Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost - September 17, 2023

Saint Dominic contemplating the Scriptures

Saint Dominic
contemplating the Scriptures

Comments have been prepared by Chris Haslam using reputable commentaries, and checked for accuracy by the Venerable Alan T Perry. While not intended to be exhaustive, they are an aid to reading the Scriptures with greater understanding.

Comments are best read with the lessons.

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Lessons for this week from the Vanderbilt University web site

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Exodus is the second book of the Old Testament, and is part of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. Jews refer to these books as "The Torah". At times, they are referred to as "The Law", although "Torah" means teaching. Exodus centres on the rescue of God's chosen people from captivity in Egypt and the making of the great covenant, or agreement with God, at Mount Sinai.

Exodus 14:19-31

After suffering from plagues sent by God, the Pharaoh has allowed the Israelites to leave Egypt. While the direct route to Canaan is along the coast of the Red Sea, God has led them towards the Sea of Reeds ( 13:17-18), out of concern that they may abort their mission if beset by enemies. Finding the Egyptian frontier forts too strong, they have turned back at God’s behest. He has fooled the Egyptians into thinking that the Israelites were trapped, and then pursuing them. His plan will show Israel’s God to be victor over Egypt and her gods.

The Pharaoh has had his chariots prepared for battle ( 14:6). The appearance of the Egyptian army has struck fear in the Israelites – they have complained ( 14:11, for the first of many times in the Exodus saga) about Moses’ leadership (and God’s): they prefer slavery to certain death. But Moses has calmed his people, by assuring them of rescue – with God fighting with them – if they do not panic. God has commanded Moses to divide the sea.

The “pillar of fire and cloud” (v. 24) may have their origins as markers carried at the head of an army or caravan, but from this event on they become symbols of God’s presence. The “angel of God” (v. 19) comes between the Israelites and the Egyptians protecting God’s people and confusing the Egyptians, as does the “pillar of cloud”.

The Sea of Reeds (“the sea”, v. 21) is shallow and surrounded with marshy land. God uses a natural phenomenon to achieve his purpose: east winds strong enough to blow away the water do occur. The battle turns when the Egyptian chariots bog down in the soft earth (v. 25). The story was handed down orally from one generation to the next; that “the waters” (vv. 22, 29) form a “wall” suggest that it grew in the telling. Vv. 30-31 are probably a later editorial comment: God saves; subjugation to the Egyptians is over; the Israelites have seen the marvel which God has done for them, so they hold him in awe and trust in him. We do not know precisely what happened at the Sea of Reeds, but we see the result: God sets his people on his way, led by Moses.


Psalms is a collection of collections. The psalms were written over many centuries, stretching from the days of Solomon's temple (about 950 BC) to after the Exile (about 350 BC.) Psalms are of five types: hymns of praise, laments, thanksgiving psalms, royal psalms, and wisdom psalms. Within the book, there are five "books"; there is a doxology ("Blessed be ... Amen and Amen") at the end of each book.

Psalm 114

Vv. 1-3 speak of the Exodus in the briefest of terms, stating its initial and final events: the people saw the Sea of Reeds and the “Jordan” divided. Perhaps v. 4 speaks of the earth tremors which accompanied God’s appearance on Mount Sinai. Why, ask vv. 5-6, did these remarkable phenomena occur? Because the lord of all creation was present. He even commanded the “rock” (v. 8) at Meribah to gush forth water, thus relieving the thirst of the Israelites during the Exodus. As the physical earth responded to God’s command then, do so now!


Exodus is the second book of the Old Testament, and is part of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. Jews refer to these books as "The Torah". At times, they are referred to as "The Law", although "Torah" means teaching. Exodus centres on the rescue of God's chosen people from captivity in Egypt and the making of the great covenant, or agreement with God, at Mount Sinai.

Exodus 15:1b-11,20-21

After God has rescued the Israelites from the Egyptians, Moses and the people sing a song of praise and thanksgiving to him. He is pictured as a “warrior” (v. 3) fighting for his people: a common metaphor in the ancient Near East. God’s “right hand” (v. 6) symbolizes his power. “The waters” (v. 8) were seen as powerful and hostile; God even commands them. Early Israelite theology recognized multiple “gods” (v. 11) who later became members of God’s heavenly council; God is the greatest – in sacredness, worthiness of awe-full contemplation, and in deeds to be marvelled at. The song ends as it began, with Miriam’s song (v. 21) – so perhaps she composed the whole passage and the women led the rejoicing. She is called a “prophet” in v. 20 for her exemplary enthusiastic devotion to God.


Romans is the first epistle in the New Testament, although not the first to be written. Paul wrote it to the church at Rome, which included both Jews and Gentiles. His primary theme is the basics of the good news of Christ, salvation for all people. The book was probably written in 57 AD, when Paul was near the end of his third missionary journey around the Eastern Mediterranean. It is unusual in that it was written to a church that Paul had not visited.

Romans 14:1-12

Paul writes about two kinds of Christians:

  • those who being “weak in faith” concern themselves with details and added practices (rather than the main objective) and
  • the strong who concentrate on God’s purposes.
  • The “weak” are to be welcomed as full members of the community “for God has welcomed them” (v. 3). The particular practices (of piety) mentioned are not eating meat (“eat only vegetables”, v. 2), fasting regularly (vv. 5-6) and abstaining from “wine” (v. 21).

    In Roman society, it was considered ill-mannered to “pass judgement” (v. 4) on the conduct of another master’s servant; he was answerable to his “own lord” or master. Similarly, each Christian is answerable to “the Lord” and should not be criticized. One’s own conviction (v. 5) before God is what matters. Living (and dying) for God is our objective (v. 8); we should not judge; God will judge our conduct at the end of time: “each of us will be accountable to God” (v. 12).

    In 14:13-15:6, Paul writes to the strong, those who see the purpose of life clearly. They should refrain from causing others to lose their faith; and not let their ideas and practices, however good, be misconstrued as evil. Rather they are to “pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (v. 19). It is through living in a manner consistent with one’s conscience that one achieves a right relationship with God (v. 22). One’s actions must be founded in faith (v. 23).

    Symbol of St Matthew


    This gospel is the first in the New Testament, but it was probably the second to be written. Scholars recognize that it borrows material from Mark, and from a sayings source containing sayings of Jesus and known as Q (for Quelle, German for source). The author shows an understanding of Jewish culture and religion not found in the other gospels. It was probably written about 80 to 90 AD, possibly for a largely Jewish audience.

    Matthew 18:21-35

    Jesus has told the disciples how the community is to discipline those who disrupt its harmony by going against God’s ways. If such a person fails to respond to private counselling, he or she is to be judged by two of the disciples. What they decide, God will ratify. But they should realize that God forgives many times; however there are limits – as Jesus explains in a parable.

    The story-line of the parable is straight-forward. There are three episodes:

  • a king decides to “settle accounts with his slaves” (v. 23, or possibly with court officials or even with finance ministers or tax gatherers); one of them owes “ten thousand talents” (v. 24), i.e. millions of dollars (to Jesus’ audience, as much as the fabled riches of Egyptian and Persian kings); he, of course, is unable to pay, so (as Mosaic law permitted) he and his family are to be sold; when he seeks forgiveness of the loan, the king grants it. (v. 27);
  • But this slave then demands payment of a loan of three month’s wages (“a hundred denarii”, v. 28) from a fellow slave, and when forgiveness is sought, refuses to grant it (v. 30);
  • When the king hears about this, he retracts his forgiveness and has the first slave tortured – probably for ever (v. 34).
  • In v. 35, Jesus identifies the figures in the parable: the king is God, the first slave any Christian, and the second slave any other person. Jesus makes a point in each of the episodes:

  • God loves us so much that he will forgive any sin, however grievous;
  • it is absurd to live in a way contrary to God’s love and mercy; and
  • those who accept forgiveness from God but fail to forgive others likewise will be punished eternally.
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