The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 22 - 2 October 2011

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
Psalm 19
Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 80:7-14

Philippians 3:4b-14
St. Matthew 21:33-46

Background:  Baptism
None of the readings for today are in anyway related to baptism other than by inference, but I choose to comment on it due to the fact that we will be celebrating a Baptism at St. Mark’s on this particular Sunday.  Essential to this liturgy is the experience that the choir and I had while at Salisbury Cathedral in July of this year, where we participated in the baptism of several infants at the cathedral.  What struck me, and what ought to form the manner in which we baptize, was the stational nature of the liturgy that day, moving from the doors (where the candidates were signed and inducted into the catechumenate) to the lectern, where the Word was celebrated, to the Font, where the water was blessed and the children bathed and anointed, thence to the Altar for Eucharist and a first communion, and finally back to the Font for the gift of a lighted candle.  Journey.  How many of us think of baptism as movement, continuing movement through life, with moments to touch the water and remember.  Please pray for Greta Jane and her parents and godparents, as they begin a walk with us in Christ and the Spirit.

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20

Then God spoke all these words: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work.
Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, "You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die." Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin."

The first reading from Exodus represents to us one of three different accounts of the Ten Commandments.  Deuteronomy 5:6-12 represents another version, and Exodus 34:11-26 represents a third form.  Not only are they represented differently in these accounts, but also we count them differently, depending on our tradition.  The Jews have their own enumeration, and the Greeks and the Reformed Churches (that includes us) have another.  The Lutherans and the Roman Catholics have a third. 

These “laws” come out of a long tradition of law making in the Ancient Near East, and we can remember earlier forms of these laws in the codes of Hammurabi, the Hittites, and Eshnuna.  The first three commandments, dealing largely with the relationship of God and the people, do not represent the earliest form of these codes, having been over-laid by later traditions.  The final seven are more representative of earlier writing.  They differ from the codes of the ancient world in that they are apodictic – “You shall not” rather than the usual casuistic form, “If you do this, then that will happen.”  The latter codes also represent a “natural law” (parents, property – adultery, good name, etc.) that is represented in older codes as well.

Breaking open Exodus:
  1. What are your feelings about the use of the Ten Commandments in civil religion?
  2. Which of the commandments is the most difficult?
  3. Which do you least understand?

Psalm 19 Caeli enarrant

The heavens declare the glory of God, *
and the firmament shows his handiwork.

One day tells its tale to another, *
and one night imparts knowledge to another.

Although they have no words or language, *
and their voices are not heard,

Their sound has gone out into all lands, *
and their message to the ends of the world.

In the deep has he set a pavilion for the sun; *
it comes forth like a bridegroom out of his chamber;
it rejoices like a champion to run its course.

It goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens
and runs about to the end of it again; *
nothing is hidden from its burning heat.

The law of the LORD is perfect
and revives the soul; *
the testimony of the LORD is sure
and gives wisdom to the innocent.

The statutes of the LORD are just
and rejoice the heart; *
the commandment of the LORD is clear
and gives light to the eyes.

The fear of the LORD is clean
and endures for ever; *
the judgments of the LORD are true
and righteous altogether.

More to be desired are they than gold,
more than much fine gold, *
sweeter far than honey,
than honey in the comb.

By them also is your servant enlightened, *
and in keeping them there is great reward.

Who can tell how often he offends? *
cleanse me from my secret faults.

Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins;
let them not get dominion over me; *
then shall I be whole and sound,
and innocent of a great offense.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my
heart be acceptable in your sight, *
O LORD, my strength and my redeemer.

If you have the time, compare this psalm with Psalm 8.  Both have similar beginnings, but then take different courses all together.  In this psalm we begin with the breathless beauty of creation, which renders the poet almost speechless.  It is a vision of images that suffice to tell the message, and yet “their voice goes out” to the end of the earth.  In verse 6 we seem to have either a borrowing or an imitation of an Egyptian hymn to the sun.  The words, “for the sun, he set up a tent,” still draws us back to the one God, but the succeeding verses are redolent of the Egyptian Aten, or the Greek Apollo.  At verse 8 we are off on a totally different track, so much so that some have suggested that Psalm 19 is really a compilation of two different psalms.  Here the theme is (ironically, especially in consideration of the “wordless” passages early on in the psalm) the word of God, and God’s teaching.  Perhaps this is a counter statement to the “sun god” of the previous verses, setting up YHWH as the one God, whose teaching is true.

Breaking open Psalm 19
  1. How does nature teach you?
  2. How does nature cause you to wonder?
  3. Does God either cause you to wonder, or to teach you?


Isaiah 5:1-7

Let me sing for my beloved
my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.
And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem
and people of Judah,
judge between me
and my vineyard.
What more was there to do for my vineyard
that I have not done in it?
When I expected it to yield grapes,
why did it yield wild grapes?
And now I will tell you
what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
and it shall be trampled down.
I will make it a waste;
it shall not be pruned or hoed,
and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;
I will also command the clouds
that they rain no rain upon it.
For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice,
but saw bloodshed;
but heard a cry!

This reading is obviously chosen to match the themes of the Gospel, and does it well. In it First Isaiah takes a popular vineyard song, revealing the actual ancient viticultural techniques, and punches it up with a lesson for Israel.  The grapes that are planted are disappointing – they are wild and inedible.  They are Israel.  The focus now turns on what God will do and how God will discourage the bad growth.  There is a pun in the text that is difficult to understand in translation.  “…he expected justice but saw bloodshed, righteousness but hear a cry.”  “Justice” and “bloodshed” are words that sound similar in Hebrew, as are “righteousness” and “cry”.  One is expecting to hear the one, but experiences the other.

Breaking open Isaiah:
1.    How well does the image of Israel as a vineyard work for you?
2.    What are the patterns of mis-behavior in the life of Israel?
3.    What are the patterns of mis-behavior in your own life.

Psalm 80:7-14 Qui regis Israel

Restore us, O God of hosts; *
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

You have brought a vine out of Egypt; *
you cast out the nations and planted it.

You prepared the ground for it; *
it took root and filled the land.

The mountains were covered by its shadow *
and the towering cedar trees by its boughs.

You stretched out its tendrils to the Sea *
and its branches to the River.

Why have you broken down its wall, *
so that all who pass by pluck off its grapes?

The wild boar of the forest has ravaged it, *
and the beasts of the field have grazed upon it.

Turn now, O God of hosts, look down from heaven;
behold and tend this vine; *
preserve what your right hand has planted.

It is a shame that the entirety of this psalm is not appointed for this day, because its beginning verses are so lovely.  The later verses are chosen because of the reference to the “vine” brought out of Egypt in verse 9.  The owner of the vineyard takes extraordinary pains to bring this vine from the nether regions to plant it in this new place.  Space is cleared, and walls are built up, but like the vine in Isaiah, the vine soon rebels, if you will, against the place in which has been planted.  It leaves the protective barriers, and becomes the food of wild beasts.  The psalmist recognizes the condition of Israel, and then asks God to tend to the vine.

Breaking open Psalm 80
1.     Have you ever been transplanted?
2.     Who took care of you?
3.     Did you make any mistakes?

Philippians 3:4b-14

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Again, we miss some defining passages that precede this reading from Philippians.  Paul is focusing in on the problem of forming the Christian community of both Jews and Gentiles.  Jews had the understandable habit of wishing to keep some of the old laws, and Paul is trying to dissuade them from their practices.  He begins with circumcision, comparing it to the mutilations of other religions and mysteries.  That is where we meet him in verse 4b.  He argues that if one is to count these as worthy before God, then he is more worthy than any of them, and then lists all the ways in which he is an Über Jew.  What is of value to Paul, and he hopes, to his audience as well is their relationship to Christ, and knowing Christ.  Paul suffers things that he might know Christ.  Nor is he complete in the process, but rather moves on, pressing to the goal.  Righteousness for Paul is not a completed work, but a hoped-for attainment worked on in relationship with God.

Breaking open Philippians:
  1. In what ways are you the best?
  2. In what ways are you not so good?
  3. How does God help you in either situation?

Matthew 21:33-46

Jesus said, "Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, `They will respect my son.' But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, `This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.' So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?" They said to him, "He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time."

Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the scriptures:

`The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord's doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes'?

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls."

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

We are well into Jesus’ Journey and Entrance to Jerusalem, and like the hearers, we are already aware of the outcome.  This parable, which is also found in Mark, uses allegory to teach its lesson.  It also uses the model found in Isaiah 5, in which Israel is seen as the “vineyard”.  We can surmise who the “landlord” represents if we can equally surmise who the “son” is.  The tenants seem to represent the tension that was part and parcel between a landowner and tenants – one of strife.  The slaves are the prophets.  The son is not a figure from the Hebrew Scriptures, nor is he John the Baptist.  Matthew wants us to view him as Jesus, the son who is slain.  The quote is from Psalm 118:22-23, and seems to be a bit of an interloper.  Its context is the acceptance of Gentiles into the church (a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom) and the rejection of Jesus by Israel.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. Do you agree with the allegorical assignments?
  2. Whom would you place in these roles.
  3. How much do you know about Jewish ritual and worship?
  4. What of this seems attractive to you?

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

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


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