Proper 22, Year A
31 August, 2008
The Collect is a reworking of the Prayer Book collect for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity:
Lord of all power and might, who art the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of thy Name, increase in us true religion, nourish us in all goodness, and of your great mercy keep us in the same. through Jesus Christ our Lord.There are comments on the original Collect in the notes for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity earlier in this Blog. It need only be added now that the revision in the BAS is more radical than the one in the American Prayer Book (p. 233).
The call of Moses is also a revelation of the Lord God as one who cares for his people and hears their cry of anguish. The revelation itself is a miracle: both because the bush that burns and is not consumed causes Moses to wonder, since it is outside the known powers of nature and because it is clearly God’s direct action. But how do we imagine this event? Does God speak aloud, actually moving the air and acting on Moses’ ear-drums? Or is the voice that Moses hears an inner one? There is no way to know, but however we think of it, we must decide whether we believe that God did act.
The first verse of this passage is a good example of why comments have to be selective!
v. 1: Jethro is sometimes called Ruel (2.18), or possibly Hobab (Num 10.29). The confusion over his name does not affect today’s passage. Beyond the wilderness has been interpreted to mean a mysterious place like the deep in the forest of fairy tales, or simply in the middle of nowhere. The Judaica Press Complete Tanach renders the phrase as “after the free pastureland”; another version is “the edge of the desert”. To Horeb the mountain of God. The mountain of God is called both Horeb or Sinai; Horeb seems to reflect a later tradition. Whatever its name, the precise location of the holy mountain is not known, although tradition places it at Jebel Musa or Mount Catharine in the south of the Sinai.
v.2. The bush may have been a thorn-bush or bramble-bush. Note that the Hebrew word, S'neh, is similar to the word Sinai.
v. 4. When the Lord calls from the bush Moses answers “Here am I”. In the Septuagint Greek text, however, what Moses says is τί ἐστι; (ti esti?), “What is it?” In some ways this seems to me a more natural response!
vv 6-10. The Lord declares to Moses that he has seen the suffering of his people and heard their cries, and has come down to free them and lead them into that good kand he had promised their ancestors. He will send Moses to Pharaoh to lead the people out of Egypt.
v 11. Moses is reluctant to obey. Like Gideon (Judges 6.11-22) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1.4-10) he raises objections to God’s call. In 3.11-4.17 Moses makes four excuses; this reading includes only the first two: “who am I to do this?” (3.11), to which God replies, “I will be with you”, and “the people will ask the name of the God who sent me” (3.13), to which God replies by solemnly declaring his name.
v. 14. Note that the Lord’s reply, I am who I am, can be translated in different ways: the NRSV offers I AM WHAT I AM and I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE. The Greek version, ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν (egō eimi ho ōn), can mean something like I am he who is, which has serious theological implications (see Eric Mascall, He Who Is, esp. pp 5, 10, 13; Existence and Analogy, pp 10-13).
v. 15. The divine Name, YHWH (the Tetragrammaton), is not pronounced under any circumstances in Jewish tradition. Four things may be noted here. Instead of YHWH, the Hebrew word Adonai, Lord, or Elohim, God, was pronounced instead. The vowel-signs for these words were added to the Tetragrammaton to ensure the proper word was pronounced. Second, it is from reading it with the “wrong” vowels that gave rise to the name Jehovah, which does not represent any form of the name used in Hebrew. Third, the Jewish practice has for the most part always been followed by Christians: in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures, the word Kyrios was used to render the Tetragrammaton, and Dominus was likewise used in Latin, both meaning Lord. In English versions it has come to be the convention to represent the divine Name by “The LORD”, written in small capitals. The Vatican has recently (and rightly) reaffirmed the rule that the Tetragrammaton is not pronounced in worship. (It does not appear in the official mass-texts, but has been used in hymns, which must now be re-written). Finally, when we understand this background of the word Lord as a rendering of the divine Name, we can see the true implications of such New Testament expressions as “Jesus is Lord”.
The Psalm 105.1-6, 23-26, 454c. A different section of this psalm was read on the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, and general remarks may be found in the remarks on that Sunday. Verses 23-26 commemorate the sufferings of Israel in Egypt and the call of Moses. “Ham” is a poetic name for Egypt: see Genesis 10.6.
The Epistle. Romans 12.9-21. St Paul exhorts his readers to the good Christian life. As a statement of the “law of love”, this passage should be read along with Chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians. The most difficult part of this teaching is the absolute prohibition of vengeance in verse 19. Only when we have truly ceased to “conform to this world” and have been “transformed by the renewal of mind” (12.2; see last week’s reading) will the instinct to avenge and justify oneself be rooted out.
It might seem that the teaching in verse 20, that you ought to assist your enemy in need and thereby “heap burning coals on his head” spoils the whole thing by turning an act of love into revenge! In fact, it means that acts of kindness bring the enemy to shame (embarrassment is often accompanied by redness and a rise in temperature) and, it is to be hoped, to repentance.
The Holy Gospel, Matthew 16.21-28
Immediately after St Peter’s confession of him as Christ, the Son of the Living God, Jesus for the first time tells his disciples of the path of suffering before him. It is as if he said to them, You have confessed that I am Messiah; now learn what it means to be Messiah. We note that the Gospel says not that he began to tell them but to show them. the sense is made known, but we should not miss the visual quality of ‘show’ that comes again at the end of the passage. He says that he must suffer at Jerusalem, the city where the prophets were put to death; see Matthew 23.29-39. Although the scriptures of the Old Testament mention only one such death (Zechariah son of Jehoiada; see 2 Chronicles 24.20-22), others were recorded in legend.
Peter could not accept the idea that the Messiah should suffer. He takes Jesus and begins to rebukes him, as if saying, “Ah, Master, don’t say that!”. It should be noted that Luke 9 omits Peter’s rebuke and the sequel. Jesus’ reply needs to be read carefully.
He turned and said to Peter. Matthew seems to mean that Jesus turned to Peter and said to Peter. However, in Mark it is turning and seeing his disciples he rebuked Peter.
Get behind me, Satan! seems to mean “begone from me”, but it was often taken by the early Fathers to mean “Come after me”. Two considerations are important here. First, the expression here translated “get behind me” (ὀπίσω μου), is rendered verse 24 as “after me” (come after me). Second, there was no punctuation in the original text; this is added in modern editions. With this in mind, we might not be surprised at St Hilary’s comment:
The Lord, knowing the suggestion of the craft of the devil, says to Peter, Get you behind me; that is, that he should follow the example of His passion; but to him by whom this expression was suggested, He turns and says, Satan, you are an offense to me. For we cannot suppose that the name of Satan, and the sin of being an offense, would be imputed to Peter after those so-great declarations of blessedness and power that had been granted him.
Yet the words in which Peter and those in which Satan are rebuked, are not, as is commonly thought, the same; to Peter it is said, Get you behind me, Satan; that is, follow me, you that are contrary to my will; to the Devil it is said, Go your way, Satan, understanding not 'behind me,' but 'into everlasting fire.' He said therefore to Peter, Get you behind me, as to one who through ignorance was ceasing to walk after Christ. And He called him Satan, as one, who through ignorance had somewhat contrary to God. But he is blessed to whom Christ turns, even though He turn in order to rebuke him
Peter’s words seemed to be a continuation of Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the desert: see Matthew 4:10 and Luke 4:8. [NOAB].
Nonetheless, the stone which was for a foundation had become a stone of stumbling. After the sudden revelation ‘from heaven’ the unguarded soul of Peter was now occupied by another spirit. He wished for an earthly Messiah who would not suffer or die: his mnd was set not on divine things, but on human. The verb translated as setting your mind is the same used by St Paul in Phil 2.5, ‘Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus’ — where also in verse 8 … he speaks of his ‘becoming obedient even unto the death of the cross.
In the second part of the reading (verse 24-28), Jesus tells his disciples that those who would follow him must deny themselves and take up the cross to follow him. In the Roman world, the word “crucify” had come to be a general word for suffering or torture, as is found in secular literature of the time, and in our English word “excruciate”. One condemned to die on the cross carried it, or at least the cross-beam, to the place of execution. “Jesus sees that acceptance of his message with its promise also may bring destruction. Only those who in faith accept the threat of destruction will find life. See also Matthew 5:11-12; 10:38-39; Mark 10:29-31; Luke 14:27; 17:33; John 12:25” [NOAB].
Life; the Greek word is ψυχὴ, psuchē; the Authorized version had “soul”. Here it means life not in the sense of physical existence but the higher or spiritual life, the real self. The question for what one would sell one’s soul calls to mind the legend of Faust, who made a pretty shoddy deal for his. Again, Jesus had been tempted to ‘gain the whole world (Matt 4.9) but he preferred the kingdom of heaven: ‘the world’ he left to Caesar (Matt 22.21).
One’s life might be a trifle, worth casting off for the rewards that the world can offer, if this world was everything; but it is not. The Son of man comes to bring the Father’s rewards, which are true life, forgiveness, love and joy.
This Gospel passage can be read well along with the passages from Romans we read last week and this. To deny self is an essential part of being transformed in mind (Romans 12.2). Furthermore, although the Lord’s call to take up one’s cross tell us of suffering imposed on us for our choice to follow Christ, they also speak of the death that is involved in turning away from passions and habits of the old life. Few things can be worse than denying oneself the pleasures of vengeance, of getting one’s own; which is why it is so hard to give it up. To learn to bless those who persecute, and not curse, even in the depths of your heart is part of following our Lord.
In the final words of the passage, Jesus declares that some who are standing with him will not taste death until they see the Son of man coming in his glory. Some interpret this to mean the Transfiguration, which is related in the following chapter. Others, noting that in the parallel passage in Mark (9.1) it is “before they see that the kingdom of God has come in power”, take it as referring to the coming of the Spirit on the Day Pentecost (Acts 2).
 This is a translation of and commentary on the Hebrew Scriptures which I sometimes find helpful (but many of the comments are textual and grammatical). It may be accessed at http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/63255/jewish/The-Bible-with-Rashi.htm. Another Jewish translation of the Torah with commentary may be found at http://bible.ort.org/books/pentd2.asp . I have not yet explored the Jewish biblical resources on the internet much further than this.