Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost - October 18, 2020

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, of the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton. 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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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 33:12-23

From vv. 7-11, we learn that Moses has pitched the tent of meeting, a place where people could seek God, outside the camp. “the Lord used to speak to Moses ... as one speaks to a friend” (v. 11). The golden calf incident has driven a wedge between God and his people; they feel separated from God. Now Moses asks: God, you have told me to lead the people (they were brought out of Egypt), but whom will you “send with me” (v. 12), as a sign of your presence? Our relationship is mutual: I know you and I acknowledge you. Israel is “your people” (v. 13) as well as mine (even if they are disobedient). In another translation, v. 14 is a question: God asks, if my presence were to go with you, would it make you rest easy? Moses answers (v. 15): if you will not be present with us, why did you bring us out here into the desert? How will it be known that you are with us? (v. 16) By being with us, we will be your elect (“distinct”, v. 16) people, chosen over other peoples. Moses receives assurance that God will guide Israel (v. 17), because of the special relationship between him and their leader.

Moses now seeks to know God better, something closer than friendship, i.e. to see his very glory (v. 18). God does promise him “goodness” (v. 19) and grace (“gracious”), but God chooses to whom he reveals himself (“show mercy ...”) Moses cannot possibly see God’s face: to ancient peoples, to see a god’s face was to invite death. Even so, God does grant Moses more knowledge of him than that he gives to others: he will see his “back” (v. 23) but not his face. In Chapter 34, God makes a new pact with the people.


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 99

This is a hymn of praise to God as king. The endings of Vv. 3, 5 and 9 are perhaps a refrain, said or sung by worshippers as they “extol” (v. 9) God. God, on his throne above the “cherubim” (v. 1, the half-human, half-animal creatures thought to hover above the altar) in the Temple, is to be praised by “all the peoples” (v. 2). V. 4 lists some qualities God has shown “Jacob”, the people of Israel. His “footstool”, v. 5, is the Ark. For Israel, God has also:

  • helped people in need (vv. 6, 8);
  • given them just laws (v. 7); and
  • punished and forgiven them where appropriate (v. 8).
  • “Moses ... Aaron” (v. 6) and “Samuel” were known for communicating with God and were his representatives. “His holy mountain” (v. 9) is Mount Zion, the hill on which Jerusalem stands.

    1 Thessalonians

    This letter is perhaps the oldest book in the New Testament. Paul (with Silvanus and Timothy) founded the church there during his second missionary journey, and as is recorded in Acts 17, was forced to leave the city due to persecution. Many Greeks who already worshipped God, many pagans and "important women" became Christians. The letter was written from Athens to strengthen the new Christians in their faith.

    1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

    This letter opens as did private letters of the time. Paul states that it is from him and two associates (although he is actually the author). Silvanus is the Gentile name of Silas, the person who brought to Antioch the Jerusalem Council’s decision that Gentile Christians were not required to observe Jewish cultural/religious practices. The word translated “church” here can mean any assembly, so Paul makes it clear: the letter is to the community at Thessalonica which believes in God as Father and holds the Christ (messiah) to be his Son, Jesus. A letter began with a greeting, and Paul uses his usual one: “Grace to you and peace”.

    Paul launches into brotherly affection: he and those with him remember the members of the church in their prayers, thankful for their “work of faith” (v. 3), their wholehearted assent to God and his plan for salvation, for their “labour of love”, their hard work of active caring for others, and their “steadfastness of hope”, their patient endurance of all suffering in the hope of salvation. (English has no adequate translation for the words he uses.) This is happening, he says, because God has “chosen you” (v. 4): they have embraced the good news not only intellectually (“in word only”, v. 5) but also in divine action: working abundantly (“with full conviction”) aided by the Holy Spirit. Further, he and his companions found their conversion efforts among them highly effective. The Thessalonians have become “imitators” (v. 6) of Paul and of Christ, being joyful in spite of persecution; they have become examples for others to imitate throughout the province (“Macedonia”, v. 7) and elsewhere. People know how they were converted from worshipping false gods represented by “idols” (v. 9), gods who are lifeless and not what they seem to be – to worshipping “a living and true God”, to awaiting the second coming of Christ, whom God “raised from the dead” (v. 10), and who will rescue us from the “wrath”, the punishment at the end of time for those who oppose God’s ways.

    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 22:15-22

    Back in 21:23, as Jesus was teaching in the Temple, Jewish officials questioned his authority to do “these things”, all he has done in his earthly ministry. Jesus declined to answer the question, for the answer could only be understood by those with faith. Just before our reading, we find the parable of the Wedding Feast, which the Pharisees saw as an attack on them.

    Now followers of the “Pharisees” (v. 15) and “Herodians” (v. 16, people who supported Herod, the Roman puppet king, and his successors) – united only in their desire to get rid of Jesus – speak to him. They appear to respect him, but speak with irony. And then the question, the subject of great debate in Jewish circles: should we pay the annual poll tax to Rome? (v. 17) Opinions varied: one group, the Zealots, claimed that God’s people should not be subject to pagan Gentiles. Jesus sees through their plot; he calls them “hypocrites” (v. 18) for pretending to respect him but intending to discredit him. If Jesus says yes, Zealots and other Jews hostile to Rome will turn against him; if he says no, he will risk arrest for inciting rebellion against Rome. We know his answer, as translated, but “Give” (v. 21) can be give back or repay. To Jews then and to us now, all we have is given to us by God; we owe everything to him. Jesus sidesteps another issue (vv. 20-22): the obverse side of the coin is inscribed Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus, great high priest – an affront to his fellow monotheistic Jews.

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