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The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity — the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost — is August 29, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

7:1 Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him,

7:2 they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them.

7:3 (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders;

7:4 and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.)

7:5 So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”

7:6 He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me;

7:7 in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

7:8 You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

7:14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand:

7:15 there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”

7:21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder,

7:22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly.

7:23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This episode in the ministry of Jesus comes after the events of John 6, which concluded last week.

John MacArthur explains:

We have just come from some events in the ministry of Jesus that mark the peak of His popularity. A sort of peak event is described in [Mark’s] chapter 6, the feeding of the, let’s say, twenty-five thousand people. Jesus created fish and crackers out of His own hands, fed them all, and they collected twelve baskets to feed the twelve apostles. It is a miracle of power, creative power, and a miracle of amazing precision. Just exactly enough and twelve left over to feed the apostles.

This massive miracle stunned the crowd. And according to John – all four gospels record that miracle. According to John’s gospel, they were so overwhelmed by this that they wanted to make Him the king by force. This is the apex of His popularity. He refuses that shallow, superficial, self-interested effort to make Him king so that they could continue to benefit from His powers without necessarily believing His message. He refused that. And He said, “I would rather talk about the bread of life, spiritual things far more important than these physical things.”

They wanted nothing to do with that. In that same chapter in John, it tells the story of them wanting to make Him a king, ends with the comment that many of His disciples left Him and walked no more with Him. They went away when He told them the issues that He was concerned about were spiritual and not material. They were materialists. They were religious materialists. Their religion was superficial, not from the heart. Superficial religion doesn’t change the heart. They were materialists at heart and they were supernaturalists in their ceremonies. But in any case, they did not love God nor worship Him from the heart. They didn’t hate their own sin, they didn’t embrace Jesus as the Redeemer and the Savior

His popularity then begins to fade, and the work of the scribes and Pharisees to discredit Him is beginning to gain momentum. In fact, we know the timing of this because John 6 says it was around the Passover that He fed that crowd, probably preliminary to the Passover. So we know it’s a year now from His death. The Galilean ministry is coming to its end. During that last year of ministry, He spends His time training the twelve.

Well, here a conflict occurs that probably happened a lot – a lot. We can’t assume that this a rare occasion but more likely this is a common occasion. Maybe the issue shifted a little bit. Maybe it was on this issue as well other times, but He was in constant conflict with the leaders of Israel embodied in the scribes and Pharisees.

The Pharisees and some of the scribes came from Jerusalem to gather around Jesus (verse 1).

MacArthur surmises that the Galilean leaders wanted support from the temple:

Very prestigious group, no doubt requested by Galilean counterparts who needed some help to discredit Jesus and wanted the experts from Jerusalem to show up. They are legalistic, self-righteous, external, hypocritical, phony, religious members of the establishment. They are of their father, the devil, full of hate for the truth, hate for the Son of God, purveyors of lies. They are the darkness and they hate the light. They come from Jerusalem, which means they have more prestige than anybody else. They want Jesus dead, and they’re looking for more ways to make sure that can happen, things for which to indict Him. And the battle intensifies. This is a head-on collision between true and heart religion and false and external religion.

The leaders from Jerusalem pointed out that our Lord’s disciples had not washed their hands before eating (verse 2).

The Jews had many traditions about hand washing (verse 3), including under what circumstances and what implements (verse 4).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that these traditions had added to the hygiene requirements specified in Scripture and enforced them as vigorously:

There were many cases in which, by the law of Moses, washings were appointed; but they added to them, and enforced the observation of their own impositions as much as of God’s institutions.

MacArthur tells us how these traditions originated and developed. One rule for washing one’s hands included a ritual involving the fist:

They were not nearly so concerned about Scripture as they were their tradition. They had made their tradition equal to the Scripture.

… It all started – Moses gave the oral law at Sinai and then the law of God was written down, the Pentateuch being the primary law, and the rest of the Old Testament came. The Jews were concerned about the holiness of the law in external ways and they wanted to protect the law.

So when the law was handed down, there were some of the leaders of the great synagogue at Jerusalem who said, “We need to build a fence around the law. We need to make sure that that law is kept. And in order to make sure that law is kept, let’s put a fence around it away from it, and if people stop at the fence, then they’ll never get close to violating the law.” So the fence consisted of generation after generation of rituals and rules and ceremonies and behaviors of all kind, prohibitions, precepts to protect, supposedly, the law of God. And that’s the accusation. Not that Jesus broke the law, but that He violated the traditions.

When the Jews came back from captivity, they did want to protect the law. They wanted to keep the law. Remember Ezra? Ezra studied the law and observed the law and taught the law, and you remember he got up and read the law, and there was a great revival. The law was recovered when they came back at the end of the seven-year captivity. And so Ezra was the first of a group of men known as scribes, and their job was to study the law and explain the law so that people would know what the law was and they would be able to avoid violating God’s holy law.

Well, hypocrisy was already everywhere soon after Israel came back, and so they decided that in order to assure that people wouldn’t break the law, they’d just put up more and more and more and more and more barriers. A massive amount of material developed, I mean massive, called the Tradition of the Elders. In fact, 200 A.D., not long after the life of our Lord, Rabbi Jehuda pulled together all of this material, and it was an eclectic array of material, some of it sort of authoritative teaching by rabbis, some of it scribbled notes by students. It was all kinds of material, good, bad, and indifferent, ranging from things that were stupid and foolish and crazy to things that were more sensible. This mass of material was all collected together, put in one form, and it was called the Mishnah and that means “to repeat.” It represented the total accumulated content of Jewish tradition. It contains the decisions of wise men and the musings of idiots and everything in between. But the idea was to elucidate and interpret the law. The material is full of books, tracts, treatises, headings, chapters, paragraphs.

For example, Mark tells us they had all kinds of laws about the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots. Actually, there are thirty chapters in the Mishnah about the ceremonial ritual cleansing of pots and pans. Come on, thirty chapters? Because it wasn’t about sanitation, it’s about ceremonial ritual cleansing. So it takes thirty chapters for you to follow the minutia and the prescription of this kind of ritualistic cleaning of a pot or a pan.

Well, there’s one whole volume on rinsing your hands ceremonially, and that may be where the fist comes in. I’m not sure just how that worked. Well, it was discovered that the Mishnah needed clarity, the Mishnah needed supplementation, and so commentaries were written explaining the Mishnah and they were called Gemara. At first they were oral, and then they began to be collected. Gemara means complete. So you have the Mishnah and then explaining the Mishnah, you have the Gemara. The rabbinical school at Jerusalem then took the Mishnah and the Gemara and put them both together and came up with the Talmud. Have you heard that word? That’s all of that stuff. And then the rabbis at Babylon wrote their own Talmud four times larger than the Jerusalem Talmud. Now, no wonder Jesus said, “You bind heavy burdens on people, they can’t even carry them.” How could you eve get through that stuff?

Then they didn’t have enough, so then came the Midrash. The Midrash was all the rabbinic commentary on the books of the Bible. So you had this mass of material that totally covered up the actual Scripture

With this in mind, such as it was at the time of this confrontation, the Pharisees and scribes asked Jesus why His disciples were not obeying tradition and washing their hands before eating (verse 5).

Jesus responded, referencing Isaiah’s words about the Jews of that time honouring God with their lips only and not their hearts (verse 6).

Henry elaborates:

They honour me with their lips, they pretend it is for the glory of God that they impose those things, to distinguish themselves from the heathen; but really their heart is far from God, and is governed by nothing but ambition and covetousness. They would be thought hereby to appropriate themselves as a holy people to the Lord their God, when really it is the furthest thing in their thought. They rested in the outside of all their religious exercises, and their hearts were not right with God in them, and this was worshipping God in vain; for neither was he pleased with such sham-devotions, nor were they profited by them.

MacArthur points out:

They didn’t say to Jesus, “You broke the law of God.” They said, “You” – what? – “You violated the tradition.” This is the point of attack …

Jesus said that their worship was in vain because they were placing human precepts — traditions — above Scripture, as if they were the law that God gave to Moses (verse 7).

MacArthur says:

After condemning them from the text of Isaiah 29, “You honor me with your lips, your heart is far from me,” this is empty worship, He says, “You neglect the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

After addressing the leaders from Jerusalem, Jesus turned to the crowd and called them to listen carefully to what He had to say (verse 14).

He said that nothing entering a person can defile him, only what comes out of that person’s mouth can defile him (verse 15).

MacArthur explains the word ‘defile’:

… you have a form of the word “defile” from the verb koinoō. It means to be dirty, to be unclean, to be impure, to be corrupt, to be defiled, used often in the New Testament, very frequently in the New Testament. Even more frequently, the Hebrew counterpart of that word chalal in the Old Testament used probably over 225 times. Why? Because impurity and purity is a biblical issue, because it’s an issue with God. Throughout Scripture we are told to be able to distinguish between what is impure and what is pure. So it’s a common theme and, therefore, it’s a common word.

Jesus listed the many sins that defile: fornication, theft, murder (verse 21), adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly (verse 22).

Jesus said that these sins come from within a person and defile him (verse 23).

These are incredibly widespread sins today. Many people make excuses for themselves as they commit them. Even worse, our lawmakers and social experts make excuses for people committing them.

We question a monogamous relationship. I heard a television discussion on that subject on Friday, along with advocates for polyamory.

Our laws are not being enforced. Shoplifting is punishable in Britain these days with a mere fine. Police do not want to investigate larger thefts of private property. They are too busy.

People who steal or cheat ‘cannot help themselves’ because of a difficult childhood. Judges are lenient.

Yet, we are bound up in pharasaical preoccupations with eating ‘clean’ foods, smoking bans and a new temperance movement. Our bodies have to look good, as if we were all celebrities.

The truth is that many ‘clean’ living people are but whited sepulchres on the inside. They look good, but they ignore God at their peril.

Below are the readings for the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity, September 6, 2020.

These are for Year A in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

There are two options for the First Reading and Psalm.

Emphases below are mine.

First Reading and Psalm — Option One

Readings about Moses continue. Today’s reading describes the first Passover.

Exodus 12:1-14

12:1 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt:

12:2 This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you.

12:3 Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household.

12:4 If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it.

12:5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats.

12:6 You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight.

12:7 They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it.

12:8 They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.

12:9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs.

12:10 You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn.

12:11 This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD.

12:12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD.

12:13 The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

12:14 This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.

The Psalm is one of the Praise Psalms (Psalms 145-150). It recalls the triumph of the God of Israel over her enemies.

Psalm 149

149:1 Praise the LORD! Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly of the faithful.

149:2 Let Israel be glad in its Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King.

149:3 Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre.

149:4 For the LORD takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with victory.

149:5 Let the faithful exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their couches.

149:6 Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands,

149:7 to execute vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples,

149:8 to bind their kings with fetters and their nobles with chains of iron,

149:9 to execute on them the judgment decreed. This is glory for all his faithful ones. Praise the LORD!

First Reading and Psalm — Option Two

As Ezekiel prepares to return to his people, having been in exile, the Lord tells him what to say to them.

Ezekiel 33:7-11

33:7 So you, mortal, I have made a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me.

33:8 If I say to the wicked, “O wicked ones, you shall surely die,” and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but their blood I will require at your hand.

33:9 But if you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, and they do not turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but you will have saved your life.

33:10 Now you, mortal, say to the house of Israel, Thus you have said: “Our transgressions and our sins weigh upon us, and we waste away because of them; how then can we live?”

33:11 Say to them, As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?

The Psalm is another excerpt from Psalm 119, which David organised according to the Hebrew alphabet, in order to make it easier to memorise. These verses correspond to the letter ‘He’: .

Psalm 119:33-40

119:33 Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes, and I will observe it to the end.

119:34 Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.

119:35 Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.

119:36 Turn my heart to your decrees, and not to selfish gain.

119:37 Turn my eyes from looking at vanities; give me life in your ways.

119:38 Confirm to your servant your promise, which is for those who fear you.

119:39 Turn away the disgrace that I dread, for your ordinances are good.

119:40 See, I have longed for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life.

Epistle

Paul’s letter to the Romans is not only complex but also beautiful. Here Paul discusses the importance of loving one’s neighbour, which fulfils the Ten Commandments, and walking in the light of faith rather than the darkness of sin.

Romans 13:8-14

13:8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

13:9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

13:10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

13:11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers;

13:12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light;

13:13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy.

13:14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Gospel

Readings from Matthew’s Gospel continue. Jesus tells His disciples how to resolve conflict and to have faith that their prayers will be answered.

Matthew 18:15-20

18:15 “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.

18:16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.

18:17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

18:18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

18:19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.

18:20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

When I read the Epistle, I could not help but think of the continuing madness of the riots in Portland, which have been going on for at least 100 days now. The protesters, rioters and media say the takeover of the city centre is ‘peaceful’, but nothing could be further from the truth. They are not acting in the spirit of love.

What follows are the readings for the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity — Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost — September 15, 2019.

This particular day is also known as Holy Cross Sunday. Note in particular the event in the reading from Numbers and our Lord’s citation of it in the Gospel.

Readings follow for Year C in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

There are two choices for the Psalm. I have differentiated these by using blue in the headings for the alternative option.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

The Israelites grow impatient with the way God is leading them, via Moses, to the Promised Land. He has given them everything according to His will, e.g. more than enough manna, but they complain. As a judgement, He sends serpents to bite some of them but gives Moses the antidote via the mounted brass serpent. Those who look at it are healed, perhaps because they need to gaze towards Heaven. Note the Gospel reading wherein Jesus cites this event.

Numbers 21:4b-9

21:4b but the people became impatient on the way.

21:5 The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.”

21:6 Then the LORD sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died.

21:7 The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

21:8 And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.”

21:9 So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

Psalm

This beautiful Psalm prophesies the Messiah, God’s only begotten Son. Let us be glad and rejoice of His victory over sin and death for our sakes.

Psalm 98:1-5

98:1 O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.

98:2 The LORD has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.

98:3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.

98:4 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.

98:5 Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody.

Psalm — alternate

This Psalm recalls the times when the Israelites tried God’s patience to the extreme. Yet, in His mercy, He forgave them.

Psalm 78:1-2, 34-38

78:1 Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth.

78:2 I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old,

78:34 When he killed them, they sought for him; they repented and sought God earnestly.

78:35 They remembered that God was their rock, the Most High God their redeemer.

78:36 But they flattered him with their mouths; they lied to him with their tongues.

78:37 Their heart was not steadfast toward him; they were not true to his covenant.

78:38 Yet he, being compassionate, forgave their iniquity, and did not destroy them; often he restrained his anger, and did not stir up all his wrath.

Epistle

This reading is very apt for our times. I know many unbelievers, most of whom think the Cross implies that Jesus died and that was the end. They do not understand the full import of the Crucifixion, the one perfect sacrifice for our sins. They think believers are stupid. They, wilfully or otherwise, also refuse to accept that He rose from the dead.

1 Corinthians 1:18-24

1:18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

1:19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

1:20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

1:21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.

1:22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom,

1:23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,

1:24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Gospel

Speaking of the aforementioned judgement in Numbers (in the first reading) Jesus says that He came to heal sinners. The serpent is sin and Satan. Jesus provides an analogy. His forthcoming death on the Cross will serve for believers as the brass serpent did for the Israelites: deliver them from the ravages of sin and death. On the third day, He rose from the dead. Forty days later, He ascended into Heaven, where He sits at the right hand of the Father.

John 3:13-17

3:13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.

3:14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,

3:15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

3:17 Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

I hope that Sunday’s sermons around the world will be powerful ones, as that Gospel reading is essential to Christian belief. May those with hardened hearts read it and meditate carefully on our Lord’s words.

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