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 32 - Proper 27 - 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.]
JOSHUA 24:1-3a,14-25 The conquest of Canaan completed, Joshua
gathered all the tribes of Israel to the holy place at Shechem to renew
their covenant with God initially made by Abraham. He issued a compelling
challenge that they should choose to serve the Lord as he and his family
had chosen. They promised to do so although Joshua warned them of how
difficult it would be and of the penalty if falling away from their
commitment to worship the gods of their foreign neighbours.
PSALM 78:1-7 This long psalm recites the goodness of God
to the Israelites throughout their long history. Theirs was a story of
repeated disobedience to their ancient covenant and redemptive renewal of
the special relationship through the mercy of God.
WISDOM OF SOLOMON 6:12-16 [Alternate] Although attributed to Solomon
like Ecclesiastes, Wisdom dates from the beginning of the last century BCE
and is imbued with Greek thought. It was not included in the Hebrew
scriptures, but was well known to many New Testament authors. This
excerpt is an abbreviated part of a section of the book detailing the
beneficial effects of Wisdom, a virtually personified female aspect of
AMOS 5:18-24 [Alternate] This oracle from Amos, a prophet
of the 8th century BCE proclaims that The Day of the Lord will be a time of
severe judgment against Israel’s unfaithfulness despite their elaborate
rituals. The final verse 24 could be regarded as the finest declaration
of the prophetic vision for all nations for all times.
WISDOM OF SOLOMON 6:17-20 [Alternate] The great value of Wisdom cited
here is its desire for discipline which guarantees incorruptibility and
leads to sovereignty.
PSALM 70 [Alternate] This woeful cry of distress
pleads for God’s help in some dangerous situation.
1 THESSALONIANS 4:13-18 To ease their concern about those who have
died before the anticipated return of Christ, Paul reassures them of a
final general resurrection when all will be with Christ. Modern
fundamentalists use this excerpt as the basis for their doctrine of “the
MATTHEW 25:1-13 Not too much should be made of details of
this parable. It tells a simple story drawn from the village life of
Galilee. The wise and foolish virgins waiting for the return of the
bridegroom presents the challenge that everyone must be prepared for the
return of Christ.
A MORE COMPLETE ANALYSIS:
JOSHUA 24:1-3A,14-25 The Book of Joshua is part of the Deuteronomic
history of the settlement of Canaan by the Jews following the Exodus and
the forty years of wandering in the wilderness. Based on collected
memories and oral traditions, and possibly some earlier documentation, it
reached its final form during the Babylonian exile. Scholars believe that
it could have been written in either Judea or in Babylon. One of its
themes addresses a people who through disobedience to the law had lost
their right to the divine gift of the Promised Land. An associated theme
points out the clear relationship between obedience to the law and divine
blessing. This latter theme comes forth most strongly in this excerpt.
The conquest and settlement of Canaan completed, Joshua gathered all the
tribes of Israel to the holy place at Shechem to renew their covenant
Yahweh had initially made with Abraham. He issued a compelling challenge
that they should choose to serve the Yahweh as he and his family had
chosen to do. They promised to do so too although Joshua warned them of
how difficult it would be and the penalty if falling away from their
commitment to worship the gods of their foreign neighbours.
The greatest challenge to any religious tradition comes from alternative
beliefs and religious practices. Idolatry, the anxious seeking for
certainty and security in relationships other than trust in God and
commitment to a strong moral standard, has been the bane of every
generation of believers. As this lesson describes, the children of Israel
faced this issue as forthrightly as we do today. The Canaanites and the
other tribal communities in the lands through which the Israelites had
passed had their own religious traditions, “other gods” as Joshua called
them in vs. 16. Joshua set before his people the choice they must make.
Was Yahweh truly to be their God with whom they were to have a special
relationship by being obedient to the moral code of their sacred covenant?
e and his family had made that choice. They would serve Yahweh.
It would appear from this passage that Jewish religious thought had not
yet settled finally on the moral monotheism, the faith in one God alone
and a rigorous moral commitment. The thought that there might be deities
other than Yahweh which other nations revered and worshipped remained a
very present threat during the Babylonian exile (586-539 BCE). Today we
can easily understand this threat to our own tradition. In recent decades
it has become increasingly tempting to let other relationships, practices
and pursuits dominate our lives. One brilliant insight into the religious
challenge to our generation cited professional spectator sports as the
dominant religious practice which a visitor from outer space would find in
our world. It was just such a distraction against which Joshua warned his
people more than three thousand years ago.
PSALM 78:1-7 This long psalm recites the goodness of God to the
Israelites throughout their long history. Theirs was a story of repeated
disobedience to their ancient covenant and redemptive renewal of the
special relationship through the mercy of God.
As vs. 1 states, the single purpose of the psalm was to teach a
contemporary generation by recalling the Exodus and early days of
settlement in Canaan. It aimed to show that all along Yahweh had been
working in and through Israel’s history. Some scholars have focused on
certain historical clues: the temple still standing, the Davidic monarchy
still reigning in Jerusalem, Judah believing that Yahweh had rejected the
Northern Kingdom although there is no direct reference to the fall of
Samaria. From these has come the conclusion that the psalm could have
been written as early as the 8th century BCE. More likely however is a
post-exilic date when the history of Israel’s special relationship with
Yahweh was being thoroughly reconsidered. While there is no evidence of
any connection with the temple cultus, the psalm could have been suitable
for recitation at some special festival, particularly the Passover.
The initial verses in this reading do not more than introduce the purpose
of the whole. In short, the psalmist restates the Shema (Deut. 6:4-9) as
the basic guide for the religious education of each generation.
WISDOM OF SOLOMON 6:12-16 [Alternate for Roman Catholic and Lutheran
Lectionaries] Although attributed to Solomon like Ecclesiastes, Wisdom
dates from the beginning of the last century BCE and is imbued with Greek
thought as well as being written in Greek. It was not included in the
Hebrew Scriptures, but did appear in the Greek translation of them, the
Septuagint. Hence it was well known to many New Testament authors.
Jerome included it in his Latin translation; the Roman Catholic tradition
does include the book in the Old Testament.
This excerpt is an abbreviated part of the second of three main sections
of the book (6:1-9:18). It differs in style from other Wisdom literature
in the Old Testament, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, in lacking the short,
memorable aphorism; it resembles the diatribes of the Greek Cynic and
Stoic philosophers. Nevertheless, it does have a clear religious purpose.
This passage details the beneficial effects of Wisdom, virtually
personified as the female aspect of divine nature. Wisdom is not only to
be sought, but reveals herself to the earnest seeker. She comes to the
sincere almost as a counterpart of divine grace.
WISDOM OF SOLOMON 6:17-20 [Alternate is from in the Lutheran Lectionary
only and should be regarded as an extension of the one above from Wisdom
There seems to be no reason for the break between the two passages since
it extends the effect of seeking Wisdom to a logical conclusion. The
great value of Wisdom cited here is its creation of a desire for
discipline which guarantees incorruptibility and leads to sovereignty. In
short, practice makes perfect, but there are responsibilities involved
too. There are moral laws that guide one’s search for Wisdom.
AMOS 5:18-24 [Alternate for Episcopal and Lutheran Lectionaries.] This
oracle from Amos, a prophet of the 8th century BCE proclaims that the Day
of the Lord will be a time of severe judgment against Israel’s
unfaithfulness despite their elaborate rituals. The final verse 24 could
be regarded as the finest declaration of the prophetic vision for all
nations for all times.
The earliest of the so-called “Minor Prophets,” Amos lived circa 750-700
BCE during the reigns of Jereboam of Israel and Uzziah of Judah. He set
the standard for his railing against the social injustices and ritual
aberrations he found in Israel. Although claiming to be from a rural
background, his oracles reflect a considerable knowledge of the
surrounding nations to which he also likened Israel’s depravity.
PSALM 70 [Alternate] This woeful cry of distress pleads for God’s help
in some dangerous situation. Surprisingly these few verses appear twice
in the Psalter. They repeat almost word for word Ps. 40:13-17. The only
explanation for the repetition is that the text came to the collection of
psalms made by later editors from two different sources. Originally they
probably existed as separate psalms since the intent and style are quite
different. This brief text is in the form of a lament. The same text in
Ps. 40:13-17 is an addition to a hymn of thanksgiving for recovery from
1 THESSALONIANS 5:1-11 There can be little doubt that Paul believed in
the imminent return of Christ in glory. This tradition existed in the
apostolic church throughout the early decades after Pentecost, a viewpoint
which grew naturally out of the Jewish expectation of the Messiah.
Believing that Jesus of Nazareth is the long-expected Messiah, the
apostolic church adapted that belief for their own purposes. The doctrine
of the second coming of Christ, the Parousia as it is called, was the
Paul's Thessalonian correspondence dates from the late 40s or early 50s of
the Christian era, within a quarter century of the resurrection of Jesus
and the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost. Scholars have been unable to
confirm which of the two was written first or to determine how either
relates exactly to the missionary journeys of Paul described in Acts. A
consensus appears to be gathering around the hypothesis that Paul wrote 2
Thessalonians before this letter, and that the content of the two have
very little in common.
The main issue in this passage is the timing of the Parousia. Paul
assures his audience that they need nothing added to the teaching he had
given them in person (vs. 1). Nonetheless, the subject must have been a
major concern for this community because it surfaces in no less than five
different references in the letter (1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:13-5:11; 5:23).
The phrase "the day of the Lord" is the typical name given by Jewish
prophets to the Day of Judgment, a phrase subsequently adapted by later
apocalyptic literature to the expectation of the Messiah. In this case,
however, it refers to the day of the Lord's return. The phrase "like a
thief in the night," emphasizing the unpredictability of the event,
recalls words attributed to Jesus by both Matthew and Luke (Matt. 24:43;
The second metaphor Paul used to describe the indefinite timing of the
Parousia is even more vivid. Every parent recognizes the moment when
birth labor begins. That phrase also comes from prophetic scriptures,
occurring several times in Jeremiah, always referring to an uncertain time
of impending disaster and divine judgment. A similar theme of the event
occurring at a totally unexpected moment also pervades such apocalyptic
passages in the gospels as Mark 13:28-37, Matt. 24:34-42, and Luke 21:29-
33. Many scholars believe that this apostolic tradition came directly
from Jesus himself.
Paul then moves on to a further metaphorical reference on which turns the
ethical advice Paul wishes to give his friends. He states clearly how
Christians were to conduct themselves while waiting patiently for Christ's
return. Because they are children of the light and of the day (vs. 5)
rather than of darkness and night, they are to keep awake and live
soberly, unlike those whose nighttime drunkenness gives opportunity to the
Paul summons yet another metaphor to warn his audience of their need to be
ready for the unpredictable return of Christ. He adapts parts of a
soldier's protective armament, a breastplate and a helmet, to Christian
faith, love and hope. The metaphor may have been part of Paul's regular
preaching vocabulary, for it occurs again with greater force and
elaboration in Ephesians 6:14-17. Certainly it had significance in a city
like Thessalonica, the capital and chief commercial city of Macedonia,
where Roman soldiers could be found on every street.
Everything Paul has said to encourage the Thessalonians depended on one
thing, as did all his teaching: the death and resurrection of Jesus the
Christ. For those who believe, waiting for Christ's return can be a most
hopeful experience because Christ died for us (vs.10). Only so can they
continue their mutual support as they wait (vs. 11) his return.
MATTHEW 25:1-13 Not too much should be made of details of this parable.
It tells a simple story drawn from the village life of Galilee. The wise
and foolish virgins waiting for the return of the bridegroom presents the
challenge that everyone must be prepared for the return of Christ.
As the Song of Songs 3:6-11 suggests, the performing of a wedding involved
the groom and his friends going to the bride’s residence at the appointed
time to bring his richly dressed bride and her attendants back to his
residence (Ps. 45:12b-15; Isa. 61:10) to complete the appropriate ceremony
and participate in a rich feast with dancing and song. The celebrations
could last from seven to fourteen days. How extensive or expensive the
festivities would depend on the wealth of the families. A humble village
wedding would be much less elaborate than one for a high-born and wealthy
couple. The parable captures a moment in time when a group of young women
await the arrival of the groom and his bride.
The story is not as important as its intended eschatological
interpretation. It reinforces the theme found in all Jewish eschatology
that the moment when the Messiah comes is always to be anticipated but
without any specific timing whatsoever. While drawing heavily on the
Jewish expectation found extensively in some prophetic and considerable
inter-testamental literature the Christian interpretation deals almost
exclusively on the return of the true Messiah, Jesus, the crucified and
The element of judgment stands out in the punch line of the parable (vss.
12-13). A good deal of contemporary preaching lacks this decisive strain.
To many in pulpit and pew this may sound particularly graceless and
contrary to God’s infinite, universal mercy. As one who was familiar with
the eschatological tradition, Jesus’ teachings presented this theme with
great force. As the foolish virgins discovered, NOW is the appropriate
time to make preparations for being received into God’s kingdom.
copyright - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006
please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.