By Barbara Klugh
Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32. Go to www.lectionarypage.net for the weekly lectionary text. In this week’s readings, the Israelites continue to complain, and God continues to provide, Paul urges us to embody the humility of Jesus Christ, and Jesus outmaneuvers the religious authorities.
Exodus: In this week’s reading, which we read earlier this year during Lent, Moses and the Israelites are traveling “by stages” on their journey to the Promised Land. (Numbers 33:1-49 summarizes the 42 stages, or stopping points, on their 40-year journey.) God has delivered them out of Egypt, divided the Red Sea, made bitter water sweet at Mara, sent them manna and quail to eat. Now you would think they would not only be grateful, but also trust that God will continue to provide for them. Instead, they are camped at Rephidim, and complaining to Moses of their thirst. “So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” God commanded Moses to strike “the rock at Horeb” and water will come out, which it did. Moses “called the place Massah [testing] and Meribah [quarreling; strife], because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’”
God has provided for the Israelites time and time again, yet the people still don’t get it. Maybe being in captivity for 400 years had something to do with it—sort of a learned helplessness combined with a lack of trust in the future.
Psalm: Like Psalm 105 that we’ve been praying recently, Psalm 78 is also a history lesson of sorts (though scholars put them in the “unclassified” or “miscellaneous” category). In its 72 melodic verses, we learn of God’s goodness and Israel’s rebellion from the Exodus to the time of David. This story is told so that we might learn from our ancestors and live differently. The portion of the psalm we are reading this week recalls that God divided the Red Sea, led the Israelites with a cloud by day and a fire by night, and provided water from a rock. We stop at verse 16; verse 17 says, “But they went on sinning against him, rebelling in the desert against the Most High.”
Philippians: Much of this week’s reading will be familiar because for the past several years we prayed Philippians 2:5-11 as our Acclamation of Faith during Lent. This passage is one of the most profound statements about Jesus in all of the New Testament, and is thought to be an ancient Christian hymn.
Paul begins by telling the Philippians that his joy will be complete if they live in unity and humility with the mind of Christ as their model. Paul urges the Philippians (and us) to follow Christ’s ultimate example of humility. It is because Jesus gave up all that was his—his divine authority, his equality with God, his very life!—that God raised him from the dead has given him the highest place of all. The hymn proclaims, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend…and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Matthew: Last week’s reading told the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard. Although the sequence of the lectionary is chronological, it has skipped over a few stories—the request by the mother of James and John for her sons to sit by Jesus’ side in the kingdom, Jesus’ healing of the two blind men, Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the cleansing of the temple, and the cursing of the fig tree. So now, we are in the last week of Jesus’ life.
Jesus drove out the money-changers, and then entered the temple again the following day. The chief priests and elders confront Jesus as to the source of his authority to do what he does. Jesus answers their question with his own question. He asks them if John the Baptist came from heaven or not. That put the religious authorities in a tight spot, and they answered Jesus by saying, “We do not know.” Since they didn’t answer Jesus’ question, he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”
Then Jesus tells the Parable of the Two Sons. A father asks his sons to work in the vineyard. The first son says he won’t, but then does. The second son says he will but then doesn’t. Jesus then compares the first son to the tax collectors and prostitutes who accepted the message of John the Baptist, and said that they will go into God’s kingdom ahead of them. Jesus says the religious elders can be compared to the second son, because they are supposedly righteous, but even after they heard John’s message of repentance, and saw the impact John was making, they didn’t change their minds.
John Hiigel in Partnering with the King comments, “As we live out our allegiance to the King, we too may have to stand up to some reputable people—even the religiously reputable—who are really just refined bullies. And we will unashamedly identify ourselves with some disreputable people because they have become Jesus’ people. Both acts require courage.”