Lesson: Exodus 19:2-8a
2 The Israelites had journeyed from Rephidim, entered the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; Israel camped there in front of the mountain. 3 Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: 4 You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, 6 but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.”
7 So Moses came, summoned the elders of the people, and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. 8 The people all answered as one: “Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do.”
The Book of Exodus is the second book of the Bible, and covers the period from the slavery in Egypt under Pharaoh (around 1250 BCE, if the account is historical), the Exodus itself, and the early months in the Wilderness.
Like Genesis, Exodus is an amalgam of religious traditions. Today’s reading is from the Priestly writer – shown by the emphasis on precise dates. The events occurred “on the very day” of the third new moon after leaving Egypt, the day the Israelites reached Sinai. (The holy mountain is called “Horeb” by other writers even within Exodus – for example, Ex. 3:1.)
YHWH proposed a conditional covenant to Moses and the Israelites (“If you obey my voice” v.5), and all the people responded that they would do all that YHWH had spoken (v.8). In the chapters that follow (20 to 23), the Law was given.
In later tradition, the giving of the Law at Sinai became the theological basis in Judaism for the Feast of Weeks/Pentecost, a feast that originally celebrated the spring barley harvest (Ex. 23.16) and occurred 50 days after Passover.
Epistle: Romans 5:1-8
1 Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person– though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.
Paul’s letter to the Romans was his longest, last and most complex letter. It was written in the late 50s or early 60s (CE) to a Jesus Follower community that Paul did not establish. Among other messages in the letter, Paul sought to encourage respectful and supportive relationships between the Gentile Jesus Followers and the Jewish Jesus Followers in Rome.
The Roman Emperor Claudius had expelled the Jews from Rome in 49 CE. His successor, Nero (54-68 CE), allowed Jews (including Jewish Jesus Followers) to return to Rome, and this created tensions about leadership and worship within the Jesus Follower Community.
Paul was a Jew who became a Jesus Follower who saw the Jesus Follower Movement as part of a broader Judaism and continued to have expectations about the fullness of the Coming of the Messiah/the Christ. The term “Christian” had not been invented in his lifetime.
Paul uses some words that are difficult for us. He says we are “justified” in verse 1. This means living in “righteousness” or in a right relationship with God and others – being “justified” as a page of type is “justified” when the margins are square on both the left and the right.
Paul’s use of the word “faith” (v.1) is better understood as “faithfulness” because the Greek word has an active aspect. Today, “Faith” is often understood as intellectual assent to one or more propositions. “Faithfulness” is active living into one’s beliefs through grace and trust in God.
Paul died in 63 or 64 CE. All during Paul’s life, animal sacrifices at the Jerusalem Temple (which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE) were a way Jews were reconciled to YHWH. It is therefore not surprising that Paul used “sacrifice” language to interpret the meaning of the Crucifixion: “Christ died for us” (v.8); and we are “justified by his blood” (v. 9).
Gospel: Matthew 9:35-10:23
Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him. These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”