Sermons  SSLR  Illustrations  Lenten Resources  News  Devos  Newsletter  Clergy.net  Churchmail  Children  Bulletins  Search


kirshalom.gif united-on.gif

Sermon & Lectionary Resources           Year A   Year B   Year C   Occasional   Seasonal


Join our FREE Illustrations Newsletter: Privacy Policy
Introduction To The Scripture For Ordinary 26 - Proper 21 - Year A
Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 78:1-4,12-16; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32
Alt - Ezekiel 18:1-4,25-32; Psalm 25:1-9

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (jlss@sympatico.ca) 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 26 - Proper 21 - 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 17:1-7            This is another incident in the long story of 
Israel's continuing struggle to believe and follow God's leading during 
their wandering in the wilderness.  Moses comes into conflict with the 
Israelites because they have no water and want to return to Egypt where 
water was plentiful.  Following God's instructions, Moses makes water flow 
by striking a rock.  The point of the story is that faithful living is 
obedience to God, not finding plentiful resources.

 
PSALM 78:1-4,12-16       The whole psalm celebrates God’s goodness to the 
Israelites.  In this segment the psalmist recounts some of the mighty acts 
of God during the Exodus and early years in the deserts of Sinai.


EZEKIEL 18:1-4,25-32     [Alternate]  Emphasizing individual retribution 
for sin as opposed to the traditional tribal retribution, Ezekiel defends 
the fairness of God’s judgment.  He then repeats God’s challenge that each 
person repent of his or her sin and live righteously.  


PSALM 25:1-9             [Alternate]  Reiterating the principle of 
individual moral responsibility, the psalmist pleads that God be merciful, 
accept his repentance and teach him humble, righteous living.


PHILIPPIANS 2:1-13       Paul tells the Philippians how to live as Christ 
lived, selflessly, sacrificially and in faith that God in enabling them to 
do so.  The central part of the reading (vss. 5-11) may have been an early 
Christian hymn, perhaps originally composed by Paul himself.  


MATTHEW 21:23-32         Challenged by his opponents to identify his 
authority as he was teaching in the temple, Jesus refused.  He further 
challenged them with a simple but obvious riddle about John the Baptist.  
When they refused, he excoriated them for not believing John the Baptist 
when even tax collectors and prostitutes did so.


A MORE COMPLETE ANALYSIS.

EXODUS 17:1-7   This is another incident in the long story of Israel's 
continuing struggle to believe and follow God's leading during their 
wandering in the wilderness.  
Maps show that though surrounded by sea with relatively narrow links to 
the land masses of Africa and Asia, the Sinai Peninsula is actually an 
extension of the deserts of Egypt and Arabia.  The climate is torrid and 
dry.  Fresh water is extremely scarce.  The Bedouin tribes who have made 
it there traditional home for millennia spend their live in search for 
water and pastures for their meagre flocks of sheep and goats.  The 
narrative of the Exodus continues with an incident drawing upon these 
realities.

The role of any tribal leader in such circumstances was to provide his 
people with sustaining supplies of water.  Moses came into conflict with 
the Israelites because they had found no adequate sources of water on 
their journey.  They wanted to return to Egypt where water had been 
plentiful.  

The traditional story-tellers may have known the exact location of the 
campground called Rephidim, but we do not.  It lay somewhere between the 
wilderness of Sin and Mount Sinai.  Neither of those have been exactly 
located by modern archaeology.  Since the 4th century CE Christian scholars 
have regarded a mountain named Jebel Musa near the apex of the Sinai 
Peninsula as the likely spot.  For the past 15 centuries the site has been 
marked by a monastery dedicated to St.  Catherine of Alexandria.  At least 
three other competing locations have also been suggested.  Another theory 
points to the close similarity of Sin and Sinai indicating that the two 
were reasonably close to one another.  This passage seems to emphasize 
that the Israelite progress was by stages indicating a greater distance.  
Such unanswered questions depend almost entirely on one’s maximal or 
minimal view of the historicity of the scriptural record.

The OT has two other references to this event in Deut. 33:8 and Ps. 95:8-
9.  In both the implication is as straightforward as in this instance: the 
Israelites’ contention amounted to testing Yahweh’s presence among them as 
they wandered toward the promised land.  The point of truth in the story 
is that faithful living is obedience to God, not finding plentiful 
resources.  

Two other points stand out in the story as we have it: 1) Moses did not go 
alone.  Good leadership in any enterprise has plenty of support, 
especially when there is grumbling in the ranks.  2) The grumbling was 
actually a test of faith.  Not just Moses’ leadership was challenged; 
trust in Yahweh had reached a low point among the wandering tribe.

The metaphor of Moses’ staff, probably a normal shepherd’s staff, has some 
significance.  To strike the rock as he had struck the Nile symbolized the 
power given to him by Yahweh.  To have such power controlled the destiny 
of those who followed him.  Yet the power was always derived as the first 
reference to Moses’ staff in Ex. 4:1-5 stated.  It was never possessed by 
him nor used except at the specific command of Yahweh.  This derived power 
indicated to those who would believe that Yahweh was indeed still with 
them as arduous as the journey might have been.
	

PSALM 78:1-4,12-16   The whole psalm celebrates God’s goodness to the 
Israelites despite their frequent rebellion.  In this segment the psalmist 
recounts some of the mighty acts of God during the Exodus and early years 
in the deserts of Sinai.  Included in these two excerpts are two 
particular events of the Exodus – the dividing of the sea and the 
splitting of the rocks to provide water.  This follows the liturgical role 
of the psalm as an opportunity for the people to participate in the 
service of the Word and reinforce their hearing of OT reading.  


EZEKIEL 18:1-4,25-32   [Alternate]  Emphasizing individual retribution for 
sin as opposed to the traditional tribal retribution, Ezekiel defends the 
fairness of God’s judgment.  He then repeats God’s challenge that each 
person repent of his or her sin and live righteously.  

Reported instances of tribal retribution such as gang rape and murder of 
women whose husbands or brothers have committed crimes send shock waves 
through Western society.  This is largely due to our assumptions, fully 
sanctioned by laws, that only the perpetrators of wrongdoing should be 
charged and punished for specific transgressions.  

Until the time of Ezekiel during the Babylonian Exile (586-539 BCE), 
tribal justice was the norm in all Middle Eastern culture including 
Israel.  Indeed, throughout the OT there in a clear sense of corporate 
responsibility for the breaking of Israel’s covenant with Yahweh.  Hence 
the proverb in vs. 2 of this passage which this passage was designed to 
counter.

Note especially that the basis for this revolutionary change in moral 
responsibility is solely the faith that all life belongs to God.  This 
could be and probably has been used as a powerful text supporting the pro-
life movement.  However, anti-abortionists frequently overlook the fact 
that the moral responsibility for bringing new life into being is the 
sexual behaviour of the parents, not the foetus so created in the natural 
and divinely sanctified manner.

Note too that the principle of individual moral responsibility extends to 
the whole society (vss. 30-31) and not just selected individuals.  Debate 
as to whose behaviour should be role models for youth – clergy, parents, 
popular musicians, movie stars, sports heroes, etc. – in no way removes 
the responsibility from everyone.  We are all responsible individually and 
collectively for the moral quality of our society.


PSALM 25:1-9   [Alternate]  Reiterating the principle of individual moral 
responsibility, the psalmist pleads that God be merciful, accept his 
repentance and teach him humble, righteous living.  Trusting in the 
steadfast love of God and seeking to learn God’s way becomes the key to 
the righteous life God requires of each person.  

In the Hebrew original the psalm has the artificial form of an acrostic 
and includes some wisdom motifs (vss.  4-5; 12-14).  Thus it was composed 
in the later post-exilic period.  It would seem that the psalmist has well 
understood the principle of individual responsibility that Ezekiel 
introduced to Israel during the exilic period.


PHILIPPIANS 2:1-13   Undoubtedly one of the finest excerpts from Paul’s 
writing, this passage tells the Philippians how to live as Christ lived, 
selflessly, sacrificially and in faith that God in enabling them to do so.  
The central part of the reading (vss. 5-11) may have been an early 
Christian hymn, perhaps originally composed by Paul himself.

Paul constantly appealed for unity in the Christian communities he had 
founded.  In some respects the Philippian congregation may have been the 
strongest and most united of all.  A few clues suggest that it may also 
have been his favourite; e.g. “make my joy complete” (vs. 2); “just as you 
have always obeyed me” (vs. 12).  Nonetheless, his special feeling for 
them in no way prevented him from seeing that they represented the 
powerful influence of the Holy Spirit of God at work among them (vss. 1b, 
13).

Perhaps more than a doctrinal statement about which some may quibble, the 
hymn declares that the exemplary model of Jesus as the best that human 
beings can be rests on his special relationship with God.  And so does the 
quality of our moral life (vss. 4-5).  The Christian life consists of 
being like Jesus, even to reiterating his sacrifice and, as John envisions 
in Revelation 7, being accepted into the heavenly realm to the praise of 
his glory.


MATTHEW 21:23-32   Challenged by his opponents to identify his authority 
as he was teaching in the temple, Jesus refused.  He further challenged 
them with a simple but obvious riddle about John the Baptist.  When they 
refused, he excoriated them for not believing John the Baptist when even 
tax collectors and prostitutes did so.  The excerpt ends with a parable 
unique to Matthew’s Gospel.

Never without opposition throughout his ministry, Jesus sought to redirect 
the tradition of Israel away from ritual legalism and a dominant 
priesthood toward a more meaningful trust by the individual in the 
gracious and forgiving love of God.  This approach threatened the 
religious authorities of the time.  Scholars like Jeremias and Vermes have 
shown how these authorities classified everyone into those categories and 
classes who were ritually pure and so acceptable within the temple 
precincts.  Anyone challenging this social and moral rigidity was 
automatically suspect by both Pharisees and Sadducees.  The former party 
were strict legalists; the latter controlled the priesthood and temple.  
John the Baptist was one prophet whom the authorities rigorously opposed.  
Although the NT record does not reveal it, he may well have been prevented 
from preaching in the temple precincts.  When Jesus undertook to do so, he 
was immediately challenged.

Undaunted, Jesus used the tried and true method of answering his critics 
with another, even more challenging question.  They refused to answer 
because either response could have been used against them.  Jesus had used 
their challenge to his authority to hoist them on their own petard.  

The parable that follows may not be original in its present form and may 
not have come from Jesus but from Matthew.  It also could have been 
adapted from a similar old Jewish parable about God’s gift of the Torah to 
Israel.  Various Greek texts give different versions of the story, some 
reversing the roles of the two brothers.  The message of the story is 
clear: God requires righteous conduct, not hypocritical behaviour.  

The final thrust that the tax collectors and prostitutes may have an 
advantage over the religious authorities can be seen as a justification 
for Jesus’ ministry to those whom the authorities totally rejected.  It 
meant that the irreligious may sometimes respond to the good news of God’s 
forgiving love more readily than those whose self-deceiving moral 
superiority makes them impervious to its appeal.  The main key is the 
person’s sense of self-worth which can deceive even the most perceptive to 
think of themselves more highly than they ought to think (Rom. 12:3).

                         
copyright  - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.



Further information on this ministry and the history of "Sermons & Sermon - Lectionary Resources" can be found at our Site FAQ.  This site is now associated with christianglobe.com

Spirit Networks
1045 King Crescent
Golden, British Columbia
V0A 1H2

SCRIPTURAL INDEX

sslr-sm