Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost - November 12, 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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Joshua tells of the conquest of the Promised Land (Palestine). God had promised to their forefathers that they would one day occupy this territory. The book begins with the crossing of the Jordan. It then relates the stories of military victories, achieved under his guidance, through which the people of Israel came to control all of the hill country and the Negev Desert. It describes the allotment of land to each of the tribes and ends with Joshua's final address to the people.

Joshua 24:1-3a,14-25

The people of Israel are now residents of Canaan. According to this book, the conquest is complete. The land has been divided among the tribes. We leap forward to the final chapter of the book. The people (or their representatives) gather at Shechem, on the eastern edge of the hill country, some 50 km (30 miles) north of Jerusalem. Shechem was the site of a pagan shrine. Here Abraham built an altar to commemorate his meeting with God; here Jacob, returning from Haran, set up camp, bought land, and erected an altar; here Joseph was buried. Our reading describes a treaty between God and his people, in the general style of treaties between a victorious king and a vanquished people, vassals. Such treaties say: in return for protecting you ..., you are obligated to ... But what really matter to us are the differences from a typical treaty, what makes this an agreement between God and Israel.

In v. 2, God’s titles are given. (“Terah” was Abraham’s father, who “served other gods”.) Vv. 2-13 is the whereas section: the background, the reason why the parties wish a treaty. V. 14 states Israel’s obligations: “to revere the Lord ...”. V. 22 speaks of witnesses, but (then and now) it is odd that the witnesses are parties to the agreement. This treaty, unlike others, is light on the curses: what will happen if either party breaks the oath; v. 20 says “if you forsake the Lord ...” But this verse is discordant with the rest of the reading and with Israel’s experience during the Exile, so perhaps it was inserted later, as a lesson for people of a later age who were straying from worshipping God. V. 25 says that the treaty was ratified, together with subsidiary documents.

Vv. 14-20 are really separate from the treaty. The people have a free choice as to whether they worship God or the local gods, but Joshua and his household elect to serve God (v. 15). The people, recognizing all God has done for them, do choose to serve him. (“Beyond the River”: the river is the Euphrates, so this refers to Aramea, the land to the north. The ”Amorites”, vv. 15, 18, appear to be an indigenous people of the Promised Land.)


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 78:1-7

This psalm, used at major festivals, tells the story of the people of Israel from the Exodus to the reign of David – as a way of teaching that God has continued his saving acts in history in spite of the unfaithfulness of his people. The Hebrew word translated “parable” (v. 2) has a wide meaning; here it means wise instruction – based not only on knowledge but also on long experience, of God’s ways. It is important that coming generations know about God and his marvellous interventions in human affairs (his military “might”, v. 4, and “wonders”); may his deeds of the past not be forgotten (v. 7); may all live by his Law.

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 4:13-18

Paul has just urged his readers to live a godly, ethical life “because the Lord is an avenger” (v. 6). When? According to Wisdom, the wicked will be punished at the Last Day. This brings up an important question (“we do not want you to be uninformed”, v. 13, is Paul’s way of saying this is important!): we know that the destiny of the faithful who are alive at the end of time is to be with God, but what about those who have already died?

We want you to understand, he says, about the faithful (“those”) who have died (literally, are asleep), so that your grieving will be limited to what is natural upon the loss of a dear one; that you not share in the pagan belief that the dead are caught up in nothingness (“grieve as others do”). Christians have a certain hope: because we believe in the crucified and risen Christ, through him, God will bring those who are asleep into his company (v. 14). Those who are alive at the End will have no advantage over those who have died. (He includes himself among those who will still be alive.) Vv. 16-17 express a basic truth in terms of the cosmology of the day (with heaven above and the earth below): at the time of the second coming, God will descend, those who are already dead will rise, then we who are alive will ascend, joining those already dead. Thus we will all be with God for ever.

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 25:1-13

The foregoing verses ( 24:45-51) are a parable about a master who leaves his household for a time, and suddenly returns. If, while he is away, his servant lives a godly, ethical life, he is “blessed” when the master returns. On the other hand, if he, realizing that the master is delayed in returning, misbehaves and lives a life of debauchery, he will be condemned upon the master’s return. In fact, he will be caught in the act, because the master will return when he least expects. Jesus is speaking in another way (in an allegory), about the relationship between how we live now and what our fate will be at the Second Coming; the master stands for Christ.

Our reading is also a parable about the end of time, the Second Coming. For the bridegroom to be “delayed” (v. 5) was normal at Jewish weddings, but vv. 10b-12 would be surprising to Jesus’ audience. Each of the wise bridesmaids has made her preparation; she is prepared spiritually but preparedness cannot be transferred to others, so their refusal to give oil to the foolish bridesmaids may be intended to show that each one of us is expected to make our own preparation – by living a godly, ethical life. Two surprising events, the door being shut (v. 10) and the failing to recognize the foolish bridesmaids (v. 12), are probably another way of saying that the unprepared will be refused entry to the Kingdom – just as the wicked servant will be punished. We are to be prepared at all times for the end of the age, the Second Coming of Christ. (In v. 13, the Greek translated as “Keep awake” can be rendered as be prepared.)

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