Above: Map of Ancient Nineveh
Image Source = Fredarch
The Sunday Closest to September 21
Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost
SEPTEMBER 21, 2014
SEPTEMBER 24, 2017
FIRST READING AND PSALM: OPTION #1
Exodus 16:2-15 (New Revised Standard Version):
The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
Then the LORD said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your complaining against the LORD. For what are we, that you complain against us?” And Moses said, “When the LORD gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the LORD has heard the complaining that you utter against him– what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the LORD.”
Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, `Draw near to the LORD, for he has heard your complaining.’” And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud. The LORD spoke to Moses and said, “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, `At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.’”
In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.”
Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):
1 Give thanks to the LORD and call upon his Name;
make known his deeds among the peoples.
2 Sing to him, sing praises to him,
and speak of all his marvelous works.
3 Glory in his holy Name;
let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.
4 Search for the LORD and his strength;
continually seek his face.
5 Remember the marvels he has done,
his wonders and the judgments of his mouth,
6 O offspring of Abraham his servant,
O children of Jacob his chosen.
37 He led out his people with silver and gold;
in all their tribes there was not one that stumbled.
38 Egypt was glad of their going,
because they were afraid of them.
39 He spread out a cloud for a covering,
and a fire to give light in the night season.
40 They asked, and quails appeared,
and he satisfied them with bread from heaven.
41 He opened the rock, and water flowed,
so the river ran in the dry places.
42 For God remembered his holy word
and Abraham his servant.
43 So he led forth his people with gladness,
his chosen with shouts of joy.
44 He gave his people the lands of the nations,
and they took the fruit of others’ toil.
45 That they might keep his statutes
and observe his laws.
FIRST READING AND PSALM: OPTION #2
Jonah 3:10-4:11 (New Revised Standard Version):
When God saw what the people of Nineveh did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the LORD said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.
The LORD God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”
But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” Then the LORD said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”
Psalm 145:1-8 (New Revised Standard Version):
1 I will exalt you, O God my King,
and bless your Name for ever and ever.
2 Every day will I bless you
and praise your Name for ever and ever.
3 Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised;
there is no end to his greatness.
4 One generation shall praise your works to another
and shall declare your power.
5 I will ponder the glorious splendor of your majesty
and all your marvelous works.
6 They shall speak of the might of your wondrous acts,
and I will tell of your greatness.
7 They shall publish the remembrance of your great goodness;
they shall sing of your righteous deeds.
8 The LORD is gracious and full of compassion,
slow to anger and of great kindness.
Philippians 1:21-30 (New Revised Standard Version):
For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.
Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well– since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
Matthew 20:1-16 (New Revised Standard Version):
Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, `You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, `Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, `Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, `You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, `Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, `These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, `Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
We like grace when we benefit from it, as in the case of the children of Israel, whom God fed in the wilderness. Yet often we object when others–especially our enemies and others unlike us–benefit from it, too.
Consider Jonah, one of the most interesting literary creations in the Bible. He was a satirical figure who epitomized the worst of post-Exilic Judaism, which had a strong dose of exclusivity about it. So, in the short book bearing the name “Jonah” the titular character receives a mandate from God to offer the people of Nineveh–traditional enemies–a chance to repent. Jonah runs away, but cannot escape from God. Finally, Jonah does as God demands, and finds success in this effort disappointing. Who is he without his traditional enemy? What is his identity now? This man cares more for a plant than for fellow human beings who are different from him, but whom God loves and to whom God reaches out.
This not merely about the scandal of grace extended to our enemies. Jesus told a parable about a vineyard owner who hired people during various times of day then paid everybody the same amount–the standard daily wage at the time and place. Those who had worked all day were upset, but the vineyard owner had not cheated them.
Why does God’s generosity scandalize us, or at least bother us? Perhaps we think that we are deserving, but those people over there are not. I have seen a sticker which reads, “GOD LOVES EVERYBODY, BUT I’M HIS FAVORITE.” This is supposed to be funny, which is how I interpret it. But some people believe it. In reality, however, we are just as deserving as those people are, which is to say that we are not deserving at all. This, however, is not how many of us like to think of ourselves.
Too often we define ourselves according to what we are not. We are not like those people. We are not those people. We are better than them, we tell ourselves. In reality, however, my identity, your identity, and the identity of the person least like us all exist in the context of God. We are children of God, and therefore siblings. So our quarrels exist within a family context. God, our Father-Mother (Metaphors relative to God are imperfect, and the Bible contains both masculine and feminine images for God.), loves us and does not give up on any of us. So we ought not to write anyone off. Yet we do.
We can be instruments of God voluntarily–like, Moses dealing with the ever-grumbling children of Israel, or Paul, bringing the message of Jesus to the Gentiles–or involuntarily–like Jonah, weeping over a dead plant while bemoaning the repentance of a population. If divine grace and generosity scandalize us, the fault is with us, not with God.
Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on March 29, 2011