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Introduction To The Scripture For Ordinary 32 - Proper 27 - Year A
Joshua 24:1-3a,14-25; Psalm 78:1-7; I Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13
Alt – Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16,17-20; Amos 5:18-24; Psalm 70

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 32 - Proper 27 - 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.]


JOSHUA 24:1-3a,14-25         The conquest of Canaan completed, Joshua 
gathered all the tribes of Israel to the holy place at Shechem to renew 
their covenant with God initially made by Abraham.  He issued a compelling 
challenge that they should choose to serve the Lord as he and his family 
had chosen.  They promised to do so although Joshua warned them of how 
difficult it would be and of the penalty if falling away from their 
commitment to worship the gods of their foreign neighbours.  


PSALM 78:1-7                 This long psalm recites the goodness of God 
to the Israelites throughout their long history.  Theirs was a story of 
repeated disobedience to their ancient covenant and redemptive renewal of 
the special relationship through the mercy of God.


WISDOM OF SOLOMON 6:12-16    [Alternate] Although attributed to Solomon 
like Ecclesiastes, Wisdom dates from the beginning of the last century BCE 
and is imbued with Greek thought.  It was not included in the Hebrew 
scriptures, but was well known to many New Testament authors.  This 
excerpt is an abbreviated part of a section of the book detailing the 
beneficial effects of Wisdom, a virtually personified female aspect of 
divine nature.


AMOS 5:18-24                 [Alternate] This oracle from Amos, a prophet 
of the 8th century BCE proclaims that The Day of the Lord will be a time of 
severe judgment against Israel’s unfaithfulness despite their elaborate 
rituals.  The final verse 24 could be regarded as the finest declaration 
of the prophetic vision for all nations for all times.

 
WISDOM OF SOLOMON 6:17-20    [Alternate] The great value of Wisdom cited 
here is its desire for discipline which guarantees incorruptibility and 
leads to sovereignty.

PSALM 70                     [Alternate] This woeful cry of distress 
pleads for God’s help in some dangerous situation.


1 THESSALONIANS 4:13-18      To ease their concern about those who have 
died before the anticipated return of Christ, Paul reassures them of a 
final general resurrection when all will be with Christ.  Modern 
fundamentalists use this excerpt as the basis for their doctrine of “the 
Rapture.”


MATTHEW 25:1-13              Not too much should be made of details of 
this parable.  It tells a simple story drawn from the village life of 
Galilee.  The wise and foolish virgins waiting for the return of the 
bridegroom presents the challenge that everyone must be prepared for the 
return of Christ.  
      

A MORE COMPLETE ANALYSIS:

JOSHUA 24:1-3A,14-25   The Book of Joshua is part of the Deuteronomic 
history of the settlement of Canaan by the Jews following the Exodus and 
the forty years of wandering in the wilderness.  Based on collected 
memories and oral traditions, and possibly some earlier documentation, it 
reached its final form during the Babylonian exile.  Scholars believe that 
it could have been written in either Judea or in Babylon.  One of its 
themes addresses a people who through disobedience to the law had lost 
their right to the divine gift of the Promised Land.  An associated theme 
points out the clear relationship between obedience to the law and divine 
blessing.  This latter theme comes forth most strongly in this excerpt.  

The conquest and settlement of Canaan completed, Joshua gathered all the 
tribes of Israel to the holy place at Shechem to renew their covenant 
Yahweh had initially made with Abraham.  He issued a compelling challenge 
that they should choose to serve the Yahweh as he and his family had 
chosen to do.  They promised to do so too although Joshua warned them of 
how difficult it would be and the penalty if falling away from their 
commitment to worship the gods of their foreign neighbours.

The greatest challenge to any religious tradition comes from alternative 
beliefs and religious practices.  Idolatry, the anxious seeking for 
certainty and security in relationships other than trust in God and 
commitment to a strong moral standard, has been the bane of every 
generation of believers.  As this lesson describes, the children of Israel 
faced this issue as forthrightly as we do today.  The Canaanites and the 
other tribal communities in the lands through which the Israelites had 
passed had their own religious traditions, “other gods” as Joshua called 
them in vs. 16.  Joshua set before his people the choice they must make.  
Was Yahweh truly to be their God with whom they were to have a special 
relationship by being obedient to the moral code of their sacred covenant?  
e and his family had made that choice.  They would serve Yahweh.

It would appear from this passage that Jewish religious thought had not 
yet settled finally on the moral monotheism, the faith in one God alone 
and a rigorous moral commitment.  The thought that there might be deities 
other than Yahweh which other nations revered and worshipped remained a 
very present threat during the Babylonian exile (586-539 BCE).  Today we 
can easily understand this threat to our own tradition.  In recent decades 
it has become increasingly tempting to let other relationships, practices 
and pursuits dominate our lives.  One brilliant insight into the religious 
challenge to our generation cited professional spectator sports as the 
dominant religious practice which a visitor from outer space would find in 
our world.  It was just such a distraction against which Joshua warned his 
people more than three thousand years ago.


PSALM 78:1-7  This long psalm recites the goodness of God to the 
Israelites throughout their long history.  Theirs was a story of repeated 
disobedience to their ancient covenant and redemptive renewal of the 
special relationship through the mercy of God.

As vs. 1 states, the single purpose of the psalm was to teach a 
contemporary generation by recalling the Exodus and early days of 
settlement in Canaan.  It aimed to show that all along Yahweh had been 
working in and through Israel’s history.  Some scholars have focused on 
certain historical clues: the temple still standing, the Davidic monarchy 
still reigning in Jerusalem, Judah believing that Yahweh had rejected the 
Northern Kingdom although there is no direct reference to the fall of 
Samaria.  From these has come the conclusion that the psalm could have 
been written as early as the 8th century BCE.  More likely however is a 
post-exilic date when the history of Israel’s special relationship with 
Yahweh was being thoroughly reconsidered.  While there is no evidence of 
any connection with the temple cultus, the psalm could have been suitable 
for recitation at some special festival, particularly the Passover.

The initial verses in this reading do not more than introduce the purpose 
of the whole.  In short, the psalmist restates the Shema (Deut. 6:4-9) as 
the basic guide for the religious education of each generation.


WISDOM OF SOLOMON 6:12-16   [Alternate for Roman Catholic and Lutheran 
Lectionaries]  Although attributed to Solomon like Ecclesiastes, Wisdom 
dates from the beginning of the last century BCE and is imbued with Greek 
thought as well as being written in Greek.  It was not included in the 
Hebrew Scriptures, but did appear in the Greek translation of them, the 
Septuagint.  Hence it was well known to many New Testament authors.  
Jerome included it in his Latin translation; the Roman Catholic tradition 
does include the book in the Old Testament.  

This excerpt is an abbreviated part of the second of three main sections 
of the book (6:1-9:18).  It differs in style from other Wisdom literature 
in the Old Testament, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, in lacking the short, 
memorable aphorism; it resembles the diatribes of the Greek Cynic and 
Stoic philosophers.  Nevertheless, it does have a clear religious purpose.  

This passage details the beneficial effects of Wisdom, virtually 
personified as the female aspect of divine nature.  Wisdom is not only to 
be sought, but reveals herself to the earnest seeker.  She comes to the 
sincere almost as a counterpart of divine grace.


WISDOM OF SOLOMON 6:17-20   [Alternate is from in the Lutheran Lectionary 
only and should be regarded as an extension of the one above from Wisdom 
6:12-16]  

There seems to be no reason for the break between the two passages since 
it extends the effect of seeking Wisdom to a logical conclusion.  The 
great value of Wisdom cited here is its creation of a desire for 
discipline which guarantees incorruptibility and leads to sovereignty.  In 
short, practice makes perfect, but there are responsibilities involved 
too.  There are moral laws that guide one’s search for Wisdom. 


AMOS 5:18-24   [Alternate for Episcopal and Lutheran Lectionaries.] This 
oracle from Amos, a prophet of the 8th century BCE proclaims that the Day 
of the Lord will be a time of severe judgment against Israel’s 
unfaithfulness despite their elaborate rituals.  The final verse 24 could 
be regarded as the finest declaration of the prophetic vision for all 
nations for all times.

The earliest of the so-called “Minor Prophets,” Amos lived circa 750-700 
BCE during the reigns of Jereboam of Israel and Uzziah of Judah.  He set 
the standard for his railing against the social injustices and ritual 
aberrations he found in Israel.  Although claiming to be from a rural 
background, his oracles reflect a considerable knowledge of the 
surrounding nations to which he also likened Israel’s depravity.  
 
 
PSALM 70   [Alternate] This woeful cry of distress pleads for God’s help 
in some dangerous situation.  Surprisingly these few verses appear twice 
in the Psalter.  They repeat almost word for word Ps. 40:13-17.  The only 
explanation for the repetition is that the text came to the collection of 
psalms made by later editors from two different sources.  Originally they 
probably existed as separate psalms since the intent and style are quite 
different.  This brief text is in the form of a lament.  The same text in 
Ps. 40:13-17 is an addition to a hymn of thanksgiving for recovery from 
sickness.  


1 THESSALONIANS 5:1-11   There can be little doubt that Paul believed in 
the imminent return of Christ in glory.  This tradition existed in the 
apostolic church throughout the early decades after Pentecost, a viewpoint 
which grew naturally out of the Jewish expectation of the Messiah.  
Believing that Jesus of Nazareth is the long-expected Messiah, the 
apostolic church adapted that belief for their own purposes.  The doctrine 
of the second coming of Christ, the Parousia as it is called, was the 
result.  

Paul's Thessalonian correspondence dates from the late 40s or early 50s of 
the Christian era, within a quarter century of the resurrection of Jesus 
and the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost.  Scholars have been unable to 
confirm which of the two was written first or to determine how either 
relates exactly to the missionary journeys of Paul described in Acts.  A 
consensus appears to be gathering around the hypothesis that Paul wrote 2 
Thessalonians before this letter, and that the content of the two have 
very little in common.

The main issue in this passage is the timing of the Parousia.  Paul 
assures his audience that they need nothing added to the teaching he had 
given them in person (vs. 1).  Nonetheless, the subject must have been a 
major concern for this community because it surfaces in no less than five 
different references in the letter (1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:13-5:11; 5:23).  
The phrase "the day of the Lord" is the typical name given by Jewish 
prophets to the Day of Judgment, a phrase subsequently adapted by later 
apocalyptic literature to the expectation of the Messiah.  In this case, 
however, it refers to the day of the Lord's return.  The phrase "like a 
thief in the night," emphasizing the unpredictability of the event, 
recalls words attributed to Jesus by both Matthew and Luke (Matt. 24:43; 
Luke 12:39).  

The second metaphor Paul used to describe the indefinite timing of the 
Parousia is even more vivid.  Every parent recognizes the moment when 
birth labor begins.  That phrase also comes from prophetic scriptures, 
occurring several times in Jeremiah, always referring to an uncertain time 
of impending disaster and divine judgment.  A similar theme of the event 
occurring at a totally unexpected moment also pervades such apocalyptic 
passages in the gospels as Mark 13:28-37, Matt.  24:34-42, and Luke 21:29-
33.  Many scholars believe that this apostolic tradition came directly 
from Jesus himself.

Paul then moves on to a further metaphorical reference on which turns the 
ethical advice Paul wishes to give his friends.  He states clearly how 
Christians were to conduct themselves while waiting patiently for Christ's 
return.  Because they are children of the light and of the day (vs. 5) 
rather than of darkness and night, they are to keep awake and live 
soberly, unlike those whose nighttime drunkenness gives opportunity to the 
thief.  

Paul summons yet another metaphor to warn his audience of their need to be 
ready for the unpredictable return of Christ.  He adapts parts of a 
soldier's protective armament, a breastplate and a helmet, to Christian 
faith, love and hope.  The metaphor may have been part of Paul's regular 
preaching vocabulary, for it occurs again with greater force and 
elaboration in Ephesians 6:14-17.  Certainly it had significance in a city 
like Thessalonica, the capital and chief commercial city of Macedonia, 
where Roman soldiers could be found on every street.

Everything Paul has said to encourage the Thessalonians depended on one 
thing, as did all his teaching: the death and resurrection of Jesus the 
Christ.  For those who believe, waiting for Christ's return can be a most 
hopeful experience because Christ died for us (vs.10).  Only so can they 
continue their mutual support as they wait (vs. 11) his return.


MATTHEW 25:1-13   Not too much should be made of details of this parable.  
It tells a simple story drawn from the village life of Galilee.  The wise 
and foolish virgins waiting for the return of the bridegroom presents the 
challenge that everyone must be prepared for the return of Christ.  

As the Song of Songs 3:6-11 suggests, the performing of a wedding involved 
the groom and his friends going to the bride’s residence at the appointed 
time to bring his richly dressed bride and her attendants back to his 
residence (Ps. 45:12b-15; Isa. 61:10) to complete the appropriate ceremony 
and participate in a rich feast with dancing and song.  The celebrations 
could last from seven to fourteen days.  How extensive or expensive the 
festivities would depend on the wealth of the families.  A humble village 
wedding would be much less elaborate than one for a high-born and wealthy 
couple.  The parable captures a moment in time when a group of young women 
await the arrival of the groom and his bride.

The story is not as important as its intended eschatological 
interpretation.  It reinforces the theme found in all Jewish eschatology 
that the moment when the Messiah comes is always to be anticipated but 
without any specific timing whatsoever.  While drawing heavily on the 
Jewish expectation found extensively in some prophetic and considerable 
inter-testamental literature the Christian interpretation deals almost 
exclusively on the return of the true Messiah, Jesus, the crucified and 
risen Lord.  

The element of judgment stands out in the punch line of the parable (vss. 
12-13).  A good deal of contemporary preaching lacks this decisive strain.  
To many in pulpit and pew this may sound particularly graceless and 
contrary to God’s infinite, universal mercy.  As one who was familiar with 
the eschatological tradition, Jesus’ teachings presented this theme with 
great force.  As the foolish virgins discovered, NOW is the appropriate 
time to make preparations for being received into God’s kingdom.


                         
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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