The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 17, 30 August 2020
Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.
In last Sunday’s Gospel, The Confession of Peter at Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16:13-20), we encounter two terms that might be worthy of further exploration. In an article on these two titles, Jack Dean Kingsbury describes the title “Son of God” as confessional, and “Son of Man” as public in nature – a complement to the first title. The Son of Man title gives witness to three different aspects of Jesus’ ministry: a) the public ministry, b) the passion/resurrection, and c) the Coming Again. It is this latter aspect, the period of time and agency between the Resurrection and the Coming Again that captures most of Matthew’s attention. Kingsbury sees the title in Matthew as relating to humankind and their opinion of Jesus, thus: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is? In other words, when Jesus is addressing the public, the reference is always to the Son of Man, but to the disciples, the reference is more confessional in nature. Kingsbury sees Jesus have a particular vocabulary when addressing those who may or may not believe, and another for those who are committed to him.
First Reading: Exodus 3:1-15
Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”
But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.” But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’“ God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’:
This is my name forever,
and this my title for all generations.
We have a scene from ordinary life (Moses as shepherd, and member of a family) set in an extraordinary setting (Mt. Horeb [Sinai], the “Mountain of God”) interrupted by the ordinary (a burning bush) that turns out to be both a theophany, and a call to Moses. As the story continues, we have the remarkable revelation of God’s name as well. All in all, it is an extraordinary collection of events. In this setting we begin to see Moses as a prophet – the one who is called to announce God’s intentions for the now, for this time. Moses exhibits the usual characteristics of a prophet at their call. “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” These words anticipate the objections of Jeremiah and other prophets when they were called out of daily life to be God’s agents and apologists. All of this happens in the midst of holiness and a simple grandeur. Moses hides his face, for one cannot look upon the face of God and life. Moses has an innate understanding of what is going on here. In addition, there is the holiness of the land itself (“Remove the sandals from your feet.”). There is the remembrance of fathers and mothers, and the God who saved them. Finally, it is a moment of remembrance of Israel’s slavery in Egypt, and the promise of a new land, a new future.
Moses also stands in a line of humans who have a great faith, shown in their questioning of God’s intentions for them. I’m thinking of a bargaining Abraham, and a Sarah who laughed. Moses objects to the call, but then wants to know who it is that is calling him to such a task. Who is it that Moses, as representative, is going to speak on behalf of? He is then met with a mystery – ‘Ehyeh-‘Asher-‘Ehyeh’ I-Will-Be-Who-I-Will-Be, or as in our reading, “I AM WHO I AM.” Brevard Childs sums it up quite nicely in his Commentary on Exodus, God reveals Godself as “a self-contained, incomprehensible being.” I can recall attending a celebration of The Divine Liturgy by a Greek Orthodox bishop, during which, a colleague of mine commented, “in this Liturgy, God is Totally Other!” I nodded my head, as we continued to have the mystery revealed to us. In the midst of this mystery, however, Moses, the people of Israel, and we ourselves are given an invitation to not only be in relationship with this God, but to be in conversation, as well. “This is my name forever, and this my title for al generations.” We are invited to know God.
Breaking open Exodus:
1. By what name do you know God?
2. Have you heard a call from God in your life?
3. Where do you find “burning bushes”?
Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c Confitemini Domino
1 Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name; *
make known his deeds among the peoples.
2 Sing to him, sing praises to him, *
and speak of all his marvelous works.
3 Glory in his holy Name; *
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
4 Search for the Lord and his strength; *
continually seek his face.
5 Remember the marvels he has done, *
his wonders and the judgments of his mouth,
6 O offspring of Abraham his servant, *
O children of Jacob his chosen.
23 Israel came into Egypt, *
and Jacob became a sojourner in the land of Ham.
24 The Lord made his people exceedingly fruitful; *
he made them stronger than their enemies;
25 Whose heart he turned, so that they hated his people, *
and dealt unjustly with his servants.
26 He sent Moses his servant, *
and Aaron whom he had chosen.
Artur Weiser titles this psalm “The Divine Covenant”. It is really a history of the covenant, and if you take time to read Psalm 105 in its entirety, you can see the whole scope of the psalmists history and theology presented in the poem. Our sections of this work deal with an introduction of the notion of covenant, remarking on God’s acts, the acts of one of the participants in the covenant. Then, from verse 23 and following we follow Israel into Egypt, and understand Moses as a called one, a servant of God. It is a fine poetic reflection on the first reading.
Breaking open Psalm 105:
1. The psalm calls upon us to rejoice – what has God done for you that brings joy to your heart?
2. How do you seek out God?
3. What memories come to you when you think about your relationship with God?
First Reading: Jeremiah 15:15-21
O Lord, you know;
remember me and visit me,
and bring down retribution for me on my persecutors.
In your forbearance do not take me away;
know that on your account I suffer insult.
Your words were found, and I ate them,
and your words became to me a joy
and the delight of my heart;
for I am called by your name,
O Lord, God of hosts.
I did not sit in the company of merrymakers,
nor did I rejoice;
under the weight of your hand I sat alone,
for you had filled me with indignation.
Why is my pain unceasing,
my wound incurable,
refusing to be healed?
Truly, you are to me like a deceitful brook,
like waters that fail.
Therefore, thus says the Lord:
If you turn back, I will take you back,
and you shall stand before me.
If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless,
you shall serve as my mouth.
It is they who will turn to you,
not you who will turn to them.
And I will make you to this people
a fortified wall of bronze;
they will fight against you,
but they shall not prevail over you,
for I am with you
to save you and deliver you,
says the Lord.
I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked,
and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.
This reading is in the same vein, but sort of a reversal of the Track One First Reading. Here Jeremiah is again sent, in the midst of his own misery, but not to the evil Pharaoh, but to the evils of his own people, to Israel. In chapter 14, we understand Jeremiah to comment on the reasons for a drought in Jerusalem. It ends up being an oracle against Jerusalem, “Even if Moses and Samuel stood before me, my heart would not turn toward this people.” Moses was sent to redeem them, and Jeremiah is sent to condemn them. Thus, he stands in misery. His, however, is a more mature relationship. He and God have had a history together. It has not been all joy, however, “I did not sit celebrating in the circle of merrymakers; Under the weight of your hand I sat alone, because you filled me with rage.” In spite of Jeremiah’s rage, God yet sends the prophet with a message that God describes as “precious and not worthless.” Both Moses and Jeremiah are sent to be ambassadors in the face of formidable power – the power of Pharaoh on the one hand, and the power of Israel on the other. God stands beside them both, in the difficulty of their message.
Breaking open Jeremiah:
1. When have you had to deliver a difficult message?
2. When have you heard a difficult message?
3. How did God stand beside you?
Psalm 26:1-8 Judica me, Domine
1 Give judgment for me, O Lord,
for I have lived with integrity; *
I have trusted in the Lord and have not faltered.
2 Test me, O Lord, and try me; *
examine my heart and my mind.
3 For your love is before my eyes; *
I have walked faithfully with you.
4 I have not sat with the worthless, *
nor do I consort with the deceitful.
5 I have hated the company of evildoers; *
I will not sit down with the wicked.
6 I will wash my hands in innocence, O Lord, *
that I may go in procession round your altar,
7 Singing aloud a song of thanksgiving *
and recounting all your wonderful deeds.
8 Lord, I love the house in which you dwell *
and the place where your glory abides.
1. Have you ever been falsely accused?
2. How did you redeem yourself?
3. Have you ever falsely accused others?
Second Reading: Romans 12:9-21
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
The lectio continua that occurs during Ordinary Time often means that the second reading is at random, not relating to either the first or to the Gospel. This time, however, it is a magnificent match, offering an alternative to the difficulties suffered by Jeremiah (Track Two – First Reading) and the promises of Jesus in today’s Gospel. Paul lists for us a series of behaviors that need to be found in us as individuals following Christ, and in the whole community as well. The theme for the pericope is found in the first verse, “Let love be genuine.” I like Robert Jewett’s translation in his commentary, “the love [is] without pretense.” In the face of difficulties, some of which are related to individuals, and some not, Paul recommends love that lives out itself in a variety of ways. There are some stunning realities here: 1) anticipate love from the other (verse 10), 2) “Rejoice…endure…persevere”(verse 12) 3) hospitality is not just good manners (verse 13), 4) Rejoice and weep – depending on the situation (verse 15), and 5) Bless the persecutor (verse 14). The list goes on and any of these would make for a deep conversation amongst Christians, or anyone for that matter, trying to live in these times.
Breaking open Romans:
1. Who is your enemy?
2. How do you love them?
3. Who needs your love and attention?
The Gospel: St. Matthew 16:21-28
Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
When I was in Seminary, I sang in a small schola of twelve voices that would participate in the Eucharistic Liturgy of the seminary community. We once sang a motet by Jan Bender, based on this pericope. It’s opening phrase, “Begone Satan” is sung to the interval used by European emergency vehicles (an augmented fourth). You can hear the music here. For this composer that interval was a sign of Satan, a remembrance of the Gestapo, and other forces of evil in the world.
In this pericope we are not being taught something, a doctrine, so much as we are being shown something, a confession of faith in the midst of the troubles of life. You might want to meditate a bit on Matthew 7:21-23, in which Jesus describes what such a confession truly means.
So, what does Matthew want us to discover in this reading? In addition to the difficulties that accompany one when one really follows Jesus, elaborated on in the other readings for this morning, Matthew wants us to know who it is that we are following. It is about Jesus, the Son of Man (our human brother), and it is about the community – the church. Our knowledge of Jesus, both individually and collectively, is a gift of the Father. But what follows is a really difficult human revelation.
It is here that Peter trips up. Jesus make his first passion prediction (verses 21-23), and Peter finds that language difficult to take. What follows is what Bonhoeffer would call the “cost of discipleship”. The Jesus of Matthew spells it out in very human terms. The denial of self and of life itself gets our attention. There is indeed a cost, and now we must see how that affects us as we live life. As we live life, and do God’s will, following Jesus, we wonder if we will recognize the coming of the Son of Man. What is his kingdom, and where might we both see and find it?
Breaking open the Gospel:
1. What are your feelings about the cross and death of Jesus?
2. What difficulties has your following of Jesus been evidenced in your life?
3. How will God repay you (see verse 27)?
General idea: What comes with following Jesus?
Lesson 1: Moses learns to be a prophet (Track One: First Reading)
Jeremiah suffers God’ directive (Track Two: First Reading)
Lesson 2: Remembering God’s promise (Psalm 105)
Remembering our innocence (Psalm 26)
Lesson 3: Paul’s directive for following Jesus (Second Reading)
Lesson 4: Confessing and then giving up of our selves (Gospel)
Questions and comments copyright © 2020, Michael T. Hiller
 Kingsbury, J. (1975), “The Title ‘ Son of Man’ in Matthew’s Gospel”, The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 37, No. 2 (April 1975), pp. 193-202.
 St. Matthew 16:13
 Childs, B. (1974), The Book of Exodus, A Critical, Theological Commentary, The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, page 76.
 Jeremiah 15:1, NAB translation
 Jeremiah 15:17, NAB translation
 Jeremiah 15:19, NAB translation
 The New American Bible: Washington, DC: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2002.
 Psalm 105:9, NAB translation.
 Jewett, R. (2007), Romans, A Commentary, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, page 756.
 Matthew 7:21-23, NAB translation.