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These background notes cover every assigned text in the Revised Common Lectionary for each Sunday and major observance throughout the year.


Writer Mark Ellingsen

Mark Ellingsen, Pastor, Theologian, AuthorMark Ellingsen, author of Lectionary Scripture Notes, is a minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) and a professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated magna cum laude from Gettysburg College and has received four degrees from Yale University. He has authored many titles, most recently Lectionary Preaching Workbook for CSS Publishing Company….read more


Proper 22 | OT 27, Cycle B

Reflections on the love of God. All the lessons affirm some of the great things God’s love does for us — in Creation, human nature (Anthropology), overcoming evil (Providence and Justification by Grace), dying for us (Christology and Atonement), as well as in marriage (Sanctification).

Psalm 26
This Psalm is a prayer for deliverance from personal enemies, a lament attributed to David. Again we are reminded that it is unlikely that David is the author of the Psalms attributed to him (Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, p. 512). Many scholars argue that references to David in the psalms like this one may have been a way of using him to represent the inner life of all his subjects and so of all the faithful (Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, p. 521). In that sense this song is about how all the faithful are to pray for deliverance in difficult times.

The psalmist begins with a cry for vindication, claiming his integrity and faithfulness (vv. 1-3, 11). Reference is made to God’s lovingkindness [chesed]. Further elaboration of his innocence is offered (vv. 4-5). The protest of innocence is demonstrated in a liturgical ceremony, washing hands in innocence (vv. 6-7; Deuteronomy 21:6-8). Prayers are offered for help, redemption [padah, being set free], and graciousness [channun] (vv. 8-11). Contrasts are drawn between the ways of sinners and those of the righteous. A reference is made to “evil devices” (a plot, zaman) (v. 10). This may refer to sexual immorality (Leviticus 18:17; 19:29–20:14; Job 31:11). The psalmist also speaks of the “level ground” [mishor, an even place] on which he stands and that we will bless the Lord in the great congregation (v. 12).

Application: The Psalm affords opportunity for sermons on the love of God for those facing difficult times (Justification by Grace and Providence). Another possibility or a related direction might be to explore the nature of sin as sexual immorality and financial impropriety, how the believer stands by contrast in an even place, washed in innocence by grace (Sanctification).

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Psalm 8
This alternative Psalm of the Day is also traditionally attributed to David. See the first option of the Psalm of the Day above regarding what to make of claims to Davidic authorship of psalms. This psalm celebrates God’s glory, his infinite goodness, and humanity’s God-given dignity. Reference to the Gittoth in the Preface to the Psalm may allude to a melody to be used with the song. God’s sovereignty [adan] is affirmed, along with the beauty of creation (vv. 1, 3, 9). We are reminded that despite the awesomeness of God, he is yet wonderful to human beings and cares for them. They are a little lower than God (or divine beings) crowned with glory [kabad, literally “weight”] (vv. 4-5). They have dominion [shith, literally “put”] over all creation (vv. 6-8). In verse 4 the phrase “son of man” [ben adam] is used to describe mortality, or we might read these remarks prophetically as referring to the Messiah (Jesus as the Son of Man).

Application: Several directions are presented by this alternative psalm. One focus might be on God’s sovereignty and the love evidenced in his work of creation. Another option might be to focus on the miracle of human beings (Anthropology), our special place in God’s plan. The concept of our being “placed over” creation also invites a consideration of ecological issues (Social Ethics).

Job 1:1; 2:1-10
This book is folktale probing faith in the midst of suffering. The date of the work is uncertain, but perhaps it was composed around the time of the Babylonian Captivity in the sixth or fifth centuries BC. There are several parallel ancient Egyptian texts. The book is a challenge to conventional Hebraic Wisdom thinking, as it appears with the older vision of the divine order of life and God’s justice in maintaining that order. In its place we are exposed to a God who reveals himself personally and is profoundly involved in human life, a God who respects human independence and wishes service to him to be freely given.

Job is first introduced as a righteous, faithful man [literally perfect (tam) and upright (yashar)] (1:1). Uz where he resides may be Edom. Ezekiel (14:14, 20) associated Job with Noah and Daniel. Then follows an account of the sons of God [ben elohim] and Satan [literally “adversary” or “opposing spirit”] discoursing with Yahweh who extols Job for having retained his faith despite earlier affliction (2:1-3). On a dare from Satan the Lord allows this heavenly being to afflict Job (2:4-8). In the midst of his suffering from sores afflicted on him and the previous loss of his children and property (1:13-20), Job’s wife suggests that he curse God and as a result be struck down by him (a way of committing suicide) (2:9). Job’s response is that having received good [tob] from God we must accept all he sends (2:10).

Application: This lesson invites sermons offering comfort to those who feel abandoned like Job, with attention to how evil and temptations operate in our lives and also to confess that God never fails (Justification by Grace and Providence). It would also be possible to reflect on the love of Job’s wife, wanting to alleviate his suffering in a human way in contrast to God’s plan (Marriage and the Sovereignty of God).


Genesis 2:18-24
Like all five books of the Pentateuch, this Book of Origins is probably the product of several distinct literary traditions. This one is just comprised of three strands: (1) J, a ninth /tenth-century BC source, so named for its use of the term Jahweh or Yahweh (translated “Lord”); (2) E, an eighth-century BC source named for its use of the divine name Elohim; and (3) P or Priestly source, dated from the sixth century BC. The lesson seems to be the work of the J tradition, part of the Bible’s oldest account of creation, specifically the creation of creatures and women.

Yahweh Elohim claims it is not good that man [adam] should be alone and decides to make a helper as his partner. So out of the ground he formed every bird and brought man to see what he would call them. The man named every living creature, naming all cattle, the birds of the air, and every animal. But for the man there was not found a helper [ezer] as his partner (vv. 18-20). Then Yaheweh Elohim caused a deep sleep to fall on the man, and then the Lord took one of his ribs and clothed it with flesh (vv. 21-22). Yahweh Elohim made this into a woman, and in a poem the man says that she is woman [ishishah], made from his bones and flesh, for out of man [ish] this one was taken (v. 23). Thus a man leaves his parents and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh [basar] (v. 24).

Application: Sermons on male-female relationships are responsible uses of this text.

Marriage as partnership could also be explored (Sanctification and Social Ethics). Sermons on human nature could also be appropriate, as the text reveals the essence of being fully human is to be relational, engaged with others who correspond to ourselves. God’s love for human beings in creating us this way (Creation) will link this lesson to the Theme of the Day.

Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
The book is an anonymous treatise which, given its argument for the superiority of Christ’s sacrifice to those of Levitical priests, was likely written prior to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD. Remarks in 2:3-4 suggest it was written by a member of a generation of Christians after the apostles. Modern scholars are inclined to regard the book as a sermon, perhaps modified after it was delivered to include travel plans, greetings, and a closing (13:20-25). The Christians addressed are thought to have been in danger of falling away from their confession (3:1; 4:14; 10:23). They had endured persecution (10:32-36). This lesson is taken from the epistle’s prologue, including a reflection on the superiority of Christ to all creatures (especially the angels), indeed affirming his divinity.

Noting that God has spoken to the Hebrews in many ways by the prophets, in the last days [echaton ton hmeron] it is said that he has spoken by a Son [huios] through whom he created the world (1:1-2). The text indicates the belief of early Christians that they were in the end times. The Son is said to be the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of his very being [hupostaseus], sustaining all things by his powerful word (1:3a). After making purification for sins, the Son is glorified at the Father’s right hand, having become much superior to the angels (1:3b-4).

Following further reflection on the glory of the Son, his superiority to the angels [angelos] (1:5-14) and warnings against falling away from these beliefs (2:1-4), the lesson resumes with reference to God not subjecting the coming world to angels (2:5). Instead it is subject to human beings who are identified with a quotation from Psalms 8:4-6 referring to the awesomeness of God actually caring about them, making them a little lower than angels but subjecting all things under their feet (2:6-8a). Yet not everything is subjected to humans, but we do see Jesus now crowned with glory and honor because of his suffering and death. By God’s grace [charis] he tasted [geoumai] death for everyone (2:8b-9). The author claims it is fitting for God, for whom and through whom all things exist made the pioneer/author [arkegon] of humanity’s salvation [soteria] perfect [teleiou] through sufferings. The one who sanctifies [hagiazo] and those sanctified have the one Father (2:10-11a). For this reason Jesus calls those whom he saved brothers and sisters (a point made by citing Psalm 22:22) (2:11b-12).

Application: The lesson invites sermons on why Jesus must be God and human at the same time — the biblical roots of this affirmation (Christology). God’s love for us is evident in whom he is but no less in what he did for us (suffering and dying for us in order to save us and sanctify us). Sermons might also explore how Christ is the author/creator of our salvation. We are now his brother or sister (united with him) (Atonement, Justification by Grace, and Sanctification).

Mark 10:2-16
As is well known, this book is likely the oldest of the Synoptic Gospels. Some speculate that the original audience was the church in Rome (especially Gentiles), as it presumes readers unfamiliar with Jewish customs and Palestinian geography (see 7:2-4, 31), but it also could have been written for Palestinian Christians.

The lesson provides accounts of Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisees and a number of his teachings on the way from Galilee to Jerusalem. It deals first with Jesus’ teachings on marriage and divorce and then his blessings of children. Matthew (19:1-10) offers a slighter longer version of Jesus’ teachings on marriage and divorce, as in his account the disciples ask a follow-up question after Jesus’ discourse. But in both accounts the Pharisees first question Jesus on divorce [apoluo, literally “put away”] (v. 2), presumably to place him in a compromising position since Deuteronomy 24:1-4 regulated divorce questions for Jews. He asks what Moses commanded (v. 3). Citing the Deuteronomy texts, they note that a man is allowed to dismiss his spouse (v. 4). Jesus then claims that divorce [apostasion] was instituted due to human hard-heartedness [sklerokardian] (v. 5). He recounts Genesis 1:7; 2:24 to describe God’s original intentions for male-female relationships. The two become one flesh [sarx] (vv. 6-8). In a discourse in private with the disciples Jesus adds that what God has joined together none should separate (v. 10). To marry another after divorce is adultery [moichaomai] (vv. 11-12). (Exceptions are made to this teaching in Matthew 5:31; 19:7. The idea that a woman could remarry after divorce was an unthinkable question to Jews, and so may be a later Hellenistic addition to the text. Only in the Dead Sea Scrolls can we find strictures on divorce and remarriage like Jesus opts for here.)

It is then reported that people began to bring little children to Jesus so he would touch them; the disciples rebuke the practice (v. 13). Unlike the parallel accounts (Matthew 19:13-15; Luke 18:15-17), Jesus is said to be indignant about their actions (showing his human side more than in the other gospels) (v. 14a). Jesus urges the children be brought to him, lays them in his arms, and blesses them, claiming that one who does not receive the kingdom [basileia] as a little child [paidion] will not enter it (vv.14b-16).

Application: Several sermon possibilities emerge from this text. One might develop a sermon proclaiming realistically the joys of Christian marriage (Sanctification) or also proclaim the forgiveness of those divorced (Justification by Grace). Another possibility is to focus on Christian life (Sanctification) in terms of the trust of children, noting that children only thrive when there is love (God’s love) in their lives (Justification by Grace).

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Author of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen

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