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Proper 19 | Ordinary Time 24, Cycle A

Sunday between September 11 and September 17 inclusive

With their celebration of rejoicing over the mighty acts of the Lord in drowning the men in the armies of the Egyptian Pharaoh in the waters of the sea while parting the waters in Egypt and of the River Jordan to make it possible for the Israelites to pass over easily and safely on dry land, the Exodus 14:19-31, Psalm 114, and the Exodus 15:1b-11, 20-21 texts stand widely apart from the other texts selected for our use this coming weekend. All of the other texts selected are dominated by thoughts about God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others. In Romans 14:1-12, the emphasis is on ways in which we try to honor God whether we continue to live here for a long period of time or whether we die soon. We shall consider the Romans 14 text last, therefore, since it can be seen as a response to the other texts about forgiveness.

Exodus 14:19-31
The positive factors in this text are that the Lord rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and because the Israelites saw the miracles performed by the Lord they feared the Lord and believed in the Lord. The negative factors are that the Lord is presented as destroying the lives of Egyptian soldiers who were doing what they were ordered to do, with no consideration for the lives of the Egyptian soldiers and for the lives and sufferings of their parents, wives, and children. It is a text in which the Lord is entirely a military partisan, a text in which the Lord is a God of war, a weapon of war. Without that weapon, the Israelites would not have been victorious.

Exodus 15:1b-11, 20-21
What is expressed in prose form in Exodus 14 above is expressed in poetry in Exodus 15. The shorter Song of Miriam in 15:20-21 is expanded upon considerably in the Song of Moses and of the people of Israel in 15:1-18. Miriam and the women, with timbrel and dance, celebrated the destruction of the Egyptian armies and the triumph over them that the Lord had accomplished. While it is important that we are aware of these texts, we should analyze and study them critically in biblical study contexts rather than to read them, often without comment, within our worship services.

Psalm 114
In another poetic expression of the triumph of the Lord in bringing the Israelite people out of Egypt and across the Jordan River into the land ruled by the Lord, the entire earth is told to tremble and to worship the Lord God of Israel.

Genesis 50:15-21
In this short portion near the conclusion of the Joseph story we have a beautiful gem of forgiveness. Joseph refuses to be vindictive even after his father’s death, implying that only God has the right to judge Joseph’s brothers. Joseph’s brothers had intended evil to come to Joseph, but God intended everything that happened to Joseph to be for the good of many people who survived the seven years of famine because Joseph had been sent to Egypt. In the light of God’s action in bringing good out of what the brothers of Joseph had intended for evil, not only does Joseph refuse to punish his brothers, but he also provides for them and for their families. By means of this gracious act, Joseph demonstrates the nature of God and at the same time provides an excellent example and role model for young men and women to follow. This wisdom motif of an excellent role model for young people to follow is one of the primary purposes of the Joseph story in its canonical form. Also contained within the Joseph story are large amounts of Israelite tribal history and life experiences to which we have no other comparable access.

In the Joseph story, the hand of God is shown here in Genesis 50:15-21 and in Genesis 45:5-15 in the repeated refrain, “God sent me before you to preserve life.” That refrain has provided a model of hope for Jewish leaders during conditions of extreme suffering for them throughout their history, including the pogroms in Eastern Europe and in the Holocaust.

We should not leave this text without the comment that this text — as well as the Psalm 103 account chosen to be used with it — has not a trace of legalism regarding forgiveness. These Older Testament texts are satisfied to provide exemplary models of forgiveness by Joseph (Genesis 50:15-21) and by the Lord (Psalm 103:1-13). In contrast, the Matthew 18:21-35 text ends with a legalistic threat of God-ordered imprisonment until the last coin of debt is paid for all of the followers of Jesus who do not forgive their fellow believers from their hearts.

Psalm 103:(1-7) 8-13
Within this individual hymn of praise, the gracious forgiveness of the Lord is acclaimed joyfully and repeatedly. The examples given are general enough that they can be used basically as they are even today. An unrehearsed responsive reading of this psalm during the worship service is hardly adequate for this occasion when God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others will be highlighted. Hundreds of years prior to God’s splendid act of forgiveness of sins by means of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, the often-repeated Israelite description of the Lord as “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” was expanded with line after line of acclamation and analogy in this Psalm 103. Therefore, we should use this psalm heavily within our worship services this coming weekend in our message and in our songs.

Matthew 18:21-35
Because this Matthew 18:23-35 parable of judgment is known so well by most of the people within our worshiping congregations, perhaps we could use the parable best as a basis for a children’s sermon message told in our own words. The “gospel” in the parable is seen in the mercy that the lord of the servant showed in 18:27 by releasing the servant and canceling the huge debt owed to the lord. The parenesis is seen in the requirement that we forgive the sins and debts other people have incurred, just as God in Christ has forgiven our sins. Both for the children and for the adults we should note the similarity between this parable and the petition in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our sins as we have forgiven the sins of those who have sinned against us.” Finally, the importance of forgiveness can be summarized by a reference to the saying about how often we should forgive that we have in Matthew 18:21-22.

Romans 14:1-12
Our understanding of this text is greatly increased when we realize that Paul was emphasizing that Jesus Christ is Lord of all, of the dead as well as of the living, as he wrote to followers of Jesus who were living in Rome itself, where Caesar was being acclaimed increasingly as lord of all. In spite of the risks to Paul and to those to whom he was writing, Paul wrote that “If we live, we live in a close relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord, and if we die, we die in a close relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord.” As in Philippians 2:10-11, Paul wrote here that soon every knee shall bend to the Lord Jesus Christ and every tongue shall confess him. Implied in this is the assertion that soon even Caesar himself and those who acclaim Caesar as lord will bend their knees at the name of Jesus Christ and confess that he is their Lord. In order to provide a biblical base for this, Paul quoted Isaiah 45:23, and implied that where Adonai was acclaimed as Lord in the Isaiah text Jesus Christ raised from the dead is now Lord.

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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