Bible Study: Proper 25 (A) – 2011
October 23, 2011
If we’ve come to love Moses, flawed as he may be, over the course of the four books in which he figures prominently, it’s no surprise that this tableau is bittersweet for us as well as for Israel. It’s tempting to shout out to the page, if not to God, about the leader’s treatment at the LORD’s hands. And our feelings are merely stoked if we go back and read the mystifying story in which Moses receives his sentence (Numbers 20:1-13). But this passage is not without internal reflection on the matter. The writer wants us to notice that Moses – who, after all, did those “signs and wonders,” “mighty deeds,” and “terrifying displays of power” according to God’s own instruction, help, and encouragement – is obedient to the last. He even dies “at the LORD’s command.” If Moses’s “unimpaired sight” was impressed by this mountaintop panorama, we may still assume that the view was as nothing compared with the privilege of knowing God “face to face.” Perhaps this story is a reminder that our ultimate rest is not in an earthly or even heavenly Promised Land but in God’s very self.
- Describe a “panorama moment” in your own life.
- What leaders have laid their hands on you (verse 9), figuratively or literally, and to what effect?
- For whom have you wept in the wilderness? What did the experience teach you?
Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17
On vivid display in this psalm is our human finitude, especially compared to God’s eternal strength and reliability. Particularly lovely and terrifying to me is the idea that God “sweep[s] us away like a dream” (verse 5). I think what the psalmist is trying to capture is that strange contrast between the realness of our immediate experience in dreams and the way that, almost to a one, they somehow fade from our memories like the altogether less important minutiae of our everyday lives. “How can such substantial experiences, and how can our very lives, be like unto dust?” the psalmist asks. Verses 13-17 sound to me like a prayerful poet’s faithful response in the face of such questions.
- What images from this psalm resonate especially powerfully for you? Why do you think that is?
- How is this psalm an appropriate reflection on our reading from Deuteronomy?
- What “handiwork” do you hope God will “prosper” (verse 17) in your own life?
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
God is at the center every step of the way in this letter. In the previous chapter, Paul notes that the Thessalonians have been “chosen” by God “because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1:4-5). God is “living and true” (1:9), and it is God’s divine activity at work in the world and in the lives of these Christians to which Paul appeals. God gives Paul the “courage” to “declare … the gospel of God in spite of great opposition.” God has “entrusted” Paul with this mission of proclamation, and God will test his heart. Most moving, then, is what follows: “So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.” When we become aware of God’s activity in our lives, when we get caught up in God’s mission in the world, the experience inspires our personal investment. The work we do and the people we serve become “very dear to us” indeed. Thanks be to God.
- When has God given you courage for mission?
- What happens inside you when God’s work starts to become your own?
In these short exchanges, we and the Pharisees encounter Jesus the playful and discerning teacher and interpreter of scripture. The second (verses 41-46) reminds us of other clever maneuvers designed to both make a point and silence his critics (see, for example, the “Question about Paying Taxes” earlier in the chapter). But more profound is the first exchange. When asked about “the greatest” commandment, he gives a safe answer by quoting Deuteronomy (6:4-5). Indeed, this is the answer that the people of Israel were to keep in their hearts, recite to their children, and talk about at all times and in all places (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). But then he says that a second commandment “is like it”: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” As he says, much “hangs” on these two commandments and their interrelatedness.
- In what ways is love of God like love of neighbor? Do we do the second as a form of obedience to the first? Or do we do the second because it is indistinguishable from the first? (See, for example, Matthew 25:31-46.)
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