Proper 19A (OT 24)


Exegetical Notes

Matthew 18:21-35 Forgiveness

Initial Thoughts

Bible Study

  • Final section on living together

    • vv.1-4: Who is greatest

    • vv. 6-10: How to deal with the weakest

    • vv. 15-20: What to do with those who sin against us

    • vv.21-35: What about the really annoying people?

  • When are we off the hook for forgiveness?

    • 77 or 490 (70 x 7)? Doesn’t matter- the point is never - God doesn’t stop forgiving and so neither should we

  • The parable

    • Severity (Lewis Donelson, Feasting on the Word):

      • Great debt- ten thousand talents- greatest number in Greek

      • 100,000,000 days of labor

      • Selling into slavery- prohibited by Jewish law and rarely done by Greeks or Romans

    • God and us: King and the servant part one

      • Threatened with damnation/ being separated from God

      • Confession and repentance

      • Mercy and Grace

      • Forgiveness and restoration

    • Us and others: Servant and his debtors

      • Much smaller, more manageable amount - about 100 days’ labor.

      • Threatened

      • Confession and repentance

      • No-mercy

      • Condemnation

    • Cheap Grace: King and servant part 2

      • God does not take kindly to cheap grace

      • Forgiveness isn’t fair or deserved

      • Lord’s Prayer Forgive as we forgive - do we mean the words we say?

      • There is an intrinsic notion of “pay it forward”

      • God forgives us, therefore, out of a spirit of gratitude, we are asked to forgive others.

    • Deserve and fairness has nothing to do with it

      • How many times have we been forgiven by God?

      • “We must be careful to distinguish between parable and allegory. As in many rabbinic parables, the figure of the king serves allegorically as a reference to God, but this does not mean that all the details of the king’s behavior can be taken as statements about the nature of God… Just as we do not regard God as an Oriental despot who would sell women into sexual slavery as punishment for their husbands’ sins, so we need not take the concluding detail about unending physical torture as indicative of the divine nature.” (Hare, p. 218)

      • “The theological center is the astounding magnanimity of the king. So it is with the kingdom of heaven.” (Hare, p. 218)

    • Mercy over sacrifice

      • “What’s at stake isn’t just a matter of debt and repayment or transgression and recompense. Ultimately, this is about the balance and integrity of community.”

      • “While the king is owed a debt, he is moved by the slave’s recognition that the debt is owed and by his seemingly heartfelt desire to make amends. It is important to the king that the slave and his family be allowed to continue as productive members of the community. Undoubtedly the king recognizes that extracting payment for the debt by selling off the slave would be disruptive to the cohesiveness of the community. Forgiving the debt may not enrich the king’s coffers, but it maintains the integrity of the community and demonstrates that mercy is the thread that holds the kingdom together.”

  • Forgiveness and abuse

    • “Unlimited forgiveness is not to be confused with sentimental toleration of hurtful behavior. Christians are often guilty of forgiving too much and too quickly” (Douglas Hare, Interpretation, p. 218)

    • How Can I Forgive? by Joretta Marshall

      • Forbearance is a prerequisite of forgiveness, the end of transgression and the safety of the victim are paramount.

      • Forgiveness IS NOT forgetting - God/King has not forgotten the transgressions of the servant and the servant subsequent actions remove the previous forgiveness.

        • Forgiveness is not a one and done act, but is a long and messy process

        • Relationships take a long time to repair and require sustained commitment, safety and trust

    • Marjorie J. Thompson quoted from Charlotte Dudley Cleghorn, Feasting on the Word “To forgive is to make a conscious choice to release the person who has wounded us from the sentence of our judgment, however justified that judgment may be. It represents a choice to leave behind our resentment and desire for retribution, however fair such punishment may seem…. Forgiveness involves excusing persons from the punitive consequences they deserve because of their behavior. The behavior remains condemned, but the offender is released from its effects as far as the forgiver is concerned. Forgiveness means the power of the original wound's power to hold us trapped is broken.” Marjorie J. Thompson, "Moving toward Forgiveness," Weavings, March-April 1992, 19


Exodus 14:19-31

Initial Thoughts

  • Read all of 14 for preparation.  

  • Sea of Reeds or Red Sea?

  • A closer reading is important to battle cultural baggage that is brought to this text.

Bible Study

  • It’s not hard to see two writers at work here. Ralph Klein makes a suggestion in Working Preacher.  The Yahwist and the Priestly stories of crossing the Red Sea (or Sea of Reeds) are converged to make one, somewhat confusing story (see Noah for another example).   When pulled apart, there are two stories that make more sense independently of each other:

  • Yahwist: v. 19-20, 24-25, 30-31 “God’s messenger, who had been in front of Israel’s camp, moved and went behind them. The column of cloud moved from the front and took its place behind them. It stood between Egypt’s camp and Israel’s camp. The cloud remained there, and when darkness fell it lit up the night. They didn’t come near each other all night. As morning approached, the Lord looked down on the Egyptian camp from the column of lightning and cloud and threw the Egyptian camp into a panic. The Lord jammed their chariot wheels so that they wouldn’t turn easily. The Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites, because the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt!”  The Lord rescued Israel from the Egyptians that day. Israel saw the amazing power of the Lord against the Egyptians. The people were in awe of the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.”

    • God works to save both the Egyptians and the Israelites.

    • God’s power intervenes to prevent war

    • Waters parting is not mentioned.

    • Moses is not mentioned.

    • Yahwist Creation story is more concerned with God as a part of the created story - more narrative, more relational.

  • Priestly account: v. 21-23, 26-27, 28-29 “Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord pushed the sea back by a strong east wind all night, turning the sea into dry land. The waters were split into two.The waters were split into two. The Israelites walked into the sea on dry ground. The waters formed a wall for them on their right hand and on their left. The Egyptians chased them and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and cavalry. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the water comes back and covers the Egyptians, their chariots, and their cavalry.”  So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Egyptians were driving toward it, and the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea.  The waters returned and covered the chariots and the cavalry, Pharaoh’s entire army that had followed them into the sea. Not one of them remained.  The Israelites, however, walked on dry ground through the sea. The waters formed a wall for them on their right hand and on their left.”

    • Moses is the great leader, calling upon God’s power to separate the waters.

      • This gives us the powerful image that we are used to in movies, with Moses forming a miraculous canyon through the sea.

    • The Egyptians are thrown into the water, and are destroyed.

    • Priestly account emphasizes Yahweh’s glory and power over and above that of Pharaoh.

    • Yahweh is Warrior God who “Horse and rider, he threw into the sea.”

    • Harkens back to Priestly Creation story, which begins with “God’s wind swept over the waters.”  

    • Priestly creation story is one more concerned with power, control over chaos, and order.  Written during exile to remind people that God is, indeed, powerful and “in control.”

    • Israel’s rebirth - second creation story where God splits the water to give life.

Preaching Thoughts

  • It is debated whether the Yahwist or Priestly accounts came first.  What is clear though, is that both had to be included.  Both the story of God that saves Israel and Egypt, and the God that won a certain victory.  Does this tell us of God’s nature, or about our need to have a clear victory?  The story of God intervening on behalf of peace wasn’t enough, but neither was a purely Warrior God account.  Perhaps this tension is something that should be held still. 

  • Israel’s resurrection story.  Through death, Israel is given new life.  Through the waters of chaos, the people are birthed.  

  • Two responses of God’s work

    • Israelites - Choose faith, and walk through the dry land.  This is a precarious situation, but they come out alive on the other side.

    • Egyptians - Choose death.  Continually pursuing the opposite of God’s plan (unjustly enslaving the Israelites), they are swallowed by the water.


Romans 14:1-12 Don’t judge, love

Initial Thoughts

  • I want to prooftext this so badly and condemn all vegetarians for being weak in the faith :)

Bible Study

  • Don’t make this passage more complicated than it needs to be:

    • Paul is giving examples of division, not casting judgment on who is of weaker or greater faith

    • Vegetarians - Paul might be referring to those Jews who are trying to “keep kosher”

    • Paul’s focus is the continuity of the community- there can be disagreement but disagreement should not destroy the beloved community

    • We are called to live in diverse communities, not to judge others and force our ideas upon them - are we willing to remain at the table with those who would deny us a seat?

  • Defined by Grace, not by sin

    • Paul addresses a razor thin, but all too important nuance of faith - we are not to be defined by sin nor are we to define others by sin

    • Judgement is cloaked in self-righteousness. We judge others by the sins they made or we think they made and it is a short step to defining them only by that sin. Instead of the image of God all we see is the sin. That judgement then reflects back upon us as we define ourselves in opposition to that sin.

    • When we define others by their sin and fail to see them as a beloved child of God we can easily justify any judgement or action against the “other” because they are no longer a sibling, no longer a member of the beloved community, no longer part of us, but have been relegated to “them”

    • Our identity is not based on any particular political, economic or moral issue. Our identity is grounded in the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

    • If we lose sight of or deny that love and grace to others (even those who deny it to us) then we have truly lost our way.

  • What about holding others accountable?

    • Does this mean anything goes? Definitely not.

    • Sin must be confronted and addressed, but holding someone accountable for their words and action is different from judging who they, as a person, are.

    • We are all one in Christ, we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God - the love and grace of God incarnate in Jesus Christ refuses to allow us to be defined by our sin.

    • We can continually affirm, “You are welcome at the table.”, but “your behavior is not”

  • Love the sinner- hate the sin?

    • Melissa’s email - I hear what you are saying about denouncing evil actions while remembering that those doing the evil actions are beloved children of God. However, as a lesbian who has heard it more than once, your commentary of separating action from the person doing the action sounds dangerously close to the old "love the sinner, hate the sin" ideology that has been so harmful to so many. How are you differentiating what you were saying from this vantage point?
      • The difference is confusing sin with who someone is created to be. Love the sinner, hate the sin regarding LGBTQ assumes that LGBTQ is a choice and a sinful choice. I reject both of those conclusions. Being LGBTQ or straight is not a choice but the way in which we are beautifully and wonderfully made by God. It is not a sin. White supremacy, hate speech, hate actions, racism - these are choices and sins. These actions need to be called out exposed for the destructive lies they are, and those who continue to espouse them must be held accountable. However, even though - to a certain extent - our actions do define us, at our core we are all children of God, created in God's image. Furthermore God calls us to love and pray for our enemies and those who hate and persecute us... Easier for me to say as a white, heterosexual man who has not been oppressed, marginalized or told he was unloved, unsaved or a sinner because of who God created me to be. Aware of this privilege, I still believe that God is calling us to hold one another accountable for sinful words and actions, while affirming our one-ness as children wonderfully, beautifully and diversely made in God's image.

Preaching Thoughts

  • Too often churches get caught up in the details of community life and forget to love one another. Judgement is so natural and easy.

  • Do you and your faith community define themselves by what you are for or by what you are against? It seems many progressive communities increasingly define themselves by what they are against instead of what they are for.

  • How would you define being weak of faith?

    • Are you willing to welcome those whom you view as being weak in the faith?


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”).