Friday, August 15, 2008

Some Notes on the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 20, Year A

The Sentence, “Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom and healed every infirmity among the people”, is founded on Matthew 4.23.

In the reading from Genesis (45.1-15) we have hopped to the denoument of the story of Joseph. His brothers sold him into slavery, but by God’s grace he became Pharaoh’s chief minister, and guided the land through seven years of good crops and the following seven years of bad crops. In the famine his brothers have come to Egypt to buy food, but did not recognize him. Finally Joseph reveals himself, and shows his love and forgiveness. At the end of the passage his brothers were able to talk with him, something they could not do peaceably before (see last week’s passage). The crux of the passage is that it was all God’s doing: “And now do not be dismayed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life” (v.5); God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant upon earth, and to keep you alive for many survivors (v.7); So it was not you who sent me here, but God (v. 8). This is true of God’s actions in the world; in a nysterious way he accomplishes his will throught the free, and often evil acts of his people, and often through what appears to be chance. There is in fact never any clear evidence of God’s working.
The “land of Goshen” is now known as the Wadi Tumilat; it is a strip of grazing land in the Nile Delta. From the fact that Joseph assigns it to his family so that thay will be near him it is deduced that Pharaoh’s capital was then in the Delta region. This was the case at the time when the Hyksos, a foreign people, ruled Egypt (c. 1720-1550 BC) []. This dating is by no means certain (see].

The Psalm, 133, is one of the psalms of ascents, sung by pilgrims going up to Jerusalem. It has been commented that “what is ‘good and pleasant’ is more likely the place where the worshippers gather together, and not so much their comradeship.” This interpretation seems to fit the mention of Aaron, the High Priest.] This psalm is used today to reflect on the restored unity of Joseph and his brothers. Mount Hermon lies north of Israel in the Anti-Lebanon range.

The Epistle, Romans 11.1-2a, 29-32 continues Paul’s concern over the rejection of the gospel by his fellow Israelites. The passage excerpted for today concentrates on the positive conclusion of Paul’s meditation. This is clearly seen in the excision of verses 2b to 28 in order to link more closelt the ideas that “God has not rejected his people” and “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable”. Paul’s thought is highly nuanced and perhaps better dealt with in a Bible Study than in public proclamation. Not that in this section the disobedience and disbelied of both “Jews and Greeks” are balanced.

The Gospel: Matthew 15.[10-20,] 21-28; parallel, Mark 7.1-23 The full reading appointed has two sections.
The first, verses 10-20 may be omitted. It is the conclusion of a longer section (15.1-20) which tells how Jesus upbraided the Pharisees for making void the word of God for the sake of human tradition, that is, elevating the oral interpretation to a status equal with the law (15.1-9). Now he turns to the crowd, to explain to them what this dispute is really about, that purity depends on moral behaviour, not on rituals of food and the like. The disciples, astonished at his boldness, venture to point out that he has offended the Pharisees with this saying. he bluntly tells them not to follow the Pharisees; they are blind leaders (see also Matt 23.16-17, 24; Luke 6.39; Romans 2.19). Peter, speaking for the rest asks what he meant by saying that it is not what enters a person that defiles. Jesus replies clearly. Note that Matthew, unlike Mark, does not spell out the conclusion, “Thus he declared all foods clean” (Mark 7.19). Notice also that in Mark it is “the disciples” that ask the meaning of the parable. Matthew often specifies Peter; in this case it was Peter who had specially to deal with the question afterwards (see Acts 10).
In the second section (21-28; parallel, Mark 7.24-30) Jesus goes away to “the district of Tyre and Sidon”, two cities of Phoenicia, now Lebanon. It is not clear from this whether he actually went to the Gentile country or only went “towards” there—the original can bear either sense. As one commentator put it, “He departed to escape from the Pharisees to a place of safety and peace. A conflict was inevitable, but he would choose his own time.” News of his teaching and works had spread abroad, and a woman of that region comes to seek healing for her daughter, who is vexed by a demon. The mother is greatly afflicted by her daughter’s suffering, and cries aloud for help, much to the annoyance of the disciples. Jesus however makes no response.
To the disciples Jesus says, “I have not been sent, except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Compare his words to them when he sent them out: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles … but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matt 10.5-6). Some commentators suggest that this is not a case of exclusivity, but of priority in time: the word is to come to Israel first. “In the Messianic age the gathering of Israel must precede and preparte for the gathering of the nations.”
It is impossible to guess at the inner thoughts that underly Jesus’ repartee in the scene that follows, which certainly seems harsh enough. Some say that it was meant to elicit a declaration of the woman’s faith. Perhaps it was meant to show the unreasonableness of an ideological rejection of her plea for help. However that may be, the woman is remarkable not only for her faith but for her wit: she gives as well as she gets. Her faith, as well, contrasts with the Pharisees who would not accept the teaching of Jesus. The passage also shows that, just as it is wrong to call any food unclean, so it is wrong to call any people “dogs”.

Commemorations this Week
20th August: The Memorial of Bernard, Abbot of Clairveaux, 1153. Bernard was a leader of the spiritual revival and reform of the monastic life and the whole Church

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