October – Connecting to God’s love and grace
Exodus 17:1-7 / Psalms 78:1-4, 12-16 / Philippians :1-13 / Matthew 21:23-32
Two themes arise in the New Testament readings this week. In Philippians 2:12, Paul challenges us to work out our own salvation. This fits nicely with Jesus’ challenge to the chief priests and elders in Matthew 21. We need to think about our faith deeply and for ourselves. Christ gifts us our salvation, for it is only in and through him that we receive it, but our salvation is something we have to work out for ourselves. This is not to say we try to work for it or seek to earn it, but we need to find how God’s love and grace connects with us so we might accept it in our hearts and not only our heads.
The second theme in the readings is we are not called to work out the salvation of others. If we seek to judge the righteousness or salvation status of others, we are not truly connected to Christ — and we might find ourselves at the back of the queue into the Kingdom of God.
Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20 / Psalms 19 / Philippians 3:4b-14 / Matthew 21:33-46
We cannot take our salvation for granted. We may be saved by faith but, as written in James 2, faith without works is dead. Salvation is granted by God as a life-giving gift, so it should make a difference in our lives and living. The Gospel of Matthew is full of Jesus teaching about the need to live in accordance with the grace granted to us. Similarly, Paul raises how some can feel a sense of entitlement of the place of the Church in society, and have a perception that they are more righteous than others. What Paul points out is we have work to do.
Our work does not earn us our salvation, but our salvation means nothing if it is not lived out in our living the love of God in Christ. What Jesus reminds us of in the parable about the wicked tenants is we have no claim to the Kingdom of God, simply an invitation into it. If we love saviour Christ, then we have to love Christ into the world by living in the radical way that he called us to.
Exodus 32:1-14 / Psalms 106:1-6, 19-23 / Philippians 4:1-9 / Matthew 22:1-14
It is interesting and ironic that we get our word ‘eclectic’ (which means broad and diverse) from the Greek word that means ‘chosen’. Matthew 22:1-14 presents us with a strange parable that ends with the cryptic statement of Jesus that “many are called but few are chosen.” The Greek word for chosen is έκλεκτοί (eclectoi). This is definitely one of the parables which reminds us that parables have many layers. We might start thinking Jesus is challenging the priests and religious leaders about who is in, or out, of the Kingdom of God. Certainly, in the next section of the story, they seem to feel challenged and go away to begin plotting how to trap him.
However, in today’s world we are the religious leaders and we believe ourselves to be ‘chosen.’ So, who might be the prophets for us today? How do we treat God’s prophets? These are big and sometimes tricky questions. We could get all worked up and worried about whether Christ might judge us. Is there a chance that we might get thrown out? Paul reminds us that we don’t need to worry about such things because of the grace of God. However, he reminds us that if we do have worries, to submit them to God in prayer and petition with thanksgiving, which is an interesting little twist.
Exodus 33:12-23 / Psalms 99 / 1 Thessalonians1:1-10 /Matthew 22:15-22
It is interesting that Moses tries to bargain with God, just as so many people who have followed have tried to do – that is, to try to own the connection with God. Moses wanted him and his people to be different from everyone with a special connection with God. God did reveal Godself to Moses, albeit not showing God’s face. However, God proclaims, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” This idea of God is not what we always want from God.
Some of the Pharisees were disturbed and offended by the way Jesus was so inclusive, not exclusive, in his religion and wanted to trap Jesus so they could discredit him. We often want God to consider others as outsiders, discrediting their right to a place in the love of God, if they don’t act, speak or believe like us. This is not how Jesus saw things. All are God’s people, but some don’t understand that yet.
Deuteronomy 34:1-12 / Psalms 90:1-6, 13-17 / 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 / Matthew 22:34-46
The Gospel reading reminds us of the way Jesus interpreted the Torah. For Jesus, it is all about love – loving God with our whole being and loving all others as ourselves. To the call to love God with all one’s heart, soul and might, Jesus adds ‘mind’. The Greek word for ‘mind’ is διανοίᾳ (dianoia) and it holds richer meaning than simply our thinking.
The two parts of the word hold the meaning ‘dia’ (which is ‘thoroughly, from side-to-side’) and ‘noieo’ (which is ‘to use the mind’). So it seems that Jesus added to one of the most important and well-known Jewish Scripture the need to love God with balanced reason and critical thinking. He thoroughly encouraged this through his parables, provocative acts and demonstrated power.
Rev Jon Humphries is the Chaplain and Religious Education Teacher at Ravenswood School for Girls
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