Bible Study: 18 Pentecost, Proper 23 (A)

October 12, 2014

Jordan Trumble, Berkeley Divinity School at Yale

“For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:14)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Exodus 32:1-14Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23; Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14

Exodus 32:1-14

This week’s reading from Exodus takes place in the aftermath of one of the most recognizable Old Testament events: Moses receiving two tablets with the Ten Commandments from God. Yet, we often stop there and don’t consider what happens next. The reception of God’s commandments wasn’t just a triumphant moment when the Israelites finally knew what they were supposed to do and get on with their lives, living faithfully and blamelessly. As we read in this story, having clear divine direction for how to live doesn’t actually mean that we will be able to fully live into that which God calls us to do.

In this excerpt from Exodus, we hear of Aaron, the brother of Moses, and the Israelites who are waiting from Moses to come down from the mountain where he is communing with God. As they waited for Moses to return, the people grew impatient. To quell the crowd, Aaron took gold from the people and made a symbol, a golden calf, to represent God for the people. Yet, when God saw this, he was angry at the Israelites for worshipping a false god, filled with wrath.

This isn’t an emotion many of us enjoy using to describe God. It’s so much nicer to think of God as loving, gracious, kind and a variety of other things that do not include wrath. Yet, this passage offers us a chance to consider what it might mean for God to be wrathful. As God stormed and seethed over the Israelite’s behavior, Moses stood before God and testified to God’s power and might and God’s faithfulness to the Israelites in bringing them out of Egypt. And as Moses spoke, we read that “the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people” (v. 14).

We often speak about God being unchangeable, yet in this passage we hear a story about God’s mind being changed because of an interaction with Moses. What does it mean to you that God’s mind was changed? Is it possible that God can, at once, be both unchangeable but yet also changed?

At the beginning of this passage, the Israelites are caught up in their own impatience, which leads to their folly. Have you ever let impatience has led you to folly? Have you ever felt impatient with God? What sort of practices can help bring patience and active listening and waiting into your spiritual life?

Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23

This except from Psalm 106 picks up on the themes from the Exodus lesson, even going so far as to reference the “bull-calf” made at Mount Horeb (v. 19). This lesson moves from praise to petition and confession, showing the full range of human emotion and the complexities of being in relationship with God. The psalm begins with praise and thanksgiving for the goodness of God and a petition for God’s continuing faithfulness.

The second portion of the psalm, though, changes to a confessional tone. The psalmist addresses the shortcomings of the Israelites building a golden calf at Mount Horeb and for forgetting the faithfulness of God.

This psalm addresses the broad range of emotions and experiences that are part of the life of faith. When you think of your own faith life, how do you understand the relationship between praise, petition and confession? What spiritual practices do you have that help you balance these things?

Philippians 4:1-9

In this passage from Philippians, we read part of Paul’s letter urging members of the Philippian community to care for one another and to be of the same mind in the Lord (v. 2). He urges to the people of Philippi to stay strong and faithful even in the midst of hardship and to rejoice in the Lord always. He uses himself as a model and encourages the Philippians to remember him and his example of how to behave. We see in this passage that the work of the community is two-fold: Paul seeks to encourage the entire community in their lives of faith but also to promote the support of individuals who are struggling.

In times of hardship or in the midst of struggle, how do you practice spiritual self-care or encourage those around you?

Paul suggests to his readers that they should be of the same mind in Christ. What does it mean for you, personally, to be of the same mind in Christ, and how can you cultivate this practice in your own life?

Matthew 22:1-14

While the parables of Jesus can often be confusing or frustrating, the parable we hear in this week’s gospel lesson is a particularly difficult one. In this passage from Matthew, we hear the story of a king throwing a wedding banquet for his son. The king has invited a long list of guests, but even after being repeatedly sought out, none of those guests will come to the feast. The king then sends his slaves into the streets to find enough people to fill the seats at the wedding banquet. Yet, when the king sees that a man is not dressed appropriately for the event, the king throws him into the outer darkness.

This is, indeed, a difficult parable. So often, we look to the Bible and to the teachings of Christ for a word of hope or a word of grace, but it can sometimes be difficult to find that, especially in parables such as this one.

As you think about this passage, imagine yourself as one of the characters. Are you the king, throwing a lavish wedding banquet? Are you a wedding guest who has denied the generosity of the king? Or are you one of the people brought in from the streets, unprepared for the celebration at hand? When you consider this story from a different vantage point, how does it change how you hear this passage? Do you find a word of Good News in it?

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