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Introduction To The Scripture For Ordinary 10 - Proper 5 - Year A
Genesis 12:1-9; Psalm 33:1-12; Romans 4:13-25; Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26
alt: Hosea 5:15 – 6:6; Psalm 50:7-15

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (jlss@sympatico.ca) of the United Church of Canada. John has structured 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 10 - Proper 5 - 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.]


GENESIS 12:1-9		The call of Abram described in this passage 
stands one of the most significant events in ancient Israel’s religious 
history and the history of the modern Middle East.  Now known as the first 
of Israel’s patriarchs, Abram is also recognized as the founder of the 
Islamic tradition through his son Ishmael who was born to the slave woman, 
Hagar.  The trek of the tribe of Abram first from Ur of the Chaldeans to 
and then to Canaan and Egypt is probably an authentic tradition about the 
Semitic incursions from the Arabian desert into more fertile lands seeking 
pasture for their flocks.  This narrative tells of a divinely initiated 
purpose as its impetus.


PSALM 33:1-12		This psalm begins with praise for God’s love and 
faithfulness expressed in creation and goes on to emphasize the purpose of 
God as Lord of history in covenanting a special relationship with Israel. 


HOSEA 5:15 - 6:6 	[Alternate]  Unique among OT prophets, Hosea was 
the only one who lived in the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the crucial 
years prior to its destruction by the Assyrians in 721 BCE.  He struggled 
mainly with the rampant apostasy when the ancient covenant with God was 
seriously undermined by political opportunism of the day expressed in 
conflicts with the Southern Kingdom of Judah and rebellion against 
Assyrian overlords.  This brief excerpt describes Israel’s shallow 
repentance after great suffering in contrast to God’s desire for a living 
faith reflected in changed behaviour.


PSALM 50:7-15 		[Alternate]  The prophetic rejection of worthless 
sacrifices and insincere worship echo loudly through this selection from 
the psalm.

 
ROMANS 4:13-25    	Like all Jewish rabbis, Paul looked back to the 
faith of Abraham in fulfilling God’s promise as a signal event.  He took 
special note that Abraham “believed that he would become the father of 
many nations” (vs. 18) even though he and his wife Sarah were too old to 
bear children.  This is the basis for his argument that it is by faith 
alone that we are saved.  Paul then linked this instance of trust in God 
to the death and resurrection of Christ as the means by which our 
relationship with God has been set right despite our sinfulness.


MATTHEW 9:9-13, 18-26	These three incidents raised opposition to Jesus’ 
ministry yet widely extended his fame.  All of them signaled his sole 
desire to help people as the way to reveal God’s love and inspire them to 
believe in him.  He also knew that not every one would respond. So he 
sternly rebuked the super-religious Pharisees for their opposition.  He 
was interested in people who sensed their need, not in those who had it 
all.


A MORE COMPLETE ANALYSIS.

GENESIS 12:1-9   Stretching from the mouth of the Tigris-Euphrates River 
to the Persian Gulf to the Nile Valley in Egypt lies a rich fertile 
crescent which has beckoned migratory tribes from the Arabian desert for 
thousands of years.  Interdisciplinary research indicates that behind the 
trek of the tribe of Abram first from Ur of the Chaldeans to Haran and 
then to Canaan and Egypt lies an authentic tradition about the Semitic 
incursions into more fertile lands seeking pasture for their flocks.  
Economic pressures provided the impetus for this migration. 

The movement of Abram’s tribe has been dated approximately in the 18th 
century BCE.  A millennium later, in the 9th century and again after the 
return of the Israelites from exile in Babylon in the 6th century, 
theological reflection recast the tribal legends of these people into the 
patriarchal stories of the Book of Genesis.  This narrative tells of a 
divinely initiated purpose for this migration.
 
The call of Abram stands one of the most significant events in ancient 
Israel’s religious history and the history of the modern Middle East. 
Known to this day as the first of Israel’s patriarchs, Abram is also 
recognized as the founder of the Islamic tradition through his son Ishmael 
who was born to the slave woman, Hagar.  The racial, religious and 
ideological hostility still torturing the peoples crammed together in this 
cockpit of world history stems from the rivalry of the sons of Abraham. 
Because Paul used Abram as the model for his definition of faith, as noted 
below in the passage from Romans, he represents to Christians one of the 
most significant examples of the truly spiritual person.

Are all mass migrations ultimately caused by changing economic conditions? 
That certainly is true of the migration of most of our European ancestors 
to North America during the 19th century.  It is also true of migration of 
so many people from other parts of the world in the latter years of this 
century.  Does God, the Lord of History, use such economic factors too 
bring about the spiritual goal of Pentecost reversing the curse of Babel 
(Gen. 11:1-9) by creating a new humanity drawn from all parts of the 
globe?   If so, what are the implications of the crisis during the late 
1990s in southeastern Europe which drove the rapidly increasing Albanian 
population of Cosovo into exile? 

Are economic factors also motivating the brutal conflicts and ethnic 
cleansing in recent years in southern Sudan, Darfur and the Republic of 
Congo?  Does not the scattering of hundreds of thousands of these people 
across the globe represent to us as a new opportunity for faithful 
participation in the redemptive acts of our God as we pray for them, help 
them to make peace and share our plentiful resources with them?

	
PSALM 33:1-12   This liturgical psalm begins with praise for God’s love 
and faithfulness. It seems obvious from vss. 2-3 that it was meant to be 
sung to the accompaniment of stringed instruments such as the lyre and 
harp.  It then celebrates the word of Yahweh expressed in creation (vss. 
4-9) recalling the priestly hymn of creation in Genesis 1. The opening 
verses of this same segment (vss.4-5) also emphasize the righteous and 
loving purpose of God in creating the world. Next the psalmist turns to 
rejoice in the purpose of God as Lord of history, not only in frustrating 
the plans of nations, (vs. 10) but in covenanting a special relationship 
with Israel (vs. 12).

The psalm dates from the postexilic period when the rituals of the temple 
were being restored.  The influence of the prophetic school of Second 
Isaiah also stand out in such references as in vs. 8 where all peoples are 
summoned to stand in awe of Israel’s God.  This theme is further 
elaborated in vss. 13-17 excluded from this reading.  Those verses depict 
the sovereign of all humankind governing even the vagaries of human 
warfare.  Again one’s mind is drawn to the events and crises of our own 
time in such places as southeastern Europe and central Africa.


HOSEA 5:15 - 6:6   [Alternate]  Unique among OT prophets, Hosea was the only 
one who lived in the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the crucial years prior 
to its destruction by the Assyrians in 721 BCE.  He struggled mainly with 
the rampant apostasy when the ancient covenant with God was seriously 
undermined by political opportunism of the day expressed in conflicts with 
the Southern Kingdom of Judah and rebellion against Assyrian overlords. 
Best known for comparing Israel’s infidelity with the distressed 
relationship with his wife, a former temple prostitute (chs. 1-3), Hosea 
is one of the more difficult prophetic books to understand because of a 
much corrupted text.

This brief excerpt describes Israel’s shallow repentance after great 
suffering in contrast to God’s desire for a living faith reflected in 
changed behaviour.  In 5:15, Yahweh tells of  waiting for both Israel 
(also called Ephraim after one of the sons of Joseph] and Judah to repent 
when their suffering makes the nation aware of how far away they have 
departed from Yahweh’s way.  In 6:1-3, Yahweh mimics their insincere 
repentance, then in vss. 4-6 wrestles with the reality of their separation 
from the desired way of obedience to their covenant.  Even the prophets’ 
warnings of judgment like those of Hosea have not been heeded.  Instead 
they offered worthless sacrifices when only steadfast love would suffice.


PSALM 50:7-15   [Alternate]  The prophetic rejection of worthless 
sacrifices and insincere worship echo loudly through this selection from 
the psalm.  The emphasis is placed on the spirit rather than ritualistic 
forms of worship.  This may seem unusual in the post-exilic period when 
the temple with its many sacrificial offerings were being restored. This 
passage in particular appears to reject categorically the efficacy and 
importance of sacrifices. 

If there is any significance for Christian worship and homiletics in this 
emphasis, it may lie in the way the psalmist make quite clear how God has 
no needs that humans can provide.  Rather, God is God and requires only a 
prayer of thanksgiving and a cry for mercy from these who have wandered 
away from God’s covenant.


ROMANS 4:13-25   Like all Jewish rabbis, Paul looked back to the faith of 
Abraham in fulfilling God’s promise as a signal event in human history. 
This excerpt forms the conclusion of an excursus (3:31-4:25) from his 
original sequence of thought.  It serves to illustrate what he meant by 
justification by faith, by his exposition throughout the letter of the 
close relationship of the old covenant to the new, and the special 
relationship of Jews to Christ.

The point Paul made is that even the promise to Abraham did not rest on 
obedience to the law, but on the patriarch’s faith.  Abraham’s 
righteousness derived from this faith.  Hence all who have faith are 
Abraham’s heirs.  Proof of this claim is found in Abraham’s belief that he 
would become the father of many nations (vs. 18) even though he and his 
wife Sarah were too old to bear children (vs. 19).  Paul used this as the 
basis for his argument that it is by faith alone that we are saved.
	
Paul then linked this exceptional instance of trust in God to the death 
and resurrection of Christ as the means by which our relationship with God 
has been set right (i.e. our justification) despite of our sinfulness. 
Professors John Knox and Gerald Cragg, the exegete and expositor of this 
passage in *The Interpreter’s Bible* (Vol. 9, 448-9), noted the 
artificiality of this argument.  It appears to rest of a free association 
of Abraham’s and Sarah’s age and barrenness which made them “as good as 
dead” (vs. 19) with the death and resurrection of Christ.  However 
improbable, Paul’s thought depends not on two examples of apparent death, 
but on the power of God to bring life out of death.  Cragg wrote: “Abraham 
trusted in a God who showed his power; so do Christians, but that power is 
now seen directed toward a particular purpose.... the redemption of man. 
Because of what Christ’s death and resurrection declare, we believe that 
there is a new means of deliverance from the sin which has held us bound, 
and a firm assurance of a new relationship with God.”


MATTHEW 9:9-13, 18-26   These three incidents - Jesus calling Matthew and 
subsequently dining in the tax-collector’s house, curing the woman of her 
long hemorrhage and raising the daughter of the leader of the synagogue - 
had ambiguous results.  They created significant opposition to Jesus’ 
ministry yet widely extended his fame.  All of them signaled his sole 
desire to help people as the way to reveal God’s love and inspire them to 
believe in him.  He also knew that not every one would respond. Thus he 
sternly rebuked the super-religious Pharisees for their opposition (vss. 
11-13). He was interested in people who sensed their need, not in those 
who thought they had no need for his salvation.

Each incident has its own particular relevance to Jesus’ whole ministry of 
reversing Jewish ritual traditions.  Tax collectors were among the most 
despised of all people in the social milieu of the times.  Only slaves and 
Gentiles were below them on the social scale.  In befriending Matthew and 
dining with him, Jesus violated one of the most stringent ritual taboos. 
No priest, Levite or Pharisee could have any association with them and 
maintain ritual purity.  Hence the alarm of the Pharisees and Jesus’ 
cutting retort.  That their protest was directed at the disciples and not 
to Jesus suggests that the Pharisees were reluctant to confront Jesus 
himself at this point.  The disciples deferred to Jesus, probably needing 
an explanation themselves as well as seeking to allay their fears.  In 
effect, Jesus told them, “If you feel right with God, okay; but these folk 
I came to help need something more than all your self-righteous ritual 
performances.”

Similarly, in the cases of the woman who suffered from a twelve year 
hemorrhage and the girl who was presumed to have died, Jesus again broke 
ancient religious taboos.  The Levitical tradition regarded all discharges 
of human body fluids including blood, semen, menstrual flow and excretions 
as unclean.  So also contact with a dead body caused a person to be 
ritually unclean.  In the first instance, contact with the fringe of 
Jesus’ garment healed the woman in response to her act of faith.  Jesus’ 
initiative was limited to speaking words assuring her of that fact. 
Raising the daughter of the leader of the synagogue revealed both Jesus’ 
insight into the reality of the situation in contrast to the derision of 
the mourners and his willingness to challenge all the restrictions of 
tradition.

It should be further noted that Matthew’s Gospel was written in the ninth 
decade of the 1st century to a mixed audience of Jews and Gentiles probably 
in Antioch in Syria.  They had long since dealt with the end of the 
temple, its priesthood and ancient rituals nearly two decades earlier. 
Despite the dominance of the Pharisees in continuing Judaism, the church 
at this stage exhibited almost complete autonomy from its Jewish origins. 
In many respects, these stories from the earliest Christian tradition were 
for Matthew’s community a counterpart to the revocation of the Jewish 
ritualism and purification of the Gentiles as part of the atoning work of 
Christ.  Luke also expressed this revolutionary attitude in Peter’s vision 
in Acts 10:1-16, the apostolic council in Acts 15:1-21, as did the Letter 
to Ephesians 2:11-27. 

These same miracle stories demonstrated for Matthew’s community that faith 
in Jesus, the Messiah/Christ, was the only requirement for salvation as 
much as had the theological reflections of Paul on the Abraham tradition 
in Romans 4.  Can this not be a refreshing insight for modern Christians 
who would return to a perverse fundamentalism rooted in ancient traditions 
of word and creed, but lacking spiritual power? 

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



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