The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (firstname.lastname@example.org) of the United Church of Canada. John normally structures his offerings so that the first portion can be used as a bulletin insert, while the second portion provides a more in depth 'introduction to the scripture'.
INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE
Ordinary 21 - Proper 16 - Year A
[NOTE: Throughout the Season after Pentecost the RCL
provides a set of alternate lessons which some
denominations prefer. A summary of these readings is
also included below.]
EXODUS 1:8-2:10 The lectionary moves on from the Joseph saga,
quickly spanning at least several generations during which the Israelites
lived very productively in Egypt. We must remember, however, that the
Exodus narrative is the great Israelite epic, not recorded history.
Archeological evidence of its occurrence has yet to be found. The epic
begins with a well-known tale of a new pharaoh enslaving the Israelites
and attempting their genocide by ordering midwives to kill all the male
newborns. The ruse failed. The daughter of Pharaoh found the child of a
Levite hidden by his mother, gave him an Egyptian name, Moses, and
returned him to his own mother for nursing.
PSALM 124 Escape from disaster through divine intervention
resounds through Israelite mythology. This psalm reiterates this theme
using different metaphors from war, natural disasters and hunting to make
ISAIAH 51:1-6 [Alternate] The unknown prophet of Israel’s
exile in Babylon reassures believers in Israel’s covenant that God will
intervene to change their tragic circumstances because God has never
PSALM 138 [Alternate] In a spirit of universalism, the
psalmist offers a prayer of thanksgiving for God’s steadfast love in
preserving him in troubled times because such intervention fulfils the
ROMANS 12:1-8 Paul's theology, preaching and letter writing all
had one goal: to bring his audience to an understanding of the faith in
its Christian form and to commit themselves to a life of discipleship to
Jesus Christ. He proclaimed primarily, if not exclusively, an ethical
gospel and theology. Nowhere in all of the letters attributed to Paul
does this come to the fore more explicitly than in this passage. In many
respects this form of exhortation has become a standard preaching method
ever since. A preacher sets forth the truth of the gospel, then exhorts
the congregation in ways to carry it into daily living.
MATTHEW 16:13-20 Many dogmatic and ecclesiastical issues surface
in the analysis of this reading. Not the least of these are the primacy
of Peter and hence of the claim to the papacy by the bishop of Rome.
Another is the nature of the authority ostensibly given by Christ to the
apostles. On the other hand, scholars have long debated whether the words
attributed to Jesus are in fact a valid rendition of what he may have said
on this occasion.
A MORE COMMPLETE ANALYSIS
EXODUS 1:8 - 2:10 The lectionary moves on from the Joseph saga, quickly
spanning at least several generations during which the Israelites lived
very productively in Egypt. It is difficult to know just how long this
sojourn lasted, but probably not the 430 years stated in Ex. 12:40.
Scholars have usually identified the "new king ... who did not know
Joseph" as Ramses II (1290-1224 BCE), the most powerful king of the 19th
dynasty. It could also have been his father, Seti I (1302-1290). Ramses
II was a prodigious builder, but no Egyptian records document either the
oppression of the Israelites or an exodus of a large population during his
long reign. We must remember, however, that the Exodus narrative is the
great Israelite epic, not recorded history.
Research has confirmed the details of brick-making in Egypt at this time.
Sun-dried adobe bricks are still used for construction of peasant villages
in that part of the modern world. A mosque using this same type of
construction has recently been built in Utah, USA. The secrecy and deceit
surrounding the birthing of male children (1:15-22) reads as religious
data tracing the miraculous rescue of Moses to an act of God. So also
does the inclusion of Moses in the priestly tribe of Levi. (2:1)
One of the more puzzling aspects of the story is the Egyptian name given
to Moses (it means "to be born") and his protection by a princess of the
royal household. A notable parallel has been drawn to the birth of Sargon
I, who was rescued from the Euphrates and later became the founder of the
early Semitic city-state of Akkad (ca. 2350 BCE). Despite the existence
of a series of other Egyptian generations in the Levitical genealogy in
Ex. 6:16 (Phineas, Hophni and Merari and possibly also Aaron and Miriam)
no additional evidence is available to connect Moses to the Egyptian court
apart from the birth story. Other attempts to link him to the putative
monotheistic revolution of Akhenaton of the previous, 18th dynasty located
at a new capital city, el-Amarna, have not been succesSful.
Nonetheless, a realistic assessment of the story of Moses point to many
Egyptian influences. The Egyptian empire in Asia extending as far as
northern Syria was lost due to a Hittite invasion from Anatolia (modern
Turkey) which took place during the reign of Akhenaton (1369-53 BCE).
Egyptian records show that an incursion of western Semitic tribes known as
the Hapiru (or Habiru) into the region of southern Syria, Phoenicia and
Palestine took place during this same period. Some scholars have
hypothesized that these people were among the tribes who subsequently
formed the Israelite confederacy.
The Moses tradition came down chiefly through the E-document, using
folklore as its source. As it stands now it was greatly influenced by the
editor(s) of the P-document with post-exilic priestly additions made
throughout. Scholars now concede that "the underlying bare facts are not
longer recoverable." Rather it is "history transfigured by faith" in the
form of a cultic document in celebration of the Passover. (G. Henton
Davies "Exodus" in *The Twentieth Century Bible Commentary, Revised
Edition*, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1955.)
PSALM 124 Psalms 120-134 had a special place in the liturgies of the
Second Temple during the Persian and Hellenistic periods of Israel's
history (ca. 538-165 BCE). Scholars designate this collection of fifteen
psalms "the Songs of Ascents," a title they also bore in the Hebrew
scriptures. They appear to have existed as a separate collection before
the Psalter was assembled in its present form. They may have been used by
pilgrims approaching the temple at one or other of the great festivals.
It is also known that the minor priests who assisted in ritual observances
and guarded the temple gates, Levites as they were called, did not reside
in Jerusalem at all times, but were divided in "courses" which came up to
the city to perform their customary duties for a limited time. (See also
1 Chron. 28:21; 2 Chron. 8:14; Neh. 12:47; 13:30). It is possible that
groups of Levitical singers used them or even composed them for their
regularly scheduled return to Jerusalem.
This psalm refers to some unknown historical event when Israel was
delivered from enemy attack. That deliverance received a wholly religious
interpretation, as might be expected in a religiously oriented society.
The Lord was "on their side" as vss. 1-2 boldly assert. The threat had
been real, like that of a raging torrent still so common in the wadis of
the Judean wilderness after a heavy rain (vss.3-5). The deliverance had
been like an animal escaping from the very teeth of a predator (vs. 6), or
a bird escaping from a fowler's snare (vs. 7). This latter form of
hunting was an important source of food, especially among the peasant
people who lived on the edge of deprivation or starvation. For game to
escape in this manner often meant the difference between eating and
hunger. Such homely scenes from village life found similar use as
parables and metaphors in Jesus' teaching.
Faith does not see the events of history in a simple, factual context.
Believers like the psalmist saw them through the eyes of faith and with
the mind of one who knew God intimately. Thus the psalm could begin with
marvel and surprise, and end with praise to God who had created a new
situation in which faith could respond. The songs of Israel viewed
history as the arena in which God performed God's mighty acts of
ROMANS 12:1-8 Paul's theology, preaching and letter writing all had one
goal: to bring his audience to an understanding of the faith in its
Christian form and to commit themselves to a life of discipleship to Jesus
Christ. He proclaimed primarily, if not exclusively, an ethical gospel
and theology. Nowhere in all the Pauline corpus that this come to the
fore more explicitly than in this passage. Scholars define the type of
teaching in this segment, a form common to all his letters, as
*paraenesis* or exhortation. In many respects it has become a standard
homiletic method ever since: one sets forth the truth of the gospel, then
one exhorts the congregation in ways to carry into daily living.
Paul has the example of Christ in mind as he begins his exhortation. "The
living sacrifice" he envisioned (vs. 1) was the death and resurrection of
Jesus, now spiritually evident in the lives of the Roman community. As
Professor Gerald Cragg has stated so exquisitely concerning the
resurrection imagery of this sentence: "The new life (in Christ) is the
life which has been sacrificed - offered to God. We cease to live to or
for ourselves; we are under obligation to serve God in all we are and do.
The truest sacrifice therefore is to love according to God's will.... The
freedom of the dedicated life is the secret of self-fulfillment; barren
self-discipline is its denial." (*The Interpreter's Bible*, vol. 9, 581.)
Without question this requires a transformation from what we may naturally
desire and what God desires of us. So Paul's second sentence declares
(vs. 2) This discernment of the "good... acceptable... and perfect" will
of God does not come easily, as every experienced Christian surely knows.
A fortuitous choice of a title for a committee charged with assisting a
person who has experience a call to ministry to discover whether this was
in fact a genuine call of God is "the discernment committee." The
committee is made up primarily of lay members of the same congregation as
the candidate in order that the whole material, moral and spiritual
environment out of which the candidate comes will be recognized as the
arena in which the call of God occurs.
However prodigious his mental capacities, Paul never avoided from his
basic conviction that the grace of God had activated his own conversion
and continued to inspire directly his every declaration of what the saving
gospel meant. Nor was he afraid of engaging his considerable intellectual
abilities in his preaching and teaching, and encouraging others to do the
same (vs. 3). His frequent referral to the Hebrew scriptures he had
learned so well under Rabbi Gamaliel provide ample evidence of this. As a
Hellenistic Jew of the Diaspora, faith and intellect were the touchstones
of his ministry. He was also willing to learn from others (cf. Gal.
1:18-19) as well as defend his own insights and experience in intense
discussion with other apostles (cf. Acts 15).
Out of this combination of faith and knowledge grew Paul's unique image of
the universal Christian fellowship as the Body of Christ. Each person
contributed his or her own special gifts to the whole as one of the many
diverse members of the body (vss. 4-8; cf. 1 Cor. 1:10-17). The imagery
of our hymnody, homiletics, theology, polity and praxis of the church
would be sadly impoverished if Paul's inspired mind had not brought forth
this profound metaphor.
MATTHEW 16:13-20 Many dogmatic and ecclesiastical issues surface in the
analysis of this reading. Not the least of these are the primacy of Peter
and hence of the claim to the papacy by the bishop of Rome. Another is
the nature of the authority ostensibly given by Christ to the apostles.
On the other hand, scholars have long debated whether the words attributed
to Jesus are in fact a valid rendition of what he may have said on this
A curious anomaly arises as soon as we realize the location of this
incident. Caesarea Philippi lies in the foothills of Mount Lebanon, some
2000 feet above sea level. This location has three significant religious,
geographical and political aspects: It is an ancient holy place honouring
the pagan pastoral god Pan. It was of one of three sources of the Jordan
River which fed its waters about 25 turbulent miles southward into the Sea
(actually lake) of Galilee some 700 feet below sea level. Herod Philip, a
contemporary of Jesus as the tetrarch (a petty king) of Trachonitis and
other provinces east of the Jordan, built his summer residence here after
his father’s death in 4 BCE. Jesus would have been well aware of all
this. Did he lead his disciples to this site because he wanted them to
recognize him in a setting totally different from the familiar shores of
the Sea of Galilee? Did he want them to see him as the Messiah of the
whole world, not just of the Jews?
The response of the disciples to his penetrating questions casts the
importance of the event into sharp relief. At first they linked him with
Israel’s prophetic history. Undoubtedly the general populace saw him as
one of the prophets, as did they. The tradition held that Elijah would
return to announce the coming of the Messiah. John the Baptist fitted
that role and had suffered death by execution at the order of Herod
Antipas, half-brother of Philip.
copyright - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006
please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.