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Epiphany 7, Cycle A

All we do and are belongs to God! Another Sunday to remind us that in everything we do and have, God is the one who gives all we have to us or impels us to do good with them. Justification by Grace, Sanctification, Sin, and Social Ethics receive attention.

Psalm 119:33-40
This is a continuation of the previous week’s acrostic Psalm (each line beginning with a consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet) offering a meditation on the law of God [torah]. These verses are a prayer to gain understanding of the law.

We have previously noted that Old Testament and Jewish references to the law [torah] are not intended to connote that God’s commands are judgmental, condemnatory decrees, but regard the law as instruction or guide for life (Leo Trepp, Judaism: Development and Life, p. 2). In this context this Psalm’s expressions of love for the law and commandments of God make sense. The psalmist petitions that Yahweh would teach the way of his statutes and pledges to observe them (vv. 33-34). Petitions are made that the psalmist might be led in the path of the commandments for he delights in them (vv. 35-37). He pleads that Yahweh’s promise be confirmed for those who fear [yare] him (v. 38). (The Hebrew word here more properly is understood as “reverence.”) The psalmist also asks that he be turned from the disgrace he dreads, for the Lord’s ordinances are good, and he longs for Yahweh’s precepts. He would have the Lord’s righteousness give him life (vv. 39-40). We note again that in the Hebrew Bible a judgment of righteousness [tsedeq] does not connote judgment on God’s part but deliverance [Psalm 71:2]. This is made clear in this song as the psalmist claims that God’s righteousness gives life (v. 40), a theme most reminiscent of Romans 3:21-25.

Application: Like the Psalm from the previous week, this lesson could lead to a sermon clarifying the proper function of the law and commands of God about (Sanctification) (see preceding paragraph) why the faithful love the law. But this line of thought needs to be balanced with the insight that those obeying the law are only able to do so by grace (by the righteousness of God, and so by grace).

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
Like Deuteronomy, Exodus, Genesis, and Numbers, Leviticus is the product of four distinct oral traditions, all originating between the tenth and sixth centuries BC. It is mostly a book of worship. Its English title, derived from the Greek and Latin version of the Hebrew Bible, refers to Levitical priests. It is primarily shaped by the priestly oral tradition (P) that surfaces at the end of the book of Exodus (25-31; 35-40). This lesson emerges from the holiness [qadosh] code (laws aimed at governing Israel’s life as a holy people).

Moses is reported as exhorting Israel to be holy, for Yahweh Elohim set them aside for that purpose and he himself is holy (vv. 1-2). When harvesting, the people are not to strip the field bare but leave some for the poor (vv. 9-10). Strictures against theft, false dealings, lying, swearing by Yahweh’s name, or profaning that name are advanced (vv. 11-12). Likewise strictures against fraud, theft, withholding earned wages, and reviling the deaf or blind are set forth (vv. 13-14). Other strictures against unjust judgments, particularly to the poor and the great, slander, hatred of kin, or taking vengeance are noted. Moses also commands love of neighbor (vv. 15-18).

Application: The same themes noted above in the application for the assigned Psalm are appropriate to this lesson. But other themes growing out of this text include stimulating a sense of sin among worshipers, as they come to realize that we are consistently violating God’s law — dealing falsely with others, taking vengeance, and fleecing the poor. The last theme entails that sermons addressing the injustices in contemporary American society would be an appropriate theme (Social Ethics). In the same spirit, this is also a text that reminds us about what needs to be done in our relationships with others before truly being prepared for worship, another reminder of how we have fallen short (Sin). Such an awareness of sin and our failure in addressing American poverty prepares us to hear the gospel of God’s unconditional grace and forgiveness, making possible love of the neighbor called for in verse 18, which can be developed by drawing on themes noted in the Second Lesson below.

1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23
Continuing to deal with a troubled church in Corinth which Paul had established (Acts 18:1-11), he offers reminders that the church and its teachers are under God. He begins by noting that by grace God, like a skilled master builder, laid a foundation and someone else is building on it (v. 10). No one can lay any foundation other than the one laid, and Christ is that foundation [themelios], he insists (v. 11). Subsequently he instructs readers that they are God’s temple [naos, or dwelling place] and that the Spirit lives in them. If anyone destroys God’s temple, they will be destroyed (vv. 16-17; cf. 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ezekiel 37:26-28). Those who think they are wise in this age are fools, the apostle adds. The world’s wisdom is foolishness in his view. He then quotes Job 5:13 and Psalm 94:11 to undergird these points (vv. 18-20). None should boast about human leaders, he adds. They belong to the Corinthians, and the Corinthians belong to Christ who belongs to God (vv. 21-23).

Application: The lesson provides another opportunity to reiterate points made in the Second Lessons of the previous two Sundays about the world’s foolishness, helping us recognize that life only makes sense when it is centered on the crucified Christ. He is, the lesson claims, the foundation for Christians (Theological Method, Christology, and Justification by Grace). Another angle is to focus on the image of our being God’s temple or dwelling place. This entails that we have an intimate relationship with Christ and the Holy Spirit and that such intense contact cannot but result in doing spontaneous good works (Justification and Sanctification by Grace).

Matthew 5:38-48
Another segment of the Sermon on the Mount is reported, providing further illustrations of Jesus’ understanding of the law, a theme so crucial for Matthew’s gospel and its concern to make clear that Jesus is the messianic fulfillment of the Torah. The Lord begins the lesson by noting that although it is taught an eye for an eye (Exodus 21:23-24; Leviticus 24:19-20), we are not to resist an evildoer but to turn the other cheek (vv. 38-39). Likewise he teaches that if anyone wants to sue us and take a coat, we are to give it up and to go a second mile when forced to go one (vv. 40-41). Roman occupation forces in Palestine in Jesus’ day had the legal right to make such demands on the Jewish population.

Jesus also urges that his followers give to everyone who begs or seeks to borrow from us (v. 42). To the teaching of love your neighbor and hate your enemy (Leviticus 19:18), he instructs us to love our enemies and pray for those who engage in persecution (vv. 43-44; cf. Proverbs 25:21-22). For the Father, it is claimed, makes his sun rise on evil and good, sending rain on the righteous and unrighteous (v. 45). If we love those who love us, there is no reward, Jesus asserts. Those as unsavory as tax collectors do that (v. 46). (Tax collectors were hated in the Roman empire for their collaboration with the Roman colonial government and for their frequent engagement in extortion when collecting taxes — taking a profit at the expense of the taxpayer for themselves by charging more than the one taxed actually owed the empire.) Even Gentiles greet their brothers and sisters, Jesus contends (v. 47). (Although Jewish-oriented, such a critique of the Gentiles is not characteristic of Matthew’s gospel.) He then concludes by exhorting his hearers to strive for perfection [telios, meaning complete or whole], as the heavenly Father is perfect (v. 48; cf. 19:21; James 2:22). This is one of the first times that Jesus addresses God as Father [pater] in this gospel, setting the stage for designating God this way in his teaching the Lord’s Prayer which follows (6:9).

Application: This lesson creates a more intense awareness of how far we fall short of Jesus’ expectations in his sermon, for we rarely turn the other cheek, love our enemies, and strive for perfection. As with the other lessons, this insight prepares us to hear the gospel of God’s unconditional grace and forgiveness, making possible love of the neighbor (see application of the Second Lesson, above). A God who we can address as Father like in this lesson is surely a God who will forgive. Preachers of Methodist/Holiness/Pietist backgrounds might use this text to teach striving for perfection or entire sanctification (though only if it is clear that such love is a work of God’s love and grace).

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen