Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, October 1, 2017, Proper 21, Year A

Please see How to Use Lection Connection

Full lections can be read here.

Based on the Readings as Set

First Reading (Exodus 17:1-7)

Having complained earlier about bitter water, now the Israelites test Yahweh by quarrelling with Moses because they find no water at Rephidim. Again Yahweh miraculously provides for them, this time having Moses strike a rock and cause water to come out. A very frustrated Moses gives the place the name “Testing” and “Quarrelling”.

Psalm (78:1-4, 12-16)

The Psalmist calls Israel to treat the “dark” story of Yahweh’s repeated provisions for their fathers during the Exodus experience as a cautionary tale that they will both celebrate and pass on to their own children. Later in the Psalm he will remark that the Israelites did not learn their lesson in the wilderness.

Second Reading (Philippians 2:1-13)

St. Paul pleads with his readers to abandon selfish ambition and conduct themselves in all humility, putting the needs of others first. This is to adopt “the mind of Christ”, who did not exploit his equality with God but took on human form, humbling himself to death on a cross. Refusing to exalt himself, God raised his name above all others as Lord of all and it is this same God who works in believers to accomplish his purposes.

Gospel (Matthew 21:23-32)

To the Jewish leaders who demand to know the source of his authority, Jesus poses the question of John the Baptist. Was his authority human or divine? If they say “divine” they will have to answer for their unbelief. If they say “human” John’s many followers will be upset. He then tells them a parable that emphasizes true obedience as action not words. Even notorious sinners who truly believed John are going into the kingdom before those whose righteousness is only skin deep.

CONNECTION SUGGESTIONS

  • Testing the Lord is not a good policy
  • It is not an easy thing to change a sinful heart (but Christ can)
  • Miracles, even repeated miracles, will not by themselves suffice for faith
  • God is a God of grace and mercy
  • Humility or self-focus? Which opens the door to others and to God?
  • Unbelief is rooted in unwillingness, not in lack of evidence

Based on the Alternative Set of Readings

First Reading (Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32)

Yahweh stakes his claim to every individual life and pronounces each person responsible for his or her own actions. He points out the unfairness of punishing the child for the sins of the parents. No, the person who sins is the one who dies. On the other hand, if they turn from their sins they shall live. Yahweh, having no pleasure in a sinner’s death, calls each one individually to repentance that they might live.

Psalm (25:1-9)

The Psalmist expresses his keen desire to know and follow the ways of Yahweh. He calls out for help because Yahweh is full of mercy and steadfast love, eager to respond to the humble. It is on this basis, on Yahweh’s character alone, that the Psalmist asks for forgiveness of youthful sins.

Second Reading (Philippians 2:1-13)

St. Paul pleads with his readers to abandon selfish ambition and conduct themselves in all humility, putting the needs of others first. This is to adopt “the mind of Christ”, who did not exploit his equality with God but took on human form, humbling himself to death on a cross. Refusing to exalt himself, God raised his name above all others as Lord of all and it is this same God who works in believers to accomplish his purposes.

Gospel (Matthew 21:23-32)

To the Jewish leaders who demand to know the source of his authority, Jesus poses the question of John the Baptist. Was his authority human or divine? If they say “divine” they will have to answer for their unbelief. If they say “human” John’s many followers will be upset. He then tells them a parable that emphasizes true obedience as action not words. Even notorious sinners who truly believed John are going into the kingdom before those whose righteousness is only skin deep.

CONNECTION SUGGESTIONS

  • The importance of taking personal responsibility for one’s sin
  • Personal and/or corporate repentance?
  • Is God unfair?
  • It is not an easy thing to change a sinful heart (but Christ can)
  • Miracles, even repeated miracles, will not by themselves suffice for faith
  • God is a God of grace and mercy
  • Humility or self-focus? Which opens the door to others and to God?

 

 

2 Replies to “Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, October 1, 2017, Proper 21, Year A”

  1. George,

    I have been wondering about the relationship between God and the Hebrew people. Why do you think think the situation is always framed in the form of the people were going to test Yahweh again instead of saying the people got down on their knees and ask their Father, God for help? Why is it framed as this confrontation between the Hebrews and God?

    Thanks for any light you may be able to shine onto this dim old mind of mine.

    Paul Mills

    1. Hi Paul:

      Thanks for your questions, both this one and the one I got today. I have been away for the last three weeks and not just ignoring you!

      As your questions are similar I hope that the following comments are helpful.

      First of all, your questions arise out of a Christian context in which we are used to asking God for forgiveness and help on a regular basis. From this perspective it the failure of the Israelites in the wilderness seems inexplicable. It must be remembered that the Exodus experience took place long before the full revelation of grace and mercy seen in our Lord Jesus Christ. These people had only recently been constituted as a nation after being long-enslaved by the Egyptians and out of relationship with the God of their fathers. They did not know his name or what he was like. Was he a forgiving God or just forgetful of them? None of this had been revealed and even the book of Genesis was unavailable to them.

      Soon they entered into covenant with this God and agreed to keep his laws. YHWH had taken the initiative and they became his “chosen” people. And then continued to turn their backs on him while he again and again forgave them in grace, even though they often did not even ask. But they did get the message that he was angry with them!

      Secondly, this story (and indeed the whole of the OT) can serve as an object lesson for all of us. It pulls the cover off of our human inclination to disobey God (sin), starting with Adam. If salvation is to be achieved it will not come from our own efforts but only through the grace of God. In this way the OT story can serve to set the stage for the coming of Christ, making his appearance almost a necessary development given our repeated failures to live up to the demands of righteousness as expressed in the Law. Christ does what we could not and invites us to share in his righteousness through grace.

      I hope this proves helpful. It almost sounds like you have not read my book, In the Bosom of Abraham, which is a vastly expanded version of the above answer! On the other hand, none of the above is made explicit in the book because I wanted the reader to work out the implications of the narrative themselves. And that is what you are starting to do.

      George

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