The 21st Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 25A)
Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command; 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): Deuteronomy 34:1-12
We have skipped to the end of the Torah—the five books of the Law (also known as “The Five Books of Moses”). After forty years of trial in the wilderness, the promised land is now in sight. Moses is allowed to see it, but not to cross over into it. The lack of a burial site serves two purposes. First, it precludes any attempt to set up a shrine to the great prophet and deliverer. Second, it leaves the Torah, the Law, as Moses’ bequest to his people. Later tradition would take it that Moses was, in fact, not buried, but bodily assumed into heaven. This would happen also to the prophet Elijah. This tradition pops up in the Gospels in the story of the Transfiguration, where Moses and Elijah appear to speak with Jesus.
34:1 Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, 2 all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, 3 the Negeb, and the Plain—that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees—as far as Zoar. 4 The Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” 5 Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command. 6 He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. 7 Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated. 8 The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended. 9 Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the Lord had commanded Moses. 10 Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. 11 He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, 12 and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.
Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17 (Track 1)
Psalm 90 is the only psalm attributed to Moses. Its introduction in the Hebrew text says, “A Prayer of Moses, the man of God.” (These introductory ascriptions are not found in the translation of the Psalms in The Book of Common Prayer, but are included in biblical translations). It is a reflection on the fragility of human life (“like the grass,” v. 6) and the eternity of God, (“from age to age,” vv. 1-2).
1 Lord, you have been our refuge *
2 Before the mountains were brought forth,
or the land and the earth were born, *
from age to age you are God.
3 You turn us back to the dust and say, *
“Go back, O child of earth.”
4 For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past *
and like a watch in the night.
5 You sweep us away like a dream; *
we fade away suddenly like the grass.
6 In the morning it is green and flourishes; *
in the evening it is dried up and withered.
13 Return, O Lord; how long will you tarry? *
be gracious to your servants.
14 Satisfy us by your loving-kindness in the morning; *
so shall we rejoice and be glad all the days of our life.
15 Make us glad by the measure of the days that you afflicted us *
and the years in which we suffered adversity.
16 Show your servants your works *
and your splendor to their children.
17 May the graciousness of the Lord our God be upon us; *
prosper the work of our hands; prosper our handiwork.
1st Reading (Track 2): Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18
The God of Israel is not only holy, he asks for holiness from his people. This comes in the form of their faithful obedience to his commandments. In this passage from the Torah (the five books of Moses), many of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20, Deuteronomy 5) are repeated, but in different articulations. The point of the whole is that Israel obeys God in relation to the neighbor. There is no holiness without right relationship with the neighbor.
19:1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2 Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. 15 You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord. 17 You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
Psalm 1 (Track 2)
The first psalm is a Wisdom psalm which acts as a kind of preface to the collection. One characteristic of wisdom literature is the assertion that the righteous are happy and the wicked unhappy, or, at least, doomed. This assertion will appear again and again in the psalms, although there will also be a counter-voice asking, “Why am I righteous but not happy?” and “Why do the wicked prosper?”
1 Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked, *
nor lingered in the way of sinners,
nor sat in the seats of the scornful!
2 Their delight is in the law of the Lord, *
and they meditate on his law day and night.
3 They are like trees planted by streams of water,
bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; *
everything they do shall prosper.
4 It is not so with the wicked; *
they are like chaff which the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes, *
nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.
6 For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, *
but the way of the wicked is doomed.
2nd Reading: 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
Paul describes the circumstances under which he had originally come to Thessalonica. It was his second stop once he crossed for the first time into Europe, after Phillipi, where he had a most difficult time. There had been opposition in Thessalonica also, but Pauls’ commitment to the Gospel is stronger than any trials he suffers. There are, perhaps, some in this community who do not hold Paul in good repute, so he reminds him of his gentleness and the dearness to which he held and still holds them.
2:1 You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, 2 but though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition. 3 For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts. 5 As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; 6 nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, 7 though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. 8 So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.
Gospel Reading: Matthew 22:34-46
Jesus has dealt with two attempts to entrap him. Pharisees had asked him about paying taxes to the Emperor (22:15-22) and the Sadducees (another sect of the Judaism of Jesus’ day) had asked him a question about the resurrection (in which they did not believe). The trap failed both times. The Pharisees try one more time, although it is not much of a test, since what we know as “The Summary of the Law” was widely taught. Jesus turns the tables and asks the religious authorities a question of his own. The answer is obvious to them, but Jesus complicates the matter using Psalm 110, suggesting that the Son of David could not be the Messiah since David (thought to be the author of the psalms) calls him not “son” but “Lord.” We might call it a question of semantics, but Jesus is shown to be a deft interpreter of the Scriptures, and the authorities realize that entrapment will not be how they will be rid of him.
22:34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” 41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: 42 “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying, 44 ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’? 45 If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” 46 No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
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. www.EpiphanyEsources.com. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study with this attribution.