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Proper 21 | Ordinary Time 26, Cycle A

Sunday between September 25 and October 1 inclusive

Every adequate message based on the texts selected for this coming weekend will address in some way the question of individual accountability to God for our sins and for all our actions and attitudes, as well as the issue of the damage caused by our sins that may harm and hinder our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Such a message will give ample evidence of our struggles with these issues. Such a message will recognize that changes in human perspectives of God and of human conditions occurred among the People of God during and within the biblical period and changes in human perspectives of God and of human conditions occur today within the living, dynamic Word of God, both written and oral.

Exodus 17:1-7
As in the Exodus 16:1-6, 37-45 text considered this past weekend, here also the pre-Israelites in the desolate areas in the Sinai region are depicted as murmuring against the Lord and against Moses. In this instance the Lord instructs Moses, giving directions regarding how and where to strike the rock at Horeb so that fresh water will spring from it. These texts and the texts following them are indications that there were consequences of the sins of the people. Their generation would not enter the land the Lord had promised to provide for them. Instead, they would wander for forty years in the desolate areas.

Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16
Although only nine verses of this psalm have been chosen for use in our worship services this coming weekend, we should prepare for the service by reading the entire psalm. In this psalm it is amply stated that although the Lord provided food and water in response to the complaints of the people, there were serious negative consequences for the complaining actions and attitudes of the people.

Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
As we use this Ezekiel 18 text in the message this weekend, we can share within the worshiping congregation something about how this Ezekiel 18 text demonstrates that in spite of much resistance by many people theological insights from God do change, grow, and are developed in part in relation to changing political, social, and cultural conditions. Many of the congregations in which we serve, especially many of the older and more mature ones, will be able to see this from their own experiences and in the light of their own theological insights and development. They will be able to see that there is validity in both observations made in Ezekiel 18, that “When the fathers eat sour grapes, the children’s teeth are set on edge,” and that “The person who sins shall die!”

The methodology that Ezekiel and the editors and redactors of the Ezekiel traditions used was excellent and provides a model for us to use when changes are necessary within the Church and within the congregations in which we serve. The model in Ezekiel was not to say that “We and our rules and lifestyles were wrong in the past and we must reject them and make changes now.” Instead of attempting to persuade the people that the older ways were wrong, they condensed the older rules into a proverb, “The fathers ate sour grapes and the children’s teeth were set on edge” and placed alongside it another proverb in which it was said that the “The person who sins shall die.” Instead of saying we were wrong, they said essentially that from now on within our changed situation we understand it in this way.

Psalm 25:1-9
Ezekiel and the editors and redactors of the Ezekiel traditions were obviously aware that changes were necessary in the perceptions of God and of themselves after they had been deported to Babylon and their corporate existence as a nation had ended. These changes in perspectives put more emphasis on the belief that God holds individuals accountable as individuals instead of corporate accountability. This explains why the persons who selected the texts for the lectionary we are using chose Psalm 25 materials with their emphasis on the sins and the disobedience of individuals and on the obedience of individuals to be used with Ezekiel 18.

Matthew 21:23-32
This Matthean parable about a man who had two sons and asked each of them to work in his vineyard expresses the emphasis this week about holding individual persons accountable by using a parable rather than a proverb. The son who with all honesty said to his father, “I do not want to go to work in the vineyard,” but later changed his attitude and actions and went to work in the vineyard is presented as having been obedient to his father. The son who said, “I shall go, sir!” but did not do what he had promised and did not actually work in the vineyard is presented as being disobedient to his father. The application of the parable in the latter portions of the text (21:31b-32) was probably affected by experiences and observations made by early inspired followers of Jesus. Unlike Lukan parables that are similar to this one, such as the Lukan parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32, the son mentioned first here is the one who is said to have acted correctly by changing his attitude and actions and is not allegorically symbolic of Israel and the son mentioned second is not allegorically symbolic of early followers of Jesus. It is interesting to note that the writers of some later manuscripts of the Greek text of Matthew reversed the depictions of the sons in order to make this Matthean parable correspond more closely to the Lukan parables.

Philippians 2:1-13
In the Matthean parable about the man who sent his two sons to work in his vineyard, the test of accountability of the sons is tied to their actions, not to the answer that they each had given to the request made by the father. In Philippians 2:1-5 the Apostle Paul urged that in their actions, and in their attitudes as well, the Philippians should follow the example set by Jesus, the man who did not selfishly grasp for divinity as people characteristically do, but who emptied himself (heauton ekenosen) by being obedient to God, even to the point of death on the cross and is now highly acclaimed above the earth, on the earth, and under the earth.

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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