Sunday, September 20, 2020

17 Pentecost 2020, Proper 17A Readings with Commentaries

The Collect of the Day

O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity:  Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; 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 17:1-7

At this point in the Book of Exodus the people have fled from Egypt and successfully crossed “the sea of reeds.” They now find themselves in the vast wilderness of the Sinai and their elation changes to complaint (which begins in chapter 16). Moses is attacked as a leader and he, in turn, complains to God. God responds with the miracle of water at Massah and Meribah (Hebrew words that mean “test” and “find fault,” thus the place is a memorial not to the miracle, but to the people’s unfaithfulness).

17:1 From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16 (Track 1)

Psalm 78 is one of the “historical psalms” which tells the story of Israel in lines of poetry (the others are 105, 106, 135, and 136). In Psalm 78, the first eight verses are a general introduction, encouraging the people to give thanks and praise as they “recount to generations to come.” We then pick up in the middle of the psalm, re-calling the escape through the sea, and the giving of water told in today’s first reading.

1      Hear my teaching, O my people; *

                 incline your ears to the words of my mouth.

2      I will open my mouth in a parable; *

                 I will declare the mysteries of ancient times.

3      That which we have heard and known,

         and what our forefathers have told us, *

                 we will not hide from their children.

4      We will recount to generations to come

         the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the Lord, *

                 and the wonderful works he has done.

12    He worked marvels in the sight of their forefathers, *

                 in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan.

13    He split open the sea and let them pass through; *

                 he made the waters stand up like walls.

14    He led them with a cloud by day, *

                 and all the night through with a glow of fire.

15    He split the hard rocks in the wilderness *

                 and gave them drink as from the great deep.

16    He brought streams out of the cliff, *

                 and the waters gushed pout like rivers.

 1st Reading (Track 2):  Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32

The prophet Jeremiah tells us that the Israelites in exile in Babylon were blaming their ancestors for their current situation (Jeremiah 31:29-30). It had been the teaching that children will be punished for their parents’ sin (see, for example Exodus 20:5). Israel, however, is in a new situation, one in which accountability for their own actions is set upon the community. The prophet Ezekiel proclaims the invitation to repentance is open to all, an invitation the community does not seem to understand, and so they cry “unfair!” Yet God desires the life of all, and is prepared to give each a new heart and a new spirit (about which Ezekiel will say more in chapters 36 & 37).

18:1 The word of the Lord came to me:  2 What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”? 3 As I live, says the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. 4 Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die. 25 Yet you say, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair? 26 When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it; for the iniquity that they have committed they shall die. 27 Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. 28 Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die. 29 Yet the house of Israel says, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” O house of Israel, are my ways unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair? 30 Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, all of you according to your ways, says the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin. 31 Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? 32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live.

Psalm 25:1-8 (Track 2)

Psalm 25 is an acrostic poem (22 verses each beginning with a subsequent letter of the Hebrew alphabet) which is an urgent plea for God’s intervention and rescue. The speaker is ready to trust completely in God, the ground of that hope being God’s steadfast love (in verse 6, translated here as simply “love”).  In Hebrew this word is chesed, used frequently (248 times) as steadfast or loyal love.

1      To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul;

         my God, I put my trust in you; *

                 let me not be humiliated,

                 nor let my enemies triumph over me.

2      Let none who look to you be put to shame; *

                 let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes.

3      Show me you ways, O Lord, *

                  and teach me your paths.

4      Lead me in your truth and teach me, *

                 for you are the God of my salvation;

                 in you have I trusted all the day long.

5      Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love, *

                 for they are from everlasting.

6      Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; *

                 remember me according to your love

                 and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.

7      Gracious and upright is the Lord; *

                 therefore he teaches sinners in his way.

8      He guides the humble in doing right *

                 and teaches his way to the lowly.

2nd Reading:  Philippians 2:1-13

Paul begins this passage with an exhortation to continued joy, unity, and humility. He then gives the example of Jesus, quoting in Verses 5-11 what was most likely an early Christian hymn. Jesus shows us how to live in his own self-emptying (kenosis in Greek) in order to fulfill God’s purpose for him. One result of this style of life is the unity in humility that Paul is proclaiming to the Christians of Philippi.  Despite his self-emptying, his name is remembered and highly exalted.  One recalls his own teaching, “The first will be last and the last will be first.” It is important to know that the “your” in “Work out your own salvation…” is plural. Paul is calling the Philippians to continue in the hard work of community.

2:1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 21:23-32

When all else fails, question the troublemaker’s authority. Jesus turns the question back at the religious leaders, and they are too cautious to answer. Jesus replies, as he often does, with a parable. The message of this parable is relatively simple:  actions speak louder than words, but Jesus turns up the heat by the “prostitutes and tax collectors” are doing the right thing while the religious authorities are not. Another parable will follow, equally upsetting to the authorities, and we are told after it that they began a plan to arrest him.

21:23 When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 28 What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. 30 The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.”

 The Scripture quotations (except for the Psalms) 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 Psalms 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 or insert digitally into an order of Service for group study with this attribution.

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