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This Week's Commentary
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 5, 2014Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20 | Psalm 19 | Philippians 3:4b-14 | Matthew 21:33-46
I strongly suggest checking back to 2002, when Marjorie Suchocki wrote on these texts, to 2005 for Dr. Cobb’s specific take, to 2008 to see what Episcopal Priest Paul Nancarrow shared and to 2011 when Rick Marshall introduces Process thought in a focused way.* These scholars and preachers did a very good job and should inspire preachers for the task ahead this October.
My particular take this time is to look at the direction in which all these texts seem to be heading. This direction is perceived only when one takes seriously the total message of the authors using the specific texts Sunday to Sunday to clarify and pinpoint.
In 2005, Dr. Cobb focused strongly on the message of Paul, this time I would suggest, in light of what is happening in the nation and the world, to look at Mathew’s message as it seeks to move the readers and hearers from tribalism to universalism. This perspective is not so clear passage by passage, especially this month, but it is crystal clear as one moves through the whole gospel.
Mathew has been seen by many scholars as a kind of Christian Midrash. It is clear to most students of this Gospel that the author is addressing a Jewish group and is endeavoring to present Jesus as being in a direct line from Moses, through Prophetic Judaism. The specific pairing of the Mosaic perspective and the Mathean Gospel gives preachers this unique opportunity to preach this direction without appearing to imply a kind of superiority of Christianity over Judaism. The proper presentation needs to highlight the incipient universalism in the Moses story. Moses is an Egyptian name, the baby Moses survives because of courageous Egyptian women who defy astutely the command of the Pharaoh to kill the male babies and then is taken into the very heart of the empire. Moses later dwelt in Median and was kept alive by those in the margins of the empire. Universalism is present in seed in this marvelous story.
Mathew seizes the opportunity to expand on the seminal universalism present in prophetic Judaism. In the genealogy of Jesus he includes four women, all of whom appear to be less than the paragons of virtue one might want to have in the family tree of our Lord. But all of the women that Matthew includes are, by the simple fact that they are women, opening the door of inclusivity and universalism.
Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, “the wife of Uriah,” and Mary are all on the surface women of suspect repute. But the most telling point for the universalizing message is the fact that Rahab and Ruth are gentiles and enemies. Matthew tips his hand immediately through this genealogy. Jesus is the descendant of Jews and non Jews and his message is going to move in the direction of universalism. The exclamation point in this message is the “conversion” of Jesus to universalism via a “syro-phoenician woman” who argues that even if Jesus had been sent first to the Jews, the “crums” of his gospel would find their way to the non-Jews.
Hence the texts this month must carry loudly and clearly the idea that all tribalisms must be left behind in favor of the universalizing message contained in seminal form in prophetic Judaism and yielding more fruit in Christianity and Islam. The path from Moses to Mohammed is one that is filled with examples of the move away from tribal concerns and upward to the universal message of love and compassion and peace.
October 5 is World Communion Sunday and Word and Board must clearly be open to all.
*Links provided in the "See Also" section on the right side of the screen.