By Barbara Klugh
Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20; Psalm 19; Philippians 3:4b-14; Matthew 21:33-46 Go to www.lectionarypage.net for the weekly lectionary text.
Another week of important readings: God give Moses the Ten Commandments, David praises God fors magnificent creation of heaven and earth, Paul regards all his credentials as rubbish compared to his faith in the risen Christ, and Jesus tells the Parable of the Wicked Tenants, angering the religious leaders.
Exodus: In last week’s reading, the grumbling Israelites asked Moses for water and God provided. About three months later (“on the third new moon”), they reached Mount Sinai. It’s a shame the lectionary had to skip the encounter when Moses went up to God (chap 19). God told Moses to tell the Israelites, “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself….if you obey my voice and keep my covenant you shall be my treasured possession….a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” Thrilling words—they give me the shivers.
The Israelites promise to do as the Lord has spoken; they purify themselves, and camp at the foot of the mountain. On the third day, the Lord appears with thunder and lightning, a thick cloud, the blast of a trumpet. Moses goes up the mountain to meet God.
Our reading begins with God’s voice from the cloud, and God proclaims the Ten Commandments, also known as The Decalogue, the moral code that is to guide and govern the Israelites as God’s chosen people. The first four commandments set out our duty to God, and the last six relate to our duty to our neighbors. The Commandments follow the standard pattern of ancient Near Eastern treaties, especially between overlords and their vassals. You may want to turn to p. 847 in the Prayer Book and read our church’s teaching about Ten Commandments in our Catechism.
As Daniel pointed out in his sermons on September 27 and 28 (listen online at gracetc.blogspot.com), what follows is the beginning of the sad and heartbreaking tale of God’s people promptly moving away from their vocation to serve as God’s priests to the world, and handing over the responsibility to intermediaries—professional holy people—like Moses (and Daniel and Katheryn). The frightened people said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses told them not to be afraid, but it felt safer to them to relinquish the very vocation to which they were called, the very vocation for which God set them free. And, all too often, we, too, look to the ordained clergy to tell us what to do, instead of listening to God’s voice for ourselves. As Daniel said in his sermons, we are not the crowd; we are Moses; we need to bring the living water to God’s children.
Psalm: In this his week’s psalm, David praises God who is revealed in heaven and on earth and even in the laws God has given us to live by. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork….Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Our Hymn 43, “The stars declare his glory” paraphrases Psalm 19.
Philippians: In this week’s reading, Paul writes about circumcision, specifically addressing those Christians, known as Judaizers, who argued that the Gentile followers of Jesus needed to be circumcised and follow the laws of Moses. In the verses before our reading, Paul advised the Philippians to “Beware of the dogs, the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh….” This must have been a big deal at the time, because Paul addressed the issue in his letter to the Galatians as well. And, as you may remember, in Acts 15 the council in Jerusalem debated this issue, and decided that saved Gentiles need not be circumcised and follow all of Mosaic law. Throughout Paul’s letters, he strives to make the point that righteousness comes from faith in Jesus Christ, not from following the law.
Paul uses himself as an example. He had all the Jewish credentials—circumcised, a member of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew, a Pharisee, blameless under the law, and even a persecutor of the early church. But he counts all that as worthless because of his faith in the risen Christ. Paul writes, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” Although Paul had made progress, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Matthew: This week’s reading continues Jesus’ verbal sparring with the scribes and Pharisees during the last week of his life. Jesus tells another vineyard parable, found in all the synoptic gospels, known as the Parable of the Wicked Tenants. A landowner planted a fully equipped vineyard and leased it out to tenants for a share of the final crop in payment. At harvest time, two times the landowner sent his slaves to collect his produce; the tenants beat, killed, and stoned them. The third time he sends his son, saying, “They will respect my son.” But the tenants killed the son in order to gain his inheritance. Jesus asks his listeners what the landowner will do to the tenants. They answer, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”
This parable is an allegory. The landowner stands for God, and the vineyard represents Israel, the slaves are the prophets, and Jesus is the son. The tenants are the Jewish leadership. Again and again, God sent prophets to lead the Israelites and they were insulted, imprisoned and even killed. Jesus quotes from Psalm 118: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” To me, Jesus is predicting his own death. They can kill his body, but he won’t stay dead. Jesus never backs off.
For centuries, the leaders of Israel have betrayed God’s trust and have not borne good fruit. Therefore, their authority will be taken away and “given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.” The chief priests and the Pharisees realized Jesus was talking about them, but they were afraid to arrest him because the crowds regarded Jesus as a prophet.