Proper 18A (OT 23)

"The Seventh Plague" by John Martin

"The Seventh Plague" by John Martin


79: Sept. 7, 2014

  1. Exodus 12:1-14 
  2. Matthew 18:15-20 

featured Musician -  Richard Bruxvoort Colligan

“Your People’s Lament” from his album Worldmaking

Exegetical Notes


Matthew 18:15-20 

Initial Thoughts

Bible Study

  • Literary Context.  Chapter 18 includes other teaching about hospitality, searching, and forgiveness

    • This passage is a part of Jesus’ response to their question, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  His answer is multifaceted, and includes some of the most quotable lines of Jesus:

      • I assure you that if you don’t become like a little child, you will not enter the kingdom (18:3) - vulnerable and powerless (not innocent)

      • Whoever welcomes one such child, welcomes me. (18:5) - Jesus identified with the vulnerable, powerless and those who welcome them

      • If your hand or foot causes you to fall into sin, chop it off and throw it away. (18:8) - Beware of your pride! And get rid of anything that gets in your way of following Jesus

      • If someone had a hundred sheep and one of them wandered off, wouldn’t he leave the ninety-nine on the hillsides and go search for the one that wandered off? (18:12) - God is not interested in Return on investment or the ends justifying the means- all people are valuable and everything is risked to save even one who is lost

      • Then our passage: “If your brother or sister sins against you, go and correct them…”

    • NEXT WEEK: Then Peter said to Jesus, “How many times should I forgive my brother?”  

      • “Not just seven times, but rather seventy seven times.”

    • In other words, this passage is a part of a larger piece where Jesus is responding to the disciples’ question about greatness.

    • It comes immediately before he talks about the extravagance of grace and the power of forgiveness.

  • Conflict Resolution

    • The focus is not winning but reconciliation: “regaining a brother[sic]” v. 15

    • This is simply good sense.  Jesus is teaching “Thou shalt not triangulate,” and uses a simple premise found in Deuteronomy (one witness isn’t reliable), and applies it to a personal relationship, and how we live in community.

    • He is ordering the life of discipleship to be different from rest of culture.

    • Sin has consequences.  Unresolved sin must be addressed.  Sin must be honestly confronted.

    • Relationships

      • There is debate over the words “against you.”  This could be sins that are well known in the community, or sins that are about an interpersonal relationship.  Since the response is a interpersonal response, it seems as if the “against you” is appropriately included in the text.

      • Relationships that are loving must be honest.  Without authenticity, a relationship is no longer healthy.

      • Jesus is interested in the way we relate to each other, and this teaching reminds us that truthfulness is important.

      • Pinch Method of conflict resolution and reconciliation- special thanks to Rev. Emily Davis

    • Systemic

      • Cultural sin must be addressed

      • Vast implications for #Ferguson, and other places where systemic sin like racism, sexism, homophobia, and jingoism go unexamined.

      • This is the reason “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” is a terrible compromise in issues of gender and sexuality.  

    • Tax Collector and Gentile

      • Often used as justification for excommunication or shunning- yet Jesus is specifically commended for reaching out and spending time with tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 11:19)

      • “...from shunning them, Jesus commands us never to give up on them, never to stop reaching out in love to them, always to yearn for grace to restore what has been broken. In the next few verses, Peter needs to make sure he has heard correctly. "Lord, if a brother sins against me how often should I forgive?" Jesus' "seventy times seven" response means "as long as it takes" (vv. 21-22).” Charles Hambrick-Stowe, Feasting on the Word – Year A, Volume 4: Season After Pentecost 2 .

      • You cannot say to any member of the body- I have no need of you: (1 Cor. 12:12-26), but you are supposed to cut off your hand if it leads you to sinning...a tricky passage for sure.

        • Continue to condemn sinful words and actions without losing sight of the inherent goodness and imageo dei of the individual

  • “I assure you that whatever you fasten on earth will be fastened in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

    • It seems like a strange aside that makes little sense.

    • “Although binding and loosing may in the broader context refer to declaring what is permitted or not permitted, here it seems to mean disciplinary action.  The congregation has the power to punish or exclude.  In so doing, it is acting on God’s behalf.” (Douglas Hare, Interpretation: Matthew p. 215)

  • “Again I assure you that if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, then my Father who is in heaven will do it for you.

    • Reminds me of being a parent of two kids.  There are moments when you don’t care what they ask for, as long as they aren’t fighting over it. In Grocery Store: “I’ll buy you the stupid Sugar Crisp Cereal if you just stop fighting!”

    • Yet we know (hope) that’s not what Jesus is saying, and we also know that God doesn’t grant every wish, even when we agree on that wish.

    • “Verse 19 appears at first sight to be alien to this context… It can be paraphrased, ‘If two of you can come to an agreement regarding any disputed matter, that agreement will be blessed by my Father in heaven.” (Hare, p. 215).

    • This isn’t about rubbing genie lamps.  It is part of the context of disputes, and reminds those of the importance of community.

    • The reminder that Christ is there foreshadows Christ’s post-resurrection presence in the community.  It is a word of hope for those in dispute, that as long as they stay at the table to work out the conflict, Christ will be in their midst.

  • Wherever 2 or 3 are gathered

    • Every person is valuable even  children (v. 5) and “lost sheep” (v.13)

    • No individual is considered greater than the other

Preaching Thoughts

  • Conflict is real, and it need not always be negative.  How we handle conflict might be the single most important skill of pastoral leadership.  Determining what conflict needs to be addressed, and how is extremely important, and probably should be taught more explicitly in seminaries.  

  • Forgiveness is hard work.  Truth-telling is not easy, but it is vital if you are going to have an authentic relationship.  This process should be held with the 7 times 70 admonition, because too often people either rush to forgiveness, which skips the process and isn’t healthy; or they hold onto grudges, which isn’t healthy.


Exodus 12:1-14

Initial Thoughts

Bible Study

  • Direct response to Exodus 1 and Pharaoh’s inability to have power over life and death

    • Not sure if it is appropriate to focus too much on the killing of “firstborn” or dwell on the details:

      • God is willing to massacre children in order to make a point? Ends justify the means? This is a slippery slope

      • If God is truly all powerful then surely there is a solution that doesn’t result in slaughtering children

      • If God is going to kill all the firstborn - wasn’t Pharaoh a firstborn? The scripture says nothing about children

    • Amazing look at the plagues and Pharaoh from G-dcast:

  • Defining moments for Israelites - Exodus and Exile:

    • New year- beginning- sets the stage for everything that is to come

    • Exodus - People who are saved by a God who saved slaves and oppressed

    • Community - the lamb is to be killed and shared in community- family and neighbors

  • Boundaries

    • The blood on the door sets the home as a sacred place of safety and peace amidst fear and death

      • Sean White, Feasting on the Word - “In the obedience of the people, God's purposes unfold, so that their faithfulness and God's faithfulness somehow converged in the fulfillment of the promise. Uncertainty, anxiety, fear, obedience, and shalom all comprise the arena of experience with God.”

      • Passover remains a time to annually remember God who has saved, is saving and will save God’s people

  • Ritual (E. Lane Alderman Jr., Feasting on the Word)

    • How does this compare to communion?

    • Passover: festival, communal, remembering God’s saving power, acknowledges fear, oppression sin and death - but trusts in God’s saving grace in the midst

    • Does your Holy Communion liturgy also communicate these things? Should it?

    • Are people any more distracted now than they were at the time of Moses?

    • Does communion remind people of God saving grace- what they are saved from and what they are saved for?

    • “Rituals anchor us in the past, but their real power is in their ability to propel us into the future. It is vitally important for the people to remember what God has done in the past, but the real celebration comes in seeing what God is doing in the present. People are still being liberated. Lives are still being renewed. Hopes are still being restored.”

    • The Israelites share the Passover with girded loins, sandals on and staves at the ready- preparing for what is to come. The Disciples break bread and share the cup with Jesus knowing his death is imminent.

      • When we bread bread and celebrate God’s saving actions- are we prepared for what is to come?

    • Communion Liturgy by Carol Penner (Leading in Worship) done in the “Passover style” i.e. what makes this night different?


  • Communion Liturgy by Carol Penner (Leading in Worship) done in the “Passover style” i.e. what makes this night different?

  • Great video Jewish commentaries on the plagues from G-dcast:

    • “Bo” by Joel Stanley - What’s it like to be the greatest sidekick ever? Actor and writer Joel Stanley takes us INSIDE the head of Aaron, Moses’s number one man (ahem…and his brother). Plagues! Confrontations! And poison-tinged political drama where Moses and Pharaoh's attendants attack each other…with snakes??

    • “Va’eira” by Rabbi Katie Mizrahi - Possibly the best known Bible story, period. A rousing “Let my people go” kicks off weeks of frogs and hail and boils, but Rabbi Katie Mizrahi explains that those weren’t even the REAL plagues. ?#@$% Find out just what was afflicting those Israelites in this week’s story.

Preaching Thoughts

  • What do we do to make places safe and sacred but not isolated or ignorant? Churches are dedicated when they are built- what about after that?

  • How do we celebrate the passover without creating an us/them environment? ex: They are killed while we are saved.

  • When we bread bread and celebrate God’s saving actions- are we prepared for what is to come?


Romans 13:8-14 

Initial Thoughts

  • Pop culture allusions

  • Augustine refers to Romans 13:13-14 as a conversion verse

    • After reading it he reports: “Instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all of the gloom of doubt vanished away.” (quoted in The First Paul, by John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg, p. 120)

Bible Study

  • Literary/Lectionary Context

    • Paul Achtemeier (Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Preaching and Teaching: Romans, pp. 193-241) frames ch 12-16 as “God’s Lordship and the Problems of Daily Living: Grace and the Structures of Life.”

      • Grace and the community, Grace and the state, Grace and the Christian community, Grace and the secular community.

      • Romans 13:8-14 is “Grace and the Neighbor: Love in Action”

      • Further, he divides this passage into two

        • 8-10: The Neighbor and the Actuality of Love

        • 11-14: The Neighbor and the Dawning Day

    • Next week is last Sunday in Romans. It is Romans 14:1-12. Achtemeier calls this section “Unity and the problem of self-righteousness” (p. 215)

    • Also used for Advent 1A “Remember what time it is.”

  • The Actuality of Love

    • Love and the law are tied together.

    • “We know God loves us not because of the way [God] feels about us but because of what [God] has done for us.” (Achtemeier, p. 209)

    • “Matthew 18:15-20 does not contain the word ‘love.’ The passage records Jesus’ advice on how one is to go about recovering an erring fellow Christian, and the great import attached to the responsible exercise of that task. Yet the description of such a recovery is surely the description of an act of love on behalf of the erring fellow Christian… Jesus, the embodiment of God’s love, exercises that love in this passage by telling his disciples how they are to embody that love. Again, love consists of doing something for the good of others.” (Achtemeier, p. 210)

    • Borg and Crossan point out that this passage is connected to the previous one (which the lectionary skips) about obeying authority.

      • The verse “Don’t be in debt to anyone” comes right on the tail of admonishments to pay taxes.

      • “We can now see that Paul’s concern in 13:1-7 when it is placed in this fuller context of 12:14-13:10. It is, of course, about taxes and revenues demanded by Roman but precisely about refusing them violently, about the specter of violent tax revolts among Christians. It is something that appalls him so much that - in rather rhetorical panic - he makes some very unwise and unqualified statement with which to ward off that possibility. Paul is most afraid, not that Christians will be killed but that they will kill, not that Rome will use violence against Christians, but that Christians will use violence against Rome. And that emphasizes the difference between the peace of Rome and the peace of Christ.” (The First Paul, by John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg, p. 120)

  • The Dawning Day

    • “The conviction that Christ will return is the conviction that God will in fact one day redeem his creation, that he will one day fulfill the promise of restoration and recreation given in the resurrection of Christ. Indeed, it is precisely the fact that that future has already invaded the present, an invasion shown by the presence of the Spirit within the community of the faithful that vies to the Christian faith the distinctiveness it has..” (Achtemeier, p. 211)

    • The expectation of the early church is something with which we are still living.

    • Christianity is a future-based faith. It is about looking ahead to what is to come, what is promised

    • “Let's behave appropriately as people who live in the day, not in partying and getting drunk, not in sleeping around and obscene behavior, not in fighting and obsession.”

      • A proper response to love is to live a certain way. This is not another list of things to avoid - Paul just spent 12 chapters trying to explain why faith is more than following rules.  He’s not now replacing the Law with this moral code.

Preaching Thoughts

  • “Dress yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ.” God as a garment, and article of clothing, something to put on for protection, identity, even fashion? The word fashion means to make something, to manipulate an object into something useful. To be “fashioned” into Christ - could this include our clothes? What do our clothes say about us? How do clothes communicate? People say they judge people by their character, not their clothes. These people lie. Lauren Winner’s book Wearing God explores this and many metaphors of God.

  • For an example about how love and law are related, Joann Haejong Lee tells a story in the Christian Century about her curfew. She was given a rule - be home or call by 10 p.m., but one night she neglected to do so. Her father’s reaction helped to illustrate the point. The love he showed her that night - the palpable relief, the embrace - communicated a love that was so deep she wanted to follow the rule. Her desire to respond in love was more powerful in get than the fear of punishment.

“In fact, the call to love is not an escape from our duties to one another. It's a call to live with even more intentionality and attention to the needs of others.

We do so not because some rules or laws tell us we have to but because we have experienced that radical and welcoming love ourselves, and that love compels us to strive to be better.  

  • We are not called to be rule followers. We are called to experience and understand the deep love that undergirds and upholds the commandments of God —and by intimately being known and loved by our God, to then extend and share that love with the world.” (Joann Haejong Lee, Christian Century)


Thanks to our Psalms correspondent, Richard Bruxvoort Colligan (,@pomopsalmist). Thank you to Scott Fletcher for our voice bumpers, Dick Dale and the Del Tones for our Theme music (“Misirlou”), Nicolai Heidlas (“Sunday Morning”,"Real Ride"and“Summertime”) and Paul and Storm for our closing music (“Oh No”).