Posts Tagged 'Proper 22'

For October 5, 2014: Proper 22, Year A

The Reading                                                                           Isaiah 5:1-7

Isaiah 5:1-7 begins in Isaiah’s voice as a love song and praise of a promising vineyard. At verse 3, the voice is the Lord’s: the carefully tended vineyard produces nothing worthwhile, and so it is to be destroyed. The last verse returns to Isaiah’s voice: the bad vineyard is God’s people, producing bloodshed rather than justice.

The Response                                     Psalm 80:7-14

Rather like Isaiah 5:1-7, Psalm 80:7-14 begins with a promising planting by the Lord of hosts. The vine out of Egypt is Israel, flourishing from the Mediterranean Sea to the Euphrates River—but now its grapes are plucked by all comers and its leaves are animal fodder, unless the Lord turns and saves it.

The Epistle                                                            Philippians 3:4b-14

In Philippians 3:4b-14, Paul is more than usually forthright: though the Jews are God’s chosen people and he the best Jew by birth and accomplishment, all of that is a steaming pile of skubalon (‘rubbish’ is a very polite translation) when it comes to earning righteousness and (better yet!) knowing Jesus.

The Gospel                                                                 Matthew 21:33-46

Jesus’ parable in Matthew 21:33-46 tells of another lovingly built vineyard; this time it is not the vine or the fruit that is faulty, but tenants who choose not to uphold their end of a bargain and use violence to keep what is not theirs. This is much less a story to shame “the Jews” than it is a warning against self-righteousness.

Further thoughts

It is easy and tempting to take readings like those for Proper 22 as indictments of the wickedness of the Jews as a whole. It is even more tempting to do so in challenging times, and the history of the world makes all too plain that Church and people have succumbed to that temptation with shocking regularity in the past two millennia.

But that misses the point of all the readings. First, the vineyard owners devoted all that effort to their respective vineyards precisely because they had reason to expect the best results from land and vines: that is, if anyone is producing good fruit of the Spirit, it will surely be the people who are and have been in covenant with the Lord. Second, up until the advent of modern democracy it was understood that a nation is no better than its leaders: the rant in Isaiah is aimed not at ordinary Jews but rather at the religious and governmental authorities that have led them astray. Similarly, with the parable of the vineyard Jesus targets the group of those who by virtue of more rigorous upbringing, deeper training in Torah, and higher spiritual discipline should have been better placed than anyone else to recognize who Jesus really is and what is at stake—but did not.

Paul makes the point more personal. The list of attributes with which Philippians 3:4b-14 opens is there to establish him as very much a Jew—in fact, the cream of the crop of Judaism, and perhaps the very most observant Jew ever to walk the earth. But even all that righteousness got him absolutely nowhere without the overflowing grace of God.

Having said all this, however, he is determined to let his life be his thanks by bearing the best possible fruit for all peoples in the kingdom of God. What if you and I were to go and do likewise?

For Oct. 6, 2013: Proper 22, Year C

The Reading            Lamentations 1:1-6

The book of Lamentations paints a vivid picture of the disaster foretold by Jeremiah: Jerusalem is conquered, the Temple is in ruins, and most of her people are in forced exile. Each detail reinforces the image of Jerusalem as an abandoned woman suffering grievously but justifiably: because she persistently broke the covenants, God has revoked God’s protection and promises.

The Response            Lamentations 3:19-26

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end.”

The Epistle            2 Timothy 1:1-14

Textual evidence suggests that the letters to Timothy were written in the apostle Paul’s name but some time after his death. The writer commends his addressee for carrying forward the faith of his grandmother and mother, at the same time exhorting him to hold fast to it and not to be ashamed either of the testimony to that faith or of suffering for it.

The Gospel            Luke 17:5-10

“‘Do you thank the slave for doing what he was commanded?’”

Further thoughts

This Sunday’s readings speak of loss, hope, and steadfastness.

The reading from Lamentations depicts Jerusalem friendless and deserted. Through the patriarchs and prophets God had promised Israel self-rule as a leader of nations, protection from her enemies, numberless sons and daughters who would never face exile, and a descendant of David always on the throne—if Jerusalem kept the covenants. She did not do her part. As a result she is now a client state at the whim of the Babylonian empire, her former allies have gone over to the other side, those few of her children who have not been marched away at gunpoint are in hiding, and the throne of David stands empty. Worse, the temple is desecrated and ruined, so there is no longer any place to perform the sacrifices and make the prayers that the Law commands.

Yet the response, also from Lamentations, sings of hope: all these calamities have come to pass—but pass, they will: what endures is God’s love, for God honors God’s covenant even when we do not.

The epistle was written in times as trying in their way. Most authorities place the time of writing toward the end of the first century AD: Jerusalem is in the control of the Romans, the temple is once again destroyed, and Christianity is still illegal. Timothy faces hardship, humiliation, and even death in the service of Christ Jesus. But Jesus has abolished death—not that any of us will stop dying physically or cease to have reason to grieve, but the Holy Spirit in us will guard us and keep us in the way of love.

The gospel counsels steadfastness. The disciples demand more faith, and are doubtless disappointed in Jesus’ response. First, he tells them that the abundance it takes to command a big tree to pull up roots and place itself where no tree belongs—a showy act, but far from practical—isn’t one of faith. Then he gives them a less spectacular but more durable vision: the slave who sees to the master’s needs first, not to garner glory but simply because that is how the everyday things that most need doing (and most give blessing) get done.


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