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Bible Study Guide for Sunday October 4, 2020

October 1, 2020
  •  Exodus 20:1–4,7–9,12–20

  •  Psalm 19

  •  Philippians 3:4b–14

  •  Matthew 21:33–46

    One way to open up these readings is to begin with Paul’s clear desire to “press on”, to move away from his devout life as a practicing Jew to a life directed by faith in Jesus. I’m sure that Saul’s (Paul’s name at the time) training in the faith included careful study of our Exodus excerpt, beginning with verse 3 “you shall have no other gods before me” and continuing to prohibit idols along with all of the clearly defined prohibitions we have dwelt on for thousands of years. Perhaps the idols the Exodus writer had in mind were those small personal idols that existing religions believed embodied the spirits of their presumed gods (recall those that Jacob stole from Laban as he escaped from Laban’s grip). But surely there are other “idols” than can arise through any aspect of our lives. Saul essentially had made an idol out of the ritual practices of his religion, losing sight of Judaism’s fundamental principles (e.g., the Shema and “love your neighbor as yourself”). But Jesus called him back through a vision, pleading “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” So in Philippians Paul presses on, continuing to refine his efforts as a disciple of Jesus to serve God and God’s people without artificial idols of specific religious practices.

    Today we are besieged by political debates awash with claims of infallibility and righteousness. If we blindly ascribe to the views of any one faction, adapting them as idols that overwhelm our desire to heed Jesus’ call to “Follow me”, we may fall into the same trap as Saul. Through the scriptures, God calls us to turn away from an idol-like ideology, and instead to guide our lives by listening to Jesus. I am certainly not claiming that this is easy, but we must heed Paul’s call to “Press on”, to be sure that we have not made an idol out of some principle that should be reconsidered in the light of our scriptures. The latter include the clear lessons about forgiveness and judgment we have covered in recent weeks that provide helpful guidance.

    Now, about those vineyard tenants! Jesus told this parable in the tumultuous time after entering Jerusalem for the Passover festival ruled over by the Jewish leaders. He is using a wonderful vineyard image from Isaiah (Is. 5:1-7) as a basis for teaching his disciples about the sins of those leaders. But the parable might also apply to us as tenants of God’s earthly vineyard as we exploit its resources, heedless of long-term impacts on its fruitfulness. Those vineyard tenants, clearly the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, have not listened to God’s desires as relayed to them by the Prophets. Perhaps Saul was one of those leaders. But Saul was ultimately spared, struck blind by God’s call on the road to Damascus, an example of God retaining rights to judgment. Similarly, we have not often listened to the prophets of ecological disaster. In the end, judgment will come to us also. Without a major change in our environmental stewardship, we can only pray for similar forgiveness.

  • What idols might you have in your life? A church building, perhaps? A particular cause? A specific lifestyle?

  • What messages have you received from environmental prophets? How have you responded?

Author: Chuck Medler


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