The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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 12 - Proper 7 - 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 21:8-21 This version of the story of the woeful
drama of Abraham’s two sons still echoes in the violent Middle East
conflict today between Arabs and Jews. Arabs trace their ancestry to
Ishmael and Jews to Isaac. Another version is found in 16:1-16. Anyone
claiming absolute divine authority for either Jewish or Arab rights to
their common holy land must deal with the dilemma of God’s blessing of
Abraham as the father of both.
PSALM 86:1-10, 16-17 This lament pleads for God’s forgiveness for
some unstated transgression. Whereas the petitioner claimed to have a
godly character (vs.2) fully devoted to and trusting in Yahweh’s help, in
vs. 5 he also acknowledges that God is “ready to forgive.”
JEREMIAH 20:7-13 [Alternate] This exquisite poetry describes
how Jeremiah felt when his fellow countrymen rejected his prophetic
message from God. Though he was mocked and derided for preaching the doom
soon to befall the nation, he could not keep quiet. He trusted that God
would vindicate him and bring about the fateful end he predicted.
PSALM 69 [Alternate] Although attributed wrongly to
David, this plea for divine help in a disastrous situation sounds very
similar to the one above by Jeremiah. It is believed to date from a
period long after the return from the exile in Babylon (539 BCE). As an
individual’s lament it also projects a view of an individual’s experience
as history in miniature.
ROMANS 6:1(b)-11 The passage presents Paul’s definition of
the benefits of baptism based on faith in God’s free gift of forgiveness.
One of the problems raised by this new relationship has to do with its
ethical implications. Paul’s answer is that all Christians obviously
should not continue to sin. God’s grace has freed us to live new, holy
lives with the risen Christ. To put it in traditional terms, our
justification has been accomplished, but however incomplete our
sanctification must still go on.
MATTHEW 10:24-39. This reading contains part of one of five discourses by
Jesus which shape the structure of Matthew’s Gospel. These sayings were
included in Jesus’ instructions to the twelve (vs. 5-42), but may have
come from several sources rather than being a verbatim account of one
The disciples success was not guaranteed (vs. 24-25). Nor is it for any
of us who would follow Christ now. As discomforting as this may seem to
us, discipleship is always costly to those who remain true to their
commitment. The remaining segment of the reading, however, does offer
encouragement and a promise of reward for those who are faithful. The
essential element is loyalty to Christ who gave his all for us.
A MORE COMPLETE ANALYSIS.
GENESIS 21:8-21 This version of the story of the woeful drama of
Abraham’s two sons still echoes in the violent Middle East conflict today
between Arabs and Jews. Arabs trace their ancestry to Ishmael and Jews to
Isaac. Anyone claiming absolute divine authority for either Jewish or
Arab rights to their common holy land must deal with the dilemma of God’s
blessing of Abraham as the father of both.
Religious or political ideology always rewrites history. That is what
happened to this tribal legend. A conflicting version of this legend is
found in 16:1-16, from the J document of the Pentateuch from the 9th
century BCE. According to OT scholars, it has been rewritten at least two
or three times, then edited into the Hebrew scriptures which were
officially canonized at the end of the 1st century CE.
In the earlier version, Hagar, the slave girl given to Abraham by Sarah,
and pregnant with his child, flees from Sarah’s jealous wrath before the
birth of Ishmael (16:6). In 16:11 we find the etymology of the name as
“The Lord has given heed.” In this passage (21:8-21), the author of the E
document (8th century BCE) makes Sarah’s jealousy a little more respectable
by insisting that her son, Isaac, be Abraham’s heir. There is also a
tenderness in this version of the story lacking in the earlier one. The
patriarch Abraham also stands out in a more humane light, although he did
accede to Sarah’s demand (21:10-12).
Yahweh, the sovereign Lord of history, is not easily to be pushed aside by
anyone’s sin. This later version of the legend cites other divine plans
for Ishmael’s future (vs. 12-13). His survival shaped the future history
of the whole Middle East to this day. That Hagar received a revelation
from Yahweh as well places the descendants of Ishmael on an equal footing
with his half-brother’s descendants from the religious point of view.
Only a minority of both Jews and Palestinians accept each other as equals
with a spiritual claim to the same territory.
On the whole, the Genesis narratives tend to regard Ishmael favourably.
In his case as in all the Genesis stories, the name stands for a whole
tribal community, not just an individual. His tribe is said to dwell in
the wilderness of Paran (vs. 20) in the western part of the Sinai
peninsula. He was present at Abraham’s burial (25:9). Like Jacob, he had
twelve sons (25:16). Perhaps more surprising, several other later
Israelites also bore the same name, most of whom had connections with the
royal court or family (2 Kings 25:25; 1 Chron. 8:38; 2 Chron. 19:11; 23:1;
Ezra 10:22). It is not possible to know whether or not his story
persisted to influence later custom.
From these few details, a colourful summer sermon could draw some modern
parallels to current Israeli and Palestinian struggles.
PSALM 86:1-10, 16-17 This lament pleads for Yahweh’s forgiveness for
some unstated transgression. Whereas the petitioner claimed to have a
godly character (vs.2) fully devoted to and trusting in Yahweh’s help, in
vs. 5 he also acknowledges that Yahweh is “ready to forgive.”
For some time this psalm has been such a problem for interpreters that
some have suggest that it be rearranged to comply with the classic form of
a lament. This would place the psalmist’s complaint and plea for help
contained in vs. 14-17 after vs. 1-7. The reasoning behind this proposal
holds that thankful praise and commitment contained in the vs. 8-13 assume
that deliverance from the specific trouble had already happened. As
Professor W. Stewart McCullough put it: “We have no way of knowing whether
it was the original order or whether the psalmist would agree with our
preference.” (*Interpreter’s Bible*, vol. 4, 463)
JEREMIAH 20:7-13 [Alternate] This exquisite poetry describes how
Jeremiah felt when his fellow countrymen rejected his prophetic message
from God. Though he was mocked and derided for preaching the doom soon to
befall the nation, he could not keep quiet. He trusted that God would
vindicate him and bring about the fateful end he predicted.
In many ways this oracle delineates the constant dilemma faced by those
who would speak prophetically. In order for prophetic words to be
accepted by one’s contemporaries, they must have some relevance to the
moral and spiritual circumstances in which they are uttered. On the other
hand, no one appreciates unfavourable criticism or to forecast doom which
the prophet is bound to proclaim if faith dictates.
Shortly after the Korean War (1950-53), a Christian minister was driven
from his parish because he spoken openly against the military government
which had seized power. He was threatened with imprisonment if he
continued his outspoken opposition to the forces controlling his country.
Before fleeing for his life, he hid a copy of the Bible in a box buried in
the backyard of his home. Eventually he was captured and imprisoned.
Years later, after the government had been replaced, he was freed,
returned to his home and immediately retrieved the sacred book. Opening
it, his eye fell on the same verse he had recited as he secreted his
treasure years before: “To you I have committed my cause.” (vs. 20) A
movie was made of his story to encourage faithfulness in those who
struggled against oppression.
PSALM 69 [Alternate] Although attributed wrongly to David, this plea for
divine help in a disastrous situation sounds very similar to the one above
by Jeremiah. It is believed to date from a period long after the return
from the exile in Babylon (539 BCE). As an individual’s lament it also
projects a view of an individual’s experience as history in miniature.
The desperate pathos of the poet’s condition comes immediately to the fore
in repeated metaphors of vs. 1-3. In water up to his neck, sunk in the
mire, floods sweeping over him, weary from crying, with parched throat and
dimming eyes – what a predicament! Immediately he declares how numerous
his enemies are, though without cause (vs. 4). It would appear that he
was being falsely accused of some serious theft, although he does admit to
some folly. One almost suspects he is being accused of some form of fraud
(vs. 5). One can imagine a low level member of the priesthood, one of the
twelve courses of Levites perhaps, being accused of mishandling money from
the temple treasury.
Obviously, from vss. 9-12 and 19-21, we learn that he has been the object
of much public gossip and insult. So desperate is he to justify his
conduct that he feels he can only resign himself to Yahweh’s favour and
trust that in time he will be vindicated. He is no less bitter, however,
in calling on Yahweh to punish his enemies (vs. 22-29). Despite the fact
that laments usually do end in praise to Yahweh, the last few verses sound
such a different note that one wonders if they come from a different
ROMANS 6:1b-11 It is always a puzzle as to why the selections in the RCL
are cut off in the way they frequently are. Remembering that the
versification of the scriptures did not occur until mediaeval times, this
passage seems to flow naturally into a new paragraph (as modern
translations put it) with the rhetorical question at the beginning of vs.
1. The question provides a link with what has gone before.
The passage presents Paul’s definition of the benefits of baptism based on
faith in God’s free gift of forgiveness for human sin and our
justification through the grace of God in Jesus Christ. One of the
problems raised by this new status we enjoy has to do with its ethical
implications. Paul immediately addresses that issue in his second
question in vs. 1. His answer is important in that all Christians
obviously do “continue in sin” despite our claim to having been forgiven.
To put it in Wesleyan terms, our justification has been accomplished, but
our sanctification is incomplete.
Paul finds the solution to this dilemma in the symbolism of baptism, then
normally carried out by means of immersion in a natural body of water. He
likens baptism to dying and being buried with Christ, and being raised to
a new life in him. In other words, the baptized Christian shares the
resurrection life of Christ himself. Having died to and being freed from
sin, it is no longer possible for us to live as before. The reign of sin
over Christ has been completely conquered by his death and resurrection
(vs. 9-11). The life we are now to live is nothing short of the life of
Christ in us.
Paul made this inference on two fundamental premises: First, baptism was
invariably connected with each individual’s confession of faith in Jesus
Christ, the crucified and risen Lord. Whether the candidates came from
Jewish or pagan backgrounds, it marked a complete change from everything
associated with their previous faith and life. This meant more than a
change of clothes - a metaphor which Paul used elsewhere in his letters.
As William Barclay once said: “In baptism a man (sic) came to a decision
which cut his life in two, a decision which often meant that he had to
tear himself up by the roots, a decision which was so definite that for
him it meant nothing less than beginning life all over again.” (*Daily
Bible Study. The Letter to the Romans,* Edinburgh: Church of Scotland,
Secondly, since baptism was practiced by both Judaism and Greek mystery
religions, converts from either community would understand exactly what
Paul meant. When a Gentile man became a Jew, he had to be instructed in
the Torah, offer the prescribed sacrifices, be circumcised and then
ritually cleansed by being baptized. Because of their inferior position
to men, women could not become members of the covenant of Israel. They
simply followed their fathers or husbands direction and were permitted to
perform limited ritual functions, particularly in the home. Greek
mysteries not only included an initiation rite similar to baptism, but
also what amounted to passion plays in which a god suffered, died and rose
When people converted to the Christian faith, they spent a long, pre-
baptismal period as catechumens similar to that in both Judaism and
mystery religions. Also as before, initiation into the church acquired
the same symbolism of identification with Christ, and an emotional and
spiritual experience akin to voluntary death. The new life which followed
required exemplary ethical behaviour following the rigorous practices set
forth in the teachings of Jesus. The uniqueness of Christian baptism was
its inclusion of women, children and slaves on an equitable basis with
men, a practice totally lacking in Jewish or Greek society.
Thus, when Paul wrote in vs. 11 “So, you also must consider yourselves
dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus,” he was stating the
discontinuity of the convert’s life with all that had gone before and yet
also some obvious continuity with that experience. No wonder there were -
as there still are - real difficulties for Christian converts living in
the same social, political and economic milieu in which they had formerly
MATTHEW 10:24-39 This reading contains sayings given close to the end of
Jesus’ instructions to the twelve (vs. 5-42). Most scholars agree that
these sayings originally stood alone or in smaller collections gathered
from several sources of the tradition. Matthew composed the whole as one
of five discourses forming the body of teachings which cast Jesus as the
new Moses. Close examination reveals that the various parts of this
discourse are not entirely consistent (e.g. vs. 5-6 cf. vs. 16). Vss. 21-
22 reflect persecutions which the apostolic church endured in the decades
immediately before the Roman-Jewish war of 68-70 CE, but not at the time
of Jesus’ ministry ca. 30 CE. These sayings on persecution and
discipleship were drawn from Mark 9:41 and 13:9-13.
Other sayings in this specific reading are shared by Luke and hence come
from the document scholars designate as Q. Vss. 24-25 are very similar to
Luke 6:40. Apparently this dealt with the false expectation that
disciples of Jesus would fare better in their ministry than he did. Their
success was not guaranteed. Nor is it for any of us who would follow
The remaining segment of this reading, however, does offer encouragement
and a promise of reward for those who are faithful. Indeed, Jesus
instructed his disciples to speak openly in contrast to the rabbinical
custom of keeping their teachings so secret that they whispered to their
disciples (vs. 27). A parallel saying is found in Luke 12:3. Such
openness would certainly court opposition and even physical violence (vs.
28-30). The reference to fear “him who can destroy both body and soul”
poses the issue of faithfulness, for only God can do that. By succumbing
to the test, a disciple would be rejecting the Spirit and so committing
the unforgivable sin. This brings forth the striking contrast of how
valued the disciples are by God described in the hyperbolic statement
emphasizing God’s personal care for each one of them. The saying “the
hairs of your head are all counted” (vs. 30) may be a popular proverb
quoted in 1 Samuel 14:45. On the other hand, a similar saying in Psalm
69:4 presents the obverse side of the same proverb.
A parallel saying to that of vs. 34-36 occurs in Luke 12:51-53. The
experience of hostility in families due to the deep commitment of one
member still arises. Many are the stories of candidates offering
themselves for ministry having to struggle against family preferences in
order to respond to a genuine call to a Christian vocation. We were never
promised that discipleship would be easy.
copyright - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006
please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.