Bible Study

This page is available in: Español

Bible Study: Proper 22 (A) – 2023

October 08, 2023

RCL: Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20; Psalm 19; Philippians 3:4b-14; Matthew 21:33-46

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20

There’s something about the Ten Commandments that engages my Inner Child. Not a fun, playful Inner Child, but a child who is very keenly invested in rules: Children naturally are interested in rulemaking, rule-keeping, and rule-enforcement. When I read the Ten Commandments, my Inner Child engages: Almost subconsciously, I begin comparing my life (or the lives of others if I’m feeling judge-y!) with these laws, weighing how we measure up.

The children’s faith formation curriculum Godly Play has a lesson about the Ten Commandments. The lesson is called the “Ten Best Ways to Live.” The lesson acknowledges life is complicated, and it is not always possible to live this way; parents get divorced, we lie, we covet, we make mistakes.

What’s essential is this: God did not make these rules as the play of some kind of divine arbiter. Rather, the Ten Commandments (and all the moral codes in Scripture) point to God’s love for us: God knows we, as humans, have a propensity to operate in ways that are small and selfish –and ultimately sabotage our living good and joyful lives in community.

These commandments remind us of the best ways to live: Giving us guidance how on to live in right relationships with God and one another.

  • Do you think of a spiritual life as rules to follow or guidelines on the best way to live? If it is the latter, how would your spiritual life change if your perspective shifted?
  • How would you write a summary of the best ways to live, as informed by Scripture and your own spiritual journey?

Psalm 19

Poetry often has a turning point or “hinge” written into it. It appears the poem is going in one direction and – surprise! – the poet pivots taking the reader in a new and unexpected direction.

Psalms are ancient poems. They were once songs – music long lost, we receive them as poetry today. Psalm 19 begins as a meditation on God’s revelation in creation; it recalls those awe-full moments when humans experience the presence of the Divine in a glorious sunrise or a stunning grand vista. Then the poem pivots, reveling in the moral beauty of God’s revelation in Scripture.

How are the two interconnected? It’s a question on which to meditate, not an answer to be known and explained. The poet of Psalm 19 experienced both in equal measure. Do you?

  • How do you experience God’s revelation in nature? In Scripture? Are the two interconnected?

Philippians 3:4b-14

Fun fact: There are curse words in Scripture. They’ve gotten cleaned up, since their translation from the original Hebrew and Greek, but the original authors would emphasize their insights using the strongest of language.

In this passage, Paul explains how he regards all his religious societal privilege – and the “loss of all things” – in comparison to knowing Christ. In the original Greek, he uses a word stronger than “rubbish.” “Manure” might be another possible word one could use, to keep the translation family-friendly.

Translation trivia aside, Paul communicates the very clear set of values which organizes his perspective: Christ is his focus. Everything else is an off-putting distraction.

Paul was writing this letter to the Philippians while sitting in prison, awaiting trial on trumped-up religious charges. He experienced the death-dealing ways of religious convictions held too tightly. Remember: “Christianity” (as the world religion we know today) did not exist at the writing of this letter. Rather, it was a group of (mostly Jewish) people whose lives had been transformed by the teachings and ministry of Jesus. They called themselves simply, “Followers of the Way.” While we cannot go back to this time and culture, there is much we can learn from it.

  • What privileges or benefits do I hold onto too tightly? What distracts me from the joy-filled life following Jesus into living God’s dream for humanity?

Matthew 21:33-46

Jesus is on a tear. The tension is building between Jesus and the religious authorities, and Jesus makes it clear the life of faith is transformative and topsy-turvy: He has no patience for platitudes or religious self-deception. In the verses leading up to this parable, he has entered victoriously into Jerusalem (think Palm Sunday), cleansed the temple, and cursed a fig tree – And that’s only in the first half of this chapter! In the second half of this chapter, Jesus and the religious authorities are in an intellectual sparring match. The Pharisees are trying to get Jesus to say something on which they can bring him to trial. Jesus, for his part, tries to hold the chief priests and Pharisees accountable, challenging their hypocrisy.

It’s easy to think of the chief priests and Pharisees as the “bad guys” in Scripture. But the truth is, when Jesus was addressing the chief priests and Pharisees, he was addressing religious people – people who were making a real effort to live lives in obedience to God. Therefore, we – the sorts of people who read and write Bible studies – might have more in common with the Pharisees than we might think! When Jesus is talking to the Pharisees, I often wonder what Jesus is trying to teach me. This leads to some questions for reflection….

  • Is there a challenging person (or persons) in my life that I dismiss out of hand? (Maybe they’re not religious enough or educated enough or…) What might God be trying to teach me through them? Is this an opportunity to learn to produce the fruits of the kingdom (as in v. 43), with the help of the Spirit?

This page is available in: Español

Don’t forget to subscribe to the Sermons That Work podcast to hear this sermon and more on your favorite podcasting app! Recordings are released the Thursday before each liturgical date.

Receive Free Weekly Sermons That Work Resources!


Christopher Sikkema


Click here

This page is available in: Español