Bible Study: 22 Pentecost, Proper 27 (A)

November 9, 2014

Hunter Ruffin, Seminary of the Southwest

“Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:13)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25Psalm 78:1-7; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25

Memory is a powerful vehicle for us as intellectual creatures. Memory connects the past to the present state of things and helps us recall the stories told by our ancestors. Memory works its magic in the stories that we tell to each other as we recollect the years past, which helps us make sense of the present condition. As L. Daniel Hawk points out in the Berit Olam series’ “Joshua” (Liturgical Press, 2000), in Chapter 24, Joshua begins by connecting the leaders of Israel to the past – both near and far – as a way to exhort Israel to choose life through their worship of the Lord.

In this episode, Joshua calls Israel to make a decision for itself – whom will Israel serve? Will the people choose to serve foreign gods, or will Israel choose to serve the Lord? When the people respond that they will serve the Lord, their response also recounts the history of the people of Israel and the ways that the Lord helped the people of Israel. The result is a covenant that Joshua makes with the people and creates new statutes and ordinances for them. Memory helped the people remember that they are to serve the Lord. Hawk writes that the memory of the past reveals that the covenant is a freely chosen commitment to the Lord of the people’s hearts and lives.

What memories do you keep close to your heart? How do those memories remind you of the love that God showers on God’s people?

In what ways can you recommit your heart and life to God, today?

Psalm 78:1-7

Just as Joshua used memory to call to the people of Israel to choose the Lord, the psalmist also uses memory to remind the present congregation of the “praiseworthy deeds” (Book of Common Prayer, pp. 694-695) of the Lord. The psalmist wants the people to remember the “mysteries of ancient times” (Book of Common Prayer, pp. 694-695) and, as Konrad Schaefer observes in the Berit Olam series on “Psalms” (Liturgical Press, 2001), to remember the ways in which the Lord protected Israel. Memory and remembering continues to instruct the present congregation in the ways of the Lord.

Schaefer also notes that the psalmist’s use of memory is an instruction about faithfulness, fidelity to God. The poet is exhorting the present congregation to remember themselves as God’s people and to commit themselves to being faithful to the Lord by not forgetting the deeds of God. The work of memory and remembering is the way the people avoid past mistakes while forgetting dooms the people to repeat past mistakes.

“Re-membering,” putting the people back together as a whole, stimulates the people’s wonder in God’s deeds within creation and connects them to having a deeper faith and faithfulness in God.

Search through your own memories. Where can you identify that God was at work in your life?

What memories serve as a call to forgiveness for yourself? What memories ask you to forgive another?

How does the act of remembering your own life inform your faith in God?

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, the power of memory is once again at work; however, the memories of loved ones by the community at Thessalonica now serve to create deep, worrisome questions for the community. As Charles Cousar points out in his commentary “Eschatological Encouragement” (Smyth & Helwys, 2001), though there is no evidence of a letter from the community to Paul, it appears that Paul is attempting to respond to a concern held by the community relating to the fate of those that have died before Christ’s return.

In fashion similar to Joshua and the psalmist, Paul uses memory to call the community into hopefulness through Christ. Through the memory of Christ’s resurrection, Paul speaks words of hope to the people in Thessalonica in a time of grief. Unlike others who have no hope in death, the community is reminded of the hope that is discovered in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Cousar explains that the resurrection of Christ opens a new door to a new future that grants hope to those that live and those that have died.

The death of loved ones prior to Christ’s return does not mean that they will be left or that they will be the last to experience the resurrected Christ. In fact, Paul says the exact opposite: The dead will be the first to bask in the warmth of Christ’s love in the Resurrection. Cousar notes that the cry of command, the archangel’s call and the sound of God’s trumpet are all military images that announce the coming of the one that will destroy all powers and principalities, including the power of death.

How do you encounter the risen Christ in your daily living? In what ways is Christ calling you toward the hopefulness of the Resurrection?

How does the return of Christ speak to you? How does remembering the hope experienced in Christ’s resurrection call you into faithfulness to God through Christ?

Matthew 25:1-13

The parable of the 10 maidens in the Gospel According to Matthew is definitely one of the more difficult parables for modern listeners. The parable features a group of 10 women who take lamps to the wedding feast, but only five of the women are wise enough to take extra oil with them in the event that the bridegroom is delayed. The parable features two different realities: the hope of the coming of the bridegroom and the dismissal of those who followed false teachings.

The split in the group of women is a focus on the positive and negative behavior of different members of the community. In his commentary “The Gospel of Matthew” (Liturgical Press, 2001), Daniel Harrington writes that the women who exemplify the positive behavior are granted entry to the wedding feast while the women who exemplify negative behavior are kept out. The parable is one more analysis of the relations between Matthew’s community and the Jewish community surrounding it. The conflict is focused on the acceptance of the apocalyptic nature of Christ’s return by Matthew’s community and the rejection of that by the surrounding Jewish community.

The role the women played was obviously important to Matthew’s community. In her essay “Got Into the Party After All” from “A Feminist Companion to Matthew” (Sheffield Academic Press 2001), Marie-Eloise Rosenblatt writes that the women behave as leaders when they go out with their lamps to meet the bridegroom; as a result, it is important to understand that the parable is not against women’s leadership in the church. The parable seeks to teach all of Matthew’s community about the importance of adhering to true teachings of the church.

What are the sources of division in your own context? Is it appropriate for the church to respond to difference in the way it does at the end of today’s parable?

What might be other ways of addressing division within the church? How might that include a commitment to reconciliation?

In what ways are you divided with family, friends or loved ones? How might Matthew’s idea of being watchful call you toward forgiveness and reconciliation in your own life?

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