Friday, September 26, 2008

Lectionary Notes

Thoughts on the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 26, Year A
September 28, AD 2008
Dear Readers,
This week has been one of business and distractions, and not at all conducive to study and reflection on the readings for the coming Sunday. Nonetheless, here are some observations as we enter the weekend.
The Sentence
“My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord; I know them and they follow me” is taken from St John 10.27; the Roman Missal uses the same sentence for this Sunday’s Alleulia verse. The sentence gives no particular emphasis to a theme for the day; rather it invites us to hear the voice of Christ in the Holy Gospel.
The Collect
is also found in the American Book of Common Prayer on Proper 16, the Sunday nearest August 24. It emphasises that the unity of the Church comes as we are gathered in the Holy Spirit, and suggests that as far as we do not share that unity we will not show forth God’s power among all peoples.
The Readings

The First Reading
In Exodus 17.1-7 we continue to follow the people of Israel as they journey towards their encounter with the Lord at Mount Sinai. This reading is omitted at St Matthias because of the Intergenerational Service this Sunday. Since we keep the Feast of the Dedication on October 5th, we shall also miss the reading from Exodus 20, which tells the story of the Theophany at Sinai. It might be helpful to read thse two passages on your own, so that you can stay in touch with the lectionary.
Some things to be noted:
In verse 1 we are told that Israel journeyed “by stages”, that is, from camp to camp. A more detailed narrative is found in Chapter 33 of the Biik of Numbers.
The motif of water from the stricken rock is also found in Numbers 20.2-13. In later legend this rock was said to have followed the Israelites on their journeys. St Paul refers to this legend in 1 Corinthians 10.4, where also speaks of the rock as a type of Christ.
Although I am not always happy with the New Revised Standard Version, I must give them credit for using “Israelites” where the literal meaning is “sons” or “children of Israel”. It is generally thought better to avoid “sons” in modern English; and while “children” is inclusive it has other drawbacks. But the ending “–ite” signifies “one belonging to”, and in the plural “the people of” so that Israelite avoids the problem of exclusivity while nicely capturing the sense of the original.
Although Psalm 78 is chosen as the reflection on this readng in today’s mass, and the Roma Missal uses selections from Psalm 25, the classic link is to Psalm 95.8-11, which also ties in Numbers 20.1-13 and Numbers 14.33. This is all brought into sevice of the Christian religion in the reflection in the third chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews.
The Psalm
Psalm, 78.1-4, 12-16, like Psalms 105, 106, 135, and 136, simply recites the history of God’s dealings with Israel. 78 puts a particular emphasis on the disobedience and ingratitudeof the people. Verses 12-53 record God’s care for his people during the Exodus and the wandering jn the wilderness, and the section chosen for today reflects particularly oin the incident at the Rock of Horeb. .
The Epistle
Philippians 2.1-13. Writing from prison, St Paul urges the Christians at Philippi in Macedonia to be of one mind, the mind of Christ, following his way of humility. We are more accustomed to hearing he central part of this reading at Christmastide and Passiontide, for it is the grat hymn of Christ’s self giving in the Incarnation and Passion, and of God’s triumphant Yes! to all he did in te Resurrection and Ascension. When we read it in this season of the “ordinary Sundays” perhaps we can look more at ourselves, seeking to find the humility of spirit without which we can never have true unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
As is often pointed out, verses 6 to 11 are considered to be an ancient Christian hymn. The reasons for this are set out in RCL “Clippings” [see]
In the first verse the words translated “any compassion and sympathy” are literally, “any bowels and mercies” This is our friend σπλάγχνα again, compassion in the very lteral sense of feeling the other person’s condition in your guts. In the Elizabethan Book of Homilies, the econd part of the Homily against Contention comments on this verse:

Who is he that hath any bowels of pity, that will not be moved with these words so pithy? Whose heart is so stony that the sword of these words, which may be more sharp than any two edged sword, may not cut an break asunder? Wherefore, let us endeavour to fulfil St Paul’s joy here in this place, which shall be at length our great joy in another place.

The Holy Gospel
Matthew 21.23-32 is in two parts. The Gospel passage for today in the Roman Missal is only the second part, the parable of the Two Sons.
This week I nothing much to add to the notes on this passage in the RCL Commentary. I do think that the words “the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you” deserve to be stressed. I suspect that some people read this correctly but are thinking instead of you. The phrase can in fact, mean go ahead of you in the sense of “lead the way”. It would do no violence to the text to read it as “the tax collectors and prostitutes will lead you into the kingdom.” There’s something to meditate on this week!

Tomorrow is the Feast of St Michael and All Angels. Don’t forget the goose.

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