Reflection on This Week’s Readings

NEW PERSPECTIVE

Being a disciple requires an expansive perspective on forgiveness. Today our perspective is broadened by the good news that God’s forgiveness is not based on our idea of fairness, but rather on abundant, unimaginable grace. God “does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities” (Ps. 103:10). The king forgives our entire debt, no matter how enormous it is (Matt. 18:23-27). We also are challenged to stretch our perspective and forgive each other. With Peter, we learn to stop keeping score (Matt. 18:21-22).

It’s not an easy thing to do. Again and again we fall back on limited human understandings of what is “fair.” Looking at the story of Joseph and his brothers, it’s easy for us to say that his brothers really didn’t deserve forgiveness. Even their plea for forgiveness is dishonest and manipulative—have they really repented (Gen. 50:15-17)? Joseph takes the wider view and realizes that it isn’t his brothers’ intentions that matter, but God’s. God’s forgiveness is much greater than what is fair, what we deserve.

So what does this new, broadened perspective look like in the lives of Christians and congregations? Paul provides a pragmatic glimpse: “Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them” (Rom. 14:3). If all are truly welcomed by God, we are called to share the good news of that welcome in all we say and do.

READINGS FOR THE

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

The standard Sundays continue reading through Matthew. This Sunday is the final semicontinuous reading of Romans during year A.

Matthew 18:21-35

This fourth discourse provides a response to the first discourse in Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount: Christians do not, in fact, live in godly perfection, but continuously need the mercy of God and the forgiveness of the community. The use of the imagery of debt suggests that we actually owe to one another both ethical living and gracious forgiveness.

Exodus 14:19-31

Continuing the semicontinuous reading of the Exodus story is Exodus 14:19-31, the miraculous crossing of the sea. The cloud and the fire are manifestations of God. Henotheism is the term that describes a religious view which acknowledges many deities but commands the people to honor only their own deity. This beloved though harsh henotheistic story is an insiders’ legend: God has no pity for the soldiers in the Egyptian army, for the Lord is the God of the Hebrew people. As monotheism develops, the story was used to proclaim God’s reversal of the values of the world: the slaves escape, and the masters are destroyed. Christians have used this story especially as a metaphor for baptism: God brings us through the water, and we are saved from our enemies of sin and death. Christian movements of liberation focus on this story as a sign of God’s care for the oppressed. Verse 21 is intriguing: is the power in Moses’ hand, in the Lord, or in a wind? That the biblical text has combined several earlier sources is clear.

Response

We are given a choice for our response to the story of the crossing of the sea. In Psalm 114, the story of Moses crossing the Red Sea has been merged with that of Joshua crossing the Jordan in Joshua 3. Yet when we need water, God turns stone into a spring. An alternate is Exodus 15:1b-11, 20-21, the communal song that follows the story in Exodus of the crossing of the sea and retells the story in poetry. Here the opening of the sea is credited to a blast from God’s nostrils! Skipping over verses 12-19 allows us to join in the more ancient version of the song, sung by the dancing women.

Romans 14:1-12

Paul’s refusal to lay down a Christian law and his call to forbearance within the community come as a “word of life” to us as in our own time we fiercely debate conflicted issues. What binds us into one is the death and resurrection of Christ, not uniformity in open questions. We are to trust that it is God who judges.

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