26 September 2017

The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 21, 1 October 2017

Track One:
Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16

Track Two:
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
Psalm 25:1-8

Philippians 2:1-13
St. Matthew 21:23-32

Background: Authority

If there is one issue that troubled Israel from its release from servitude in Egypt to the first century CE (although it surely extends beyond that time), it is the issue of authority. The initial story of Moses at the burning bush wrestles with this issue. Who is it that sends Moses to Pharaoh? What is the name of the authority that sends him? In the stories that follow, Moses has his own troubles with authority. The Hebrew Scriptures see authority certainly in the David kingship, but also with judges, prophets, and foreign kings and suzerains. It is the issue that bedevils the Palestine at the time of Jesus’ ministry, as people wrestle with Roman collaboration, and with the authority of the Jewish elders. Indeed, in our own time religious authority has become an issue of contention.

Track One:

First Reading: Exodus 17:1-7

From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

This pericope is an excellent example of the question of authority when it comes up against human need. It describes a “dispute” (Hebrew = riv) between the people and Moses. The reality of the riv will become a model for the later prophets who will describe a dispute between God and God’s people. Here it is not a theological dispute, but rather one of need. Moses sees this dispute from two viewpoints. The first is against him and his authority, questioning his motives in bringing them into the wilderness. The second is a testing of God’s motives and support.  In verse three, the collective dispute gives way to a more personal expression of the dispute. Moses is in distress and fears for his own life. God urges him to stand in front of the people as demonstration of God’s care for him. The staff and the water become signs of God’s true intent. The staff, which struck the Nile, now provides clear water to assuage the thirst of a troubled people.

Breaking open Exodus:
1.      What are your disappointments with God or with the Church?
2.      How do you deal with these?
3.      When has God given you “water from the rock”?

Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16 Attendite, popule

     Hear my teaching, O my people; *
incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
2      I will open my mouth in a parable; *
I will declare the mysteries of ancient times.
3      That which we have heard and known,
and what our forefathers have told us, *
we will not hide from their children.
4      We will recount to generations to come
the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the Lord, *
and the wonderful works he has done.
12    He worked marvels in the sight of their forefathers, *
in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan.
13    He split open the sea and let them pass through; *
he made the waters stand up like walls.
14    He led them with a cloud by day, *
and all the night through with a glow of fire.
15    He split the hard rocks in the wilderness *
and gave them drink as from the great deep.
16    He brought streams out of the cliff, *
and the waters gushed out like rivers.

The opening line of this rather lengthy poem gives us a clue as to its probable use. The invitation to hear and to listen to teaching seems to indicate that this was a communal commemoration of national history. As such it traces the national history, highlighting the confrontation of Pharaoh with the plagues and in the scene at the Red Sea along with other events. The selection we are reading today telegraphs these emphases early on, and especially notes the first reading for this day, “He split the hard rocks in the wilderness and gave them drink from the great deep.”  

Breaking open Psalm 78:
1.     How has American history been described in theological terms?
2.     Has God been active in our history?
3.    What are the dangers here?


Track Two:

Ezekiel 18:1-4,25-32

The word of the Lord came to me: What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”? As I live, says the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die.

Yet you say, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair? When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it; for the iniquity that they have committed they shall die. Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” O house of Israel, are my ways unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?

Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, all of you according to your ways, says the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live.

This reading serves as an excellent sample of Ezekiel’s central theme and purpose. He has a dire view of the people and their relationship with God. It is not only broken but also seemingly damaged beyond repair. Nonetheless, the prophet sees hope for the people. It was written following the deportations of citizens from Jerusalem to Babylon. The trauma of the situation led to a profound study and meditation on the theological dilemma that the situation presented.

Other prophets saw the problem as communal – the people had failed God, and thus God’s judgment follows. Ezekiel, however, seems to talk from the viewpoint of the individual rather than the whole community. Despite the expressions in Exodus 34:7, and Leviticus 26:39-40, among others, Ezekiel does not see guilt accruing from generation to generation. Rather, he thinks, each generation is responsible for its own guilt and misdeeds. For all life is mine: the life of the parent is like the life of the child, both are mine. Only the one who sins shall die!He does hold out hope for repentance and renewal in verses 27 and 28. Indeed the final verse of the pericope offers the same hope, “Turn, then, and live.”

Breaking open Ezekiel:
1.     Do you feel any corporate guilt?
2.     How might you express that guilt?
3.    What individual sins trouble you.

Psalm 25:1-8 Ad te, Domine, levavi

     To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul;
my God, I put my trust in you; *
let me not be humiliated,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.
2      Let none who look to you be put to shame; *
let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes.
3      Show me your ways, O Lord, *
and teach me your paths.
4      Lead me in your truth and teach me, *
for you are the God of my salvation;
in you have I trusted all the day long.
5      Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love, *
for they are from everlasting.
6      Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; *
remember me according to your love
and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.
7      Gracious and upright is the Lord; *
therefore he teaches sinners in his way.
8      He guides the humble in doing right *
and teaches his way to the lowly.

This is one of nine acrostic poems in the collection of psalms, used to enable memorization of the material and for translating it to others. It is a profound poem in that it expresses itself as the meditations of the essential life of the speaker. We lose that sense in the word “soul” from the first line of the poem. The author is looking at both sides of the notion of shame. In the first verse he pleads with God that he not be humiliated (shamed), and in the second verse he expands the notion to all – “let none be shamed.” He does remember his own failures, however. In verse seven he pleads with God not to remember the sins of his youth, and thus the poem has a sense of supplication about it. Rather he hopes for a guide and a teacher who will bring him to the right way.

Breaking open the Psalm 25:
1.     How have you been shamed in your life?
2.     Have you shamed others?
3.    How have you been released from your shame?

Second Reading: Philippians 2:1-13

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death--
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

In his commentary on the Letter to the Philippians,[1] Gordon Fee describes the structure of this poem, which advocates for unity in the church. I have marked those sections, which fall, into our pericope with italic.

A)           Appeal to steadfastness and Unity (1:27-30)
B)            The appeal to unity in their common life in Christ (2:1-4)
C)           The appeal to Christ’s example (2:5-11)
B’)       The appeal again based on relationship (2:12-13)
A’)      Unity in the face of opposition (2:14-16)

What we can surmise is that the Philippians are being tested by those around them, and so Paul spends time talking about how to meet this trial, and at the same time be united with one another. The meat of this “sandwich” is part C in which Christ is the example of unity in suffering. This example then becomes a working model for people sharing unity with one another, just as they have with Paul, and just as they have in Christ. We have so often read the meat of this poem by itself, that we may have missed the purpose of Christ’s example as outlined by Paul.

Breaking open Philippians:
1.     Why is unity necessary for Christians?
2.     Where do you see that unity active today?
3.    What kind of unity is demonstrated in the verses from Philippians?

The Gospel: St. Matthew 21:23-32

When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

On the previous day, Jesus had acted with authority in the temple, driving out the moneychangers and merchants. Now the priestly caste and “the elders” challenge Jesus. They want to know by what authority Jesus does what he does.  There is no good answer for Jesus, for either he will admit to no authority, or will commit blasphemy by noting that his authority comes from God. Jesus doesn’t answer their question, but poses his own – pointing to John the Baptist and asking them about the Baptist’s authority. Their answer is an admission that they don’t know. Jesus responds with a parable. In this parable we have a perfect example of Ezekiel’s hope for the individual, for one of the sons, who in spite of his initial refusal, repents of that decision and goes to work. Jesus then radicalizes this understanding with his comments about tax collectors and prostitutes. They are the examples of repentance.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     What authority does Jesus have in your life?
2.     When have you been like the evil son?
3.    When like the good son?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday. 

O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2017, Michael T. Hiller

[1]  Fee, G. (1995) Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Kindle Edition, location 3864.

14 September 2017

The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 19, 17 September 2017

Track One:
Exodus 14:19-31
Psalm 114 or Exodus 15:1b-11, 20-21

Track Two:
Genesis 50:15-21
Psalm 103: (1-7) 8-13

Romans 14:1-12
St. Matthew 18:21-35

Background: Absolution

The history of absolution, pronouncing the forgiveness of sins, is one of movement from a public event to one that included private expressions of confession and forgiveness. At Salisbury on Maundy Thursday, penitents who had admitted grievous sins on Ash Wednesday, and who were expelled from the Church because of them, we readmitted to the Church immediately preceding the principal mass of the day. A video depicting this ceremony is available here. This is an example of the public expression of absolution, which up until the sixth century, was the only expression. The Celtic monasteries began combining the two expressions (public confession and absolution, and private confession without absolution), which is the mode we see today. Around 1000, the rite of confession and absolution, either declaratory or precatory, entered the public celebration of the mass. Private absolution remains a feature of the Anglican, Lutheran, Orthodox and Roman Churches.

The First Reading: Exodus 14:19-31

The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.” So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.

Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.

Here we have the great event that would be the pivotal point for Israel (along with the celebration of the Passover) and for Christians who saw in this event a foretelling of the importance of baptism. In an odd combination of effect, the pillar of cloud is darkness to the Egyptians, effectively hiding Israel, and lights up the night for the sons and daughters of Jacob. This pairing of symbols of God’s presence is also seen in the wind and the dry seabed, both references to the Creation Story. Thus the passage through the sea is an effective paren to the death of the Israelite children, Moses having been consigned to the water by his mother – the people are spared again from and by the water. So the story reaches forward and backward so that we might encounter the whole context of Moses’ and the people’s experience.

Breaking open Exodus:
1.      When is God light for you?
2.      When is God darkness?
3.      Where is God leading you?

Psalm 114 In exitu Israel

When Israel came out of Egypt, *
the house of Jacob from a people of strange speech,
2      Judah became God's sanctuary *
and Israel his dominion.
3      The sea beheld it and fled; *
Jordan turned and went back.
4      The mountains skipped like rams, *
and the little hills like young sheep.
5      What ailed you, O sea, that you fled? *
O Jordan, that you turned back?
6      You mountains, that you skipped like rams? *
you little hills like young sheep?
7      Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, *
at the presence of the God of Jacob,
8      Who turned the hard rock into a pool of water *
and flint-stone into a flowing spring.

Robert Alter translates the penultimate verse of the psalm with these words, “Before the Master, whirl, O earth.”[1]  That verb, “whirl,” describes the force of the psalm as we are thrust into its immediate action in the first verse, “When Israel came out of Egypt.”  Here we have a God who is in action in history and with God’s people.  Of interest is the phrase, “Judah became God’s sanctuary”. Another way to translate the Hebrew is to render it as “Judah become God’s holiness” – which puts a totally different spin on the action of God over against the people.

There is a reprise of the ancient creation myth and its images. “The sea saw and fled,” and the waters of the Jordan react as well. The God of Israel is the one who has tamed the order less waters, and that victory is repeated here at the Red Sea. The waters remember and the earth trembles, dances, and whirls.

Breaking open Psalm 114:
1.     How is liberation like a dance?
2.     How has God entered your life?
3.    How have you celebrated that?


Exodus 15:1b-11, 20-21

“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my might,
and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
my father's God, and I will exalt him.
The Lord is a warrior;
the Lord is his name.
Pharaoh's chariots and his army he cast into the sea;
his picked officers were sunk in the Red Sea.
The floods covered them;
they went down into the depths like a stone.
Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power--
your right hand, O Lord, shattered the enemy.
In the greatness of your majesty you overthrew your adversaries;
you sent out your fury, it consumed them like stubble.
At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up,
the floods stood up in a heap;
the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea.
The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake,
I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them.
I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.’
You blew with your wind, the sea covered them;
they sank like lead in the mighty waters.

“Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?
Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
awesome in splendor, doing wonders?”

Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron's sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing.
And Miriam sang to them:

“Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.”

Here is a section of the Hebrew Scriptures that anticipates the Gospel of Luke – the characters sing and reflect on the situation in which they find themselves. Both Moses and Miriam are given roles and a song to go with them. They are ecstatic prophets with their song and their dance. That is how we remember significant events, we sing of them. God seems, in these verses, to take on the role of the combatant, Pharaoh. God is also the warrior. And again, God is fighting the battle with the waters of chaos and destruction. It is all of a piece.

Breaking open Exodus:
1.     What songs characterize your life?
2.     What is your favorite hymn?
3.    What does it say that is special to you?


Track Two:

The First Reading: Genesis 50:15-21

Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?” So they approached Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this instruction before he died, ‘Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.’ Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, “We are here as your slaves.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.” In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.

Track One followers will be familiar with this story having just read it. Here we meet a family that has been reconciled, but is still in bitter memory of the evil done to one another. In Chapter 49 of Genesis we have the last will and testament of Jacob, but in chapter 50 the brothers seem to present a codicil, a further testament to their father’s wishes. They desire forgiveness and perhaps forgetfulness of what had separated them. The expectations of Joseph are high, and Joseph recognizes that. However, God is at the center of the transaction of forgiveness and forgetting, for it was the lives of more than this family that were at stake. There is a circular nature to this story, for in one of Joseph’s dreams the family kneels before him, and now in this pericope the brothers “fall down before him.” The dream is complete.

Breaking open the Genesis:
1.        How is Joseph an example of forgiveness?
2.        How is God involved in this business?
3.        Have you ever forgiven family?

Psalm 103:(1-7), 8-13 Benedic, anima mea

1      [Bless the Lord, O my soul, *
and all that is within me, bless his holy Name.
2      Bless the Lord, O my soul, *
and forget not all his benefits.
3      He forgives all your sins *
and heals all your infirmities;
4      He redeems your life from the grave *
and crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness;
5      He satisfies you with good things, *
and your youth is renewed like an eagle's.
6      The Lord executes righteousness *
and judgment for all who are oppressed.
7      He made his ways known to Moses *
and his works to the children of Israel.]
8      The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, *
slow to anger and of great kindness.
9      He will not always accuse us, *
nor will he keep his anger for ever.
10    He has not dealt with us according to our sins, *
nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.
11    For as the heavens are high above the earth, *
so is his mercy great upon those who fear him.
12    As far as the east is from the west, *
so far has he removed our sins from us.
13    As a father cares for his children, *
so does the Lord care for those who fear him.

In this psalm we have an interior conversation, the psalmist addressing his inner being and life. Words of thanks are commended to the soul for redemption from some difficulty. It is seen as God’s work of righteousness and mercy. What is left out is the sin that seems to lurk in the background, but God is “slow to anger” and therefore the psalmist is thankful.

Breaking open the Psalm 103:
1.     What have you ever requested of your soul?
2.     How have you ever forgiven yourself?
3.    Has that led to forgiving others?

The Second Reading: Romans 14:1-12

Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.

We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written,

"As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall give praise to God."

So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

Paul in his exhortation on Christian living now comes to the nitty-gritty of life as a follower of Jesus. What do we do with the old law, which some seem content to continue to observe? Is one better than the other because of this observance? Or are all things allowed? Paul comes down on the side of knowing what it is that motivates us. “Eat in honor of the Lord…abstain in honor of the Lord.” What we do is not for ourselves, but is done for the Lord. The model is Christ – his death and his life given to God.

Breaking open Romans:
1.     What do you differ on with other Christians?
2.     How do you still allow for a relationship?
3.    What do you do in honor of the Lord?

The Gospel: St. Matthew 18:21-35

Peter came and said to Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

This was a pertinent topic for Matthew to address as he reports Jesus’ parable about forgiveness. Families riven apart in first century Palestine would have found in this story a model of forgiveness and redemption. Our forgiveness must be full, in fact full of fullness, over the top and heaped up. So it is seen in the story of the slave who is not able to replicate the mercy of his lord. It is a strong message, but it is one that Jesus firmly stood by.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     How do you confront those who have done something wrong?
2.     Have you ever followed this procedure outlined in Matthew?  Why not?
3.    How do you confront your own wrong-doings?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday. 

O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2017, Michael T. Hiller

[1]   Alter, R. (2007), The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary, W. W. Norton & Company, New York, Kindle Edition, location 8934.