The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 25, 25 October 2020
The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 25, 25 October 2020
Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
With the death of Moses in the Track One First Reading, and the continuing questions of Pharisees and Sadducees to Jesus regarding his authority, it seems like a good time to look at the issue of Authority in the Scriptures. To begin this discussion we need to recognize that there is no other religious authority than that which derives from God. It belongs to God alone. There is no word in Hebrew for the notion of authority. Sometimes, when it does appear in the text, it refers to political power, legal rights, a realm governed, kingship, or that of a judge as well. Thus, the Bible sees God’s authority being given or shared with society and its leaders, religious or political. Prophet, priest, and king were seen as having authority by the grace of God.
The authority granted by God is seen in a new form in the New Testament in the person of Jesus. Thus, the New Testament depicts Jesus as “teaching with authority” and acting in areas that had been seen as especially related to God’s authority in life and in death. And in the midst of his ministry, other authorities operated with the same divine authority that they had in the past. The questions asked by other authorities of Jesus weren’t necessarily meant to confound (unless noted) but rather to continue the dialogue of people and leaders around the issue of God’s authority seen in the midst of life and living.
First Reading: Deuteronomy 34:1-12
Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain—that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees—as far as Zoar. The Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command. He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired, and his vigor had not abated. The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended.
Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the Lord had commanded Moses.
Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.
This is a pericope that picks up from Deuteronomy 32:48. The narrative is interrupted by Moses’ blessing in chapter 33. You might want to read through those sections to capture the context of our reading. The question addressed here is not just the demise of Moses, but rather the loss of leadership and authority. Also helpful is a look at Numbers 27:12f. , where God requests that Moses ascend the mountain, and that he lay hands upon Joshua as his successor. Of interest is that two sites of Moses death are mentioned, perhaps in an effort to preserve two different traditions. Here God buries Moses in the earth, just as God seals Noah into the ark. The unknown nature of the place most likely is put into place to discourage pilgrimage to the site.
Our attention really is drawn, however, to the character of Joshua, and describes him with the attributes of that of a prophet, especially noting his being blessed by an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Also, of interest is that God promises to continue the prophetic function in the land.
Breaking open Deuteronomy:
1. Has there been a “Moses” in your life?
2. What kind of authority do you have?
3. To whom do you grant authority?
Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17 Domine, refugium
1 Lord, you have been our refuge *
from one generation to another.
2 Before the mountains were brought forth,
or the land and the earth were born, *
from age to age you are God.
3 You turn us back to the dust and say, *
"Go back, O child of earth."
4 For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past *
and like a watch in the night.
5 You sweep us away like a dream; *
we fade away suddenly like the grass.
6 In the morning it is green and flourishes; *
in the evening it is dried up and withered.
13 Return, O Lord; how long will you tarry? *
be gracious to your servants.
14 Satisfy us by your loving-kindness in the morning; *
so shall we rejoice and be glad all the days of our life.
15 Make us glad by the measure of the days that you afflicted us *
and the years in which we suffered adversity.
16 Show your servants your works *
and your splendor to their children.
17 May the graciousness of the Lord our God be upon us; *
prosper the work of our hands;
prosper our handiwork.
It is unfortunate that the initial verse of attribution is elided from our reading, for it indicates that this psalm is “A prayer of Moses, the man of God.” The overwhelming theme of the psalm is that of human mortality. The words that signal this theme are scattered throughout the psalm: “years”, “watch of the night”, “daybreak”, “days”, and “span of life”. There are three sections to the Psalm, I (1b-6) – God as refuge and creator, II (7-12) – God’s anger with our faithlessness, and III (13-17) – A request that God would relent. The entirety of section II is elided from our reading. I am reminded by the text of the psalm of the Luther hymn Mitten wir im Leben sind, “Even as We Live Each Day”. A better translation of the first line gives us a more complete idea of what Luther was trying to communicate. “In the midst of life, we are in death.” That is the sense of this psalm. But it is not only death as a final act that is seen, but our disappointments in the way we have been faithful to God, and God’s resulting wrath and anger. It is the closing section that holds up the hope that God will relent and will forgive. The final prayer is recommended for our lips, “May the favor of the Lord our God be ours. Prosper the work of our hands!”
Breaking open Psalm 90:
1. Do you fear death?
2. What do you see as “mini deaths” in your life?
3. How have you experienced God’s forgiveness?
First Reading: Leviticus 19:1-2,15-18
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:
Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.
You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord.
You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
The reading is an edited pericope that rehearses the Words (the Decalogue). The elided verses concern the commandments about parents, idols, or molten gods, communion sacrifices, gleaning, stealing, swearing falsely, stealing, and insulting the deaf and blind. What we are left with is provisions against perversions of justice. And it is here that persons with authority (see Background) are mentioned, namely judges. Of especial interest to us in this time is the provision against bloodshed, “you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor.” This has become so pertinent during this time of pandemic and violence. The whole act of reproving or judging neighbors is seen as something that must be avoided in a just society. The final verse about loving your neighbor as yourself becomes an important aspect in the Gospel for today.
Breaking open Leviticus:
1. Who is your neighbor?
2. Have you ever been the victim of malicious gossip?
3. Have you ever harmed others with your tongue?
Psalm 1 Beatus vir qui non abiit
1 Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked, *
nor lingered in the way of sinners,
nor sat in the seats of the scornful!
2 Their delight is in the law of the Lord, *
and they meditate on his law day and night.
3 They are like trees planted by streams of water,
bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; *
everything they do shall prosper.
4 It is not so with the wicked; *
they are like chaff which the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes, *
nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.
6 For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, *
but the way of the wicked is doomed.
This psalm, which introduces us to the whole collection of the psalter, is in two parts. The first verses (1-3) characterizes those who are righteous in their lives and acts. The second section (verses 4-6) describes the wicked. Some scholars see Psalm 2 as a continuation of the argument begun in Psalm 1. It takes the generalizations of the first psalm and makes specific applications to the nations and leaders of the earth. There are wonderful images from nature that illustrate the righteous and wicked in Psalm 1. Streams of water, chaff, and trees make clear the message. The ultimate point that the psalm wishes to make is the necessity and centrality of the Torah.
Breaking open Psalm 1:
1. What in nature would describe your life?
2. What is the wickedness that befuddles your life?
3. Where do you need to be just?
Second Reading: I Thessalonians 2:1-8
You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, but though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition. For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts. As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.
In this reading Paul moves us beyond the formalities of a classical greeting and welcome to the realities of ministry that was received by the Thessalonians. Paul is mindful of the difficulties of preaching the Gospel. You might want to quickly read through Acts 16:19f., where the situation of oppression is described by Luke. Paul wants to signal the side on which he stands, the authority with which he speaks. He defends his teaching. It was not meant to glorify him, but rather to speak God’s word. In a way he is seeking to explain his authority under the Gospel. Especially notable is his description of how a prophet/teacher/preacher deals with those under their care and tutelage. He describes it using the image of a nurse. The reading circles round the issues of being a pastor, authority, direction, difficulty, and support.
Breaking open Thessalonians:
1. Have you ever nurtured someone in their faith?
2. Who nurtured you in your faith?
3. Has your faith ever been hindered? How?
The Gospel: St. Matthew 22:34-46
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,
‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet”’?
If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
In their commentary on Matthew, Albright and Mann make an interesting observation that might help you in understanding this reading. “The Markan framework of this narrative is so different from the Matthean and Luke traditions, and is so vivid, that we must assume it to be an eyewitness account, in contrast with the other two.” For that reason, you may want to walk through the Markan account in 12:28-34, and note the fuller context. One interesting omission in both Matthew and Luke is the approbation that Jesus gives the lawyer in verse 34 of the Markan text. The questioner in Matthew is characterized as a person who wants to test Jesus. The framing of this incident in Matthew is made so that his collection of questions of Jesus (22:15-46), they would be of a similar nature and character.
The question of the lawyer is followed by one on the Messiah. Jesus, it is, that poses the conundrum about the Messiah and the descent from David. The question of Messiahship was not necessarily related to Jesus, but rather to sound out the leanings of those questioning him. There were all kinds of propositions as to the nature and character of the messiah – political, religious, anti-Roman, inflammatory, and so on. So, this scene meets the needs of that time, and shows us a Jesus who is keenly aware of his circumstance. We can read Jesus’ argument as either supporting the idea of Davidic ascent or debunking it. Jesus seems to be arguing for a more complex understanding of what the Messiah is, rather than just seeing it as an extension of Davidic kingship.
Breaking open the Gospel:
1. What is your greatest commandment?
2. Do you love yourself enough to love yourself?
3. How do you see the Messiah?
General idea: Knowing God’s authority
Idea 1: God gives us a view of the future, and cares for us beyond death (Track One: First Reading)
God’s authority teaches how to act in society with justice (Track Two: First Reading)
Idea 2: Authority is not always absent opposition (Second Reading)
Idea 3: The authority of Jesus is bound up in the words of his message, and it is of God as king.
Questions and comments copyright © 2020, Michael T. Hiller
 Albright, W. and Mann, C. (1971), The Anchor Bible, Matthew, Introduction, Translation, and Notes, Doubleday & Company, Inc. Garden City, page 274.