Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
21 September, 2008
Please note: I have tried to avoid getting bogged down in great detail by referring to the RCL Commentary [there is a link in the left-hand margin of this page]. When using this site, it is helpful to look at the section entitled “Clippings” for each reading as well as the “Comments”.
Those who are grumbling about their lot find it more than a bit annoying to be told to “count your blessings.” It sounds so dreadfully naïve. However, being thankful for the many good things God has done is not just a way of cosmetic to cover over the bad things that happen and hide them; it is one of the best ways of rousing yourself to do something about those problems. One of the usual symptoms of a fit of the grumbles is lethargy, and in extreme cases, just giving up (Oh, what’s the use?) But to face reality means taking the good as well as the bad, and this is a wonderful tonic. Of course the best thing is not to wait for a fit of the grumbles, but to cultivate an attitude of thankfulness when things are going well. A very good practice is to say, whenever something good happens, “Why me?” Pretty soon you could be saying “why do these things always happen to me?”
No sooner were the Israelites saved from Egypt than they found themseves in the wilderness of Sinai and started complaining. At Marah the water was bitter, and they murmured against Moses, “What shall we drink” [Exodus 15.24]. God made the water drinkable. God promised that if they obeyed his word and kept his statutes, he would protect them from the diseases that had fallen on the Egyptians. They journeyed through the oasis at Elim and came into the wilderness of Sin [16.1], probably on the peninsula of Sinai. In verse 1 it says that they entered the wilderness on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from Egypt. on the fifteenth day The Rabbinic commentaries say that this is stated because on that day the cakes of unleavened bread that they had taken out of Egypt were depleted, and they needed manna. So the scene is set for the first crisis in the wilderness.
As Moses led the people of Israel into the wilderness of Sinai they began to complain. At Marah the water was bitter, and they murmured against Moses, “What shall we drink” [Exodus 15.24]. God made the water drinkable. God promised that if they obeyed his word and kept his statutes, he would protect them from the diseases that had fallen on the Egyptians. They journeyed through the oasis at Elim and came into the wilderness of Sin [16.1], probably on the peninsula of Sinai. In verse 1 it says that they entered the wilderness on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from Egypt. on the fifteenth day. Rabbinic commentaries say that this is stated because on that day the cakes of unleavened bread that they had taken out of Egypt were depleted. So the scene is set for the first crisis in the wilderness.
When the food supplies were running out the Israelite remembered that food had been plentiful in Egypt, and the memory of well-fed slavery seemed better than the uncertainty of freedom.in the wilderness. It wasn’t all that bad, barring the slavery. “What was the point of bringing us out here?” they ask Moses, “Did you want to kill us? It would have been better to die as slaves than to starve in the desert.” God hears their complaining and tells Moses that he will give them their fill of bread. This in not only a gift, but a test. he will only given them food sufficient for one day at a time. Will they trust him or will they try to hoard the food, and try to ensure their future survival on their terms rather than God’s? We should remember this passage as we pray each day for our daily bread, not the entire bakery.
The details of this passage are well noted in the RCL Commentary, and do not need to be repeated here.
This manna in the desert is also an example of typology. the Catholic Encyclopaedia notes,
Christ uses the manna as the type and symbol of the Eucharistic food, which is true "bread from heaven":, and "bread of life", i.e., life-giving bread, in a far higher sense than the manna of old (John 6). St. Paul in calling the manna "spiritual food" (1 Corinthians 10:3), alludes to its symbolical significance with regard to the Eucharist as much as to its miraculous character. Hence the manna has always been a common Eucharistic symbol in Christian art and liturgy. In Revelation, ii, 17 [cf Ps 78.23-25], the manna stands as the symbol of the happiness of heaven.
The Psalm: 105 1-6, 37-45: The Story of God’s great deeds on behalf of his people (compare Ps 78).
This psalm, now paired with Ps 106 is thought to have been written to be used at a major festival; it is a recital of the foundational events in the life of the nation of Israel. Its mood of grateful recollection is reflected in the Collect for today. It is remarkable that among the events recounted the giving of the law or any of the other events at Sinai are not included. This psalm and psalm 106 at sone point in their history were provided with the ritual shout Hallelujah! (Praise the Lord!) at the beginning and end. Verses 1-6 are a hymn-like introduction summoning the congregation to praise and thanksgiving. Selections from this psalm are used on Proper 17, 19, and 22 as reflections on the events recorded in the first readings. We can use this psalm in our daily prayer as a sing iof thanksgiving, which helos to build up the habit, and is a medicine against grumbing. The psalm in the Roman Missal for this Sunday is Ps 145.2-3, 8—9,18-19, with v 19a as a refrain.
The Epistle: Philippians 1,21-30
It was at the city of Philippi in Macedonia, that Paul established his first congregation on European soil (Acts 16.11-15); it seems that he always had close and happy relations with that church. Although it is clear from this letter that Paul is in prison and awaiting trial, we cannot say certainly where or when the letter to the Philippians was written. Most scholars take the references to the praetorian guard and to Caesar’s household [1.13, 4.22], as well as similarities to the situation described at the end of the Book of Acts as reflecting the period of Paul’s imprisonment at Rome (about AD 61-63) [New Oxford Annotated Bible]. Paul is under military guard [1.12]; and now all the members of the local headquarters know why he is there, and so have alt least heard the name of Christ. He is writing at this time because Epaphroditus (2.25-29), who had brought a gift from Philippi was returning home, giving Paul the opportunity to thank the Philippians, let them know his state of mind, and give them needed instructions.
The opening of the letter is not included in the Sunday readings, and we begin rather in the middle of a train of thought. After the usual formula of greeting [1.1-2], and prayer of thanksgiving [1.3-11], Paul assures the Philippians that his arrest “has really served to advance the gospel: for all know that his imprisonment is for Christ, and the brethren have found it an encouragement to speak the word of the Lord [1.12-14]. Some, he says, “preach from envy and rivalry, bit others from good will”. That some Christians were suspicious of Paul may be seen in Galatians and the letters to the Corinthians. But, he says, he rejoices that Christ is preached. And he will rejoice, for whether his present state ends in deliverance or in death, he expects and hopes that he will not be ashamed, “but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honoured in my body, whether by life or by death”; it is here that the reading for today begins.
This passage has two parts: the first [21-26] is the conclusion of Paul’s thoughts as he ponders living and dying in Christ, the second [28-30] is an exhortation to the community to live in steadfast unity.
Detailed notes may be found at the RCL Commentary. I will only add here a quibble on their note on v.23, where St Paul writes “my desire is to depart and to be with Christ,” where “depart” is explained: “The word simply means die. There is no implication of separation of the soul from the burden of the body. [NJBC].” The word, ἀναλύω (analuo), does not “simply” mean die, whatever the usage was. There were words that “simply” meant die. In the sense of die analuo is a metaphor and thus is saying something about death. It simply means “to loose, dissolve” — from it we get our word “analyze”— it has an intransitive sense of “to loose” in order to departure, and thus “to depart”, and metaphorically to depart from this life. It is noteworthy that St Jerome used the Latin word “dissolvere,” which would suggest that the Greek word was not a dead metaphor. I would agree that “dissolve” says nothing about the soul being separated from the burden of the body, but I would suggest that it depicts death as the dissolution of the constituent parts of a human being whatever they may be.
The Holy Gospel according to St Matthew 20.1-16: The Parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard.
This parable, as Archbishop Trench pointed out, has almost as many different interpretations as the parable of the Unjust Steward. Trench argues that the parable can only be understood in the context of the four concluding verses of Chapter 19, and in particular 19:39. In our lectionary Matthew 19 is entirely omitted from the course of the Sunday Gospels of Year A, although the the parallel chapter, Mark 10 is read on Propers 27 and 28 of Year B.
Matthew 19 ends with the words “But many that are first will be last, and the last first”, which is mirrored in 20.16 “So the last will be first and the first last”. This supports the idea that the Lord’s intention in this parable was to establish the truth of this saying There are many that are first that shall be last, and last first. Others point out that such a reversal of things is quite missing from the parable itself, for all the labourers receive precisely the same wage, and are all made equal.
It should also be noted that this parable is only found in Matthew, which suggests that he had some sources of information not known to, or not used by, the other Synoptists. It also raises the question of how closely this parable is tied to the end of Chapter 19, if it does not follow the same material in the parallels.
Again I would refer you to the RCL Commentary for detailed notes .
The first reading today would suggest that the grumbling of the labourers should be noted as we read this Gospel passage. The labourers have been identified differently by different commentators. I suggest that the most useful way of thinking about it is to cast yourself in the rôle of the ones hired in the early morning and hear it that way.
An ancient writer known as the Pseudo-Chrysostom said to his congregation “Know then that we are the hired laborers,” and went on:.
But as no man gives wages to a laborer, to the end he should do nothing save only to eat, so likewise we were not thereto called by Christ, that we should labor such things only as pertain to our own good, but to the glory of God. And like as the hired laborer looks first to his task, and after to his daily food, so ought we to mind first those things which concern the glory of God, then those which concern our own profit. Also as the hired laborer occupies the whole day in his Lord's work, and takes but a single hour for his own meal; so ought we to occupy our whole life in the glory of God, taking but a very small portion of it for the uses of this world. And as the hired laborer when he has done no work is ashamed that day to enter the house, and ask his food; how should not you be ashamed to enter the church, and stand before the face of God, when you have done nothing good in the sight of God?
Perhaps a verse that can be used for meditation is "Are you envious because I am generous?" If envy does not plague us now, pondering on these words can help build our defense against it in time to come.
Note: The Feast of Saint Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist is not observed today, but is transferred to tomorrow.
Coming up on September 29th is the Feast of St Michael and All Angels, commonly known as Michaelmas. It is not too early to recall the traditional proverb: