Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost - October 15, 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 32:1-14

The people of Israel have received the Ten Commandments verbally, but Moses is still up on Mount Sinai receiving them in writing. To the people, he is “delayed” (or shamefully late, per another translation). They ask Aaron to “make gods”, thus breaking the first (and second) Commandments. Why is “gods” plural? Either Aaron compromises by only making one calf, or (more likely) the story as handed down orally mentioned only one. Then, when it was written down, the plural was used. But why? After Solomon’s death (in 930 BC), Israel split into two kingdoms. To avoid people visiting Jerusalem (which was in the south), the king of the northern kingdom, Jeroboam, had two golden calves made, and had one set up at each of two alternative places of worship (see 1 Kings 12:28-30). The writer had two objectives (which to us conflict here):

  • to record history, and
  • to teach that Jerusalem was the only proper centre of worship.
  • In our reading, the people willfully rebel against God. (Modern Jewish translations consider Elohim, god or “gods”, to be singular, thus implying that Judaism has always been monotheistic.)

    In v. 7, by telling Moses that Israel is “your” people, God threatens Israel. He says that they have “acted perversely” or succumbed to moral decay . (The word translated “revel” in v. 6 has connotations of immorality.) God threatens his “wrath” (v. 10); he even offers to make Moses the founder of a new “great nation”. But Moses does not give in to this temptation; rather he stands by Israel. He pleads with God: you have looked after us so far, so why quit now? Won’t the Egyptians be able to claim that you are evil: that you led the people of Israel out into the desert in order to kill them? (v. 12) Please God, don’t go back on your promises to the patriarchs!

    In v. 14, God does change “his mind” or lets himself be sorry , but in vv. 15-35 Moses gets angry with the people, smashes the law tablets, burns and grinds up the calf, and makes the people drink water polluted with the resulting gold powder. Aaron offers a weak excuse for his actions (the people made me do it; the fire formed the gold into a calf) and the Levites, as ordered by God through Moses, put some of the people to death, as punishment. Moses wins pardon for the people, but God punishes all with a plague.


    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 106:1-6,19-23

    This psalm begins as a summons to praise God for his goodness and compassion (“steadfast love”). How can humans adequately praise the “mighty doings” (v. 2) of God? Only the person who is just and righteous can do this (v. 3). May God, when he restores “prosperity” (v. 5) to Israel, include me in his act of deliverance. I will then share in rejoicing in his deeds of help to his “chosen ones” (Israel) in the past. The people have sinned as their ancestors did (v. 6). Vv. 7-47 recall the ways in which the people of Israel failed to live up to their pact with God during the Exodus. V. 19 tells the sorry tale of making of the “calf” image at “Horeb”, i.e. Mount Sinai. They worshipped this image, one of “an ox that eats grass” (v. 20), i.e. a bull. (The “land of Ham”, v. 22, is Egypt.) Moses succeeded in convincing God not to be angry, to refrain from destroying them. The psalm ends (v. 48) by praising God, Israel’s god through all ages.


    Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, a prosperous Roman colony in northern Greece, from prison. We do not know whether this imprisonment was in Ephesus or in Rome. It appears that he was held under house arrest. It is possible that the epistle is actually made up of three letters. It contains many personal references, exhorts members of the Philippian church to live the Christian life and to good ethical conduct, introduces Timothy and Epaphroditus as his representatives, and warns against legalists and libertines. Lastly, he thanks the Philippian community for their material support.

    Philippians 4:1-9

    Paul began the conclusion to the letter back in 3:1a. After a digression – to warn against heresy and self-indulgence and to urge devotion to Christ – he tries to finish the letter, but certain concerns intrude. It seems that “Euodia” (v. 2) and “Syntyche”, two workers for Christ at Philippi, differ in their understanding of what the way of Christ is, and that this is causing disunity in the community. We do not know to whom Paul refers as his “loyal companion” (v. 3); he is asked to be instrumental in achieving reconciliation. We read of “Clement” nowhere else. The idea that God keeps a “book of life”, a roll of the faithful to be opened at the end of time, is also found in Exodus 32:32 and Psalm 69:28; in Luke 10:20, Jesus bids his disciples to “rejoice that ... [their] names are written in heaven”. V. 4 is the conventional Greek salutation (like our goodbye) but here Paul means “rejoice” literally. He expects the Second Coming soon: “The Lord is near” (v. 5). Then v. 6: rather than worrying on their own, the Philippians should ask God to help them, through prayer, both of “supplication” (petition) and of “thanksgiving”. God’s peace will protect them against their own failings and external threats. The virtues Paul exhorts his followers to pursue in v. 8 are those for which any Greek was expected to strive: he urges moral uprightness to all who follow Christ.

    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 22:1-14

    This is the third parable about the kingdom of heaven. Jesus’ audience would naturally associate a festive meal with the celebration of God’s people at the end of time. This story has elements of harshness and tragedy; some responses seem disproportionate to the crime. It was the custom for the host to send “his slaves” (v. 3) to invite the guests, and again to tell them when dinner was ready; preparing a banquet took many hours. To refuse to come, to refuse a king’s command, is treason; to kill his slaves (v. 6) amounts to insurrection, so the king sends troops to put down the rebellion. After those whom the king had chosen refuse to come, he invites all people, “both good and bad” (v. 10). (In Jesus’ day tax collectors were considered “bad”.) One guest is ill-prepared for the banquet (v. 11); the king banishes him to torment.

    We recognize the king as God. The first guests are those who are hostile to Jesus; the one without the wedding robe represents those who do not count the cost in becoming disciples. The judgement on anyone who does not prepare will be at least as severe as that on those who reject Christ. The final verse is the moral of the story – a generalization of Jesus’ intent in telling the parable.

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