Journeying through the Revised Common Lectionary
Readings, Commentary, and Discussion Questions for October 15, 2017
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 23
First Reading: Exodus 32:1-14 Alternate: Isaiah 25:1-9
1 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”
2 Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.”
3 So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”
5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the LORD.” 6 They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.
7 The LORD said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; 8 they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’”
9 The LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. 10 Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”
11 But Moses implored the LORD his God, and said, “O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’”
14 And the LORD changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
Worth Noting: The god of the philosophers is immutable, unchangeable. The God of the Old Testament learns and often tries Plan B. Here, having just gifted the Hebrew people with the Law, the LORD rages against their idolatry, only to be mollified by Moses. When we pray to God, are we like Moses expecting to change the divine mind?
Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23 Alternate: Psalm 23
1 Praise the LORD!
O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever.
2 Who can utter the mighty doings of the LORD,
or declare all his praise?
3 Happy are those who observe justice,
who do righteousness at all times.
4 Remember me, O LORD, when you show favor to your people;
help me when you deliver them;
5 that I may see the prosperity of your chosen ones,
that I may rejoice in the gladness of your nation,
that I may glory in your heritage.
6 Both we and our ancestors have sinned;
we have committed iniquity, have done wickedly.
19 They made a calf at Horeb
and worshiped a cast image.
20 They exchanged the glory of God
for the image of an ox that eats grass.
21 They forgot God, their Savior,
who had done great things in Egypt,
22 wondrous works in the land of Ham,
and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.
23 Therefore he said he would destroy them –
had not Moses, his chosen one,
stood in the breach before him,
to turn away his wrath from destroying them.
Second Reading: Philippians 4:1-9
1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
Worth Noting: The fear and trepidation of the teacher, whether preacher, professor, or parent: Our students will do as they have “learned and received and heard and seen” . . . from us. Consider one of the values your community cherishes (perhaps hospitality, or inclusiveness, or neighborliness). How does your community actively pursue this virtue, or is it more of a passive virtue (“well we aren’t inhospitable, exactly, but we don’t go out to the highways and byways inviting people in”)?
Gospel: Matthew 22:1-14
1 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them.
7 “The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’
10 “Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless.
13 “Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”
CONNECTING WITH THE SCRIPTURES
Entering into the Scriptures
The Parable of the Wedding Feast of the King’s Son appears in slightly different forms in three texts: Matthew 22:1-14 (above), Luke 14:16-25, and in the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas 64. Matthew alone includes the final act, the expulsion of a guest without a wedding garment (verses 11-13). From a practical point of view, Matthew’s addition must have startled his community. The guest, perhaps homeless and certainly unprepared to go to a posh banquet, was pulled in from the highways and given no opportunity to change clothes (for the banquet was already prepared). Who would expect him to have any decent clothes? [In Matthew’s time, the host did not provide a wedding garment to the invitees (contrary to those German scholars who conflated 19th century Asian practice with first century middle Eastern practices).]
With this addition, the point of the parable shifts, from a parable explaining the Lord’s invitation to the Gentiles, to a parable for the Gentiles. Now Matthew warns his community that the invitation alone shall not insure participation in the heavenly banquet; something more is needed.
For Matthew, this wedding guest may be comparable to the second brother in the story of the Two Sons who apparently accepted the father’s bidding to work in the fields but did not (Matthew 21:28-32, read on October 1). Matthew is telling his community that it is not enough to accept the invitation to be a Christ follower. The wedding garment serves as a metaphor for whatever marks the identity of a true Christ follower.
As Gentle as a Lamb
Stereotypes: New Yorkers are abrupt. Minnesotans are modest. Southerners are polite. What would we expect from a citizen in first century Philippi, a city whose style and ethos were influenced by retired Roman military personnel? Athenians and Corinthians probably saw them as stereotypically Roman: logical like an engineer, courageous, loyal. Civic charity might not be stressed. The unworthy – the alcoholics, the perennially homeless, the unproductive – would be urged to move on to other cities and villages lest they despoil the civic ambience.
For his friends in Philippi, Paul proposes a different style, indeed a vastly different identity. He highlights a very un-Roman virtue, gentleness: “Let your gentleness be known to everyone” (Philippians 4:5a). The phrase “to everyone” may be inelegantly translated “to each and every human being.” Paul is asking that his friends, whom he loves and whom he bids rejoice, be known to family, neighbors, allies, competitors, and civic authorities for gentleness.
Modeling gentleness would have been no easier in Paul’s time than today. The Roman empire was marked by fierce and unregulated competition. How could one survive, let alone succeed financially in a cutthroat world with gentleness? Paul ignores that question and responds: “The Lord is near” (Philippians 4:5b). The Lord is near, Paul claims, both spatially – near to his listeners even as they go out to earn a living – and temporally, for Paul believed Christ’s judgement of the world and each and every human being was imminent. Paul has already sung the Christ hymn, reminding his friends that Christ came in gentleness – in obedience to God and in service to each and every human being. In a word, gentleness is what it is to take on the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5). But beware: It is not a virtue likely to lead to wealth, but to a cross.
The Hebrew people forgot that they belonged to the LORD God and worshipped the golden calf. What do we tend to worship when we forget that we are God’s own people? That is, what is today’s golden calf?
Matthew’s wedding garment, we claim, is a mark of Christian identity – how each and every human being would know that one is a Christian. How would you identify a Christian? What does it mean to follow Christ?
Can you think of two incidents, in one gentleness was shown while in another it was not? What were the responses? How might gentleness and justice be compatible? (Perhaps see Galatians 6:1.)
For a PDF of this week’s Journeying, click here.
Dennis Haugh has enjoyed working with adult seekers for over 20 years. He aims to engage academic and general audiences for the New Testament. He earned his PhD in Biblical Studies in the University of Denver/Iliff School of Theology joint program. He appreciates any correspondence: firstname.lastname@example.org.