Bible Study: 23 Pentecost, Proper 28 (A)

November 16, 2014

James MillerGeneral Theological Seminary

“For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” (Matthew 25:29)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Judges 4:1-7Psalm 123; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30

Judges 4:1-7

In our Old Testament reading, we find that the Israelites are being punished by the Lord for the evils that they have committed. In fact, they have been “sold” to King Jabin of Canaan. This is about to change. Deborah, who is a prophetess and the only woman in scripture to be a judge, summons Barak and tells her vision: The Lord will bring the army of the Canaanites under Sisera to him, a battle will ensue, but the Lord will make Barak victorious.

There are three important issues here.

First, once again, Israel is being punished for evil: worshipping false Gods.

Second, while there are some notable depictions of prohetesses in scripture (Miriam, sister of Moses in Exodus 15:20; and Huldah, who authenticated the rediscovery of Torah in 2 Kings 22: 14-20, Joel 2:28 and Acts 21: 8-9), Deborah is unique in that she is the only female judge noted in scripture.

Third, Sisera had a commanding military advantage over the Israelites with his 900 chariots of iron. The use of iron was a technique not available to the Israelites at that time. Yet, the prophecy is that Barak will be victorious. This is because it is not physical strength of armies or weapons that will carry the day, but the power of the Lord.

Trusting in the Lord for deliverance is an important theme of scripture. See David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17; Gideon in Judges 6-8, Psalm 37:39 and Psalm 46. Note also God’s reaction to David, who took a census in order to determine Israel’s strength.

Is all of our faith being placed in Jesus, or are we guilty of portioning out to some false gods?

Can we look past gender when we receive God’s Word?

Can we think of ways to increase our faith in Jesus instead of spending time stockpiling physical resources?

Psalm 123

The psalmist is not angry, but is calling for help, for relief. Scorn and contempt has been laid upon the people, and they are either incapable or unwilling to fight against it alone. They turn to the Lord with confidence that they will receive mercy. An important dimension of mercy, רַחֵ֖ם(Isaiah 49:15), is that it can be understood as the tender love a mother has for her children. The psalmist’s wish is for the Lord to show motherly care for the people.

If you feel that there is no place to turn, no one to help, will you turn to the Lord for mercy? In fact, will you turn to the Lord first?

Consider the innocent of the world, those suffering oppression, hunger, disease, those living in war-torn regions, those who have been kidnapped. Can you pray to the Lord for mercy for them?

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Paul is exhorting the church to be vigilant. In using “day of the Lord,” he is invoking code from Old Testament that was well-understood as “judgment day.” He describes it as sudden destruction (v. 3). He calls on the church to be ready – awake and sober (v. 6) – and to use the “weapons” that they have been given: faith, love and hope (v. 8). Most importantly, though, Paul wants them to know that those with faith in Jesus will not receive wrath, but salvation. Finally, note that Paul encourages community. We are not to look to our own futures to the exclusion of others. Part of our calling is to “encourage one another and build each other up” (v. 11).

Do you think that the scenario of destruction that Paul paints is real or symbolic? Either way, are you prepared?

What do you think of the armor Paul describes: breastplate of faith and love; helmet of the hope of salvation? Can you relate this to the passage above from Judges?

How can we build each other up?

Matthew 25:14-30

There are two issues at play in this parable. One has to do with the use of one’s gifts, assets, or as they are called here, “talents.” The other has to do with relationships.

Our reading is a parable (“For it is as if …”), but it is interesting to consider the literal as well as the figurative meaning of “talent.” One source notes that one talent was worth the equivalent of more than 15 years’ wages for a laborer. Another suggests that one talent was worth the equivalent of 7,300 denarii (with 1 denarius = 1 day’s pay). This would work out to more than 26 years’ wages. In any case, it is clear that a talent was extremely valuable. Just consider the one who received five talents was given over a lifetime of earnings.

We read that the owner entrusted these talents with his slaves. There is a settling of accounts upon his return. Two of the slaves traded with their talents and produced a profit. This trading was not reckless gambling; they carefully considered how to increase the value of what had been entrusted to them. They had faith that they were serving their master’s best interests. This looks like a good relationship.

Not so with the third slave. Out of fear, he did not use the talent with which he was entrusted. He was not interested in the betterment of his master, or even his own betterment. He had disdain for his master and accused him of a pattern of theft and injustice.

Think of the talents/gifts with which God has entrusted you. They could be health, physical or mental acumen, friends, family, prayer, the sacraments. Are you using/investing them to your fullest ability? Can you see them as not being yours, but being entrusted to you by God?

Do you view your relationship with God as one of trust and gratitude for the blessings you enjoy, leading you to use them for God’s glory, or do you so fear God that you feel mistrustful and perhaps accuse god of being the source of injustice?

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