Engaging the Word: Readings for 11/2/14 (21st Sunday after Pentecost)

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By Barbara Klugh

Joshua 3:7-17; Psalm 1-7: 33-37; 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13; Matthew 23:1-12. Go to www.lectionarypage.net for the weekly lectionary text. In this week’s reading we have the miraculous story of the Israelites crossing the Jordan River, Paul encourages us to live lives worthy of God, and Jesus teaches the importance of servanthood and humility.

Joshua: The Book of Joshua describes the entering, conquest, and the settlement of Canaan, the Promised Land. Joshua was Moses’ assistant, and, as you may remember from last week’s reading, before Moses died he conferred his authority to Joshua.

Joshua passing the River Jordan with the Ark of the Covenant, by Benjamin West (1738 - 1820). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Joshua passing the River Jordan with the Ark of the Covenant, by Benjamin West (1738 – 1820). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

In this week’s reading, we have an episode that illustrates how God endorsed Joshua’s leadership in miraculous fashion “so that they [the Israelites] may know that I will be with you as I was with Moses.” God’s plan is for the people to cross the Jordan River on dry ground. This display will provide continuity with Moses, who led the Israelites across the Red Sea on dry ground, eliminate possible challenges to Joshua’s leadership, and be a reminder that the future military victories will be due to the presence and power of God.

Joshua assembled the people and chose one man from each of the twelve tribes to carry the Ark of the Covenant to the Jordan River. They are to go to the edge of the water, which is in flood stage, and step in. “So when those who bore the ark had come to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the edge of the water, the waters flowing from above stood still, rising up in a single heap.” The priests stood in the riverbed until all the people had crossed the river.

This is one of those stories that has sustained me during those times in my life when I felt called to go into deep water, whether to a new place on my spiritual journey or when facing a tough decision. I remind myself that if I just step out in faith, and get my feet wet, God will part the waters and I will make it through. And He does. Every time.

Psalm: Our psalm is one of thanksgiving to God, for despite our sins, his love is steadfast and he delivers us from many troubles. It was probably sung by a group of pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem for one of the festivals. “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endures for ever.”

St. Paul Writing His Epistles, by Valentin de Boulogne (1591 - 1632). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

St. Paul Writing His Epistles, by Valentin de Boulogne (1591 – 1632). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

1 Thessalonians: In our third reading from Paul’s First letter to the Thessalonians, he reviews his history with the Thessalonians in order to defend himself and his companions from some who allege that Paul preaches the gospel for personal gain.

He reminds the Thessalonians that he worked tirelessly, supporting himself as he proclaimed the gospel, so as not to be a financial burden to them. His conduct has been impeccable—pure, upright, and blameless. In last week’s reading, he likened himself to a loving mother. In this week’s reading, he uses the imagery of a loving father as he encourages the Thessalonians to “lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.”

Paul is grateful that the Thessalonians received the word of God through him, but also that they understood that Paul was the messenger—the word was God’s.

Matthew: Following last week’s reading, in which Jesus silenced his critics, he now turns “to the crowds and to his disciples.” Jesus said, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.” In other words, they were part of the authorized interpreters of the law that God gave to Moses, so listen to their teaching; but don’t follow their behavior. They do everything for show—appearing to be pious by wearing broad phylacteries and long fringes. Phylacteries are small leather boxes containing Scripture passages worn on the forehead and arms during morning prayers. The fringes were tassels on the corner of robes as a sign of devotion.

Christ Teacheth Humility, by Robert Scott Lauder (1803 -1869). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Christ Teacheth Humility, by Robert Scott Lauder (1803 -1869). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The scribes and Pharisees want places of honor and respect and to be addressed as Rabbi. By way of contrast, Jesus tells the crowd not to use honorific titles. Jesus is our one teacher. “And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father– the one in heaven.” Our reading concludes with Jesus’ familiar reversal, “The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

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