, coarse slanders against them, than blasphemy against their Lord: though of course both may have been combined, as when Christians were ridiculed as worshippers of the Crucified.
of them ] We should read [coming] from them i.e. the calumny not only uttered by them, but originating from them, and very likely received and repeated among the heathen.
which say they are jews ] No doubt the persons meant are real Jews by birth as well as by profession, but are denied to be worthy of the name. It is treated as still an honourable one, implying religious privileges, as by St Paul in Romans 2:17 , Romans 2:28 , Romans 2:3 :1. Contrast the way that “the Jews” are spoken of in St John’s Gospel always meaning the chief priests and scribes, the persistent enemies of the Gospel. Hence is drawn an argument, that this Book could not be written by the author of the Gospel, at any rate after he had written it: though if this Book were written before the fall of Jerusalem, and the Gospel long after, the change in his point of view will be intelligible.
and are not ] Better, and they are not the relative construction is not continued, at least if we suppose the sentence to be grammatical.
the synagogue of Satan ] For an instance of the same severity from the same mouth, see John 8:44 . While they claimed to be, as the old Jewish Church was, “the congregation of the Lord.” Synagogue is etymologically almost equivalent to congregation , and is, as St Augustine observes, a less noble word than that used for the Christian Church, Ecclesia , a summoned assembly: for while brutes may be “gathered together,” reason (and we may add, freedom) is implied in being summoned together. But the distinction between the two words is not always maintained: Israel is called “the Church” in Acts 7:38 , and the assembly of Christian Jews is called a “synagogue” in St James 2:2 , and almost in Hebrews 10:25 .
10. Fear none of ] Read simply Fear not.
those things which thou shalt suffer ] Probably refer primarily to a persecution immediately impending; but they are no doubt meant to apply also to the subsequent persecutions of the Church there, especially to the famous one, under the Antonines, in which Polycarp the Bishop suffered martyrdom, in a.d. 155. It will depend on the date assigned to this Book, whether Polycarp can have been Bishop at the time of this message. It is to be noted that the Jews were specially active in urging his execution, though officially it was the act of the pagan magistrates.
that ye may be tried ] Or, tempted : it is probably rather the Devil’s object in raising the persecution than God’s in permitting it that is meant. Cf. Luke 22:31 .
ten days ] Possibly a half proverbial expression for a short time, as we might say “a week or two.” And no doubt the notion of a short and definite time is intended: but from the important significance in this book of definite numbers, and not least of definite measures of time, it is probable that something more is intended too whether that the persecution would last ten years , or what, it would be rash to say.
be thou ] Lit., become not implying that he was not perfectly faithful now, but= “prove thyself,” “quit thyself as.”
a crown of life ] i.e. eternal life as a crown; so St James 1:12 . The phrase is like “the crown of glory” in 1 Peter 5:4 , and probably “the crown of righteousness,” 2 Timothy 4:8 . As in the parallel promise, 3:21, the throne is in the fullest sense a royal throne, the crown here is probably a royal crown (so Trench Synonyms ), not a mere garland of victory . Throughout this Book the imagery is Jewish not Gentile, and all who are finally redeemed are Kings, 5:12. Both the thrones and the crowns of the elders, 4:4, 10, might be ensigns of dignity less than royal, but not the crown of the Rider on the White Horse, 6:3. Moreover the Crown of Thorns for which all the Evangelists use the same word as here was certainly a counterfeit of royalty. On the other hand in 19:12 the King of Kings and Lord of Lords has on His head many diadems , the unmistakeable technical name for royal crowns, and there are diadems on the heads of the Dragon, 12:3, and on the horns of the Beast, 13:1.
11. the second death ] See 20:6, 14, &c.
The Church in Pergamos. 12 17
12. he which hath the sharp sword ] Mentioned because He threatens to use it, ver. 16.
13. Satan’s seat ] Better, throne the word being the one so naturalised in English, and so translated in this book wherever used of the throne of God, 3:21 &c. Why Satan’s throne and dwelling-place is localised at Pergamum is uncertain; two explanations have been given: that it was a seat of the worship of Asclepius or Aesculapius, whose traditional image held a serpent, and who in some of his shrines (but apparently not at Pergamum) was actually worshipped under the form of a serpent: and since recent excavations it has been suggested that the phrase was intended to refer to the great altar of Zeus Soter, carved with the wars of gods and giants, which Attalus set up to commemorate his victory over the Gauls the last great triumph of Hellenism over barbarism. No doubt, to a pious Jew or Christian the worship of the serpent might naturally and excusably seem more direct and avowed devil-worship than other idolatry, while the fame of the great altar might cause it to be treated as the chosen throne of the God of this world; but we may question whether an inspired Apostle, or rather the Lord Himself, would thus “look upon the outward appearance” both the worship of Asclepius and the thank-offering of Attalus belonged to the better side of heathenism. Perhaps therefore the meaning is only, that Pergamum was in a special sense a home of the Satanic spirit of persecution (cf. v. 10).
even in those days wherein Antipas was ] Read simply in the days of Antipas, My martyr , (or “witness”) My faithful one. According to what seems the best text, the construction is not quite grammatically regular, but it is in accordance with the usage of this Book. A legend is given of the martyrdom under Domitian of Antipas Bishop of Pergamum: it can probably be traced up to the fifth or sixth century. But by that time the fashion had set in of the “invention” (half fraudulent, half imaginative) of relics and legends of martyrs: and it is more than doubtful whether anything authentic is known of Antipas except from this passage. Perhaps it is presumable that he was a Jew by birth: the name is a shortened form of Antipater. The latter, like Philip and other Macedonian names, had become common all over the Levant: but perhaps especially common among Jews, from its being borne by the father of Herod and (in this shortened form) by his son, the tetrarch of Galilee.
martyr ] The word “witness” is already used in its technical ecclesiastical sense of one who bears witness to the Faith with his life: cf. 6:9, 12:11 (“testimony”). So 17:6; Acts 22:20 .
14. that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught ] As we should say “who adhere to the practice taught by Balaam, of eating.…” It is called doctrine , because it is a thing that was taught the words are cognate and correlative. For the fact of Israel being taught such practices, see Numbers 25:1 , Numbers 25:2 : for Balaam’s responsibility, ibid. 31:16. That of Balac is not directly mentioned in the Pentateuch, but is naturally inferred, as we find Moab and Midian united throughout the story.
15. thou also ] As well as Israel of old.
which thing I hate ] Instead of these words read in like manner . This correction makes it certain that we are not to suppose two immoral sects prevailing at Pergamum, those who held the doctrine of Balaam and those who held that of the Nicolaitans: but one sect holding the doctrine taught by Balaam of old and the Nicolaitans now. The sense is, “thou hast with thee followers of Balaam: he taught God’s people to fornicate and to communicate in idol-worship, and the Nicolaitans with thee teach the same.” The passage gives no support to the theory that the Nicolaitans were so called from Balaam; the etymology of whose name is doubtful, but according to a possible one Nicolaus (“conqueror of the people”) might be an approximate Greek equivalent to it. If not called after Nicolas the deacon, they no doubt were called after another Nicolas as we hear from a tradition or conjecture, later than the one which traces them to him.
16. Repent ] The Angel, i.e. the whole body of the Church represented by him, is bidden to repent: because not only are the Nicolaitans guilty of the sins their doctrine involved, but the whole Church (and more especially its Bishop, if we suppose him to be intended) is more or less guilty, for having extended to them the toleration which the Church of Ephesus was praised for refusing.
against them ] Not “against thee:” the mass of the Church is faithful on the whole. But it is implied that if the whole Church does “repent”, and do its duty, these erring members will be reclaimed: and that it will be a loss to the whole Church, if they are not reclaimed but have to be destroyed.
with the sword of my mouth ] cf. 1:16 note.
17. give to eat ] He shall receive the Bread of God (St John 6:32 sqq.) instead of communicating at the table of devils (1 Corinthians 10:21 ).
the hidden manna ] The reference is to the pot of manna kept in the Tabernacle, in or before the Ark (Exodus 16:34 ; Hebrews 9:4 ), and therefore “hidden” in the unapproachable Sanctuary. The Jews appear to have cherished an opinion that the Ark of the Covenant, and other sacred objects which were wanting in the Second Temple, had not perished with the First, but were concealed before its destruction (see e.g. 2 Macc. 1:19 sqq., 2:4 sqq.), and were preserved somewhere in earth or heaven, to be revealed in the days of the Messiah. But we are not to understand that this Book sanctions the first part of this belief, when 21:22 contradicts the second: passages like 11:19 do not imply that the earthly Temple or its contents have been removed to Heaven, but that, whether the earthly Temple stands or falls, there remains in Heaven the archetype from which it was copied, according to the revelations made to Moses and (through David) to Solomon. See Exodus 25:40 , Exodus 25:26 :30; 1 Chronicles 28:12 ; Hebrews 8:5 , Hebrews 9:23 sq.
a white stone, and in the stone a new name written ] Whatever be the precise meaning of this figure, the white stone and the new name are closely connected. This excludes the notion that the white stone is given as a token of acquittal because judges who voted to acquit the prisoner dropped a white stone, sometimes called the pebble of victory, into the urn, though the stone is white because that was the colour of innocence, of joy, of victory. The white stone is a gift in itself, not merely a vehicle of the new name, which it would be if the new name were the new name of Christ Himself, 3:12 (which may be identical with His hidden Name, 19:12), though this too is written upon those who overcome, as the Father’s Name is written on the hundred and forty and four thousand. The stone and the name are the separate possession of each to whom they are given. Most likely both are a token entitling the bearer to some further benefit. It is no objection to this that we do not find the technical Greek word for such tokens, for the ‘token’ might be described without being named. The Greeks had feasts to which every feaster brought a token as a pledge that he would pay his share of the cost. Such a token might also prove his right to join the company. If so, it may be meant that when they who are worthy are called to the Marriage Supper each is called by the new name which he only knows, as each hears and enters, the White stone with the new name is his passport at the door. This would require us to believe that the hidden manna is given to strengthen the elect on the way (1 Kings 19:8 ; John 4:32 ). Possibly again the token gives the right to enter through the gates into the city (22:14) for the angels at the gates may suffer none to pass who cannot name themselves by the new name and shew the white stone. It appears from Aristophanes (Av. 1199 1224) that foreigners (at least in time of war) had no right to be at large in a strange city without some token from its authorities. The parallel though suggestive is too remote in place and time to be convincing. The contemporary parallels of tickets for stated doles or occasional largesses are not exact. These which might be thrown to be scrambled for were marked with the amount of the gifts they represented, not with the owner’s name. If the word used of a ‘stone’ could mean a gem as “Victorinus” supposes, the key to the passage might lie in Wetstein’s quotation from Joma 8 about the rain of pearls and precious stones which fell with the manna. The first readers of the Apocalypse had not to reflect with Bengel that they would know the meaning of the white stone and the new name if and when they overcame. Its symbolical language was plain at the time to those who had ears to hear. Perhaps the new and hidden name is a pledge that no enemy can have power upon him who receives it, for exorcists were supposed to have power over spirits good and evil by knowing their names, and this was only an instance of a widespread feeling which it is said led Cæsar to put a man to death for divulging the sacred secret name of Rome, which was Valentia. It is possible that some kindred mystery may attach to the names, Il. I. 403, XX. 74, which differ in the language of gods and men.
The Church in Thyatira. 18 29
18. the Son of God ] So designated, perhaps, because it is the power which He received from His Father which is the subject of the concluding promise, v. 27.
his eyes ] Which search reins and heart, v. 23.
his feet ] Of strength to break the nations to shivers like a potter’s vessel.
19. and thy works; and the last to be more ] Read, and thy last works to be more in contrast with Ephesus, v. 4.
20. a few things ] Should be omitted: it has come in from v. 14, while the real construction is as in v. 4, “I have [somewhat] against thee, because …,” or better, “I have [this] against thee, that.…”
that woman Jezebel ] There is some authority for the reading “thy wife Jezebel,” and even if the possessive pronoun be not rightly inserted in the Greek text, it is a question whether the article ought not to be understood as equivalent to one. If the sense “thy wife Jezebel” be right, the allusion must be to 1 Kings 21:25 : there is some one (or something) at Thyatira who is, to the Angel of the Church, such a temptress as Jezebel was to Ahab. No doubt, if we suppose the Angel to be the Bishop, it is probable that his actual wife is intended; but even then the name Jezebel must have this meaning.
As a plain matter of verbal exegesis, “thy wife Jezebel” seems, in this context, the more natural translation. But it has its own difficulties. What analogy is there between a faithful servant of Christ, culpably tolerant of a bad wife, but not sharing her faults himself, and Ahab, who “did sell himself to work wickedness,” and “did very abominably in following idols?” It may be added, that except in Jehu’s taunt (2 Kings 9:22 ), which need not be meant literally, there is no evidence whatever of Jezebel’s unchastity: her behaviour towards her husband, as well as her influence over him, makes it probable that she was a good wife, in her own way.
On the whole, the best editors decline to adopt the reading which would make the sense “thy wife” certain: and this being so, it seems better to translate as the A. V. Who “Jezebel” was whether a real woman, or a personification of a sect, is almost equally doubtful on any view: but it seems simplest to suppose a real person.
to teach and to seduce ] Literally, according to the right reading, and she teacheth and seduceth .
my servants ] The possessive pronoun is emphatic she leads those who belong to Me to act as do those in slavery to devils.
to commit fornication ] No doubt to be taken literally, not (as so often in the O. T.) as a metaphor for idolatry: since this is mentioned coordinately.
21. Read, And I gave her time that she should repent, and she will not [does not choose to] repent of her fornication .
22. I will cast ] lit. ‘I am casting’ i.e. am about to cast. Cf. ‘I ascend’, John 20:17 .
a bed ] Perhaps of sickness, as “death” in the next v. is perhaps to be taken of pestilence: cf. 6:8.
with her ] Possibly the sense is “I will cast them together with her into …,” but the sense “the partners of her adulteries” is at least equally natural. It seems probably intended, that she and they are to be separated in punishment: Francesca’s “Questi che mai da me non fia diviso” is rather a poetical sentiment than a moral one. But if Jezebel be understood to mean a sect rather than an individual woman, it will be possible to distinguish her “adulteries” as metaphorical from the literal “fornication” which she encouraged: if so, her paramours are the false teachers, her children their disciples.
23. all the churches shall know ] cf. All flesh shall know, Isaiah 45:2-6 ; All flesh shall see, Isaiah 40:5 ; Ezekiel 20:48 . ‘All the Churches’ though less extensive than ‘all flesh’ (cf. John 17:2 , John 14:22 ) must still be taken as widely as possible, it means not merely all the seven Churches of Asia but ‘all the churches in the world,’ hardly as Alford adds ‘to the end of time.’ We know nothing (and have no reason to think St Irenæus knew more) of either the repentance or the punishment of the children of Jezebel.
that I am he which searcheth , &c.] Compare Psalms 7:9 , , 26:2; Jeremiah 11:20 , Jeremiah 11:17 :10, Jeremiah 11:20 :12; also 1 Chronicles 28:9 , 1 Chronicles 29:17 . But the closest parallel to this phrase is Romans 8:27 , which suggests that this epithet was almost proverbial in the Apostolic age, whether applied to the Father as there or to the Son as here. It is hardly doubtful that the phrase is derived from David and Jeremiah ll. cc., but the verb used both here and in Rom. is different from any used by the LXX.
24. unto you ] The form of address to the Angel of the Church is dropped, and the Church addressed directly. And should be omitted: the sense is “to the rest of you in Thyatira,” or more literally, “to you, namely to the rest.”
have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak ] The heretics condemned in the preceding verses were doubtless a sect of those who called themselves Gnostics, probably at this time, certainly in the next generation. They contrasted their knowledge of “the depths” or “deep things of God” (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:10 ), with the faith of the orthodox in the plain simple doctrines that were openly preached to the world: the Lord answers, that the depths of knowledge that they attained were depths, not of God, but of Satan. It is uncertain how far the quotation of their own language marked by ‘as they speak’ extends, it is hardly possible that they themselves actually gloried in a knowledge of the depths of Satan (yet cf. 2 Corinthians 2:11 ); but it is to be remembered that the Gnostic systems of the second century, and probably those of the first also, included a strange mythology of half-personified abstractions; and it may be that the Lord rather identifies one of these with Satan than substitutes the name of Satan for that of God. It appears from Irenaeus that the Gnostics of his time talked of “the deep things of Depth” as well as “the deep things of God.” It is curious that the phrase “the depths of knowledge” is quoted from the great Ephesian philosopher Heraclitus: possibly it was owing to his influence, that such notions found a congenial home in Asia Minor.
I will put ] Right in sense, as “I will cast” in ver. 22, though here the true text has a present tense, as there.
none other burden ] viz., than abstinence from fornication and things offered to idols, Acts 15:28 sq. The A. V. rightly avoids exaggerating the verbal resemblance between the two passages, but a reference here to that phrase, adopted solemnly by the whole Church, is not impossible. Yet it is a question whether we may not understand the sentence as if the construction were “I will put on you no other burden than to hold fast that which ye have till I come.”
25. that which ye have ] Comparing ver. 6, we shall probably understand this “what thou hast to thy credit,” thy present faithfulness: so that the sense will rather be like Philippians 3:16 than Jude 1:3 . Cf. 3:11.
26. And he that overcometh , &c.] Literally, And he that overcometh, and he that keepeth , &c.
my works ] “Such works as I do” is rather the sense than “such as I approve.” Cf. John 14:12 , “The works that I do shall he do also.”
27. shall rule them ] Lit., shall be their shepherd . So the LXX. read the word in Psalms 2:9 which, according to the pronunciation now adopted in the received Hebrew text, will mean “bruise” or “break them.” St John, we have seen, does not follow the LXX. blindly in their deviations from the Hebrew text (see on 1:6, 7): so from this passage and 12:5, 19:15 we see that he accepted “rule” as the right reading. Apart from this, shepherd is used in the Old Testament of human and superhuman rulers often enough to suggest its use here. The same metaphor is found in Classical Greek.
shall they be broken ] Read, are broken : he is to rule the nations with as absolute a mastery as is expressed in crushing a potsherd.
even as I ] Rather, as I also . Of course the meaning is, that Psalms 2:9 is assumed to be the promise of the Father to the Son; as is plain from the eighth verse.
28. the morning star ] The only direct illustration of this image Isaiah 22:16 , where Christ Himself is called the Morning Star: and the meaning here can hardly be “I will give myself to him.” Some compare 2 Peter 1:19 , others, perhaps better, Daniel 12:3 : taking the sense to be, “I will give him the brightest star of all, that he may be clothed (cf. 12:1) with its glory.”
29. He that hath &c.] For the position of these words, see on ver. 7.
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the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29