Sunday, September 27, 2020

18 Pentecost 2020, Proper 22A Readings with Commentaries

The Collect of the Day

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve:  Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

1st Reading (Track 1):  Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20

The Ten Commandments (or ten “words,” as the text says) form the heart of the covenant God is making with his people, as they travel from Egypt to the Promised Land. The first three speak of relationship with God, that there is one God and he cannot be controlled. The fourth is a transition—the keeping of the sabbath day of rest, which might be taken as governing Israel’s relationship with itself.  The last six are the outline of proper relationship with our neighbors.

20:1 Then God spoke all these words:  2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3 you shall have no other gods before me. 4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. 8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 13 You shall not murder. 14 You shall not commit adultery. 15 You shall not steal. 16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. 18 When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.”

Psalm 19 (Track 1)

The first six verses of Psalm 19 focus on God’s dealings with the creation; verses 7-14 turn to the subject of the Law.  The transition from creation to law has led some to believe this originally was two psalms, but the psalmist seems to be saying that the Law is as natural and necessary for human living as the creation is for the natural world.


1   The heavens declare the glory of God, *

and the firmament shows his handiwork.

2   One day tells its tale to another, *

and one night imparts knowledge to another.

3   Although they have no words or language, *

and their voices are not heard,

4   Their sound has gone out into all lands, *

and their message to the ends of the world.

5   In the deep has he set a pavilion for the sun; *

it comes forth like a bridegroom out of his chamber;

it rejoices like a champion to run its course.

6   It goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens

     and runs about to the end of it again; *

nothing is hidden from its burning heat.

7   The law of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul; *

              the testimony of the Lord is sure

                                                and gives wisdom to the innocent.

8   The statutes of the Lord are just and rejoice the heart; *

              the commandment of the Lord is clear

                                                and gives light to the eyes.

9 The fear of the Lord  is clean and endures for ever; *

              the judgments of the Lord are true

                                                and righteous altogether.

10 More to be desired are they than gold,

                                                more than much fine gold, *

              sweeter far than honey, than honey in the comb.

11 By them also is your servant enlightened, *

              and in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can tell how often he offends? *

              cleanse me from my secret faults.

13 Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins;

     let them not get dominion over me; *

              then shall I be whole and sound

              and innocent of a great offense.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my

                                                heart be acceptable in your sight, *

              O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.

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 3:4b-14

In chapter 2, Paul has appealed for unity and gives three examples of what unity demands of us. The first example is Christ himself, who “emptied himself” (2:5-11). The second is Timothy and Epaphroditus (2:19-30), the latter having come “close to death for the work of Christ.” The third example is Paul himself, which is today’s reading. Paul had to set aside his status and zeal, to count them all as “rubbish.” Verses 10-14 are Paul’s understanding of what new life in Christ means.

3:4b If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more:  5 circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 21:33-46

The parable of the wicked tenants is found also in Mark (12:1-12) and Luke (20:9-19). It is a simple allegory: Jerusalem is the vineyard, God the owner, the tenants the religious authorities, the slaves the prophets, and the Son Jesus himself. It is so simple that the religious authorities immediately understand it is directed at them, and so comes the first mention of having Jesus arrested. The quote in verse 42 is Psalm 118:22-23.

21:33 [Jesus said,] “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 34 When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35 But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ 39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” 42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’? 43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. 44 The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” 45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46 They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

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 for group study with this attribution.

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