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Proper 18, Yr A, Tr 1 (11
Exodus 12.1-14: instructions for observance of Pesach
Ps 149: 1st five vv. joyful; last 5 vv. vengeful
Rom 13.8-14: love of neighbour sums it up, so put on the Lord Jesus Christ
Matt 18.15-20: stages of reconciliation: private, with 2or 3, public –whole community
God of glory, the end of our searching, help us
to lay aside all that prevents us from seeking your kingdom, and to give all
that we have to gain the pearl beyond all price,
through our Saviour Jesus Christ. (1048)
(As those called to be reconcilers we may at times need to be reconciled.)
from Exodus has been the instructions for the observance of the one-day feast of
Passover. These instructions are woven into the story of the bringing of
Long before the
Book of Exodus was written the two feasts had been joined together.
The first is the one-day feast of pesach, Passover, and the second
is the week-long feast of unleavened bread, which is specifically mentioned in
Matthew, Mark, Luke and Acts.
In the case of
Pesach, to the best of my knowledge, no one has come up with a convincing
explanation of its origin. It is, however, very likely that it originated among
a group of nomads. And its
sacrificial animal may have possibly been connected with an annual moving of the
herds of sheep and goats from one pasture land to another.
If this was the case, then the sacrifice may have been to ensure a
originally concerned nomads, then the Feast of Unleavened Bread could only arise
with a settled agricultural setting, for it marks the beginning of the barley
Jesus’ day there were three major harvest festivals which were known as the
pilgrimage festivals, because they were times of the year when, if possible, one
would be expected to go to Jerusalem
. The first of these was Pesach
combined with Unleavened Bread, in the early spring.
On the fiftieth day from Passover was Shabuoth, called Pentecost in
Greek, meaning 50 Days. This marked
the end of the wheat harvest. Then
in the autumn came Sukkoth, that is,
Tabernacles, or the Feast of Booths, when Jews lived outdoors in temporary
garden booths to celebrate the fruit harvest. All
three of these feasts came to be associated with events of the Exodus: Passover
with the escape from
When you stop
to think about it, the Christians did something rather similar when they placed
the birth of Jesus at the time of the Roman festival of Sol Invictus, the
Unconquered Sun, and thus proclaimed Jesus as the true light of the world.
From the very
beginning of the Israelite tradition Passover was connected with God’s
It is on this
basis that Paul has just been reminding us in our reading from Romans that it is
the call to active loving of our neighbour for which we have been empowered.
And now to our
Gospel. The Gospel of Matthew is the
most clearly organised of all four of our gospels, with Matthew having in mind
the pastoral needs of a rather settled congregation and setting.
Thus the first flush of adding many converts is long since past, and it
is striking that in Matthew all the imperatives or commands addressed to
potential converts on Jesus’ lips are addressed to the individual, ‘Thou’,
not ‘you-plural’. By now the
response to the call of the gospel is expected to be from individuals, not from
groups. At the end of the
interpretation of the parable of the sower Mark strikes an optimistic note of
the seed bearing fruit 30-fold, sixty-fold or a 100-fold, whereas Matthew
reverses the order: 100, 60, 30-fold, a tapering off.
One of the
problems being faced by Matthew was the pressure to move in the direction of a
judgemental, puritan community which would exclude those who were not up to the
mark. This is what we are
experiencing in the Anglican Communion at present.
We had part of Matthew’s answer to this several weeks ago when we had
the parable of the wheat and the tares, with its saying that there will indeed
be a sorting out in the end, but in the meantime we must remain a mixed
community or we shall hurt good members and those who might otherwise have
It is Matthew
who says when you bring your gift to the altar and remember that your brother
has anything against you, lay down your gift, go ask your brother’s
forgiveness, and only then come and offer your gift.
gospel is the other side of the same coin when it comes to someone who has
sinned against you. First, quietly
speak to the person one-to-one, privately. If
that does not work, then try again with two or three witnesses.
And only if that fails bring the person up before the whole congregation.
And then and them only if that fails is the person to be expelled.
Matthew does not mention it here, but it may be possible that you have
misunderstood the other person, and that no hurt was intended, or it may even
turn out that you yourself were the one at fault, and if you get to the stage of
the two or three witnesses, they may point it out.
It has certainly been my experience that when I have imputed bad motives
to other people’s words and actions that have impinged on me, I have all too
often been wrong.
In any case, we
are called in Christ to a ministry of reconciliation, in which at times we may
be made aware of the need to heed the words, ‘Physician, heal thyself’.
Perhaps that is
something we might well take away from considering today’s readings.