Reflections for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost
“Is the LORD among us or not?”
That question comes because the Israelites were thirsty and angry; it’s born out of quarrel and fear. As we read the passage, we know it’s not the right question to ask. Having the benefit of the whole book of Exodus (and the whole of Scripture), we already know that God perpetually provides for the people of Israel.
But it’s easier to see God’s provisions in times of bounty, and it’s hard to see bounty when there’s just barely enough. This is the perpetual challenge to us as Christians, praying for our daily bread.
God won’t let God’s people perish. On the rock at Horeb, Moses draws water from a rock, and provides a response to the people of Israel: Of course the Lord is among us. Will that be enough to satisfy us?
There’s a temptation to read this text and fixate on the first few verses, focusing on community ethics. But, as Paul reminds us, that part doesn’t make sense without what comes next. Christ is at the center of every Good.
Wesley’s sermon “On Working Out Our Own Salvation” reminds us that our sanctification, while necessary, depends on God’s actions first. We can’t achieve those first few verses unless the last few are true: “For it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” That, in turn, doesn’t make sense unless Christ really is who Paul says he is in verses 5–11.
This text allows us to remember that Grace is both at work in us, and that Grace is calling us to work.
The Gospel of Matthew always seems be harder on the religious than the non-religious. It always strikes me as a perpetual trap.
Jesus gives the scenario where two sons are asked to work in the family vineyard. One says no, but later has a change of heart. The other agrees to work, but never quite finds his way there. Whenever these types of scenarios come up, I’m always tempted to see myself as the one who went. I think that might just be the trap that Jesus sets up for us. The Kingdom of God is full of unexpected people, and maybe it’s not always the ones who said, “I will go.”