Monday, August 31, 2020

14 Pentecost 2020, Proper 18A Readings with Commentaries

Love is the fulfilling of the Law. 

The 14th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18A)

 The Collect of the Day

Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

 1st Reading (Track 1):  Exodus 12:1-14

We have skipped from chapter 3 to chapter 12 of Exodus, “passing over” Moses’ return to Egypt and his struggle to get Pharaoh “to ley my people go.” Nine plagues have been sent upon the Egyptians, but Pharaoh’s heart has remained hard.  Finally, in chapter 11, the Lord declares the tenth plague:  the death of all the first-born of the land.  The Israelites will be “passed over” in this plague if they do the following, which also serves to establish Passover as a yearly remembrance.  This is not an easy story, for the dead of Egypt in this night would be catastrophic.  Yet this is fundamentally a story of liberation from oppression, a story at the very heart of the purposes of God. 

12:1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt:  2 This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. 3 Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. 4 If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. 6 You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. 7 They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8 They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. 10 You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. 11 This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live:  when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. 14 This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.

 Psalm 149 (Track 1)

The Book of Psalms ends with six psalms of praise (145-150). Among these, Psalm 149 begins in the typical way, but takes a different turn in verse 6, when Israel is called to battle.  The victory of God is replaced by the military capability of Israel, such that in the final verse, the glory is not for God, but for the people.  This line of thought was not necessarily unusual—the glory of God was frequently believed to be at one with the victories of Israel over her enemies.  This belief raises many questions about the ultimate purposes of God.

1      Hallelujah!

         Sing to the Lord a new song; *

                 sing his praise in the congregation of the faithful.

2      Let Israel rejoice in his Maker; *

                 let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.

3      Let them praise his Name in the dance; *

                 let them sing praise to him with timbrel and harp.

4      For the Lord takes pleasure in his people *

                 and adorns the poor with victory.

5      Let the faithful rejoice in triumph; *

                 let them be joyful on their beds.

6      Let the praises of God be in their throat *

                 and a two-edged sword in their hand;

7      To wreak vengeance on the nations *

                 and punishment on the peoples.

8      To bind their kings in chains *

                 and their nobles in links of iron;

9     To inflict on them the judgment decreed; *

              this is glory for all his faithful people.


 1st Reading (Track 2):  Ezekiel 33:7-11

The prophet Ezekiel was among the first group of exiles taken to Babylon, in 597 b.c.e.  The book is full of puzzling and strange visions.  This brief passage is part of a reiteration of Ezekiel’s call to prophesy.  It makes use of the image of a sentinel, which had been used in Ezekiel’s original call (3:16-21).  He is responsible for those given into his care.  He is to prophesy what sounds like doom, but in actuality is a message of life.  God desires life for his people, not death.

33:7 So you, mortal, I have made a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. 8 If I say to the wicked, “O wicked ones, you shall surely die,” and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but their blood I will require at your hand. 9 But if you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, and they do not turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but you will have saved your life. 10 Now you, mortal, say to the house of Israel, Thus you have said: “Our transgressions and our sins weigh upon us, and we waste away because of them; how then can we live?” 11 Say to them, As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?

Psalm 119:33-40 (Track 2)

Psalm 119 is the longest of the psalms at 176 verses.  It is a long meditation on the law, written as an acrostic poem.  Each of the verses of every eight-verse section begins with a subsequent letter of the Hebrew alphabet. For example, our eight verses today in Hebrew each begin with the letter “He.”  It is also written so that every verse includes some synonym of the word “law.”


33    Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, *

                 and I shall keep it to the end.

34    Give me understanding, and I shall keep your law; *

                 I shall keep it with all my heart.

35    Make me go in the path of your commandments, *

                 for that is my desire.

36    Incline my hear to your decrees *

                 and not to unjust gain.

37    Turn my eyes from watching what is worthless; *

                 give me life in your ways.

38    Fulfill your promise to your servant, *

                 which you make to those who fear you.

39    Turn away the reproach which I dread, *

                 because your judgments are good.

40    Behold, I long for your commandments; *

                 in your righteousness preserve my life.

 2nd Reading:  Romans 13:8-14

Near the end of his letter to the Romans, Paul writes a series of exhortations for the life of the believer.  In the following section he speaks of love as the highest fulfillment of the law, echoing his well-known chapter on love in First Corinthians 13.  He gives the practice of love an urgency by tying it to what he felt was the imminent return of Christ.  Yet his message holds up even without that return:  “live honorably, as in the day.”  “The flesh” for Paul is a metaphor for what The Book of Common Prayer asks us to renounce at our baptism:  “all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God” (p. 302).

13:8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. 11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

 Gospel Reading:  Matthew 18:15-20

This process for seeking truth, forgiveness, and reconciliation in Christian community is unique to Matthew.  Of the gospel writers, only Matthew uses the word “church,” although the actual Greek word is ekklesia, which simply means “an assembly of people.”  Nevertheless, Matthew’s community is clearly advanced in its way of working through the inevitable difficulties of community.  The statement about “binding and losing” appears twice in Matthew (see 16:19).  The terms used are legal ones meaning “to forbid” or “to permit.”  The community is capable of making such judgments.  The last verse is the most well-known of the passage. Again, it is unique to Matthew and clearly testifies to his community’s experience of life together.

 18:15 [Jesus said,] “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

 The Scripture quotations (except for the Psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.  All rights reserved.  The Collect of the Day and the translation of the Psalm are from The Book of Common Prayer.   Commentaries are copyright © 2020 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study with this attribution.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

13 Pentecost 2020, Proper 17A Readings with Commentaries

The Collect of the Day

Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things:  Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

 1st Reading (Track 1):  Exodus 3:1-15

The story of the call of Moses is a rich one.  It occurs at Mt. Horeb (which is also called Mt. Sinai—see 19:11), which may well have been a sacred site for the Midianites. Many have tried to explain the nature of the burning bush, but that is unimportant to the story.  It is a theophany, a manifestation of God.  God’s message is that he has heard the cry of his people and intends to rescue them.  Moses will be his messenger.  Moses asks why he is to be the one.  God’s answer is not an answer but a directive: you will go and bring them here.  Moses then asks just who this God who is directing them, and so we are given the divine Name.  In Hebrew it is four letters “yhwh,” probably pronounced “Yahweh,” but Jewish tradition has always held it to be unpronounceable, therefore wherever it appears in the text it is rendered in Hebrew “Adonai,” translated “lord” in English, and rendered in capital letters to signify that it is actually the divine Name.  It’s meaning is something like “I am who I am,” or, perhaps, “I will be who I will be.”


3:1 Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3 Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” 4 When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. 7 Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9 The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10 So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12 He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.” 13 But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’:  This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.


Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c (Track 1)

Psalm 105 is one of the “historical psalms” which tells the story of Israel in lines of poetry (the others are 78, 106, 135, and 136). In Psalm 105, the first six verses are a general introduction, encouraging the people to give thanks and praise as they “remember the marvels he has done.” We then have the verses that apply to the call of Moses, with the concluding “Hallelujah” (which in Hebrew literally means “Praise the Lord”).


1      Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name; *

                 make known his deeds among the peoples.

2      Sing to him, sing praises to him, *

                 and speak of all his marvelous works.

3      Glory in his holy Name; *

                 let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.

4      Search for the Lord and his strength *

                 continually seek his face.

5      Remember the marvels he has done, *

                 his wonders and the judgments of his mouth,

6      O offspring of Abraham his servant, *

                 O children of Jacob his chosen.

23    Israel came into Egypt, *

                 and Jacob became a sojourner in the land of Ham.

24    The Lord made his people exceedingly fruitful; *

                 he made them stronger than their enemies;

25   Whose heart he turned, so that they hated his people, *

              and dealt unjustly with his servants.

26   He sent Moses his servant, *

              and Aaron whom he had chosen. [45c] Hallelujah!

 1st Reading (Track 2):  Jeremiah 15:15-21

This passage is a poem of lament, not unlike many of the psalms (including today’s).  The background is the reluctance of the prophet, particularly given the message he knows will be received with hostility. It begins with something of a retort, a kind of “listen up!” The prophet then proclaims his innocence and his desire to do God’s work.  The metaphor of eating the words of God are also found in Ezekiel, chapter 3.  Verse 18 is pivotal: the prophet goes so far as to accuse God of deceit.  Unlike the psalms of lament, however, God does not reply with reassurance and the promise of faithfulness.  He tells Jeremiah to do the work he has given him to do. This is not a time for reassurance, neither for Jeremiah, nor Israel.  This is a time of adhering to the rigorous demands of God.


15:15 O Lord, you know; remember me and visit me, and bring down retribution for me on my persecutors. In your forbearance do not take me away; know that on your account I suffer insult. 16 Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts. 17 I did not sit in the company of merrymakers, nor did I rejoice; under the weight of your hand I sat alone, for you had filled me with indignation. 18 Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Truly, you are to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail. 19 Therefore thus says the Lord: If you turn back, I will take you back, and you shall stand before me. If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall serve as my mouth. It is they who will turn to you, not you who will turn to them. 20 And I will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you, for I am with you to save you and deliver you, says the Lord. 21 I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked, and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.

Psalm 26:1-8 (Track 2)

Psalm 26 is typical of many of the psalms in that there is a triangle of relationships:  the speaker, his or her enemies, and Israel’s God.  The plea on the part of the speaker is for judgment.  In verses 1-3, the speaker gives his initial petition and reminds God of his or her faithfulness.  Verses 4-5 make clear the two sides being presented.  Verses 6-8 are a testimony to the power and safety of the Temple sanctuary.  The psalm goes on to reiterate the case against the enemies, and repeats the plea for justice.


1      Give judgment for me, O Lord,

         for I have lived with integrity; *

                 I have trusted in the Lord and have not faltered.

2      Test me, O Lord, and try me; *

                 examine my heart and my mind.

3      For your love is before my eyes; *

                 I have walked faithfully with you.

4      I have not sat with the worthless, *

                 nor do I consort with the deceitful.

5      I have hated the company of evildoers; *

                 I will not sit down with the wicked.

6      I will wash my hands in innocence, O Lord, *

                 that I may go in procession round your altar,

7      Singing aloud a song of thanksgiving *

                 and recounting all your wonderful deeds.

8      Lord, I love the house in which you dwell *

                 and the place where your glory abides.

 2nd Reading:  Romans 12:9-21

Paul continues in chapter 12 his encouragement to Christian living. He begins with “genuine love” which produces “mutual affection,” shown primarily in generosity, hospitality, compassion (in its literal meaning, “to suffer with”), and humility.  He ends this passage with a warning not to seek revenge when wronged, but instead to respond with kindness which will bring shame on one’s enemies.  The quote in verse 19 is from Deuteronomy 32:35, and in verse 20, Proverbs 25:21-22.


12:9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

 Gospel Reading:  Matthew 16:21-28

Peter has just confessed that Jesus is the Messiah, but immediately this produces a misunderstanding.  Jesus tells how he must suffer, die, and be raised.  This does not jive with Peter’s understanding of “Messiah.”  He expects triumph, not suffering.  Jesus’ rebuke is strong, using the word “Satan” (“adversary” or “tempter”), and he goes further in that not only he will suffer, but it will be the cost of discipleship as well.  The last verse raises the expectation of a swift return, and perhaps that was Jesus’ expectation, but he also confesses in other places that the timing is in God’s hands, and so it has been.

 16:21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? 27 For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28 Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

 The Scripture quotations (except for the Psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.  All rights reserved.  The Collect of the Day and the translation of the Psalm are from The Book of Common Prayer.   Commentaries are copyright © 2020 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study with this attribution.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

12 Pentecost 2020, Proper 16A Readings with Commentaries

The Collect of the Day

Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

 1st Reading (Track 1):  Exodus 1:8—2:10

Exodus 1:8 is a significant shift in the text. The memory in Egypt of good relationship with the children of Israel is gone, and a new Pharaoh determines to enslave them. The term “Hebrews” seems to have arisen in Egypt as a way of naming the outsiders, literally “those who crossed over,” i.e., came from another place. The midwives Shiprah and Puah can be celebrated as responsible for the survival of these Hebrews.  Their story of cunning disobedience will be repeated many times over in the Scriptures.  The name “Moses” is clearly of Egyptian origin (“to beget a child”), but is given a Hebrew etymology of “he who draws out.”


1:8 Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9 He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. 10 Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” 11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. 13 The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, 14 and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them. 15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 16 “When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.” 17 But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. 18 So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?” 19 The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” 20 So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. 22 Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.” 2:1 Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. 2 The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. 3 When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. 4 His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him. 5 The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. 6 When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him. “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said. 7 Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” 8 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. 9 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. 10 When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”

 Psalm 124 (Track 1)

Psalm 124 is one of the “Songs of Ascents” (Psalms 120-134), pilgrim songs sung on the way to celebrate festivals in Jerusalem. This psalm begins with a wonderment: “What if…”, referring to the escape from Egypt.  Verses 6-8 resolves this “if” into a “blessing.” God is the God who saves. The last verse is the opening versicle and response of Compline (BCP, p. 127; see also p. 523).


1      If the Lord had not been on our side, *

                 let Israel now say;

2      If the Lord had not been on our side, *

                 when enemies rose up against us;

3      Then would they have swallowed us up alive *

                 in their fierce anger towards us;

4      Then would the waters have overwhelmed us *

                 and the torrent gone over us;

5      Then would the raging waters *

                 have gone right over us.

6      Blessed be the Lord! *

                He has not given us over to be a prey for their teeth.

7      We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowler; *

                 the snare is broken, and we have escaped.

8      Our help is in the Name of the Lord, *

                 the maker of heaven and earth.

 1st Reading (Track 2):  Isaiah 51:1-6

“Listen” is the imperative of this passage: Listen and look to the stories of your ancestors (vv. 1-2). As a plea to those who have lived in exile, listen and look for a new creation (v. 3).  Listen for a teaching and a justice that turns the governance of empire on its head. Listen for the rule of the Lord, which results in deliverance and salvation rather than exploitation and fear.


51:1 Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the Lord. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. 2 Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, but I blessed him and made him many. 3 For the Lord will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song. 4 Listen to me, my people, and give heed to me, my nation; for a teaching will go out from me, and my justice for a light to the peoples. 5 I will bring near my deliverance swiftly, my salvation has gone out and my arms will rule the peoples; the coastlands wait for me, and for my arm they hope. 6 Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and those who live on it will die like gnats; but my salvation will be forever, and my deliverance will never be ended.

 Psalm 138 (Track 2)

Psalm 138 is a song of thanksgiving by one who has been in crisis. Now that the crisis has been averted, a vow to praise in the temple is being fulfilled. Israel’s thanksgiving is for the Lord who rules over all (so-called) gods and kings and the nations they serve.


1   I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with my whole heart; *

          before the gods I will sing your praise.

2   I will bow down toward your holy temple

     and praise your Name, *

          because of your love and faithfulness;

3   For you have glorified your Name *

          and your word above all things

4   When I called, you answered me; *

          you increased my strength within me.

5   All the kings of the earth will praise you, O Lord, *

          when they have heard the words of your mouth.

6   They will sing of the ways of the Lord, *

          that great is the glory of the Lord.

7   Though the Lord be high, he cares for the lowly; *

          he perceives the haughty from afar.

8   Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe; *

          you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies;

          your right hand shall save me.

9   The Lord will make good his purpose for me; *

          O Lord, your love endures for ever;

          do not abandon the works of your hands.

 2nd Reading:  Romans 12:1-8

Chapter 12 begins a new section in Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome. Having said all that he has said before, this is what living in covenant with this God from whom nothing can separate us (8:39) looks like.  The appeal includes the necessity of discernment, humility, giftedness as part of a body, and the exercising of those gifts for the body’s good. In addition, Paul sees both grace and faith not as some easily defined, static things, but fine-tuned in each individual and tied to the gifts given us for the good of the whole.


12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. 3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

 Gospel Reading:  Matthew 16:13-20

Our Gospel reading is the well-known story of Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah, as someone beyond the prophetic person that the disciples say others see him. The name “Peter” (Greek “petros”) and the word rock (Greek “petra”) are related in a play on words that we miss in English. Keys were a symbol of authority (for example, Isaiah 22:22, “the key of the House of David). This text is very much behind both the tradition that Peter was the first Bishop of Rome (or “Pope”) and the power that the church has to “bind or loose.” In Greek these are judicial terms which mean “forbid or allow,” probably referring primarily to Peter’s (and the church’s) teaching authority. Matthew is the only Gospel writer who uses the word “church” (Greek “ecclesia,” “assembly”). This is the first time of four. It shows that in Matthew’s experience, a distinctive community has formed. In its use throughout the New Testament, it never refers to a building or an institutional structure, but to a people gathered for a particular purpose.

 16:13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

 The Scripture quotations (except for the Psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.  All rights reserved.  The Collect of the Day and the Psalm are from The Book of Common Prayer.   Commentaries are copyright © 2020 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study with this attribution.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

11 Pentecost 2020, Proper 15A Readings with Commentaries

 1st Reading (Track 1):  Genesis 45:1-15

In last week’s reading, Joseph was sold by his jealous and resentful brothers and ended up a slave in Egypt. A great deal has happened since then! Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams eventually comes to the attention of Pharaoh, and Joseph becomes what is essentially Pharaoh’s second-in-command, having special charge to prepare Egypt for the five years of famine which Joseph has foreseen. Meanwhile back in Canaan, the famine hits Jacob and his family hard and he sends the brothers to Egypt to buy grain (holding Benjamin, the youngest, back). The brothers have to deal with Joseph, but they do not recognize him. Joseph plays games with them for the purpose of getting Benjamin (his only full brother) to join them. Our passage this morning is the scene when the brothers return with Benjamin and Joseph can hold back his identity no more. The brothers are afraid of retribution from Joseph, but he has developed a sense of God’s providence and the ability of God to make good out of evil.

45:1 Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, “Send everyone away from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. 2 And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. 3 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence. 4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7 God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. 9 Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. 10 You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11 I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’ 12 And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. 13 You must tell my father how greatly I am honored in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” 14 Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.

 Psalm 133 (Track 1)

Psalm 133 is one of the “Songs of Ascents” (Psalms 120-134), pilgrim songs sung on the way to celebrate festivals in Jerusalem. Verse one might very well have been a popular saying extolling the virtues of family unity. Used here in this pilgrim song, especially near the end of the collection, it becomes a song of the unity of all God’s people in the heritage of Aaron (the first high priest), drawn together in one community in Zion, the center of Jewish life.

1      Oh, how good and pleasant it is, *

                 when brethren live together in unity!

2      It is like fine oil upon the head *

                that runs down upon the beard.

3      Upon the beard of Aaron, *

                and runs down upon the collar of his robe.

4      It is like the dew of Hermon *

                 that falls upon the hills of Zion.

5      For there the Lord has ordained the blessing: *

                 life for evermore.

 1st Reading (Track 2):  Isaiah 56:1, 6-8

The last chapters of the book of the prophet Isaiah most likely have their source in the restored community in and around Jerusalem. The exiles are home from captivity in Babylon. The community faces a large question, driven by their exile experience. Will they forge a separate nation of only Jews, following a call to be God’s chosen people, or will they be “a light to the nations,” envisioning other nations coming into relationship with “their” God? Isaiah foresees the latter, while the former is pursued by the authorities of the time (see the books of Ezra and Nehemiah). The argument will go on for centuries, through the days of Jesus. Jesus signals his agreement with Isaiah in word and deed, although, as we see in today’s Gospel, even he has to make a choice.

56:1 Thus says the Lord: Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed. 6 And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant—7 these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. 8 Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.

 Psalm 67 (Track 2)

Psalm 67 celebrates God’s relationship with Israel and invites “all the nations upon earth” into that relationship. The vision of God here is a large one, larger than much of the Hebrew Scriptures are willing to contemplate, but very much in line with the vision of the prophet Isaiah.

1      May God be merciful to us and bless us, *

                show us the light of his countenance and come to us.

2      Let your ways be known upon earth, *

                 your saving health among all nations.

3      Let the peoples praise you, O God; *

                 let all the peoples praise you.

4      Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, *

                  for you judge the peoples with equity

                 and guide all the nations upon earth.

5      Let the peoples praise you, O God; *

                 let all the peoples praise you.

6      The earth has brought forth her increase; *

                 may God, our own God, give us his blessing.

7      May God give us his blessing, * 

                 and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of him.

 2nd Reading:  Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

In Romans chapter 11, Paul deals with a question that arises given Paul’s emphasis both on the Gentiles being full partners as disciples of Jesus, and on faith overcoming the law. The chapter begins with the essential question. The church in its periods of anti-Semitism has frequently forgotten Paul’s answer, “By no means.” Israel remains God’s chosen people—this cannot be revoked, but they share with all of humanity in their need of God’s mercy. The law imprisons all; God responds with mercy for all.

11:1 I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2a God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. 32 For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.

 Gospel Reading:  Matthew 15:(10-20), 21-28

The first (optional) portion of this passage deals with an example of how Jesus deepens the law. The laws of ritual defilement are meaningless if we do not comprehend that defilement is something we frequently do to ourselves, what comes out of us rather than what goes into us. This reasoning confounds the Pharisees, for whom Jesus has harsh words. He then withdraws to the area of Tyre and Sidon, where Gentiles were in the majority. His encounter with one of them is troubling. Jesus seems cold, and his reaction to her does not jive well with his preceding remarks about defilement. The Canaanite woman moves Jesus to a profoundly new understanding: the barrier between Jew and Gentile has been erased, although the woman, like Paul above, is comfortable with the priority of the Jewish people. Yet she also has faith in the Messiah in whose “name the Gentiles will hope” Matthew 12:21 quotes Isaiah 42:9.

 [15:10  Then Jesus called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand:  11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” 12 Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” 13 He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14 Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” 15 But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” 16 Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19 For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”]

21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

 The Scripture quotations (except for the Psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.  All rights reserved.  The Collect of the Day and the Psalm are from The Book of Common Prayer.   Commentaries are copyright © 2020 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study with this attribution.  Bulletin inserts in digital form are available. Go to our website for more information (click on “subscribe”).