Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost - August 20, 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.

Feedback to
is always welcome.

Lessons for this week from the Vanderbilt University web site

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Genesis is the first book of the Bible. It begins with two versions of the creation story, neither of them intended to be scientific but telling us why we are on earth. In the story of Adam and Eve, it tells us that we are responsible, under God, for the care of all creation. It then continues with the stories of the patriarchs: Abraham (who enters into a covenant (or treaty) with God), Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.

Genesis 45:1-15

Joseph has risen to power in Egypt. There is a famine in much of the Middle East, and Jacob (Israel) has sent ten of his sons to buy grain, but has kept Benjamin, son of his favourite wife and full brother of Joseph, at home. When they seek to buy grain, they are accused of spying; as surety that they will return with Benjamin, they must leave Simeon behind in Egypt. To lose Benjamin would break Jacob's heart, but the old man agrees to his heir joining his brothers on the second trek to Egypt. When they depart for home with the grain, Joseph has them arrested for stealing: he has had his silver cup placed in Benjamin's pack, where it is found, so Benjamin is detained. Judah pleads for Benjamin's release, saying that he expects Jacob to die if Benjamin fails to return home. And here our reading begins.

Joseph can no longer hide himself from his brothers. He dismisses his courtiers, to be alone with his family: this is a personal affair. He identifies himself (v. 3) and then (vv. 5-8) explains the theology behind what has happened to him: God has worked through his brothers. By selling him into slavery, he says, “God sent me before you to preserve life”. God acts in history, through special people. It is Joseph's management of Egypt's grain stores that will keep Jacob's family (clan) alive through the famine. Israel, “a remnant on earth” (v. 7) will survive. God has even made Joseph “a father to Pharaoh” (v. 8), vizier or prime minister.

In v. 9, Joseph shows that he is eager to see his father again: “... do not delay”. He offers them land in “Goshen” (v. 10), the fertile area east of the Nile delta. There they will be “near” (v. 10) him: this and other clues in this chapter place the story in time: the royal court was in lower Egypt during two periods; the Hyksos period (1720-1550 BC) fits this and other data in the story. Joseph forgives his brothers (v. 15).


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 133

This psalm is headed A Song of Ascents. Perhaps it was sung by pilgrims as they came together, journeying up to Jerusalem and up the steps of the Temple. It fits well with today's reading from Genesis, for it also speaks of brotherly love among the people of God. The pilgrims were probably from various tribes, and tribal differences were common. It is, says v. 2, like the anointing of the high priest; “Aaron” was the first one. The high priest's hair was saturated with oil (Exodus 29:7), signifying his total consecration to God. Mount “Hermon” (v. 3, west of Damascus) receives copious rain; for Jerusalem (“Zion”) to receive as much would be true abundance. It is on Jerusalem that God has “ordained his blessing”, i.e. he is the inexhaustible source of “life”, “forevermore”.


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 11:1-2a,29-32

Paul has argued that Israel will not be saved at the Last Day. Most Jews have rejected the approach to oneness with God attainable through God’s love. The fault for their alienation from God, he has written, lies with them. But he has hinted, based on Isaiah, that “a remnant of them will be saved” ( 9:27).

“Has God rejected his people?” (v. 1) No, says Paul: you can be a member of God's first chosen people, an “Israelite” and Christian: he is an example. So God has not totally cast off the people he chose long ago, even if they are at times disobedient to God's will. When God makes a promise, he keeps it: Israel is still chosen (v. 29). (Vv. 2b-24 speak of the waywardness of Israel. As in Elijah’s time, there is now a faithful remnant, i.e. Jewish Christians. It was, he says, the failure of the mission to the Jews that led to the mission to the Gentiles. Gentile Christians will provide an example for Jews, leading them to seek oneness with him in faith.)

Now vv. 30-32: Gentile Christians (“you”) were once unfaithful (“disobedient”) to God but because they (Israel) were unfaithful, Gentiles have been brought to Christ. Their unfaithfulness has a purpose: that they may be brought back to God. “Disobedience” provides God with the opportunity to give his love (“mercy”) to both Jews and Gentiles.

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 15:(10-20),21-28

Pharisees have come to Jesus asking why his disciples break the oral law, which they believe to be God-given and to have equal status with Mosaic Law: why do they not wash before eating? (v. 2) He has pointed out to them that at times they give priority to the oral law over the biblical Law. The Pharisees teach rules of human, rather than divine, origin.

Now (v. 10) he tells the crowd a “parable” (v. 15), a saying with a hidden meaning. He sees moral behaviour (“out of the mouth”, v. 11) as important, not food laws (“into the mouth”). When the disciples point out that he has offended the Pharisees (v. 12) by his reply to their question, he is blunt: do not follow them; being “blind” (v. 14), they and their followers will be judged adversely (“pit”). When Peter asks for an explanation, Jesus addresses all the disciples (“you”, v. 16, is plural). What is eaten, Jesus says, even though ritually clean, ends up unclean (“sewer”, v. 17), so food laws are unimportant (in spite of being in the Law). The “mouth” (v. 18) was seen as the channel by which the “heart”, the very being, expressed itself. Immoral behaviour (“evil intentions ...”, v. 19) does alienate one from God (“defile”, v. 20) but breaking laws of human origin does not.

Now a “Canaanite” (v. 22) woman, from Phoenicia (“Tyre ...”, v. 21) and probably a Gentile, calls for help. She recognizes him as the Messiah (“Lord, Son of David”, v. 22). Even though the disciples advise sending her away and Jesus says that his mission is to “Israel” (v. 24), she manages to kneel before him (v. 25). He tests her (v. 26): the “children” are Jews, their “food” the gospel, and “the dogs” the Gentiles. Her answer, that he can still help her, demonstrates her faith in him.

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