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Introduction To The Scripture For Ordinary 22 - Proper 17 - Year A
Exodus 3:1-15; Psalm 105:1-6,23-26,45c; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28
Alt – Jeremiah 15:15-21; Psalm 26:1-8

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 22 - Proper 17 - 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.]


EXODUS 3:1-15	
Two main themes stand out in this reading: the call of Moses and the 
nature of God who calls.  Moses’ experience resembles very closely the 
call of the prophet Isaiah (Is. 6:1-8).  This is not surprising since the 
narrative likely took its final shape about the same period of Israel’s 
history, the 9th and 8th centuries BCE.  The pattern follows the same 
typical literary form: a vision, a response of awe mingled with initial 
receptiveness, the divine mission stated, and instructions given on the 
means of carrying out the mission.


PSALM 105:1-6, 23-26, 45C	
Again we find a psalm of thanksgiving celebrating the ancient tradition of 
Israel as the elect people of God and God  as the Lord of all human 
history.  For this psalmist, God's "deeds ...  wonderful works...  
miracles...  (and) judgments," shaped this tradition (vss. 1-5).  This 
view of Israel's history must be seen as selective and idealized, for it 
makes no mention whatsoever of the frequent apostasy of the chosen people.  


JEREMIAH 15:15-21
[Alternate]  This unusual passage expresses the prophet’s desire for God’s 
vengeance against his persecutors.  In so doing, he justifies his own 
behaviour and laments that he still suffers.  He receives inspiration from 
God quite different from what he sought.  He must repent of his own self-
pity so that others may be drawn to him.  Only then will he be delivered 
from wicked and ruthless enemies.  God’s response to faithful servants is 
to give them greater service.


PSALM 26:1-8
[Alternate]  The psalmist pleads innocence and seeks God’s vindication 
after being accused of some unstated but serious crime by godless and  
unscrupulous enemies.  A certain liturgical note creates the impression 
that it may have been used in quasi-judicial settings for more than a 
single individual.

 
ROMANS 12:9-21
This passage contains some very worldly counsel as applicable today as it 
was nearly two millennia ago when Paul wrote it.  In particular it 
emphasizes what Paul meant by  the new covenant relationship in which 
these new Christians stood because of their faith and how they were to live 
in the world as those whose relationships fully represented the will of God.  


MATTHEW 16:21-28
These few verses contain two prophecies of different kinds.  First there 
is Jesus telling the disciples about his pending death and resurrection.  
We must remember that Matthew wrote this with fifty to sixty years of
hindsight, so he knew what had actually happened.  Undoubtedly this 
colored his report of the prediction.  He does give a reality check, 
however, taken directly from the Markan account (Mark 8:32-33), by 
including Peter's abrupt rejection of the prediction and Jesus' equally 
severe rebuke (vss. 22-23).  Luke's parallel passage excludes the incident 
(Luke 9:21-22), but does tell of the prediction of Jesus' suffering, death 
and resurrection as part of his admonition following Peter's messianic 
confession.  The fact that Jesus' teaching about his death is found in all 
three gospels indicates that it had a very strong oral tradition behind 
it.  


A MORE COMPLETE ANALYSIS.

EXODUS 3:1-15    Two main themes stand out in this reading: the call of 
Moses and the nature of God who calls.  The narrative comes from the J and 
E documents of the 9th and 8th centuries respectively.  It resembles very 
closely the call of the prophet Isaiah (Is.  6:1-8).  This is not 
surprising since these documents were composed during the period of the 
later monarchy when prophesy was on the ascendance.  The pattern followed 
in both narratives follows the same typical literary form: a vision, a 
response of awe mingled with initial receptiveness, the divine mission 
stated, and instructions given on the means of carrying out the mission.

In this instance, Moses' vision came in the natural setting of a burning 
bush while shepherding sheep for his father-in-law.  Isaiah's vision came 
in ritual setting.  Other prophets received their calls in historical 
environments (Jeremiah) or mythological metaphors (Ezekiel).  However 
meaningful the symbol of the burning bush has been in the Reformed (i.e.  
Presbyterian) tradition, here it means that Yahweh took the initiative to 
reveal to Moses Yahweh's purposeful presence.  The symbols of Yahweh's 
presence exhibit a certain degree of confusion.  Moses saw only the fire, 
a physical manifestation of a deity's presence derived from animism.  In 
vs. 2 an angelic messenger, an imaginative embodiment of the deity, 
appeared in the burning bush; yet in vs. 4 Yahweh spoke directly to Moses 
in a typical prophetic communication (vss. 5-7).  The implication is that 
Yahweh is present, but does not come too close as to destroy the human 
approached.  

Moses' response to the vision (vs. 3) was again typical of the prophetic 
form; he was awed but curious, thus showing his initial receptivity.  Only 
after hearing what would be required of him did his reluctance take hold.  
The mission given to him involved great courage, great danger and a divine 
promise.  The situation of the Israelites in Egypt had become disastrous 
and intolerable.  This description, of course, was an after the fact 
historical analysis by someone who enjoyed the benefits of the exodus.  
All preaching and literature, especially not a few of the psalms,  the 
prophetic period featured the direct initiative of Yahweh in Israel's 
history.  Our modern difficulty is recognizing how, where and when that 
prophetic insight still applies to contemporary events either in judgment 
or in the fulfillment of promise.

The subsequent exchange between Moses and Yahweh centered on the authority
which Moses was to exercise in carrying out his mission.  No one would 
believe him; hence the importance of the name "I am." A name expressed the 
nature of the person so designated.  By this name the narrator asked, 
"What kind of a god was this who intervened in Israel's destiny?"  It 
meant that Yahweh was present and intimately involved in shaping that 
destiny.  Yahweh knew what was happening to the Israelites in those days.  
Yahweh hated injustice and helped the oppressed to find freedom.  But 
Yahweh also needed the help of Moses and all the descendants of the 
patriarchs to accomplish the divine purpose.  That is a message which 
still rings true in our modern age and in a developing global society.  
People of faith may still respond to the call of God to declare and
effectively implement God's purpose so prophetically described in this 
story.


PSALM 105:1-6,23-26,45C   Again we find a psalm of thanksgiving 
celebrating the ancient tradition of Israel as the elect people of Yahweh 
and Yahweh  as the Lord of all human history.  For this psalmist, Yahweh's 
"deeds ...  wonderful works ...  miracles ...  (and) judgments,"  shaped 
this tradition (vss. 1-5).  This view of Israel's history must be seen as 
selective and idealized, for it makes no mention whatsoever of the 
frequent apostasy of the chosen people.  

The psalm was in existence at the time of the assembling of the Books of
Chronicles, certainly no earlier than the 5th or 4th centuries BCE.  Vss. 
1-15 of this psalm form part of the composite poem in 1 Chronicles 16:8-
36.  Excerpts from Psalms 96 and 106 make up the remainder of that poem.  
After reciting with the glories of the patriarchal period in vss. 7-22, 
the psalmist turns to the period of the Exodus (vss. 23-36).  This reading 
has too many breaks in the story as shown by the abrupt truncation of the 
Exodus narrative at vs. 26.  It might be advisable to read the whole psalm 
in worship to gain both the full meaning and the festive context of the 
poem.

Obviously this psalm was created for worship purposes, probably at some 
great national festival.  The reading ends with the bare doxology, perhaps 
a shout of praise from the congregation on hearing this recitation of 
Israel's past.  Yet this much glorified narrative had a noble purpose.  
Like many of our own festive national events, it celebrates the identity 
of the people and gives them a *raison d'ˆtre*.  This makes the psalm more 
relevant to our own time than to the distant time of Israel's exodus from 
Egypt or to the period of the Second Temple in Jerusalem when Persian and 
Greek overlords dominated the political and economic history of Yahweh's 
chosen people.

Yahweh's covenant with Israel had a profoundly moral and spiritual 
purpose.  Yahweh, not the Israelite tribes, had initiated it not for 
Israel's greatness and glory, which this psalm appears to celebrate so 
profusely.  God's intention was to create the grounds for divine 
sovereignty in the world among all peoples.  As Wilfred Cantwell Smith 
pointed out in his *Towards A World Theology*, (Orbus Books, 1989) 
theologians, historians and intellectuals in all religious traditions, as 
well as political leaders in many nations, are only now beginning to come 
to grips with this reality.  With prophetic imagination, Smith sets this 
task before the religious traditions of the world as the main intellectual 
and political enterprise for the next century.


JEREMIAH 15:15-21   [Alternate]  This unusual passage expresses the 
prophet’s desire for God’s vengeance against his persecutors.  In so 
doing, he justifies his own behaviour and laments that he still suffers.  
He receives inspiration from God quite different from what he sought.  He 
must repent of his own self-pity so that others may be drawn to him.  Only 
then will he be delivered from wicked and ruthless enemies.  God’s 
response to faithful servants is to give them greater service.

Some interpreters of this passage link it with 15:10-14.  Those verses 
refer to the Babylonian invasion and occupation.  Vss. 13-14 duplicate 
17:3-4 where they appear more suitable to the context.  Despite expressing 
the prophet’s strong lament similar to vss. 15-21, vss. 10-12 appear to be 
a separate oracle.  

Venting strong feelings of vengeance toward his enemies appears to have 
been habitual for Jeremiah (cf. 11:20; 12:3; 17:18; 18:23; 20:11).  We may 
tend to see this as excessive, but we also must remember the suffering 
from his own people that Jeremiah endured when he denounced their apostasy 
from their covenant with Yahweh and willingness to negotiate subjugating 
treaties with the invader.  We only need to recall the reaction of some of 
our fellow citizens today to the tragedies of terrorist bombings.  

Another facet of Jeremiah’s character appears to have been self-
justification.  He certainly found the word of the Lord the cause of much 
pain and suffering for himself.
Like his contemporary Ezekiel, he saw the role of being a prophet in the 
disastrous period of Israel’s exile as oppressive.  He laments that it is 
exceedingly so.  He goes so far in vs. 18 as accusing Yahweh to have 
failed him, even “deceitful” like a brook that runs only after rain.  Yet 
his lament brings forth a moment of intense inspiration.  He too must 
repent of his own self-pity and accusations against Yahweh.  Only then can 
he utter Yahweh’s will in these distressing times.  A similar thought can 
be found in expressive metaphors in 12:5.  While much shorter, Yahweh’s 
reply to his prophet is reminiscent of the dramatic reply to Job in Job 
38-41.


PSALM 26:1-8   [Alternate]  The psalmist pleads innocence and seeks God’s 
vindication after being accused of some unstated but serious crime by 
godless and unscrupulous enemies.  A certain liturgical note creates the 
impression that it may have been used in quasi-judicial settings for more 
than a single individual.

Faithfully performing one’s religious duties can be a trap for self-
righteous people.  This only increases the danger of hypocrisy and self-
deception.  Some sense of this lurks behind the words of this psalm.  It 
has strong similarity to Pss. 3-5; 7 and 17, but it does not conclude with 
a vow or offering of thanks and praise typical of most laments (cf.  5:11-
12; 7:17).  

Boldly challenging Yahweh to test his heart and mind (vss.2-3), the 
psalmist find reassurance in the rituals of the temple (vss. 6-7).  He 
appears to be aware of his coming fate, yet he cannot believe that Yahweh 
would deal with him as with other, more obvious sinners (vs. 9).  Unlike 
Jeremiah, however, he does not give any indication of being the least bit 
aware of any shortcomings in his own behaviour.  


ROMANS 12:9-21   This passage contains some very worldly counsel as
applicable today as it was nearly two millennia ago when Paul wrote it.  
In particular it emphasizes what Paul meant by  the new covenant 
relationship in which these new Christians stood because of their faith 
and how they were to live in the world as those whose relationships fully 
represented the will of God.  

As a member of the covenant of Israel and a rabbi of the Pharisees, the 
law had meant everything to Paul.  It had expressed in very explicit terms 
what was for all Jews the will of God.  He had now come to see the will of 
God in a new light.  It had to do with relationships - with God and with 
other human beings.  Because of his new relationship with God through 
faith in Jesus Christ, all his relationships with other people had totally 
changed.  So in this passage he describes what God intended human 
relationships to be.  If applied in everyday life, it would, as Paul had 
advocated in vs. 2, transform and renew everyone's relationships.    

The details of this moral counsel greatly resemble Paul's summary of the 
"fruits of the Spirit" in Galatians 5:22-23.  This should not surprise us, 
for as a learned scholar Paul had come to understand with profound 
insight, and in this letter sought to explain to this Jewish and Gentile 
congregation in Rome, the relationship between Israel's ancient covenant 
with Yahweh, a saving faith in Jesus, the Messiah/Christ, and the life of 
ordinary citizens of the Roman world.  Our world is not so different in 
many ways, at least in its moral characteristics.  So the practical 
qualities of the Christian life Paul advocates for the Romans has ever bit 
as much relevance for us.  The question is not what will be the result, 
but who will dare to do it.


MATTHEW 16:21-28   These few verses contain two prophecies of different
kinds.  First there is Jesus telling the disciples about his pending death 
and resurrection.  We must remember that Matthew wrote this with fifty to 
sixty years of hindsight, so he knew what had actually happened.  
Undoubtedly this colored his report of the prediction.  He does give a 
reality check, however, taken directly from the Markan account (Mark 8:32-
33), by including Peter's abrupt rejection of the prediction and Jesus' 
equally severe rebuke (vss. 22-23).  Luke's parallel passage excludes the 
incident (Luke 9:21-22), but does tell of the prediction of Jesus' 
suffering, death and resurrection as part of his admonition following 
Peter's messianic confession.  The fact that Jesus' teaching about his 
death is found in all three gospels indicates that it had a very strong 
oral tradition behind it.  

The same can be said of Jesus' words in the remaining part of the passage 
which differ in all three gospels only in the defining of its audience.  
In Matthew and Luke, only the disciples heard them.  But in Mark, they 
were spoken to the crowd whom Jesus deliberately called to him so that 
they too would hear what the disciples heard.  

The life of self-denial and sacrifice of which Jesus spoke has been real 
enough for those who would follow him throughout the past two millennia.  
It has filled the meditations of saints and martyrs as well as offering 
rich metaphors for sacred poetry and the hymnody of the church.  The cross 
is but one of those metaphors, albeit the most powerful.  The actual 
experience, however, can be found in even the humblest life.  For example, 
how many great leaders in whatever field of endeavor attribute their 
success to the sacrifice of their parents?

The eschatological prophecy which ends the passage has caused some 
difficulty for interpreters, especially the statement in vs. 28 that some 
of those who heard it would witness the second coming before their deaths.  
Of course, that did not happen as predicted.  Writing toward the end of 
the 1st century, Matthew would have been well aware of this.  Later 
generations regarded this statement as metaphorical and claimed that had 
been fulfilled at Pentecost.  

On the other hand, Mark had spoken only of the necessity for acknowledging 
the Son of Man and had separated that saying from the prediction about the 
timing of the second coming as if they had different sources.  Matthew put 
the two statements together as a prediction of the last judgment.  Since 
eschatological sayings were common in those times, Jesus himself may well 
have believed that God's glorious reign would come within a generation.  
Nonetheless, he repeatedly counseled against speculating when this would 
happen and insisted that people be prepared for it at any time.  What is 
more important from Matthew's point of view is the fact that Jesus is now 
the risen and glorified sovereign before whom all humanity stands 
accountable.

Mark may well give the essential character of judgment better than does 
Matthew in this instance.  How one responds to Jesus Christ himself, not 
one's deeds or misdeeds, is what really matters.  A 20th century poet, G.A 
Studdert-Kennedy, has given an imaginative  description of the final 
judgment we all shall face.  It amounts to a single word which Christ will 
ask of everyone concerning our mortal life: "Well?"

                         
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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