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Proper 21A, Tr 1 (14 Trinity,
25.09.2011) (Back to Church)
Exod 17.1-7: Moses strikes rock, brings forth water
Ps 78.1-4, 12-16: wonders in wilderness, including water
Phil 2.1-13: includes kenotic hymn
Matt 21:23-32: heads I win, tails you lose (Was John from God or men?) (969)
Merciful God, your Son came to save us and bore
our sins on the cross: may we trust in your mercy and know your love, rejoicing
in the righteousness that is ours through Jesus Christ our Lord.
(Jesus as Wisdom or as simply a human being is the one to follow.)
the Book of Exodus the Israelites were a rebellious lot, bellyaching and
complaining repeatedly during their time in the wilderness.
If last Sunday’s reading from Exodus told of how God filled their
grumbling stomachs with manna, then today’s story includes Moses being told to
strike the rock at Meribah, and when he does so it brings forth water to quench
their complaining about having nothing to drink.
This is picked up in our psalm, which, like last week’s, tells of
God’s wonderful works during the wilderness wanderings.
This incident is also mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians. But when Paul
speaks of this event and applies it to Christ, you would probably scratch your
head if I simply read it to you straight, that is, without any explanatory
If there is a
major lens through which Paul and the evangelists view Jesus, then I think it is
probably the view developed in the Wisdom tradition.
writings include in the OT the books of Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Psalms, and
The Song of Songs. Two further books
are in the Apocrypha, namely, Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus.
Wisdom, which basically stands for God’s will, is presented as a person, often
feminine, who calls people to embrace God’s ways of righteousness.
Wisdom is also God’s agent through whom all things come into being.
In the Book of
Wisdom, Wisdom itself is presented as being wise, powerful, and well-born, terms
which you have heard me more than once apply to that proper humanity which we
see in Jesus through his total dependence on the Father, a theme that is echoed
in today’s reading from Philippians which speaks of Jesus’ total emptying of
himself, that is, for total dependence upon his Father.
In effect, in the biblical tradition, Wisdom is about being a
God-fashioned humanity, both as individuals and as communities.
So you can
readily see why Jesus himself is presented as being God’s wisdom and God’s
word, taking on all the functions of the figure of Wisdom in the Jewish
Just one thing
more and we’ll turn to the water-bearing rock passage in 1 Corinthians.
There was a Jewish tradition that the rock itself was Wisdom and that it
travelled with the Israelites up hill and down dale, and this Paul has picked up
and applied to Christ.
Here is the
beginning of 1 Corinthians, chapter 10: ‘I
do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all
under the cloud and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses
in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food and all drank
the same spiritual drink. For they
drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.
Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck
down in the wilderness. Now these
occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did.’ (1
You can hear
echoes of baptism and the eucharist in this passage, so, Paul says, don’t
think these by themselves will be enough. He
then goes on to apply all the actions of the rebellious Israelites as examples
to be avoided by members of the Corinthian community.
In this section Paul, following Jewish understanding, addresses four
types of people: firstly, the simple; secondly, the direct; thirdly, the
scoffer, and finally the wise. Three times in Exodus and once in Deuteronomy the
father of a family is told to tell his son about the Passover, with the rabbis
detecting a different kind of son being involved each time: a son so simple he
must be told since he won’t ask, a straightforward upright son who needs a
simple direct answer, a scoffing son who does not take in the instruction, and
finally a wise son, who wants to learn all of it.
I am not going
into that now, but I have bothered to tell you since the next time I am on deck,
the 23rd of October, the pattern of the four sons will turn up in our
reading from Matthew’s Gospel. So
be forewarned. Now back to Paul.
terms, we are not saved, but rather we are in the process of being saved, that
is of being made whole and healthy. He
even says of himself that he keeps on ... ‘lest having preached to others, I
should find myself a castaway.’
Gospel Jesus puts the Jewish authorities in a bind.
It has ironic humour in it when he forces them into what to them is an
invidious choice where they can’t win no matter what they say.
It is simply, ‘Heads: I win; Tails: you lose.
But, seriously, since the question is basically about the status of
Jesus, what is our answer going to be? Is
Jesus of God or is Jesus of men? If
we believe that Jesus is of God, then we are to follow him as embodying all that
God calls us to, the Wisdom of being a true human being.
On the other hand, if we believe that Jesus is of men, then Jesus is the
very best person that we know, and so we still follow his example as being the
best there is, again, the true Wisdom. ‘Heads
I win; Tails you lose,’ or even heads – you win; tails – you win.
words in 1 Corinthians, ‘For I determined to make nothing known among you save
Jesus Christ and him crucified’. I
would say the same to you, so decide and verify your decision by putting your
money where your mouth is by following Jesus, our Lord and brother with joy
rather than bellyaching. And
continue to gather with us as we together remember Jesus at this meal.