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Proper 20 | Ordinary Time 25, Cycle A

Sunday between September 18 and September 24 inclusive

The goodness of God is the dominant theme in these texts. Because of the goodness of God, the Apostle Paul was able to write that it would actually be better for him personally to die and to be with Christ, although he was willing to continue to endure the trials and tribulations of his present existence for the sake of his fellow believers in Philippi. We can effectively utilize the Philippians text, therefore, as an expression of our confident response to the amazing goodness of God. Because God is so good (particularly from the Christian perspective of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as the Christ), we can be free and confident either to live or to die, free and confident both to live and to die. Therefore, all of these texts are gospel for us — God’s grace to be accepted by faith.

Exodus 16:2-15
What is most amazing about the goodness of God as depicted in this text is that God miraculously provided food for the pre-Israelites in the wilderness even though they were murmuring and grumbling against the Lord. Even though they were not able to escape from their condition of slavery in Egypt without the many miraculous interventions that the Lord had provided for them, now that they were safely away from the Egyptian armies, they said they would have preferred to have been killed by the Lord while they were still slaves in Egypt rather than to die from starvation in the wilderness, because at least in Egypt they had ample food to eat when they had been slaves. After all those miracles the Lord had provided for them, instead of respectfully asking the Lord for help, they were complaining bitterly to the Lord.

Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45
The psalmist urges the people of Israel to remember the goodness of God, the wondrous mighty acts of God that made it possible for them to survive and to become a nation within the land the Lord had provided for them. The link to the Exodus 16:2-15 account is the mention in Psalm 105:40 of the Lord providing quails and bread from heaven to sustain them in the wilderness.

Jonah 3:10–4:11
The goodness of the Lord in this conclusion to the Jonah story is even more amazing than the goodness of the Lord in providing manna and quail for the pre-Israelites who complained ungratefully to the Lord that the Lord was killing them in the wilderness from starvation and lack of water. God is presented in the Jonah story as being so good and merciful that when the notoriously cruel people of Nineveh who had caused so much horrible suffering for the people of Israel repented of their sins, God spared them. In addition, God is portrayed in the Jonah story as being patient with God’s most wayward prophet Jonah who was so displeased God had spared the Ninevites that Jonah’s repeated refrain was it would be better for him to die than to live. God is depicted in this story as far more merciful and good than any human being could ever be.

Psalm 145:1-8
Many positive statements are made about the Lord in the portions of this psalm that have been selected for our use here. The Lord is said to be great, gracious, merciful, patient, kind, good, compassionate, just, and accessible to all who call upon the Lord in truth. Verse 9 should be included with verses 1-8 since verses 8 and 9 are obviously paired in thought and in structure.

Philippians 1:21-30
This text is evidence of the close relationship Paul enjoyed with the followers of Jesus in Philippi. Paul was concerned here, as always in his letters, about the lifestyle appropriate for followers of Jesus during the time before the coming of the Day of the Lord. In this instance, however, Paul was also writing about appropriate “deathstyle.” Paul wrote about how he perceived his own death, an event that would almost certainly occur soon if Paul would defiantly proclaim during his trial to the zealous advocates of Roman Civil Religion who held him in prison and who would accuse him that “Jesus the Christ raised from the dead — not Caesar — is Lord!” as Paul was bold enough to write in Philippians 2:10-11 and as he had previously written in Romans 14:11. For Paul, because of the gracious goodness of God, Paul’s death would merely be a “graduation” to a new and better life with Christ. The style in which he would die, however, was of great importance to Paul. He wanted to die in “Christ-style,” and he wanted the followers of Jesus in Philippi also to die in “Christ-style.”

Matthew 20:1-16
This parable about the Laborers in the Vineyard occurs in the Newer Testament only in Matthew. Regardless of whether it was told by the Jesus of history within a Palestinian Jewish setting or whether it was developed within the Matthean tradition as a polemic against the Jews (who had been first but now after the Jewish revolt in 66 CE had been crushed were last), the parable is a beautiful expression of the goodness and grace of God. The sense of the key verse 20:15 is basically, “Do I not have the same right to do what I wish with what belongs to me that you have to do what you wish with what belongs to you? Are you going to continue to look at me with evil intent simply because I am doing something good for someone else?”

Goodness and grace, rather than generosity, are the crucial divine qualities here. Presumably the laborers who had begun their work late in the afternoon needed a day’s wage just as much as those who had labored all day, and because of God’s goodness and grace they received it. If God’s generosity had been the factor to be emphasized, the story could have provided for the laborers who had toiled throughout the day a generous bonus for their efforts.

Any message we share based on these texts, whether the message is expressed in story form, in three parts that develop a theme, or otherwise, should emphasize the goodness and grace of God rather than God’s generosity. Does not God through God’s goodness and grace supply that which we need in order that we may live, die, and live again? Each of us, through faith in what we believe God has done for us and does for us in Jesus as the Christ, can accept the goodness and the grace of God for ourselves if we wish to do so. On the other hand, there is little or no evidence God lavishly showers riches on us simply because we believe in God, or because we toil long and hard through the burden and heat of the day.

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen