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Sunday Proper 19, Year A, September 14, 2014

First reading, Exodus 14:19-31

The literary context: The careful reader will note a few confusing repetitions in this passage. An example appears in the first verse; what was it that moved from the front to the rear of the Israelite army, an angel, named only once, or a pillar of cloud, that appears first in 13:21-22, then again 14:19 and 14:24? It matters not. As we often find in the Pentateuch, ancient editors, with great reverence for all the sources they had received, concatenated sentences from two, sometimes three, documents, and gave it all to succeeding generations. A twentieth-century editor would take a blue pencil to every other sentence, (a twenty-first-century editor would do it with a mouse and the delete key). We have neither the authority nor the need to do that.

To fix the context in your own mind (since the lectionary passage begins so abruptly in medias res), read Exodus 13:17-14:18.

Proclaiming it: This is an awesome event we're describing, and it follows a crescendo of awesome events, the plagues. God is supremely confident in directing all this. The people are not (moments ago, in Exodus 14:11, they ask Moses "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt?"). Moses is in between, his credulity stretched more and more by God's series of challenging promises. He's just been told that, if he'll only lift his staff, he can split the sea in two!. Now he can undo that!!

On one level this calls for an emphatic, enthusiastic proclamation. We're describing mighty acts of God on behalf of a people fright-driven and without confidence. As lector, you want the congregation to feel the tension: God has brought the rebel slaves pretty far, but now their backs are to the sea. Can God do something still greater than everything that's gone before, or are they (we) at last doomed?

There's another level. Remember the scribes assembling this story from ancient sources, above? They were working much later, probably during the Jews' exile in Babylon, centuries after the events narrated. Their audience was also a dispirited, fearful tribe, uprooted from their homeland, under the heel of an alien empire. But they had gained and lost much more. They had been that ragtag bunch of slaves fleeing Egypt, but they had also enjoyed the golden age of King David, taken pride in the Temple built by Solomon, seen their later kings be the envy of neighboring peoples, then lost it all to the Assyrians who dragged them off to Babylon. They had no more illusions about their natural greatness. They knew the wages of their sin. They needed their faith bolstered and their confidence rebuilt for the journey back to restore Judea and Jerusalem. They needed assurance that their mighty God was still intent on keeping them as a special people. For them did the final editors of this passage weave it together, with its emphases on God's power winning over the timid people.

If I may wax homiletic here, the lector may be speaking to a church that feels itself caught between Pharaoh's army and the sea, or one that feels exiled, losing its gifted members, in demographic decline, uncertain of its future. Like at least two generations of Israelites before, the lector's own people may need to hear reassuring words about the plans and powers of God. If so, you'll know how to proclaim them.

Second Reading, Romans 14:1-12

The Historical Situation: Here's the context of this reading: Paul is appealing to more sophisticated members of the church not to do legitimate things that nonetheless scandalize those who are less wise. You could do those things (for example, eat un-kosher foods), but you should not because you have brothers and sisters who still believe it's wrong. Paul is asking for forbearance and charity from the smarter set.

The Theological Background: Not an unusual request, of course. But the reason Paul gives is unprecedented. Do it not just because it's right or it's the kind thing to do; do it because you belong to Christ.

Proclaiming It: Steep yourself in that notion that you belong to Christ, that you live for the Lord and die for the Lord, before you proclaim this passage to the assembly.

Several other commentaries on these passages. All are thoughtful, all quite readable, from the scholarly to the popular.
Links may be incomplete more than a few weeks before the "due date."
Lutheran pastor and college teacher Dan Nelson's notes for a study group.
Dan's church prepares for today's gospel with the "Track 2" selection from the Hebrew Scriptures, Genesis 50:15-21, a powerful story of forgiveness. Dan also treats a longer selection from Romans 12 than the above, putting it all in context.
Bible Study pages of Saint Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, Picayune, Mississippi.
Father Roger Karban's 1999 syndicated column about the gospel and Romans lections,

and his 2002 column.

The 2002 column of Jesuit Father Francis X. Cleary, From the site of the Saint Louis Review. (Log in using 0026437 and 63137.)
The Text This Week; links to homilies, art works, movies and other resources on the week's scripture themes

The Lectionary selections in the frame at the left, if any, are there for your convenience. The publishers of the page in that frame have no connection, except for membership in the one Body of Christ, with the publisher of this page. Likewise the publishers of the pages on the links above.

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Last modified: July 31, 2014