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Introduction To The Scripture For Ordinary 19 - Proper 14 - Year A
Genesis 37:1-4,12-28; Psalm 105:1-6,16-22,45b; Rom 10:5-15; Matt 14:22-33
Alt – 1 Kings 19:9-18; Psalm 85:8-13

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (jlss@sympatico.ca) 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 19 - Proper 14 - 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 37:1-4,12-28		This reading begins the long series of 
patriarchal legends which is a model of great storytelling for a 
theological purpose.  It traces the migration of one family (or tribe) 
from their ancient dwelling place in Canaan to Egypt.  Its biblical 
significance lies in the way the mighty acts of God provided for the 
people of God in every circumstance, however favourable or unfavourable 
(45:8).

  
PSALM 105:1-6,16-22,45b		This psalm gives the story of Joseph its 
theological context and places it at the very centre of Israel's worship 
in the temple.  The whole psalm celebrates "the wonderful works" of God 
(vss.3, 5) and summons Israel not only to sing thankful praise (vss. 1a, 
2), but to "make known his deeds" (vs. 1b) and to "seek the Lord and his 
strength...  (and ) his presence forever." 

 
1 KINGS 19:9-18			(Alternate)  Elijah the prophet fleeing from 
the wrath of Queen Jezebel is confronted by God as to why he has deserted 
God’s people.  God would not let him cringe in fear for his life, but 
challenged him to undertake a new mission and assured him of assistance 
from Elisha, his understudy, and others in what he was to do.

 
PSALM 85:8-13			(Alternate)  The psalmist finds assurance 
that God’s steadfast love and human faithfulness will solve problems that 
confront God’s people.

 
ROMANS 10:5-15			Paul clarifies the distinction between the 
legalism of Judaism to which he himself had once been so fervently 
dedicated and the living faith as he had found it in Christ.  He presents 
this contrast much as a witness in a law court would testify.  To do so he 
used several quotations from Jewish scriptures to prove his point, thereby 
virtually turning Judaism on itself.  

 
MATTHEW 14:22-33		Shorter versions of this incident appear in 
Mark 6:47-52 and John 6:16-21.  They both also link it to the feeding of 
the five thousand.  The unique aspect of Matthew's version is Peter's 
doubt and daring attempt to prove his faith.  Would not the emphasis be 
better placed on the disciples’ lack of understanding as Mark does? Like 
so many of us, they really had not got the message that faith can meet any 
need if correctly focused on the One who saves us to the uttermost.


A MORE COMPLETE ANLAYSIS.

GENESIS 37:1-4,12-28   The Joseph cycle consists of a series of 
patriarchal legends skilfully woven together by an editor from the several 
documentary sources common to all the books of the Pentateuch.  As we read 
it today, and in the coming weeks, we shall find it a model of great 
storytelling with a theological purpose.  Its basic plot traces the 
migration of one family of Israelites from their central dwelling place as 
alien shepherds in Canaan, to the more fertile pasturage of the Nile delta 
in Egypt.  As such it is a tale of reversal and recognition, the classic 
format for a great drama in the Aristotelian model.  

The biblical significance the story rests in the way the editor tells it 
as yet another of the mighty acts of Israel's God whereby the people of 
God are provided for in every circumstance, however favourable or 
unfavourable (45:8).  Some scholars believe that it may derive its 
significance as a link between the period of Israelites dwelling in Canaan 
and the Exodus.  There is no way of our knowing to what extent historical 
events lie behind these great legends.  Nevertheless, some scholars have 
suggested the time of the Hyksos invasion of Egypt in the 16th century BCE 
as the most likely time of this migration.  Others put it as late as the 
time of Ikhnaton, the reforming pharaoh of Egypt in the 14th century BCE.

The reading introduces us to the main characters in the first act of the 
drama, "this dreamer" (Joseph - vs. 19) and his brothers.  It shows the 
usual characteristics of a composite work.  Vss. 1-2a come from the 
post-exilic priestly document P; vss. 2b-4 is from the 9th century BCE 
document J as does much of the rest of the reading except for a few 
selections from the 8th century document E (vss. 5-11, 19-20, 22-25a, and 
28a).  We still get a clear sense of the favouritism, pride, jealousy and 
conflict which form the heart of the whole saga.  

All these very human emotions serve to heighten the tension that moves the 
story forward.  These also relate it to the experience of the most 
sophisticated modern audience.  Even in a secular age of personal, 
corporate and national conflict we know how such competitive forces drive 
us to do what we do.  This is our story as much as it is the story of 
Joseph.


PSALM 105:1-6,16-22,45b   This psalm gives the story of Joseph its 
theological context and places it at the very centre of Israel's worship 
in the temple.  The whole psalm celebrates "the wonderful works" of Yahweh 
(vss.3, 5) and summons Israel not only to sing thankful praise (vs. 1a, 
2), but to "make known his deeds" (vs. 1b) and to "seek the Lord and his 
strength... (and) his presence forever." 

At vs. 6, the psalmist takes up the theme of the patriarchal sagas found 
in Genesis and weaves them into this liturgical hymn for congregational 
use.  Yet as we read in the remaining segments, the central character is 
no longer one or other of the legendary patriarchs, but "the Lord our God" 
(vs. 7).  The story of Joseph (vss. 16-22) forms one part of the 
covenantal theology around which the worship of Israel developed (vs. 
10-11).  Essentially, this is a theology of history in hymnic form.  It 
celebrates the faith that in the great events of Israel's past, Yahweh was 
at work.

Vss. 1-15 was repeated in the composite poem in 1 Chronicles 16.  This 
places the psalm in the post-exilic period, probably at the time when the 
temple was being rebuilt and traditional worship revived in the late 6th 
to 5th centuries BCE.  

For us today, the psalm raises the question: where do we see the hand of 
God in the events of our past, our present and our future with the same 
clear vision of this psalm? As a wise teacher of children, the late Rev.  
Fred Rogers, once said, “When you see scary and bad things on TV, look for 
the helpers.” That’s where God is work.


1 KINGS 19:9-18   (Alternate)  Fleeing from the wrath of Queen Jezebel, 
Elijah the prophet trekked all the way to Horeb (Sinai), the mountain 
where Yahweh and Israel, led by Moses, had made covenant.  There Elijah is 
confronted by God as to why he has deserted God’s people.  There he had an 
unusual revelation: he found that he was in the wrong place at the wrong 
time.  Despite his plaintive, self-pitying prayers, Yahweh would not let 
him cringe in fear for his life, but challenged him to undertake a new 
mission and assured him of assistance from Elisha, his understudy, and 
others in what he was to do.
	
Some interesting sidebars can be attached to this lesson.  (1) Horeb was 
simply an alternate name for Mount Sinai, used primarily in the Elohist 
document in the Pentateuch and Deuteronomy.  The apocryphal book Sirach 
48:7 (2nd century BCE) recognizes the identity of the two.  (2) Forty was a 
symbolic number in the OT recalling the 40 years the children of Israel 
spent wandering in the wilderness, about the lifetime of one generation.  
(3) The still small voice represented a new revelation, unlike the 
previous covenantal revelations of Israel’s earlier wilderness experience 
several hundred years earlier.  (4) God doesn’t always use the primary 
character in a biblical story to bring about God’s purpose in a specific 
incident. 


PSALM 85:8-13   (Alternate)  The psalmist finds assurance that God’s 
steadfast love and human faithfulness will solve problems that confront 
God’s people.  It is thought that the psalm written during the period when 
Israel's return from exile was imminent or has already occurred.  Later, 
after the exile had ended, it may have had a liturgical function at some 
national celebration.

The psalm consists of three rather distinct parts.  Vss. 1-3 celebrates 
Yahweh’s initiative in Israel’s history.  Vss. 4-7 plead for forgiveness 
based on the covenant relationship between Yahweh and Israel.  Vss. 8-13 
recite the blessings that come from the mutual faithfulness of the 
covenant - forgiveness, righteousness, peace and prosperity.

Scholars debate whether this is a lament or a liturgical prayer.  The Book 
of Haggai suggests a pertinent time of economic and spiritual depression 
when it could have been appropriate.  Yet there are no certain historical 
references.  Moreover, the latter part of the poem can be just as easily 
interpreted eschatologically.  On the whole, the psalm deals with divine 
initiatives which result in salvation, whether at a time of imminent 
danger or at the end of time.  For this reason it was chosen by the 
authors of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer as the psalm for Christmas 
Day.

In his *Everyday Psalms* (Wood Lake Books, 1994) Jim Taylor gives an 
alternate paraphrase which brings out a different point of view.  He gives 
the psalm the title of “An Unfair World” and cites the situation of a 
friend who contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion.  Thus he paraphrases 
the psalm as a lament by one who needs greater comfort than Job’s 
comforters could offer.  At vs. 8, he silences all pious platitudes 
because he needs to hear what God has to say.  He ends this paraphrase 
with these words: “Sorrow is holy ground; walk on it only with feet bared 
to the pain of every pebble.  Through the storm, the Lord of life comes 
walking on the salt sea of tears.”


ROMANS 10:5-15   In this passage Paul clarifies the distinction between 
the legalism of Judaism to which he himself had once been so fervently 
dedicated and the living faith as he had found it in Christ.  He presents 
this contrast much as a witness in a law court would testify.  To do so he 
used several quotations from Jewish scriptures to prove his point, thereby 
virtually turning Judaism on itself.  

We must remember that Paul's purpose as an apostle was to declare the 
saving action of God in Christ and to tell how those who believed could 
participate in that action.  His own bitter experience as a Pharisee had 
led him to a dead end: total obedience to the law of Moses, however 
rigorous and sincere, did not give a life of friendship with God.  In 
fact, it did just the opposite, making him realize how far he had failed 
to achieve that goal.  No one could put oneself in a relationship with God 
through obedience to the law.  In Christ, God done for him and for all 
humanity what no one else could do.  By faith in Christ, right 
relationship with God is now available to all.

This is the message Paul puts into these few, crisp sentences and 
quotations from Leviticus 18:5 (vs.5); Deuteronomy 30:12-14 (vss. 6-8).  
More than that, he says that this life of faith in fellowship with God is 
for everybody, Jew or Gentile (vs. 12).  He quotes two other scripture 
texts from Isaiah 29:16 and Joel 2:32 to reiterate the point twice over.  
This is something no Jew could ever accept, as evidenced by Peter's 
struggle in Acts 10 and the frequently violent opposition Paul faced 
during his apostolic journeys.  To Jews the covenant relationship with 
Yahweh was exclusive to Israel.  If there was any universal aspect to 
Judaism it would come through obedience of all other people to the law.

The reading ends with yet another quotation from Isaiah 52:7 (vs. 15).  
Paul interpreted this as the summons to the apostolic mission to proclaim 
the essential Christian confession that Jesus is Lord and that God had so 
declared in raising Jesus from the dead (vs. 9), the *sine quae non* of 
Christian faith.  


MATTHEW 14:22-33   This pericope appears in shorter versions in Mark 
6:47-52 and John 6:16-21.  They both also link it to the feeding of the 
five thousand.  The unique facet of Matthew's version is Peter's doubt and 
daring attempt to prove his faith.  Scholars hypothesize that the 
difference is due to Peter's primacy in the apostolic century church.  If 
so, it is surprising that Mark does not also include it.  In fact, Mark 
emphasizes the disciples’ lack of understanding.  They really had not got 
the message that faith can meet any need.

Another approach refers to this extension of the basic tradition of Jesus 
walking on water during the storm as a *midrash* added to Mark's story by 
the Syrian church which held Peter in particularly high esteem.  It would 
speak meaningfully to any Christian who had suffered a loss of faith 
during persecution, but had subsequently been restored to the fellowship.  
Still other scholars regard it as a misplaced post-resurrection story in 
which Jesus appeared to Peter to banish his self-doubt and restore his 
faith.  We cannot know for sure, but we certainly can draw strength from 
it, especially if treated analogically.  

Faith is never constant; it comes and goes with the varying circumstances 
of our lives.  Peter thus becomes the all too human representative of us 
all - daring, then doubting, and finally dependent on the Lord for what we 
need most, our salvation.  

The story is said to have had great meaning for the early church in times 
of persecution and martyrdom.  So also it may for us in the church now as 
we face the uncertainty of diminishing influence in a global community.  
We feel powerlessness to confront the issues before us.  All the values of 
the gospel seem no longer to have any currency.  At the beginning of the 
20th century, we proclaimed boldly that we would win the world for Christ 
in the next 100 years.  We have passed that point now but we have not 
succeeded.  Instead, we are caught up in an overwhelming storm of failure 
and doubt, and often bloody conflict with people of other faith 
traditions.  Jesus' chiding words speak directly us: "You of little faith, 
why did you doubt?" Like Peter, we desperately need Jesus to reach out 
with the help that is always there.  He has risen; he reigns; all the 
powers of the universe can never defeat his purpose to make love dominant 
in the affairs of this world.  But it may not be in our time or in the way 
we expect it to come about, no matter how much of our energy and treasure 
we expend in striving to bring it about.

                         
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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