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 28 - Proper 23 - 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 32:1-14 While Moses communed with God on the holy
mountain, the people persuaded Aaron, Moses' brother, to leads them in
worshipping an idol cast in the image of a calf, a well-known symbol of
fertility worship in the ancient Middle East. Modern biblical studies
suggest that it was not until after Israel's return from exile, nearly a
thousand years after the time of Moses, that monotheism became the core of
Israel's religious tradition.
PSALM 106:1-6,19-23 The psalmist exults in God's steadfast love
for and many providential acts toward Israel. The second part of the
reading summarizes the incident of worshipping the golden calf.
ISAIAH 25:1-9 (Alternate) The prophet rejoices in God's
future deliverance of Israel from oppression the rebuilding of Jerusalem
as the holy city of God. It is likely that this prophecy was uttered
after the return from exile in Babylon in 539 BCE, not by Isaiah who lived
two centuries earlier.
PSALM 23 (Alternate) This shepherd's psalm is perhaps
the most loved of all in our Bible. It still brings strength and solace
to the faithful.
PHILIPPIANS 4:1-9 Faith, friendship, reconciliation and strong,
ethical behavior are all wrapped into these few verses. They are among
the most intimate words written by the austere apostle Paul. Since this
was the first congregation he had founded in Macedonia, a northern
province of Greece, he had a very special relationship with the Christians
MATTHEW 22:1-14 The parable tells of a royal banquet to which
outsiders were welcomed after all the invited guests sent their excuses
for refusing has many undertones. It condemns those who refused to accept
Jesus as the Messiah. It is also a prophecy about the messianic banquet
which was a traditional part of the Jewish expectation of the coming of
the Messiah at the end of history.
A MORE COMPLETE ANALYSIS:
EXODUS 32:1-14 While Moses communed with God on the holy mountain, the
people persuaded Aaron, Moses' brother, to leads them in worshipping an
idol cast in the image of a calf, a well-known symbol of fertility worship
in the ancient Middle East.
Modern biblical studies suggest that it was not until after Israel's
return from exile in Babylon, several hundred years after the presumed
time of Moses, that monotheism became the core of Israel's religious
tradition. Scholars have also speculated that Moses and the Israelites of
the Exodus were remnants of the Egyptian followers of the revolutionary
monotheist Pharaoh Akhenaton who ruled for only fifteen years in the mid-
14th century BCE. Akhenaton tried to install the one god Aton, represented
by the sun, as the only god of the Egyptians. He brought on himself the
wrath of the ancient priesthood and many powerful classes whose livelihood
depended on the traditional deities. They soon overthrew him and returned
to the long established traditions. Since few records exist from that
brief period of Egyptian history, no proof has ever been found of any link
with the Israelites. (http://www.jimloy.com/egypt/akhenatn.htm).
Cecil B. De Mille used the spectacle of the Israelites worshipping the
golden calf as one of the key dramatic moments of his 1956 movie, "The Ten
Commandments." With cautious cinematography, he excluded the most lurid
scenes of the sexual promiscuity that usually accompanied the false
reverence for the exotic idol. But even the off-camera orgy was enough to
bring one parishioner to his pastor asking for an explanation of what was
Making and worshipping idols transgressed the first and most important of
the commandments. (Or second in some lists.) When Moses delayed in
returning from his epiphany on the mountain, his brother Aaron succumbed
to the pleading of the mob for a more visible object of worship in the
Egyptian tradition. Not unknown in Egyptian traditions, the young bull as
an idol of deity was better known in Asia Minor, Syria, Phoenicia and
Mesopotamia. The issue seems to have been the public outcry for a visible
deity to lead them through their wilderness journey. King Jeroboam I who
reigned over the northern ten tribes after the disruption of the united
kingdom of David and Solomon is said to have used two similar idols
representing Yahweh at Bethel and Dan. They served to reject the
centralizing of worship in Solomon's temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 12:26-
13:32; 14:1-18.) These latter narratives show how long the alternative
tradition lasted in the religious memory of the Israelites.
At the instigation of Yahweh, Moses returned to the idolatrous site at the
foot of the mountain, castigated them for their behaviour, blamed his
brother Aaron for leading them astray and forced the Israelites to undergo
an ordeal. Yahweh would have destroyed them with a plague, but Moses'
supplication changed Yahweh's mind (32:14). So the covenant endured and
the journey to the Promised Land continued despite this tragic incident.
There may well be several different traditions wound together in Ex. 32.
On the other hand, it resurfaced again and again in the Hebrew scriptures
(Deut. 9:16,21; 2 Kings 10:29; 17:16; 2 Chron. 11:15; 13:8; Neh. 9:18; Ps.
106:19; Hosea 8:5-6; 10:5; 13:2). This indicates how influential the
story must have been and how long the idolatry persisted as an alternate
religious rite. In post-biblical Judaism, the episode was a source of
embarrassment and anxiety for many interpreters. The rabbis even conceded
that all the calamities that had ever befallen Israel originated with the
golden calf. Rabbi Akiba, however, foremost of rabbinic Judaism's
interpreters, even made God admit that he had cause Israel to worship the
calf so that Israel's salvation might ensue from their gravest sin. The
intention of this line of thought was to renew Israel's hope and self-
respect by assuring them of Yahweh's continued forgiveness and love. In
Christian polemic literature it became a symbol of the crime of the
crucifixion and refusal to acknowledge Jesus as Messiah (c. Acts: 7:41-
53). Augustine went so far as to draw a parallel between the powder made
from the calf's head given to the people of drink and a sacrament. Thus
the worship of the calf became the worship of the devil.
PSALM 106:1-6,19-23 The psalmist exults in God's steadfast love for and
many providential acts toward Israel. The second part of the reading
summarizes the incident of worshipping the golden calf.
A rather sharp distinction also exists in the moods behind vss. 1-5 and
vss. 6-48. Rejoicing in Yahweh's constant love and repeated acts of
salvation marks the introduction. A somewhat doleful lament about
Israel's history in response to Yahweh's call and care darkens the
remainder. Although some may see here two separate compositions, it is
best to regard the first few verses as an introduction to the rest of the
psalm. Unlike Ps. 105 which recites many of the same events in Israel's
history, this is a sad tale revealing a repeated pattern of sin, appeals
to Yahweh for help, deliverance and subsequent forgetfulness. (Cf. also
Ps. 78; Neh. 9:5-37.) The psalm may have been composed for some unknown
liturgical occasion. Vss. 1, 47-48 are quoted verbatim in 1 Chron. 34-36
suggesting a dependence of one on the other and a probable date in the
Persian post-exilic period.
The second part of the reading stands as a succinct review of the incident
originally described in Ex. 32. The accusation that the Israelites
"exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass" could
not be more plaintive. How could they have fallen so low? The use of the
name Horeb, for Sinai, the only occurrence of this Deuteronomic term in
the Psalter, again suggests a late date and the formula that runs through
that documentary collection. Repeated failure to keep the covenant and
Yahweh's repeated forgiveness and redemption of Israel from the
consequences of its sin forms the basis for the psalmist's initial
rejoicing, as well as the final plea for salvation and doxology (vss. 47-
ISAIAH 25:1-9 (Alternate) The prophet rejoices in God's future
deliverance of Israel from oppression the rebuilding of Jerusalem as the
holy city of God. It is likely that this prophecy was uttered after the
return from exile in Babylon in 539 BCE, not by Isaiah who lived two
My professor of OT at McGill, later of Princeton, Dr. R.B.Y. Scott, wrote
*The Interpreter's Bible* introduction and exegesis of Isaiah 1-39 (vol.
5. Abingdon Press, 1956) at the time he was teaching us the OT prophets.
I naturally turn to his work as my basis for this summary. Scott held
that the whole section of Isaiah from which this reading is taken, chs.
24-27, is "a collection of eschatological prophecy, psalms and prayers
dating from the later postexilic period ... appended to an earlier
edition of the book ... which comprised the bulk of the material now
found in chs. 1-23."
Scott's view of this passage is that a victory over some unnamed enemy
city is celebrated in vss. 1-5. A feast of triumph and an end to sorrow
form the theme of vss. 6-9. The RCL uses it as the OT lesson for Easter
Day in Year B, Easter Evening in Years A, B and C, and All Saints in Year
B As such, it is appropriate for reading on the day on which we celebrate
the resurrection of Jesus and of all Christian saints. Christians of the
lst century CE found it especially worth remembering. Its words were
repeated in Revelation 21:4 and interpreted with deepened faith because
they knew that Christ had risen from the dead. This seems to be
particularly fitting to celebrate God's victory over sin and death.
The reference to a feast in vs.6 undoubtedly recalled to early Christian
minds the messianic feast featured in later Jewish eschatology (cf.
Baruch 29:3-8; 2 Esdras 6:52; Mark 2:19; Matt. 22:1-14; Luke 14:15-24;
Revelation 19:9, 17). In earlier times, festal observances marked the
renewal of the covenant. The promise of feasting always enhanced the
expectations of those about to be freed from oppression or in celebration
of similar events initiated by Yahweh. The Passover meal was one such
festive occasion, originally eaten with the anticipation of freedom and
remembered as such in Jewish tradition ever since.
On the other hand, as Scott pointed out, there was a parallel to vs. 8 in
the Canaanite myth of Baal's victory over Mot, the god of death and the
underworld. A similar myth also existed in the reappearance of Attis in
Asiatic mysteries. Christian belief found both of the traditions helpful
in interpreting the resurrection, especially to Gentiles familiar with
those myths, however different the Christ-event may have been. This in no
way discounts the meaning and value of either the Jewish or the Christian
celebrations. As Scott wrote: "The idea of God's ultimate triumph over
his enemies will also be a victory over death and pain takes on a new and
deeper meaning here, because the thought of God was more true and worthy
in Israel than in north Canaan centuries before. And when in Revelation
21:4 the words of this passage were quoted, it was in the light of a new
certainty which was theirs who knew that Christ had risen."
The metaphor of death being swallowed up (vs. 8) is particularly vivid in
view of the almost universal practice of human burial from prehistorical
times. It still sounds the note of victory at the start of many services
of Christian burial.
The reference to "rebuke" (KJV) ("reproach" [RSV] or "disgrace" [NRSV])
suggests that death was more than a cause for grief. It recalls the
opening episode in the story of Ruth. (1:1-9) For women in ancient Israel,
the death of a husband was considered more than an end to economic
security. It was indeed a rebuke from God and a disgrace in their
community, especially if the death had occurred as a national disaster
such as defeat in war or an extended famine. These were interpreted as
acts of Yahweh's vengeance in punishment for sin.
In a rural village in Ontario within the past few decades, where women
outlived their husbands by many years, widows were frequently excluded
from social gatherings until they found their "proper" place in a
fellowship of other widows. A young widow who was still physically
attractive was shunned as a genuine threat by other women with husbands
who might be led astray. Gossip could quickly attach "sinful" behavior to
her name if she was seen keeping company with any man, married or single.
That this hymn of praise has an eschatological emphasis comes out in the
phrases vs. 9 "on that day" and "we have waited for him." The anticipated
salvation lies in the future, as is our expectation of resurrection which
Paul had in mind when he referred this passage in 1 Cor. 15:54.
PSALM 23 (Alternate) This shepherd's psalm is perhaps the most loved of
all in our Bible. It occurs six times in the three year cycle of the RCL.
It still brings strength and solace to the faithful. Ancient tradition
and a title in the Hebrew scriptures claimed that it was from the hand of
David, Israel's legendary shepherd king. Though not entirely impossible,
it is unlikely. Reference to the "house of the Lord" in verse 6 indicates
a later date, since the temple was not built until after David had died.
On the whole, the metaphor of the divine shepherd appeared in many OT
references (Ps. 100:3; Ezek. 34; 37:24). This should not surprise us
because the ancient Israelites to whom the OT authors looked for their
definitive traditions were primarily a pastoral people with their chief
wealth represented by their flocks. During their early history, they
depended on flocks of sheep for most aspects of their livelihood including
food, clothing, tent, a medium of exchange and the central offering of
ritual sacrifice. Even today in the thoroughly urbanized state of Israel,
one can still see Palestinian shepherds with their large flocks on
hillsides within a very short distance of Jerusalem and Jericho.
There is a second metaphor which memory frequently overlooks in reciting
this psalm. Vs. 5 transfers the scene to the obligatory hospitality which
every Middle Eastern pastoral society extended to anyone fleeing from
enemies. Tribal feuds caused many such flights. A hunted man merely had
to touch the tent of anyone with whom he might seek refuge to lay upon his
host the requirement of providing sanctuary and sustenance. As seen by
the psalmist, the divine host provides far more than is necessary: indeed
a feast with sweet unguents poured on his head and an overflowing wine
The scene again changes to the temple (vs. 6) where the psalmist expresses
his delight in continuing to worship as long as life lasts. While this
psalm is a favorite for use in modern funerals services when Adwelling in
the house of the Lord@ becomes a heavenly image for us, the psalmist
considered death as a terminal point to be avoided if at all possible (vs.
4). Nevertheless, who can gainsay the measure of comfort which people
still find in this most familiar of psalms.
PHILIPPIANS 4:1-9 Faith, friendship, reconciliation and strong, ethical
behavior are all wrapped into these few verses. They are among the most
intimate words written by the austere apostle Paul. Since this was the
first congregation he had founded in Macedonia, a northern province of
Greece, he had a very special relationship with the Christians of
Quarrelling in any modern congregation causes great disruption.
Apparently the same was true in Paul's day. We know nothing other than
their names about the two women Euodia and Syntyche. Nor do we know
whether their quarrel was personal or theological. The "loyal companion"
whom Paul asked to help them resolve their differences may refer to
Epaphroditus whom Paul had sent as his letter carrier.
Actually Paul looked past this temporary distress among the Philippians
and invited them to rejoice with him in the Lord. There is a sense that
this invitation has a double meaning. Paul had a constant awareness of
the presence of Christ throughout his ministry and sought to share this
with his converts. He also believed implicitly in the early return of
Christ. The simple declaration, "The Lord is near," may have been spoken
with both meanings in mind.
Paul was also a man of prayer. Here he speaks of two very significant
ways of praying: supplication and thanksgiving. It was normal for him to
begin his letters with a word of thanksgiving for those who he addressed.
(Rom. 1:8; 1 Cor. 1:4; Phil. 1:3; Col. 1:3; 1 Thess. 1:2; 2 Thess. 1:3.
He felt it very normal to bring every concern he had before the throne of
grace expecting that he would ultimately know God's will in each
situation. It was this life of prayer that gave him "the peace that
Strong moral behaviour marked all of Paul's admonitions to his
correspondents. Here in vs. 8 he summarized how he believed every person
should live in the real world. In doing so, the Philippians would be
following his example and doing as he had taught them (vs. 9). It may be
difficult for Christians of our day to realize just who made up many of
these early congregations. As it had been with Jesus in many instances,
it was the moral outcasts like prostitutes and the ethically corrupt like
tax collectors who were attracted to the Christian way. Paul's ministry
in Philippi had begun with two people, neither of whom would have been
among the prestigious citizens of that Roman city - a woman of commerce
and the town jailer (Acts 16:14-15, 25-40). In the households of both of
these who were baptized would have been many slaves too. Their former
life had been like, Paul expected everyone to behave according to the same
MATTHEW 22:1-14 The parable tells of a royal banquet to which outsiders
were welcomed after all the invited guests sent their excuses for refusing
has many undertones. It condemns those who refused to accept Jesus as the
Messiah. It is also a prophecy about the messianic banquet which was a
traditional part of the Jewish expectation of the coming of the Messiah at
the end of history.
Note first that it is a parable of the kingdom. As such it has a distinct
eschatological aspect as well as an "already, but not yet" tenor.
Throughout his ministry Jesus accepted into his company those whom others
rejected and in turn was fully accepted by them. Bruce Chilton's theory
that Jesus himself was something of an outcast, a *mamzer,* due to his
uncertain parentage emphasizes this very clearly. (*Rabbi Jesus: An
Intimate Biography.* Doubleday, 2000) The gospel tradition described him
as a constant disruptive element to the social control of the religious
authorities. This too is reflected in the parable.
Luke 14:15-22 gives a brief and slightly different version of the same
parable. So does the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas 64. We naturally conclude
that it was a common possession of the early church and oft repeated
because of its strong emphasis on the sharp divisions within the social
milieu in which the Christian faith struggled to survive. The leadership
of the mainline churches in advocating social justice and the preferential
option for the poor in the late 20th and early 21st centuries finds more
scriptural foundations here too.
More puzzling, however, is the latter part of the reading (vss. 11-14)
which seem to be appended to the basic parable. It introduces a note of
judgment found in other parables referring to an eschatological separation
of good from evil at the end of time. (Cf. Matt. 8:12; 13:42; 24:51;
25:30.) Certainly Matthew generally presents the church as consisting of
both good and evil until the final judgment determines who will be
admitted to God's eternal presence. Most middle of the road, tolerant
Christians today shrink from the judgmental element of our tradition. As
relativists we tend to see things subjectively in tones of grey rather
than black and white. We look for the universalist aspects of our
tradition, not to obvious judgmentalism to be found in many of the
parables. Can it be true that not all kinds of people will be acceptable
to Jesus? Does that not conflict with the claim that he is the Saviour of
That is where we come up against the seemingly harsh statement that ends
the passage, "For many are called, but few are chosen." Many commentators
deal with vss. 11-14 as a different parable dealing with a marriage feast
rather than a royal banquet. The main parable, however, also tells of a
wedding banquet hosted by the king for his son. It would have been an
insult to the host for a wedding guest not to have come appropriately
dressed. (This pastor recalled performing a marriage ceremony disturbed
by the father of the groom drunkenly banging his cane on the floor of the
church immediately behind the wedding party.) Being excluded for a variety
of reasons has been part of the church's history, doctrine and moral
behaviour being only some of those. Racial issues have divided
denominations for generations. Evolution and creationism currently brings
forth heated debates in some churches. Homosexuality is another painful
issue confronting congregations and denominations.
It is easy for us to define the criteria for acceptance into the presence
of God. In all probability, the dialogue - too often a dialogue of the
deaf - as to who is and who is not acceptable will go on to the end of
copyright - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006
please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.