A holy life

All Saints’ Day; 1 November 2020; All Saints’, Year A (RCL); Revelation 7:9-17; Psalm 34:1-10, 22; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12.

If you own a red letter edition of the bible, you will notice that the passage we read today from Matthew’s Gospel begins a long block of red text. If you care to explore further, you will discover that there are five such blocks of red text in this Gospel. Matthew has arranged the sayings of Jesus in to five major speeches.

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The challenge of love

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost; 25 October 2020; Proper 25A (RCL)Deuteronomy 34:1-12; Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8; Matthew 22:34-46.

All three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) have some version of the Great Commandment (John has a new commandment — love one another as I have loved you). In Mark, a scribe asks Jesus about the greatest commandment and Jesus responds with love of God and neighbor. When the scribe says that Jesus has answered rightly, and that love is more important than all sacrifices, Jesus says that he (the scribe) is not far from the kingdom of God. In Luke, a lawyer asks Jesus what he must to do inherit the life of the ages. Jesus asks him what is written in the law, and the lawyer responds with the Great Commandment, but then wants to justify himself and asks “Who is my neighbor?” and Jesus responds with the story of the Samaritan.

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What is God’s?

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost; 18 October 2020; Proper 24A (RCL); Exodus 33:12-23; Psalm 99; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22.

Modern scholarship has a hard time identifying the Herodians in this passage from Matthew. If they were, as the name implies, a sect that aligned itself with the rule of the Herods, it is unlikely that the Pharisees would make common cause with them. That aside, this challenge story comes after a string of parables clearly directed against the Jerusalem authorities. Whoever they are, Jesus’ interlocutors are trying to paint him seditious.

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Treasure the true

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost; 11 October 2020; Proper 23A (RCL); Exodus 32:1-14; Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23; Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14.

Leave it to Matthew to ruin a perfectly good parable. Luke also has a version of this parable (which means it was found originally in Q – not the same as anon). In Luke’s version, all of the invited guests beg off, so the host told his servants to go out into the streets and lanes and invite anyone they found, so that the feast would not go to waste. And the story ends there.

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Work in the vineyard

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost; 27 September 2020; Proper 21A (RCL); Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32.

There are certainly a lot of parables in the Gospels about vineyards and vines. Isaiah 5:1-10 and Psalm 80:8-19 and other such passages give us a hint about why the Gospel writers should have used the image of the vineyard so often. In Isaiah 5, God expects grapes from the vineyard, and instead finds wild grapes; expects justice, but finds bloodshed; expects righteousness, but hears a cry.

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What is fair?

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost; 20 September 2020; Proper 20A (RCL); Exodus 16:2-15; Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45; Philippians 1:21-30; Matthew 20:1-16.

Oh, this parable irks us. I don’t know how often I’ve heard in a bible study on this parable, “But it’s just not fair!” I think that’s exactly what the teller of the parable wanted us to think. It should challenge our understanding of what is fair.

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Debt or gift

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost; 13 September 2020; Proper 19A (RCL); Exodus 14:19-31; Psalm 114; Romans 14:1-12; Matthew 18:21-35.

This passage in Matthew’s Gospel follows on from the reading last week about working out issues in community. So Peter asks how many times he must forgive a brother or sister. Jesus tells a parable that could be about much more than just forgiving slights or injuries. Money serves as the basis for the lesson of the parable.

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Love and the law

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost; 6 September 2020; Proper 18A (RCL); Exodus 12:1-14; Psalm 149; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20.

Psalm 149 starts out so well — Hallelujah! Sing to the Lord a new song!
And it ends so vindictively — Let the praises of God be in their throat, and a two-edged sword in their hand; to wreak vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples. What a contrast to Paul’s word to the Romans — love is the fulfilling of the law.

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Wrestling with God?

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost; 2 August 2020; Proper 13A (RCL); Genesis 32:22-31; Psalm 17:1-7, 16; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:13-21.

Jacob is about to face the consequences of all his trickery up to this point. He is on his way to meet his brother Esau, and is worried about what Esau might do. He has divided his caravan into two, so that Esau falls on one half and destroys it, the other half might escape. Having sent them all ahead, he wrestles with a stranger at the river’s edge.

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Living in the kingdom

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost; 26 July 2020; Proper 12A (RCL); Genesis 29:15-28; Psalm 105:1-11, 45b; Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52.

The wonderful thing about parables is that they are so multivalent. There is not single meaning. We have a string of parables here (and one limiting interpretation to one of them), and then an instruction about how to teach.

The parable of the mustard seed includes a bit of humor. Mustard is a scrappy weed. It is not a well-shaped tree, and at least in some varieties, will take over a field if left alone. And when Jesus says that it provides shelter for the birds of the air, he is comparing it to the cedars of Lebanon, a majestic tree, often used as a symbol for empire in the Old Testament.

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