The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 25, 29 October 2017

Track One:
Deuteronomy 34:1-12
Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17

Track Two:
Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18
Psalm 1

I Thessalonians 2:1-8
St. Matthew 22:34-46

Background: The Holiness Code

There is a specialized section of the Book of Leviticus that may indeed be a distinct unit within the book. Form Critics have called this section, Chapters 17-26, The Holiness Code. Stylistically it differs from the other parts of Leviticus, and is noted for its frequent use of the word “holy” and for its brief and succinct rendering of the law. Some feel that it is an earlier document that was then edited into the text of Leviticus by the editor known to us as “P”. Like all of the so-called priestly documents, this section was also abused by later editors who added additional materials and laws.

Track One:

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.

We have here Moses’ final mountaintop experience. He had several of them, from the giving of the Law to God shielding Moses from God’s glory. Now he stands at the summit to see the lands of promise. What is interesting is that the account reflects the settlement of the various tribes later in history; Dan, for example, having moved from the southern coastal plain up into the north. From that vantage point Moses is allowed to see the lands to which the people will go – but he will not. By the word of the Lord, Moses dies in the land of Moab, and there he is buried, not on the mountaintop but in a glen. In this Moses becomes like everyone else – buried below the mountaintop of his experiences. The period of his life, 120 years, has been divided by some into three forty-year periods: Egypt, Midian, and Wilderness.

Breaking open Deuteronomy:
1.          Why is Moses not allowed to enter the promised land?
2.          What promised lands have you not been allowed to enter?
3.          Why was that denied you?

Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17 Domine, refugium

     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.

The superscription which accompanies this psalm is elided from the liturgical text, but is helpful in tying this psalm to the readings for this day, “A prayer of Moses, man of God.” Thus Moses is the presumed author of this psalm which meditates on the human condition and death. This psalm marks the beginning of the fourth book of the Psalms in which the name of Moses is mentioned eight times. This psalm is the first of those psalms. The psalm is a comparison of God’s eternity and humankind’s mortality. You will get a better sense of this by reading through the entirely of the psalm. Time is seen not only as the period of life given to us but also seen in the context of the eternity of God’s love and care.

Breaking open Psalm 90
1.     Where are you in your span of life?
2.     What are your thoughts about death?
3.     How will God be present at your death?


Track Two:

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.

Here, a couple of chapters into the Holiness Code, the author reiterates God’s holiness, and the demand for our holiness as well. The subsequent verses recite the Great Law of love of God, neighbor, and self. This forms the context of Israel’s relationship with God, a relationship that governs how we deal with both self and others. There is no difference, for by implication, God is in relationship with both rich and poor.  Mirroring God’s relationship, Israel is called to care for everyone, and not to take advantage.

Breaking open the Leviticus:
1.         In what ways do you love God?
2.         How do you show that same love to your neighbor?
3.         How do you love yourself?

Psalm 1 Beatus vir qui non abiit

     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.

The psalm understands both good and evil, evil begets difficulty and trouble, and good begets blessings. In this wisdom poem we have a collection of the usual comments on the wages of both good and evil. As such it borrows from the customs and aphorisms of a universal culture. The mind model it takes is that of walking, and determining one’s destination. There is however another model as well, and that is of the tree planted by water. This is compared to the chaff which the wind blows away. Both take full advantage of the climate and geography in which the psalm was written. The poem begins with those who are righteous, and closes with images of the wicked – a perfect envelope for this wisdom psalm.

Breaking open the Psalm 1:
1.     In your mind what is the benefit of doing good?
2.     Is there a penalty for doing evil? What is that penalty?
3.     What does the image of a tree planted by water bring up for you?

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.

We might wonder what Paul’s motives are in this letter to the Thessalonians, and he does not disappoint us in offering an explanation. He reminds them that they are already partners in a common knowing – a mutual understanding. What he goes on to comment on is a growing and improving relationship with the Thessalonians. Paul compares himself to a nurse, gently dealing with his addressees. Thus he shares the good news of Jesus, and a personal relationship with them in Jesus.

Breaking open I Thessalonians:
1.     Who is your mentor in the faith?
2.     What did the Thessalonians and Paul have in common?
3.     What do you have in common with your mentor?

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.

The Pharisees have not left us yet, and continue their testing of Jesus. In the first exchange they question him about the commandments and which is the greatest (see the first reading).  It is a test of his ability to be a rabbi, a teacher to any who might want to know God. He passes. Jesus understanding is that this basic understanding of the Law encompasses all of the relationship with God. What follows then is a similar kind of questioning, this time Jesus questioning the Pharisees. In it, “whose son is he?”, Jesus pushes through to the core of their wonderment. Jesus wants to know what they think about the Messiah. The traditions around the hope of a Messiah were largely connected to the Davidic covenant, in which God pledged support to the kingship in Israel. What Jesus wishes to point out to them is that they are hoping for the wrong thing. The conundrum that they face is the quotation from Psalm 110, where majestic David calls the Messiah “Lord”.  The questioners leave stupefied by the question

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     Does Jesus pass the Pharisee’s test?
2.     What do you understand by the word “Messiah”?
3.     How is Jesus Messiah?

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

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.

Questions and comments copyright © 2017, Michael T. Hiller


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