Engaging the Word: Readings for 9/14/14 (14th Sunday after Pentecost)

By Barbara Klugh

Exodus 14:19-31; Canticle 8; Romans 14:1-12; Matthew 18:21-35. Go to www.lectionarypage.net for the weekly lectionary text. Another week of terrific readings: Moses and the people of Israel cross the Red Sea and sing praises to God, Paul tells us not to judge one another, and Jesus teaches that we must forgive one another from the heart.

By Rudolf von Ems (c.1350 - 1375). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
By Rudolf von Ems (c.1350 – 1375). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Exodus: In last week’s reading, we read about the tenth and final plague—the killing of the firstborn—and of the blood of the lamb that protected the Israelite families and the institution of Passover.

This event prompted Pharaoh to allow the Hebrews to leave Egypt. The Israelites begin to make their way through the wilderness, and God led the people as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Then God told Moses to turn back and camp by the Red Sea (Sea of Reeds). Pharaoh had second thoughts about losing his slave labor, and decided to pursue the Israelites with his horses, his army, and all the chariots of Egypt. When the Israelites saw the Egyptians coming after them, they freaked out, and complained to Moses (as they will many times). “But Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today, for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.’” (That’s a good verse to remember is all sorts of situations: “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”)

In this week’s reading, the Israelites are backed up to the sea and the situation looks bad. Pharaoh has them cornered, but the angel of God as a pillar of cloud came between the Egyptians and the Israelites. As God commanded, “Moses stretched out his hand over the sea.” A strong east wind blew all night and divided the waters. Then the Israelites crossed on dry ground.

God again commanded Moses to stretch out his hand over the sea. The Egyptian chariots became stuck in the mud, and when the waters returned all the army, chariots, and Egyptians were drowned. The Lord saved Israel and, at the same time, destroyed the Egyptian army. “So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.”

St Paul, by Pieter Harmensz. Verelst (1638–1678). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
St Paul, by Pieter Harmensz. Verelst (1638–1678). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Canticle: Instead of a psalm, we will read Canticle 8, The Song of Moses. Taken from Exodus 15, It’s the response of Moses and the people of Israel after the crossing of the Red Sea, so it’s a good choice to follow our Old Testament lesson. It will be familiar to many because we pray this canticle on Thursday mornings as part of Morning Prayer. It commemorates the Lord’s saving act at the Red Sea. If it seems a little too gleeful at the destruction of the Egyptians, we need to remember that the Israelites lived in Egypt for 430 years, much of that time as slaves.

Romans: This week’s reading is the final selection from Paul’s Letter to the Romans for this liturgical year. Paul continues to give practical advice on living the discipled life. He reminds us not to judge one another. What he’s saying is Christians have different opinions on some issues and practices. By way of example, Paul mentions that some Christians eat meat and some do not. What matters is that everything be done “in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.”

Chris Haslam writes that in the Roman culture it was bad form to pass judgment on someone else’s servant because the servant is answerable to his own lord and master. In the same way, each of us is answerable to God. We can remember a guideline mis-attributed to St. Augustine: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty, in everything, love.”

Parable of the Wicked Servant, by Domenico Fetti (1588 - 1623). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Parable of the Wicked Servant, by Domenico Fetti (1588 – 1623). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Matthew: Here’s an interesting tidbit from Daniel’s sermon today about last week’s reading. Read this sentence: Jesus said, “If another member of the church sins [against you], go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.” Daniel said that the words against you should be bracketed (as I have done), as they do not appear in the earliest texts. That makes for a big difference in meaning. So last week’s reading was a teaching about sin in general; this week’s reading is about a sin toward another individual.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Back in the day, the Rabbis taught that one should forgive three times, so Peter thought his example was generous. Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” Hint: think of how many times God has forgiven you!

To teach about forgiveness, Jesus tells a parable about an unforgiving servant. A servant owes his master, the king, a staggering sum of money. Because he can’t pay, he and his entire family are to be sold into slavery by the king. Desperate, the servant falls to his knees and begs for mercy. The king is moved with compassion, and forgives the entire debt.

Then the forgiven servant refuses to forgive a fellow slave for a small debt, and even seizes him by the throat and has him thrown into prison. When the king learned of his servant’s behavior, he withdrew his mercy and ordered the slave to be tortured. Jesus said, “So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” As we say in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”

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