Exodus 16:2-15

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on September 24, 2017.

In the article, Exodus 16 as an Alternative Social Paradigm, Ann Fritschel introduces an analogy of the Israelites’ wilderness experience to a liminal experience. Taken from the Latin word for ‘threshold,’ liminal is defined as an ‘in-between place,’ a rite of passage as one moves from childhood to adulthood. With the aforementioned in mind, perhaps the actions of Israel are more plausible as we witness a continual disconnect between expectation and application of God’s commands. In Exodus 15, the Israelites take a praise break and worship the LORD that brought them up out of Egypt and through the Red Sea on dry land. It’s not long though, in fact just a month from their miraculous aquatic-based deliverance, before the Israelites piggy back on their earlier disposition of complaining while living in the wilderness. The initial murmuring motif raises its head again in Exodus 15:22-27 when the Israelites are grumbling for the need to quench their thirst. Even after God directs their feet to an abundance of springs and shade trees, the tension of living in-between reappears even in our pericope.

From an exegetical perspective, Exodus 16:2-15 is a rich reservoir for exploration, a gold mine for excavation. While there exists much scholarly debate about sources and literary form, one thing is for certain, our text parallels a traditional pattern of murmuring found in Numbers 14 and 16. Simply put, the people murmur, a conflict occurs, and a theophany combined with a divine word for Moses provides instructions for relaying to the people. Within the text, we find the manna and quail traditions (believed to exist independently) combined to relay an intended message to its hearers that differ from its counterparts in Numbers 11 and Psalm 78. Exodus 16 maintains the tension of the two aforementioned accounts. On the one hand, we witness the gracious provisions of God through the manna and quail. On the other hand, Israel’s disobedience is clearly visible even in the absence of judgment by God.

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Philippians 1:21-30

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on September 24, 2017.

When I deal with Paul’s letter to the Philippians, I try and keep several matters in mind.

First, though situated in Macedonian, Philippi was a Roman colony town. Its citizens enjoyed the rights of Romans and tended to view life from a Roman perspective. Second, Paul partnered with Lydia—who was a God-fearer and a business woman—to found the church at Philippi. Third, while small and under pressure from the surrounding society, the church consistently supported Paul’s missionary work.

Fourth, Paul wrote them while imprisoned, most likely in Rome, where he would have lived under a form of house arrest. Fifth, he sought to encourage them to remain faithful, thank them for their support, and deal with tensions and division in the congregation.

Keeping such factors in mind, let’s unpack Philippians 1:21-30.

Paul has already assured the Philippians that his imprisonment has helped spread the gospel and encouraged others to share Christ with boldness (Philippians 1:12-14). His primary concern is that his own conduct will continue to exalt Christ, whether he is set free or condemned to execution (Philippians 1:20).

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Exodus 14:19-31

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on September 17, 2017.

For the sake of contextual integrity, let us backtrack the events that have taken place since Exodus 12:1-14. God has enacted the tenth and final plague on the land of Egypt, resulting in the death of every firstborn person and animal whose doorposts and lintel is not covered by the blood of the sacrificial lamb. Now the promise of God to set the captives free unfolds, as Pharaoh and the Egyptians urge the Israelites to go away and carry their plunder with them. Yet, while the Israelites are making their way from Rameses to Succoth, several critical practices are outlined primarily for Israel’s remembrance. Remember the ordinance of the Passover and its significance as on this day the LORD brought you up out of the land of Egypt (Exodus 12:43-13:2). Enact the Festival of Unleavened Bread continually as a remembrance of how the LORD demonstrated His strength in providing your deliverance (Exodus 13:3-10). Consecrate your first born as a reminder to your children that you are here today only by the grace and strength of the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt (Exodus 13:11-16). Finally, just in case the people were subject to convenient amnesia, Yahweh provides pillars of clouds and fire to represent His presence that rests with them and leads them along the way (Exodus 13:17-22).

Armed with a plethora of devices to stimulate the Israelites’ senses for relating to Yahweh, the LORD makes an executive decision to reveal another aspect of His glory in yet another unexpected way. God orders an abrupt U-turn of the Israelite camp back towards Pharaoh and relays the end goal of His plan to His servant, Moses. It is here where the Israelites and we begin to experience the tension of the text. Now the narrator outlines two divergent plans, Yahweh’s and Pharaoh’s, making it obvious that a cataclysmic showdown is inevitable. It’s not long before Israel’s brain cramp sets in signaled by a murmuring motif aimed at Moses and ultimately at God. Moses, displaying potentially a measure of growth and positive leadership, addresses the people’s actions of fear opposed to their hyperboles of the “good life” lived in Egypt. In response to the implicit prayers of Moses towards Yahweh, God recapitulates His plan for the Israelites and conveys to Moses that prayer time is over, now is the time for praxis (faith placed into action).

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Romans 14:1-12

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on September 17, 2017.

At first read, Romans 14:1-12 seems to deal with matters which no longer concern us: cultural and religion driven divisions over food laws and calendars. Once we dig into the text, though, its potential application to tensions among Christians of any era become apparent. I’ve found it useful to keep the following matters in mind, as I work with the text.

First, the situation may be more complex than we sometimes think. No doubt gentile Christians made up the majority of the Roman congregation, while Jewish Christ followers comprised a minority. It’s tempting to assume a simple division between two groups in which gentiles believe Kosher laws and the Jewish religious calendar obsolete and Jewish adherents insist on the necessity of observance.

My hunch is any number of the Gentile Christians in the Roman church had been God-fearers before becoming Christians. If so, many of them may have been inclined to take food laws and the Jewish calendar seriously. As for the Jewish component of the church, perhaps a number of them took the same tack as Paul with regard to such matters and felt free to observe or not observe the food laws and calendar.

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