THEME OF THE DAY
Living the gift of faith. The texts for this Sunday direct us to how God’s grace and faith make us different in the way we live (Justification by Grace and Sanctification).
Paired with Psalm 106, this song was composed for use at one of the major festivals and consists of a recital of the basic events which created the nation of Israel. It begins with a hymn-like introduction summoning the congregation to worship Yahweh, to rejoice in his wonderful deeds, ever seeking his presence [panim, meaning, literally, his face]. Yahweh is petitioned to allow the hearts of those seeking him to rejoice [sameach]. Concern is expressed to remember the wonderful works he has done (vv. 1-6). The Lord is said to be mindful of his everlasting covenant [berith] (vv. 7-11). He is praised (v. 45b).
Application: This Psalm provides an opportunity for rejoicing and celebration over God’s wonderful deeds and his faithfulness to the covenant with the faithful (Providence and Justification by Grace). When we celebrate what God has done and praise him for it, we are brought into his presence and can more clearly see him in our lives (Sanctification).
This Psalm is a meditation on the law of God. A lengthy song (176 verses), this is a function of its character as an acrostic Psalm. Each stanza consists of eight lines all beginning with the same Hebrew letter. And the 22 stanzas start with one of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet until all the letters have been used. Almost every line contains the word law [torah] or an equivalent. It is good to be reminded again that although a Christian may interpret these references to torah and its equivalent Hebrew words in terms of a demand which in sin we cannot fulfill, from a Jewish perspective (and so perhaps in the Psalm’s original meaning) the term means “instruction,” guide for life (Leo Trepp, Judaism: Development and Life, p. 2).
The lesson begins with a declaration that Yahweh’s decrees are wonderful and so the soul [nephesh, which is not to refer to an eternal soul, but to breath, or the essence of human life] of the psalmist keeps them (v. 129). His unfolding words give light [or] (v. 130). The psalmist claims to pant in longing for God’s commandments (v. 131). He asks for God’s favor (v. 132). Also he petitions for his steps to be kept steady according the Lord’s word [dabar] (v. 133). Petitions are offered by the psalmist that he be redeemed [padah, or set free] from oppression and still keep the Lord’s precepts [piqqudim], learning his statutes [choq] (vv. 134-135). He refers to shedding streams of tears because the law is not kept (v. 136).
Application: In view of Jewish interpretations of the torah, there is no need to interpret this text on the law legalistically. The Psalm, then, gives occasion for claiming our liberation from the various bondages in American life (Justification by Grace, Sin, and Social Ethics), and along with the lesson’s final verse opens the way to sermons on how this word of liberation leads us to yearn to follow God’s instructions (Sanctification).
In this lesson from the Bible’s Book of Origins (the reason why we name it Genesis), the product of four distinct oral strands, we read the story of Jacob winning Rachel. The source of this account is unclear. The account begins with Laban, the father of Rachel, who was also the brother of Jacob’s mother (v. 10), running to meet Jacob, kissing him, and coming to him as kin (vv. 13-14). Then Laban proposes that since they are kin [ach, literally "brother"], Jacob should serve him for nothing (and then asks about wages Jacob wanted) (v. 15). Laban’s two daughters are described (vv. 16-17). (Rachel the younger is portrayed as graceful and beautiful compared to her elder sister Leah.) Jacob loves [aheb] Rachel and offers to serve Laban seven years for her (v. 18). Laban agrees to keep Jacob in his house with him, and the time went fast for Jacob because of his love for Rachel (vv. 19-20).
After seven years Jacob demands his bride, and Laban responds by surreptitiously giving him his eldest daughter Leah (vv. 21-24). Jacob only realizes this in the morning after having sexual relations [bo, meaning literally "go into"] with Leah and then confronts Laban (v. 25). It is not surprising that Jacob could have been so deceived, because it was custom in the ancient Near East that the bride was brought veiled to the bridegroom (24:65). Claiming that one could not give the younger in marriage before the firstborn, Laban insists on Jacob serving another seven years for Rachel, and this transpires (vv. 26-28). It was typical that a marriage price be paid by the bridegroom (Exodus 22:16-17). And the seven years connotes the seven days of an early Jewish marriage festivity (Judges 14:12). Recall that Jacob had similarly defrauded his father (27:18-39).
Application: This is a text with which to explore the realities of sin (even in family relations) and how in our fallen context sometimes we need to be willing to make compromises and be pragmatic in the interests of serving love and God’s will (Sanctification).
1 Kings 3:5-12
For this Sunday’s Complementary Version of the First Lesson we turn to a book that was originally (with 2 Kings) part of a larger historical work, a composition of the seventh century BC during a religious reform led by Judah’s King Josiah (a reform which gave rise to the D strand of the Pentateuch, and of which this book may be a part of that strand). The text is part of Solomon’s dream in which he prays to God for wisdom. The dream transpires in Gibeon (the modern el-Jib, less than ten miles northwest of Jerusalem), where Yahweh appears promising to give what Solomon asks (v. 5). (Many Isrealites considered dreams a normal means of divine revelation.) Solomon notes the great kindness [chesed] Yahweh has shown David because he walked in truth [emeth, or "steadfastness"], righteousness [tsedaqah], and uprightness of heart (v. 6). In an expression of humility, Solomon claims that he is but a child [though he was likely twenty], not knowing how to go out or come in. He refers to Israel as a great people who cannot be counted (vv. 7-8). Solomon asks for an understanding mind [or listening heart] and the ability to discern good and evil (v. 9). It is reported that this pleased Yahweh, and he promises that this plea for wisdom [chakam, insights for coping with life] will be granted, like none before or after shall arise like him (vv. 10-12).
Application: The text affords occasion to reflect on the Hebraic view of wisdom as practical understanding about coping with life, and how here it is related to a concern about justice (Sanctification and Social Ethics). Also noteworthy is that such wisdom flows from God’s kindness (Justification by Grace). It is associated with righteousness and uprightness of heart. Of course this insight entails awareness that the concept of “righteousness,” even in an Old Testament context, is not to imply that the believer lives in faultless conformity to some moral norm. It has to do with living in right relationship with God (Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 370-371]).
In Paul’s introduction to Christians in Rome (written between 54 and 58 AD), he turns in this lesson to a discussion of how the Spirit sustains us even in our weakness, also offering a testimony to confidence in God. The Spirit is said to help us in weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit [pneuma] intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words (v. 26). And God who searches the heart [kardia] knows what is in the Spirit’s mind [phronema, also translated as "inclination"], because the Spirit intercedes for us saints according to God’s will (v. 27).
All things are said to work together for the good of those who love God and who are called according to his purpose [prosthesis] (v. 28). Those whom God foreknew [proginosko] he also predestinated [proorizo] to be conformed [summorphos] to the image of his Son, and those predestinated he also called and justified dikaioo] as well as glorified (vv. 29-30). Paul then notes that if God is for us none can be against us. Not withholding his own Son, will he not give everything else (vv. 31-32)? None can bring charges against God’s elect [eklektos] or condemn them, he adds, for Christ died, rose, and intercedes at the Father’s right hand [dexios] for us (vv. 33-34). Nothing can separate us from the love [agape] of Christ. Psalm 44:22 is quoted regarding the point that for God’s sake we are slaughtered (vv. 35-36). In all things, Paul adds, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us (v. 37). He then reiterates that nothing in all creation can separate the faithful from the love of God in Christ Jesus (vv. 38-39).
Application: The text affords an excellent opportunity to proclaim the good news associated with Predestination (and so with Justification by Grace). It is a word reminding us that nothing separates us from God’s love. Because God is for us, nothing can be against us (Providence).
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Again we consider the most Jewish-oriented of all the gospels, addressing an original audience that was probably Jewish Christians no longer in full communion with Judaism (see 24:20). The lesson recounts Jesus’ parables of the mustard seed, of the yeast, the hidden treasure, and of the pearl of great value. Like the previous Sunday’s lesson, these parables deal with the problem of apostasy in the church. The perspective taken is a clear critique of the tendency of the Pharisees and Qumran community to advocate the creation of a sect of devout believers separate from the unfaithful.
Jesus’ first parable in the lesson begins with the comparison between the kingdom of heaven [Basileia toen ouranos] and a mustard seed [sperma]. The mustard seed is the smallest of seeds, but when grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree so birds makes nests in the branches (vv. 31-32). Then Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to yeast that a woman mixed with flour until it was leavened (v. 33). The point of this and the first parable is that although in their preaching his followers may appear to fail, there will be a success when God consummates his kingdom (Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According to Matthew, p.307).
After an explanation of the parable of the weeds of the field (vv. 33-43; cf. vv. 24-30), unique to Matthew’s gospel, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a treasure [thesaurus] hidden in a field that someone found and hid, then in his joy sells all he has and buys the field (v. 44). Next Jesus speaks of the kingdom of heaven as like a merchant in search of fine pearls who finds a pearl of great value and sells all that he has and buys it (vv. 45-46). This and the preceding parable proclaim the great joy associated with the kingdom of heaven, a joy that mandates action. The real source of power is the objects found, like the kingdom of heaven gives rise to the actions of God (Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According to Matthew, p. 312). Then he compares the kingdom of heaven to a net [sagene] thrown into the sea that catches fish. When full they drew it ashore, sat down, kept the good and threw out the bad (vv. 47-48). Jesus asks if his hearers have understood. They claim they have (v. 51). Finally, he claims that every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household [oikodespote] bringing out of his treasure what is new and what is old (v. 52). This seems to imply that experts in Mosaic law who have become disciples of Jesus are now able to preserve insights of the past while enlarging on them in new ways in light of Jesus.
Application: The text provides occasions for proclaiming comforting words that the mission of God and the church may start small, not immediately yielding fruit, but great things can then happen. This insight into Justification by Grace gives us patience and joy leading to action. We can better tolerate good and bad mixed together, imperfections, in light of these parabolic insights (Sanctification).
THEME OF THE DAY
The struggles of faith with an amazing God. These texts lead us to an examination of how tough the walk of faith can be (Sin and Sanctification) along with assurance that God’s amazing grace will overcome (Justification by Grace, Providence, and Predestination).
Psalm 17:1-7, 15
This is a prayer for deliverance from personal enemies in the form of a lament. Traditionally the Psalm has been attributed to David. Again we are reminded that psalms attributed to David are not likely written by the king. In fact, many scholars have concluded that references to David in the Psalms 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 trust in God in the face of hard times that all the faithful experience.
The Psalm begins with a cry for vindication from false accusers (vv. 1-2). A protestation of innocence follows. The psalmist claims not to transgress by his mouth and to have held fast to Yahweh’s paths [orach or "customary roads"] (vv. 3-5). He next turns to a prayer for God to show love/kindness [chesed] and grant refuge (vv. 6-7). The Psalm for the Day ends with an expression of confidence in God’s deliverance, beholding Yahweh’s face [anpin] in righteousness [tsedeq] (v. 15). We are again reminded that the concept of “righteousness” even in an Old Testament context is not to imply that the believer lives in faultless conformity to some moral norm. It has to do with living in right relationship with God (Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 370-371). And so our confidence in God’s deliverance emerges when in right relationship with him, a relationship God establishes.
Application: The lesson affords the opportunity to examine who the real enemies of the faithful are and to understand Christian life as a struggle (Sin and Sanctification). Yet thanks to God’s justifying, saving work we are innocent, offering us a confidence that we can hold fast to God’s customary roads (Sanctification).
Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
A hymn (traditionally attributed to David) epitomizing the character of the God of Israel. As we have previously noted, this Psalm is also probably not a part of the original collection of Psalms of David (140-143) in book 5 of the Psalms. See comments on the previous Psalm regarding what to make of references to David in the Psalms. The Psalm is acrostic, with each verse beginning with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
The reading begins with the extolling of the loving kindness [chesed] and compassion [rachum] of God on all (vv. 8-9). It draws on the ancient confession of faith in Exodus 34:6. God’s providential care is then praised. He is said to give food, be just in all his ways, be near to all who call, and fulfill the desires of all who fear/reverence [yare] him, and watch over all who love [aheb] him (vv. 14-20). The psalmist concludes by claiming to praise [halal] Yahweh and bless his holy name [shem] forever (v. 21).
Application: The Psalm provides an occasion to praise God’s loving kindness and compassion for all, his care for us in everyday life (Providence and Justification by Grace).
We observe again that the first book of the Bible has its name in order to convey that it is about origins — the origins of life, of the Hebrew people, and of faith. This lesson is the story of Jacob wresting with God. Once again the source of this account (which of the four oral traditions that are the sources for the book gave rise to the story) is unclear. Planning for a reconciliation with his brother Esau (perhaps by winning Esau with expensive gifts [vv. 17-18, 20]), Jacob, his family, and the whole estate cross the ford of the Jabbok River (an eastern tributary of the Jordan) (vv. 22-23). But Jacob remained on the other side of the river, and he wrestled [abaq] with a man [ish] until daybreak (v. 24). Jacob was apparently a very strong man (29:10). When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket putting it out of joint (v. 25). Although the man wanted to depart since the day was breaking, Jacob refused to let him go without receiving a blessing [barak] (v. 26). Learning his name was Jacob, the man renamed him Israel, a name signifying that he had struggled with God and humans and prevailed (vv. 27-28). (In fact, the name Israel seems literally to mean “God rules.”) In antiquity it was believed that selfhood was expressed in the name given a person. Jacob asks the man (presumably God) for his name [shem] and is never informed (v. 29). This just adds to the mysterious character of the encounter. Jacob/Israel calls the place Peniel (literally “the face of God”), for he believes he had seen God face-to-face [panim, which also entails being in one's presence] and survived (v. 30; cf. 16:13). And the sun rose (v. 31).
Application: The text launches us into reflections on how Christian life is a kind of mysterious wrestling with the will of God (Sanctification). In that sense we are all part Jewish, part of Israel (note the name’s meaning above). This theme can then be related to the Second Lesson. It is significant that God can easily prevail over us (as he readily broke Jacob’s hip socket), but still gives Jacob and us the blessings we seek. God fights for us when he seems to fight with us (Justification by Grace). A related point might be to focus on the fact that in this encounter God was in human form. And it is only in that way (through the incarnation in a man) that we can encounter God face-to-face (Christology).
For the Complementary Version we turn again to a book of two or three distinct origins — a first section written by an eighth century BC prophet to Jerusalem and Judah, and a second section, from which this lesson is generated, written immediately before the fall of Babylon in 539 BC (and so during but in hopes of the end of the Babylonian captivity). This lesson is part of a hymn of joy and triumph, celebrating the approaching consummation of Israel’s restoration. The hymn begins with an invitation to come to a banquet which cannot be purchased. (Israel is thereby invited to accept God’s coming restoration of the nation.) Directions are given to eat what is good [tob]. There is no need for us to spend money on what does not satisfy (vv. 1-2). This is a theme reminiscent of wisdom’s invitation to a banquet (Proverbs 9:3-6). After another invitation to come, the everlasting covenant [berith] with David and God’s loving kindnesses [chesed, which can also mean "mercy"] for him are remembered (v. 3). David is said to have been made a witness [ed] to peoples (vv. 3-4). The nations [goi], it is proclaimed, will come to Israel, for the nation is glorified (v. 5). We observe here a messianic vision for Israel more than a Davidic focus.
Application: Interpreted messianically, the text can be proclaimed as testifying to God’s faithfulness to the Davidic covenant, fulfilling it through Jesus Christ who brings us to the great banquet that gives us what is good (Providence and Justification by Grace). This point is especially suggested in references to how all the nations (including Gentiles) are made part of the covenant. (This theme can be related to the Second Lesson and the banquet to which all are invited by the gospel.) The warning that we not use money to purchase what does not satisfy, but that what is good for us is at this banquet, is a testimony to Justification by Grace, not works and also an opportunity to condemn the sin we display in using our money on the latest trendy things that never ultimately satisfy.
Paul’s introduction to Christians in Rome (written between 54 and 58 AD) continues with a discourse on the problem of Israel’s unbelief. The apostle claims to be speaking the truth in Christ with a conscience [suneidesis, literally a knowing with oneself] embedded in the Holy Spirit (v. 1). He speaks of the great sorrow he has. He wishes he could be cut off [anathema, literally "cursed"] from Christ for the sake of his fellow Jews (vv. 2-3). He notes that to the Israelites belong the adoption [as God's children] [huiothesia], the covenants [diatheke], giving of the law [nomothesia], worship, and the promises [epaggelia]. To them also belong patriarchs and from them, according to the flesh [sarx], comes the Christ who is over all. Paul then concludes with a blessing of God (vv. 4-5).
Application: At least two possibilities emerge from this lesson. Most obviously, the text provides an opportunity to preach against anti-Semitism in all its forms, noting the roots of Christian faith in Judaism, that they are still the chosen people (in the sense that their faith continues to be a model for Christians and so for all humankind), and the tragedy that Jews and we do not remain in communion since we are still so united. (This word can also be made in conjunction with the Complementary Version of the First Lesson.) Another avenue might be to focus on Paul’s claim that his conscience (his self-knowledge) is fully embedded in the Holy Spirit. This is the nature of faith. Overwhelmed by the Spirit and the struggles of life, the tensions and ambiguities of life can be more effectively addressed with courage (Pneumatology, Justification by Grace, and Sanctification).
We have previously noted that this gospel is an anonymous work based on oral traditions about Jesus (though traditionally attributed to Matthew, one of Jesus’ disciples [9:9]). In fact, the book may well have been written in the last third of the first century in Antioch, for Bishop Ignatius seems to quote it as early as 110 AD. That it is written in Greek seems to rule out the disciple as its author. Yet there are some Hebraic and Aramaic influences, suggesting some dependence on the original apostles of Jesus, if not on Matthew himself. This account is the gospel’s version of the feeding of the 5,000, which is fairly consistent with parallels in Mark 6:32-44 and Luke 9:10-17.
The account begins with Jesus having learned of the death of John the Baptist and then withdrawing in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when crowds heard it they followed him on foot (v. 13). Then Jesus is reported as going ashore, seeing a great crowd, and having compassion [splagknidzomai, literally meaning "to have one's bowels moved"] for them, leading him to cure their sick (v. 14). At evening the disciples come to him and report that since it is late he should send the crowd away so they can go to the villages nearby and purchase food for themselves (v. 15). Jesus says they need not go away, for the disciples could give them something to eat (v. 16). The disciples note that they have nothing but five loaves and two fish (v. 17). Jesus directs them brought to him (v. 18). (There are suggestions here of Elisha feeding a crowd over the objections of his servants in 2 Kings 4:42-44.) He then orders the crowds to sit in the grass. Blessing the food and breaking the loves, he then feeds the crowd of 5,000 men and more women and children who were present and food is left over (vv. 19-21). This distinction of men from women and children was a function of separating women and children from men in ancient assemblies.
Application: The text provides an opportunity to focus on the fact that we are fed by Jesus (given the goods of the banquet promised in the Complementary Version of the First Lesson), even when it does not look like the resources are available. Jesus’ concern with the sick and hungry is a reminder that the gospel includes social dimensions (Social Ethics). Another direction is to focus on the disciples’ lack of faith, and then the story is about the good news that God in Christ does not let our weak faith get in the way of giving good (Justification by Grace).
THEME OF THE DAY
It is God who gets us to the other side. All the texts testify to how God gets people through hard times and what that might entail for how we live (Justification by Grace, Sanctification, and Social Ethics).
Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b
We have previously noted that this Psalm, paired with Psalm 106, constituted a song composed for use at one of the major festivals and consists of a recital the basic events that created the nation of Israel. It begins with a hymn-like introduction summoning the congregation to worship and rejoice [sameach] in Yahweh, to seek his presence [panim, literally "face"], and to remember his wonderful works [mopheth] and miracles (vv. 1-6). The people of Israel are said to be Yahweh’s chosen ones (v. 6). The Psalm continues with a poetic recounting of the story of Joseph, sold as a slave in Egypt, but made lord over the king’s house (vv. 16-22). This part of the Psalm to be read concludes with the exhortation to praise the Lord (v. 45b).
Application: This Psalm’s origins in celebrating a festival entails that it provides a good occasion for sermons celebrating God’s wonderful works and love for us (Justification by Grace and Providence). The story of Joseph provides occasion for sermons on how God gets us to the other side, takes the poor, the marginalized, and those in despair, and finds new possibilities for them (Social Ethics).
This is a prayer for deliverance from national adversity. This is a Psalm of Karahits (a group of professional Levitical musicians). The verses seem to have origins in the Jerusalem Temple. The reading begins with a proclamation that God the Lord will speak peace to his people (v. 8). And then salvation [yesha, also translated "safety"] will be at hand for those who fear [yare, that is, "reverence"] Yahweh (v. 9). Mercy [chesed] or loving kindness and truth/faith [emeth] are prophesied to meet. Peace [shalom] and righteousness [tsedeq] will spring up as well (vv. 10-11). We need to keep in mind that in this Jewish context peace is not just a state in which there is no combat, but refers to a state of well-being and thriving to social justice (Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, p. 130).
Yahweh is proclaimed as one who will give good [tob]. The land, we are assured, will then yield its increase, preceded by righteousness (vv. 12-13). Again it should be highlighted that the concept of “righteousness” even in an Old Testament context is not to imply that the believer lives in faultless conformity to some moral norm. It has to do with living in right relationship with God (Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 370-371). When our relationship with God is right, a lot of life’s problems take care of themselves.
Application: The Psalm affords opportunities to reflect on the adversities and injustices facing America and then to proclaim that God’s will is peace and social justice (Social Ethics). The references to righteousness open the way to make clear that even in the Old Testament salvation is a gift (Justification by Grace) and includes safety and social implications.
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
The Bible’s Book of Origins gives us insight into the Hebrew people’s settlement of Egypt, the beginning of the story of the Exodus. As told by either the book’s J source (composed in the ninth or tenth century BC, so named for its use of the name Jahweh/Yahweh), the E source (composed in the eighth century BC and referring to God as Elohim), or a combination of both, we consider this week the story of Joseph being sold into slavery.
The account begins with a report that Jacob settled in the land of Canaan where his father had lived as an alien (v. 1). The family’s story is told (v. 2a). Joseph is introduced as the seventeen-year-old shepherding the flock with his brothers, helping the sons of Billhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives. He gave Jacob a bad report on them (v. 2b). Israel loved Joseph more than his other children because Joseph was the son of his old age. He had given Joseph a long robe with sleeves (laborers had sleeveless robes in this era) (v. 3). But when his brothers realized this they hated him (v. 4).
After recounting two of Joseph’s dreams of superiority over his brothers (vv. 5-11) the lesson resumes with Joseph’s brothers going to pasture with their father’s flock. Israel sends Joseph to be with them and report (vv. 12-14a). Arriving at Schechem (forty miles north of the site of Jerusalem) where his brothers were supposed to be, Joseph is told that they have gone to Dothan (the north) (vv. 14b-17). The brothers see him in the distance and plan to kill him, blaming it on a wild animal (vv. 18-20). One of the brothers, Reuben [some scholars deem this a scribal mistake, as Judah was Joseph's main advocate in v. 26], hears it and suggests they throw him into a pit. His plan is to restore Joseph to their father (vv. 21-22). Joseph’s brothers strip him of his robe and throw him in a pit with no water (vv. 23-24). The brothers then decide to sell him to the Ishmaelites (vv. 25-27). But when Midianite traders pass by the pit, the brothers lift Joseph out of it and sell him to the Ishmaelites. (Perhaps this ambiguity is a function of combining two different oral traditions. Or perhaps the two groups are one people.) The Ishmaelites reportedly take him to Egypt (v. 28). (It is significant to recall that both Joseph and his captors are descendants of Abraham.)
Application: The text occasions the opportunity to preach against the evils of slavery, its heritage in America, and the realities of slavery today (Social Ethics). In view of what God did with Joseph and later the people of Israel, elevating them to freedom and positions of influence, themes of God elevating the marginalized noted in the first Psalm seem appropriate.
1 Kings 19:9-18
For this Sunday’s Complementary Version of the First Lesson we turn again to a book which, along with 2 Kings, was likely produced in the seventh century BC as part of the Deuteronomistic reform of Judah’s Josiah. This text is an account of Yahweh’s revelation to Elijah on Mount Horeb. The story begins with an account of the ninth century BC prophet Elijah fleeing King Ahab of Israel (the Northern Kingdom), coming to a cave, and spending the night there. And the word of Yahweh came to him, asking what he is doing there (v. 9). Elijah responds that he has been zealous [qana] for Yahweh, for the Israelites have forsaken the covenant, destroyed his altars, and killed all the prophets. He alone is left, he laments (v. 10). The Lord directs him to stand on the mountain and go before him, for he will pass by. A great wind with breaking rocks blows by, but Yahweh was not in it. Nor was he in an earthquake which followed (v. 11). After the earthquake came a fire, and again Yahweh was not in it (v. 12). Hearing this, Elijah wrapped his face in his mantle and went to stand at the entrance of the cave, and there came a voice asking what he was doing there (v. 13). He repeats his comments in verse 10 (v. 14). Yahweh instructs him to return to the wilderness of Damascus (the Syrian Desert) and on the way to anoint [mashach] Hazael as king of Aram (i.e., Syria, Israel’s great adversary at the time). (This is an early indication to the faithful that God controlled political affairs outside Israel.) Jehu son of Nimshi is also to be anointed king of Israel (as reported in 2 Kings 9-10 he would eventually wipe out Baal worship in Israel, advocated by Ahab’s foreign-born wife Jezebel), as well as Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as a prophet (vv. 15-16). Yahweh adds that whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill, and whoever escapes Jehu, Elisha shall kill. Yet Yahweh promises he will leave 7,000 in Israel who have not worshiped Baal (vv. 17-18).
Application: This Complementary Version of the First Lesson affords opportunity to condemn all the various forms of idolatry practiced in America (Sin) along with offering the word of hope that God always finds ways to give us fresh starts, as he did for Israel in bringing an end to the reign of the unfaithful Ahaz (Justification by Grace and Social Ethics).
Paul wrote this epistle to introduce himself to the church in Rome, which he had not heretofore visited. This text is a continuation on how righteousness comes by faith. Referring to Leviticus 18:5, Paul attributes to Moses the teaching that righteousness [dikaiosune] comes from the law [nomos] and from living by its demands (v. 5). He proceeds to paraphrase Deuteronomy 30:12-14 to make the point that the righteousness that comes from faith realizes that we cannot ascend into heaven to bring Christ down or raise him from the dead (vv. 6-7). This is a gift. (See the discussion of Psalm 85 for the biblical understanding of the righteousness among many New Testament writers, especially of Paul [Rudolf Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, Vol. 1, p. 271].) Paul then refers to the word of faith (v. 8b). Salvation comes as we confess that Jesus is Lord and believes God raised him from the dead (v. 9). One who believes is justified [pisteutai eis dikaiosune, literally believes to righteousness], and one who confesses is saved [sozo], Paul adds (v. 10). Citing Isaiah 28:16 Paul notes that no one who believes in Christ will be put to shame (v. 11).
Paul then adds that there is no distinction [diastole] between Jew and Gentile. The Lord is lord of all and generous to all (v. 12). Citing Joel 2:32 (applying the text’s reference to Yahweh to Jesus), the apostle states that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (v. 13). Faith [pisteuo, or belief] is not possible, the apostle notes, if we do not proclaim the word to those who have not heard (v. 14). He also observes that some must be sent, citing Isaiah 52:7 (v. 15).
Application: The lesson calls preachers to make clear that everything we have regarding faith, our knowledge of God, and what we do with it is really made happen by God and his grace (Justification by Grace and Sanctification). Strengthened by such insights we can be confident, for we know that God will not put the faithful to shame.
Again we consider a lesson from the most Jewish-oriented of all the gospels, addressing an original audience that was probably Jewish Christians no longer in full communion with Judaism (see 24:20). In this text the story of Jesus walking on water is reported.
The account begins with a report of how after the feeding of the 5,000 Jesus made his disciples get into a boat and proceed to the other side (presumably of the Sea of Galilee) while he dismissed the crowds (v. 22). Having done so, he went up a mountain by himself to pray (v. 23). (For Matthew’s gospel, the mountain is a sacred place of revelation, recalling the Mosaic tradition of receiving revelation on the mountain [Exodus 19; Deuteronomy 34:1-4].) By early morning the boat in which the disciples were sailing was battered by waves. Jesus came to them, walking on water (vv. 24-25). Seeing him, the disciples were afraid, thinking he must be a ghost [fantasma]; he comforts them, identifying himself as “I am” [ego eimi] (vv. 26-27). This may be an affirmation that God is present with and in him, since Yahweh’s name can be translated this way [I am Who I am].
What follows concerning Peter is unique to Matthew’s gospel, not found in the parallel accounts in Mark 6:45-52 and John 6:16-21. Peter responds that if it is truly Jesus, he would have the Lord command him to come to him on the water. Jesus commands him; Peter proceeds to walk on the water, but when a strong wind blows, Peter becomes frightened [efobethe] and begins to sink. He calls for Jesus to help (vv. 28-30). Jesus immediately reaches out to save Peter, chiding him as being of little faith (v. 31). Peter tends to represent all the disciples in this gospel (15:15; 16:16). Getting back in the boat, the wind ceases, and the disciples worship [proskun, literally "kiss the hand of"] Jesus as Son of God [Theou uios] (vv. 32-33). The bestowal of this title on Jesus is not unprecedented in Matthew’s gospel (see 3:17; 16:16; 27:54). But given this gospel’s concern about the church (16:18; 18:17), unlike the other gospels, it may be significant that a confession that Jesus as Son of God transpires in the boat among the community of disciples. Perhaps the boat represents the church and it is only in that context that the faithful can truly confess Jesus as Son of God (Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According to Matthew, p. 323).
Application: At least two possibilities for sermons emerge from the text. The storms of life might be explored (Sin) and how they are overcome by the grace of Christ (Justification by Grace and Atonement, interpreted in terms of Christ’s conquest of sin and evil). The other option is to focus on how Jesus is most clearly seen when we gather together in the same boat (the Church).
THEME OF THE DAY
God will never abandon us. The texts testify to God’s forgiving love, which never forsakes us and its implications for how we live (Justification by Grace, Providence, and Sanctification).
This is a song of ascent, extolling the joys of harmony in the family. The songs of ascent are a series of Psalms that may be songs of pilgrims returning from exile to Jerusalem. They are so named because to get to the temple in Jerusalem one needed to climb a hill. This particular one is a wisdom Psalm (offering maxims for everyday life) comparing good relations among brothers [achim] to oil [shemen] on Aaron’s beard, which comes to saturate his beard and then his whole gown (v. 2). (As the ancestor of all priests, anointing oil was frequently handled by him and his fellow priests.) It is like the dew of Hermon (Syria’s chief mountain) falling on all the mountains of Zion (the highest and oldest part of Jerusalem) (v. 3). The Psalm may presuppose the ancient custom of clan and extended family groups living together in close proximity. But given the Psalm’s likely origin in the exiles’ return from Babylon, the harmony may have to do with the restored Israel or the people of God.
Application: Sermons either on family harmony or the relationships among people in any community (including the church) are suggested by the text. In both cases, the sacredness of the oil that saturates the whole community reminds us that good relations are sacred. They all begin with God’s grace and presence among us (Justification by Grace, Sanctification, and Social Ethics).
This is thanksgiving for a good harvest. It begins with a prayer that God would continue to be gracious [chanan] and that his way [derek, or path] and saving power be known among all the nations [goi] (vv. 1-2; cf. the Aaronite benediction [an early priestly blessing on the faithful] in Numbers 6:25). (A call is made for a musical interlude with the term “Selah” after verses 1, 4.) Petitions are offered that all people would know that Israel’s God is Lord of all (vv. 3-5). The occasion for the Psalm (a great harvest) is described along with a petition that God’s blessing continue (vv. 6-7).
Application: The sermon on this Psalm affords opportunity to praise God’s goodness in creation and providence, in providing us with all the goods of the earth. The text might be interpreted Christologically as a prophecy of how Jesus’ ministry led all people, not just Jews, to this awareness of the grace and love of God.
The First Lesson is again drawn from the Bible’s Book of Origins, the product of four distinct oral strands. Again as told by either the book’s J source (composed in the ninth or tenth century BC, so named for its use of the name Jahweh/Yahweh), the E source (composed in the eighth century BC and referring to God as Elohim) or a combination of both, we consider this week the story of Joseph revealing himself to his brothers when they encounter him in Egypt.
After several encounters with his brothers in Egypt when they did not recognize him, interacting with him only as governor, and recently charging his brothers with theft (43:19–44:34), Joseph loses control of himself and empties his house of everyone except him and his brothers (v. 1). He cries loudly and then reveals himself to his brothers, inquiring if his father still lives. His brothers are in stunned silence (vv. 2-3). Joseph reassures them. He claims that God had sent him to Egypt to preserve life (vv. 4-5). The length of the famine plaguing the region where Israel had settled is noted (v. 6). Joseph claims that God sent him to Egypt to preserve a remnant [sleerith]. God has made him a father [ab] to Pharaoh [this may have been an official cabinet post in ancient Egyptian government] (vv. 7-8). Joseph exhorts his brothers to go to their father and summon him with instructions to settle in Egypt, where Joseph could provide for them as the famine continued (vv. 9-11). His father is also informed how honored Joseph is in Egypt (v. 13). Feeling a special kinship to the youngest brother Benjamin, Joseph and he fell on each other and wept. Then he kissed all his brothers and wept (vv. 14-15).
Application: A sermon on this text affords excellent opportunity to proclaim the virtues of forgiveness. God’s role in using Joseph’s forgiveness for the good of the people of Israel should be stressed. Points made in connection with Psalm 133 are relevant to a sermon on this lesson (Justification by Grace, Sanctification, and Providence). The ancient Hebrews were not abandoned by God, and neither are the faithful today.
Isaiah 56:1, 6-8
We have previously noted that this is a book of two or three distinct origins — a first section written by an eighth-century BC prophet to Jerusalem and Judah, and a second section written immediately before the fall of Babylon in 539 BC (and so during the Babylonian captivity). The third section of the book was likely composed by a follower of the prophet after the restoration of exiled Judah in the homeland, expressing some disappointment about what had transpired since the exiles’ return. This lesson, stemming from this third source, is part of a blessing on all who keep the Sabbath. Yahweh calls the faithful to maintain justice [tsedaqah] and do what is right, for soon his salvation [yeshuah] will come (v. 1). Faithful proselytes [sons of aliens, referring to Gentiles who had converted] and all who keep the Sabbath [shabbath], holding fast to the covenant [berith] even if not yet Jews, will be brought by God to his holy mountain and they will be made joyful in the temple. Their sacrifices will be accepted, for Yahweh’s house [bayith, referring to the temple] is a house of prayer for all people [am] (vv. 6-7). Yahweh Elohim gathers the outcasts [dachah] of Israel (v. 8).
Application: The Complimentary First Lesson offers several sermon possibilities. The lesson affords opportunity to preach on the importance of observing the Sabbath (Sanctification). Preachers can develop sermons along the lines of the First Lesson and on Psalm 133 regarding community and God’s desire for it (Sanctification and Social Ethics). Along those lines the text invites emphasis on how even in Old Testament times God would have us cut across ethnic lines so that anyone who confesses the faith is one with us (Social Ethics). In that sense we may read this text as a prophecy of the work of Christ. We might also take the historical context for Trito-Isaiah, the likely source of this text. There was a need for the people of Israel to pull together when they returned from exile, not to let ethnic differences separate them. So if oppressed people (or any group) are to thrive, unity given by God is crucial (Social Ethics).
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
In Paul’s introduction to Christians in Rome (written between 54 and 58 AD), he turns in this lesson to a discussion of the salvation of Israel. He asks if God has rejected the Jews and insists he has not, for he foreknew [proginosko] them (vv. 1-2a). After a discussion of how some of the branches of the tree (unfaithful Jews) have been broken off so that Gentiles might be grafted into the tree (vv. 18-20), claiming all Israel will be saved [sozo] (v. 26), Paul notes that as regards the gospel the Jews are enemies of the gospel, but as elected they are beloved [agapetos] for the sake of their ancestors (v. 28). The gift and calling of God are said to be irrevocable (v. 29). Addressing Gentile readers, Paul notes that just as they were once disobedient to God and have received mercy [eleeo], so the Jews have now been disobedient in order that Gentiles may receive mercy (vv. 30-31). God has imprisoned [sunekleise, literally "shut up"] all in disobedience in order to be merciful to all (v. 32).
Application: This lesson provides another excellent opportunity to emphasize the Jewish roots of the Christian faith and that Christians are really adopted Jews (and the Social Ethical implications of this insight). This opens the way to preach on predestination or on God’s faithfulness to his promises.
Matthew 15:(10-20) 21-28
We turn again to the most Jewish-oriented of all the gospels, addressing an original audience that was probably Jewish Christians no longer in full communion with Judaism (see 24:20). The book may well have been written in the last third of the first century in Antioch, for Bishop Ignatius seems to quote it as early as 110 AD. In this lesson we consider Jesus’ teaching of things that defile and the story of a Canaanite woman’s faith, accounts found in the other two Synoptic Gospels, though the story of the woman at the well is only told by Mark (7:24-30).
Speaking to a crowd still in Gennesaret (a town on the shore of the Sea of Galilee), Jesus notes that it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles but what comes out of the mouth that defiles (vv. 10-11). (He was responding to the earlier Pharisees’ critique of his disciples for not washing their hands before eating or observing Jewish dietary laws [vv. 1-2].) His disciples ask if he was aware that the Pharisees had taken offense at what he had said (v. 12). Jesus responds with the claim that every plant his Father had not planted will be uprooted (v. 13). (A plant was a common metaphor for righteous Israel [Isaiah 60: 21].) He suggests the Pharisees be left alone for they are blind guides of the blind (v. 14). Peter then demands an explanation (v. 15). Jesus responds wondering how Peter still fails to understand. Only what comes out of the mouth and proceeds from the heart can defile [koinoo, make common or unclean] (vv. 16-18). Out of the heart comes evil intentions [dialogismos, literally "thoughts"] — murder, adultery, fornication, false witness, and slander. They are what defile, not eating without washed hands (vv. 19-20).
Jesus leaves Gennesaret to journey northwest to Tyre and Sidon in Phoenicia (v. 21). He meets a Canaanite woman who shouts for him to have mercy (calling Jesus Lord [kurios] and Son of David), begging help for her daughter afflicted by a demon (v. 22). Jesus does not answer and the disciples ask him to send her away (v. 23). He answers that he came only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (v. 24). (These two verses are unique to Matthew, not appearing in Mark’s parallel account.) The woman still comes and kneels before Jesus, asking for help (v. 25). He responds that it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs (v. 26). This was not necessarily a pejorative comment since dogs were household pets in first-century Jewish homes. The woman responds that even the dogs eat crumbs that fall from the master’s table (v. 27). Jesus commends her for her faith and promises to give her the healing she requests (v. 28).
Application: At least two possibilities for sermons are suggested by the gospel. If the focus is on the optional verses regarding things that defile, a focus on Jesus’ words that trees (righteousness) not planted by God would be uprooted opens the way to remind us that our own righteousness (by works) is worthless. Only the righteousness given us by God has value (Justification by Grace). Another angle more in line with the bulk of the lesson relates to the Canaanite woman who is willing to give up all her pride for Jesus’ help. Like her, we can come to realize that we deserve nothing more than the crumbs. Jesus does not allow ethnic differences ultimately to separate himself from her. In short, he abandons no one (Justification by Grace).
THEME OF THE DAY
God makes the difference! The lessons focus on how life gets better because of what God does (Justification by Grace, Sin, Social Ethics).
The Psalm is a thanksgiving for national deliverance, traditionally attributed to David. Again we are reminded that Psalms attributed to David are not likely written by the king. In fact, many scholars have concluded that references to David in the psalms 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 the expectation that all the faithful give thanksgiving to God in good times. In fact, this is a song of ascent, perhaps a pilgrim song so named for the ascent necessary when entering Jerusalem. Some scholars have speculated that it may have been a thanksgiving of the Israelites for their deliverance from the Babylonian captivity.
The Psalm begins with a proclamation that had the Lord not been on the side of Israel its enemies would have swallowed them up and the flood would have swept them away (vv. 1-5; cf. Psalm 32:6). Yahweh is blessed for not giving Israel as prey to her enemies (v. 6). Israel has escaped like a bird from the snare of flowers (v. 7). In a concluding confession of faith in hymnic form, Israel’s help in Yahweh’s name [shem], who created heaven and earth, is proclaimed (v. 8).
Application: This Psalm gives preachers a chance to reflect on all the enemies/challenges we face (Sin) along with proclaiming the confidence we may have that God makes a difference in setting us free from life’s trials and challenges (Justification by Grace and Providence). These insights compel the faithful to lives of thanks (Sanctification).
This is a thanksgiving for deliverance from trouble, traditionally attributed to David. See comments on the previous Psalm regarding what to make of references to David in the psalms. In that sense this song is about trust in God in face of hard times that all the faithful experience. Since it is not a lament, this Psalm is also probably not a part of the original collection of Psalms of David (140-143) in book 5 of the Psalms.
A psalmist in the temple court begins by offering thanks with his whole heart [leb]. He claims to do this “before the gods” [elohim, a plural term that may refer here to the heavenly assembly that surrounds Yahweh or could indicate that Israel still regarded Yahweh as the greatest of the many gods]. Yahweh is also said be merciful [chesed, exhibit loving kindness] (vv. 1-2). The psalmist praises God for answering him on the day he called him, for increasing the strength of his soul [nephesh, a Hebrew term not identical with the Greek concept of the soul as a rational, eternal substance that can exist independent of the body, but a term connoting the life force, like breath] (v. 3). This follows a hymn of praise, noting that all the kings of the earth shall praise Yahweh. His glory [kabod] is said to be great (vv. 4-5). For though the Lord is high [rum], he regards the lowly [shaphal] (v. 6). A preferential option for the poor is proclaimed here. The Psalm concludes with an expression of faith, confessing confidence that the psalmist will be protected by Yahweh and the Lord will fulfill his purpose with him, for Yahweh’s mercy/loving kindness [chesed] will endure (vv. 7-8).
Application: This Psalm also gives preachers a chance to reflect on all the troubles we face (Sin) along with proclaiming the confidence we may have that the loving God makes a difference in setting us free from life’s trials and challenges (Justification by Grace and Providence). This leads to an awareness of the glory of God and the mandate to praise him (Sanctification). Another angle for the sermon is to recognize that God’s majesty does not lead him to overlook the lowly and the poor. This opens the door for sermons on God’s (and so Christians’) care for the poor (Social Ethics).
This book is so named for the Greek term referring to the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage. Its Hebrew name (meaning “These are the names”) refers to the first words of the text’s prologue. Like Genesis, the book is a compilation of three distinct oral traditions: 1) J, a ninth/tenth-century BC source, so named for its use of the name Jahweh or Yahweh (translated “Lord”); 2) E, an eighth century BC source, named for its use of the divine name Elohim (translated “God”); and 3) P, or Priestly source, dated from the sixth century BC. In this text (the source is not clear) we read of Israel’s bondage in Egypt and the childhood of Moses.
The account, which is likely a compilation of the J and E strands, begins with a report that a new king arose in Egypt who did not know Joseph. (Historians suggest that this new regime may be the beginning of Egypt’s nineteenth dynasty established under Seti I [1308-1290 BC]. Based on v. 11, the king described in the lesson may have been his successor, Ramses II [1290-1224 BC].) Concerned at the numerical growth of the Israelites, he decides to enslave them as forced labor, including the building of new cities (1:8-14). The king commands two Hebrew midwives (Shihrah and Puah) to kill each male child they deliver (vv. 15-16). (Reference to the Israelites as “Hebrews” could reflect a broader term used by the Egyptians to designate all who identified with Abraham’s people.) Fearing God more than the king, these midwives let the boys live (1:17). The king learns of this, confronting the midwives (1:18). They claim that boys lived because Hebrew women were more vigorous than Egyptians and delivered their children before the midwives had arrived (1:19). So Elohim dealt well with the midwives, and the people of Israel continued to multiply (1:20). Because of their fear of God, he gives these midwives families (1:21).
Next Pharaoh commands all his people that every Hebrew boy born should be thrown in the Nile (1:22). A man of the house of Levi married a woman, she conceived and bore a son, hiding him for three months (2:1-2). Unable to continue hiding him, she places him in a basket of reeds on the bank of the Nile (2:3). His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen (2:4). Pharaoh’s daughter comes to the Nile to bathe, sees the basket among the reeds, and has her maid bring it to her. She discovers the baby, concluding he was one of the Hebrews’ children (2:5-6). The child’s sister who was watching these events speaks to Pharaoh’s daughter, volunteering to get a Hebrew nurse from among the Hebrews (2:7). The princess says yes, and of course the sister summons her mother (who was quite obviously also the baby’s mother) (2:8). Pharaoh’s daughter offers to pay the child’s mother to do the nursing and she consents (2:9). When the child grew, his mother/nurse brings him to Pharaoh’s daughter, who made him her son, naming him Moses because she had drawn him out of the water (2:10). (In Hebrew the name means “this one who draws out.” The name may be derived from an Egyptian word meaning “to beget a child.” This name may also have been joined with the name of an Egyptian god, Thurt-mose.) Aspects of this story of Moses’ rescue as an infant are paralleled in the legends of other national heroes of the ancient Near East — especially Sargon of Agade, the first Semitic king of Mesopotamia in the third millennium BC, who was saved in infancy in a similar way.
Application: The story provides ample opportunity to proclaim that God determines the meaning and purpose of life, not what we do. God’s guidance of Moses’ life is what made him the leader he became, though God used means (his adoption by Egyptian loyalty) to elevate him to the prominence he came to enjoy. Likewise God makes a difference in the way our lives progress, even through his presence in or direction of the ordinary events and institutions of life. The doctrine of providence is featured here.
Again we note that this is a book of two or three distinct origins — a first section written by an eighth-century BC prophet to Jerusalem and Judah, and a second section written immediately before the fall of Babylon in 539 BC (and so during the Babylonian captivity). The third section of the book was likely composed by a follower of the prophet after the restoration of exiled Judah in the homeland, expressing some disappointment about what had transpired since the exiles’ return. This lesson, stemming from this third source, is a promise of salvation for the children of Abraham.
The writer issues a call to all pursuing righteousness [tsedeq]. He reminds them of the rock and quarry from which they come — their solidarity (v. 1). He also highlights their origins in Abraham and Sarah that God can make a difference even with a small start (creating a great nation from just a man and a wife) (v. 2). The Lord will comfort [balaq] the people (the reference to Zion is a way of talking about Jerusalem), restoring her at the end times by returning to the ideal conditions of Eden (v. 3). This deliverance will happen quickly, when God’s righteousness will go out as a light to the peoples and his salvation [yeshuah, also referring to safety or ease] will be forever (vv. 4-6). We need to be reminded that God’s righteousness is not about a judging God who issues distributive justice. Rather it is a concept having to do with relationships (with God’s relationship with the faithful, bestowed on the faithful) and with his loyalty to his covenant (Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 371, 373, 376ff).
Application: Several sermon possibilities are suggested by this Complementary Version of the First Lesson. The idea of the solidarity of the Hebrew people offered to them in the midst of their difficult circumstances can serve as a reminder to the flock or the group addressed that we need to remember our solidarity and unity (Church and Social Ethics). Of course we cannot do this ourselves. God makes the difference in comforting us, saving us, by the righteousness that he bestows on the faithful (Justification by Grace). The Hebrew term for salvation [yeshuah], insofar as it may refer to safety or ease, entails that this text can also be an occasion to preach on how God can take those struggling (like the ancient Judeans) and give them justice (Social Ethics).
Paul’s letter of introduction to the Christians in Rome turns to a discussion of the consecrated life. He first urges his readers by the mercy of God to present their bodies [soma, referring to the self] as a living sacrifice [thusia], holy and acceptable to God. This is said to be their spiritual [logikos] worship [latreia, preferably translated "reasonable public or reverential service"] (v. 1). The apostle continues to urge that readers not be conformed [suschematizo] to this world/age [aion], but to be transformed [metamorphoo] by the renewing of minds so that what is discerned is God’s will [thelma] (v. 2). Authorized by the grace of God, Paul urges that the Romans not think more highly of themselves than they ought but to think with sober judgment according to the measure of faith God has assigned (v. 3). As in one body [soma] we have many members and not all members have the same function, so those who are many are one Body in Christ (vv. 4-5). Each has different gifts — ministry, teaching, exhorting, to be done with generosity, diligence, compassion, and cheerfulness (vv. 6-8).
Application: At least two homiletical possibilities emerge from this text. The text can be expounded as providing insight into the new identity Christians have been given in Christ, transformed into fulfillers of God’s will (Justification by Grace and Sanctification construed in terms of spontaneity). Another direction would be to focus on the different gifts that the lesson describes (Sanctification), and how each makes a contribution to the church’s unity and ministry. These gifts of God can make a difference in church and society (Social Ethics).
We have previously noted that this gospel is an anonymous work based on oral traditions about Jesus (though traditionally attributed to Matthew, one of Jesus’ disciples [9:9]). This book may well have been written in the last third of the first century in Antioch, for Bishop Ignatius seems to quote it as early as 110 AD. That it is written in Greek seems to rule out the disciple as its author. This lesson reports Peter’s confession and the conferring of the Power of the Keys.
In the district of Caesarea Philippi (a site of pagan worship on the Mediterranean, about twenty miles north of the Sea of Galilee), Jesus asks his disciples who people think the Son of Man [huios tou anthropou] is (v. 13). They say John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one the prophets (v. 14). While for Mark “Son of Man” implies Jesus’ lowliness, it is a title for Matthew identical with “Son of God” (Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According to Matthew, pp. 336, 340). Jesus then asks who they think he is (v.15). Simon Peter proclaims him the Christ/Messiah, Son of the living God (v. 16)! The verses that follow are unique to Matthew’s account of the story, probably because they are relevant to this gospel’s preoccupation with the church and its mission. Jesus responds with a blessing of Simon, for only the Father could have revealed this to him (v. 17). He then claims that Peter will be the rock on whom he will build his church (v. 18). (Peter’s name in Greek [Petros] means “rock,” and the two terms were one word [kepha] in the Palestinian Aramaic which Jesus usually spoke.) Peter seems not to have remained in Jerusalem after the time reported up to Acts 12:17.
Jesus then confers on Peter the Power of the Keys [kleis] of the kingdom, so whatever he binds on earth is bound in heaven and whatever he loses on earth will be loosed in heaven (v. 19). Then Jesus sternly orders the disciples not to tell anyone that he is the Messiah/Christ (v. 20).
Application: This text affords an opportunity to explore the question of who Jesus is and how he makes a difference, not a prophet or good man, but as the Son of God himself who has something to do with making forgiveness happen (Christology and Justification by Grace). Another option is to focus on our pettiness and unwillingness to forgive, when in fact forgiveness is the church’s business (Church and Justification by Grace). This is also a text about the apostolic foundations of the church.
THEME OF THE DAY
Things look better up ahead. The texts invite reflection on the possibilities of the future that God has in store for us (Eschatology, Providence, Justification by Grace).
Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c
We have previously noted how, paired with Psalm 106, this song was composed for use at one of the major festivals and consists of a recital of the basic events that created the nation of Israel. It begins with a hymn-like introduction summoning the congregation to worship and rejoice [sameach] in Yahweh, to seek his presence [panim, literally "face"] and remember his wonderful works [mopheth] and miracles (vv. 1-6). The people of Israel are said to be Yahweh’s chosen ones [bachir] (v. 6). What follows is a song about Israel coming to Egypt to become a great nation whom Egyptians come to hate, and concerning Moses who along with Aaron are raised up as leaders by Yahweh. Ham was thought to be the ancestor of the Egyptians (Genesis 10:6) (vv. 23-26). The part of the Psalm to be read concludes with the exhortation to praise the Lord (v. 45b).
Application: A sermon on this Psalm could celebrate how God has raised up leaders for his people, and so we have every expectation of that to happen again in the future for we are chosen by God (Eschatology and Providence). Another approach might be to focus on how in worship we come into God’s presence.
This is a prayer for deliverance from personal enemies in the form of a lament. It is traditionally attributed to David. We need again to be reminded that psalms attributed to David are not likely written by the king. In fact, many scholars have concluded that references to David in the Psalms 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 the expectation that all the faithful encounter trials and cry for deliverance.
The Psalm begins with a cry for vindication against an unjust charge. Reference is made to Yahweh’s steadfast love [chesed] and an invitation to have God test [nasah, which also translates "prove" or "try"] the psalmist, for he walks in faithfulness [in God's truth] (vv. 1-3). He protests his innocence and claims to hate the company of evildoers (vv. 4-5). A liturgical ceremony (a washing) is described (vv. 6-7). The Lord and his temple are praised (v. 8).
Application: This Psalm allows for sermons reflecting on how life is about unjust charges (Sin). But unless the text is read as presupposing Christ, the protestations of innocence by the psalmist are problematic. But if understood as a claim by one in Christ (righteous in him [as per Romans 4:2-5; Galatians 3:6; Ephesians 6:13-14; also see last week's discussion of Isaiah 51:1-6]), then the faithful can claim innocence. The allusion in the Psalm to a ceremony of washing in the temple might then be understood to foreshadow baptism, which further testifies to the innocence of those walking in God’s truth (Baptism and Justification by Grace). Understood in this way, the Psalm’s insistence on the unjustness of the charges against the faithful makes sense. The trials of life are not vindictive punishments inflicted on us by God. The faithful can endure them with the hope that the loving God is testing them and will deliver them (Providence and Eschatology).
We continue reading from this book of liberation, telling the story of the Israelites’ escape from Egyptian bondage. As previously noted and known by most readers of this resource, the book is the product of three distinct oral traditions. This text is probably the product of the oldest strands (most likely the ninth/tenth-century BC source), so named for its use the name Jahweh or Yahweh (translated “Lord”), as we read the account of the theophany of the burning bush, the divine commission, and the revealing of the divine name Yahweh.
The account begins with Moses keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian (a region to the east of the Red Sea). (The image of shepherd suggests leadership, much like David was first a shepherd, and Jesus uses this image in his famed parable.) He led the flock to the “mountain [har] of God [elohim],” called Horeb and Sinai (v. 1). This mountain was apparently a sacred place for the Midianites, as verse 5 suggests.
The angel [malak] of Yahweh (who some scholars believe to have been not just a creature like in Genesis 16:7 and 21:17, but an earthly manifestation of the Lord) appears to Moses in a burning bush that was not consumed (v. 2). (Fire was deemed a conventional medium of the divine presence [see Genesis 15:17].) Moses stops to observe this, and Yahweh calls him from the bush (vv. 3-4). He is told to come no closer and take off his shoes (an indication that he was on holy ground [Joshua 5:15], v. 5). The Lord identifies himself as the God of the patriarchs, and Moses hides his face (for gazing into the deity’s face can be fatal) (v. 6; cf. 33:20). Yahweh notes the bondage of his people and pledges to come down to deliver them from Egypt to a land of milk and honey, the country of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites (vv. 7-8). The Lord vows to use Moses to bring the Israelites out of Egypt (vv. 9-10). Displaying humility, Moses wonders how he is to do this (v. 11). God says as a sign [oth] for Moses, when he brings the people out of Egypt he will worship God on the mountain (Sinai) where they currently discourse (v. 12).
Moses then adds that if he goes to the Israelites claiming that the God of the ancestors has sent him, they will want to know God’s name [shem]. Yahweh provides his name — I Am Who I Am [or I Will Be Who I Will Be] (vv. 13-14). (The present and the future tenses are identical in ancient Hebrew.) It can also mean “He causes to be.” In the ancient world, names revealed something essential about the person or (in this case) the essence of God. This is why the name of God remains so much a matter of reverence and mystery among Jews to this day. God says again that Moses should say to the Israelites that he is the God of the patriarchs and that this is his name forever (v. 15).
Application: Several sermon possibilities present themselves. One could focus a sermon on the name Yahweh, a God of the future (I will be who I will be) or a God who gets things done (he causes things to be). The other possibility is to focus exclusively on Yahweh as a God of the future, stressing that just as Moses starts with nearly nothing but becomes the liberator of a nation, so with God the future is hopeful for he can make good out of nothing (Realized Eschatology) and can set free those in bondage (Social Ethics).
This is a book of prophecies of the late seventh-early sixth centuries BC prophet of Judah, dictated to his aide Baruch, during the reigns of Josiah, Jehoiakim, and Zedekiah through the era of the Babylonian captivity. These verses are part of the prophet’s second personal lament. Jeremiah begins with an acknowledgement that God is familiar with him and his life, and that Yahweh knows [yada] and remembers [zakur] him. He proceeds to pray for retribution on his persecutors (v. 15). The prophet notes his love for God’s word [dabar], how he has devoured them and they delight his heart. (This is a metaphor for expressing that Jeremiah’s words are those of Yahweh.) The prophet also claims to be called by Yahweh’s name (v. 16). This is because in Hebrew his name means “Yahweh exalts.” Jeremiah further notes that he has not engaged in the company of merrymakers, but under the weight of God’s hand [yad, a phrase which symbolizes inspiration or direction of God] Jeremiah claims to have been filled with indignation. Indeed his pain is unceasing. As such, he almost feels deceived by God (like a brook with no water deceives, first giving hope and then disappointment) (vv. 17-18). God then applies Jeremiah’s own message to himself. He promises conditionally (depending on the prophet’s response) not to abandon him, that Jeremiah will serve his word, to be a wall of bronze so that the people cannot prevail against him. The phrase “turn back” [shuv] suggests that Jeremiah might have abandoned his prophetic office and needs to repent (vv. 19-20b). Yahweh claims that he is with the prophet, to save [yasha, which also connotes "give safety or ease"] and deliver [natsal, connoting "snatch away"] him, and to redeem [padah, which also means "free"] him from the ruthless (vv. 20b-21).
Application: The bad circumstances in which Jeremiah finds himself (his sense of being persecuted and the hard times for the kingdom of Judah prior to the Babylonian invasion) could be used to examine our own despair or unhappy social dynamics in modern America (Sin and Social Ethics). Jeremiah needed to repent and so do we. He, like we often do, feels deceived with how God has operated, for God’s providential activity is often contrary to our expectations. (Jeremiah’s image of the brook with no water could be employed to describe how we sometimes feel about God’s providential activity.) But with Jeremiah it is also good to recognize that the prophetic task is to represent God’s word, not the preacher’s own desires, a response which happens spontaneously since God’s word delights the heart of the faithful. This is an excellent model for understanding ministry and the Christian life (Sanctification) which preachers could articulate. Alongside this is the promise of God of the better times that lie ahead (Eschatology), as we are assured that we can be saved, given safety, snatched away, and freed. The terms used in the text in Hebrew suggest that both salvation (Justification by Grace) and freedom (Social Ethics) is what God has in mind for us.
Writing to Christians in Rome he had not met (between 54 and 58 AD), Paul offers a series of exhortations drawn from wisdom traditions (ancient insights for coping with life). Paul begins by urging that love [agape, it is distinguished from brotherly love] be genuine, that Romans hate what is evil and hold fast to what is good, loving one another and outdoing each other in showing honor [time] (vv. 9-10). They are to rejoice in hope, enduring [hupomenontes] in suffering, steadfastly continuing [proskarterountes] in prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints [hagiown], and extending hospitality [to strangers] (vv. 12-13). Exhortation is also given to bless the persecutor; we are to rejoice with those rejoicing, weep with those who weep, live in harmony with each other, associate with the lowly [tapeinos], and not claim to be wiser than they are (vv. 14-16). The faithful are also exhorted not to repay evil for evil, but to take thought for what is noble (v. 17). If possible we should live peaceably [eireneuontes] with all (v. 18). Then the beloved of Paul are urged never to avenge [ekdikeo] themselves but to leave place for the wrath of God as per Deuteronomy 32:35 (v. 19). Rather, if the enemy is hungry or thirsty this need should be met, for by so doing this heaps burning coals on them (v. 20). We should not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good [agatho] (v. 21).
Application: At least two possibilities for sermons emerge from this text. The various wisdom sayings and virtues outlined (Sanctification) should properly be related to last week’s Second Lesson (vv. 1-8) where it was clear that a new identity has been given to Christians in Christ, and they have been transformed into fulfillers of God’s will (Justification by Grace and so the virtues in this lesson transpire spontaneously). The full acting out of these virtues in living the Christian life lies ahead, to be fully realized at the end (in the future) (Eschatology). Among these virtues, especially note the willingness to suffer (the Christian life is a denying of the self and crucifying our sinfulness, as per Romans 6:1-14) and the willingness to care for or identify with the poor (Social Ethics).
The other possibility for the sermon is to focus on the eschatological theme of judgment that God will judge others for us.
Again we consider the most Jewish-oriented of all the gospels, addressing an original audience that was probably Jewish Christians no longer in full communion with Judaism (see 24:20). This is an account of Jesus foretelling his death and resurrection along with a discourse on discipleship, a prophecy and teaching which appears in all the Synoptic Gospels.
Jesus begins to show the disciples that he must go to Jerusalem, undergo suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priest and scribes, be killed, and rise on the third day (v. 21). Peter begins to rebuke him, saying it must never happen. Jesus in turn calls Peter Satan [Satana], a stumbling block to him for setting his mind on human things (vv. 22-23). Here Peter probably represents all the disciples (Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According to Matthew, p. 346).
Jesus then tells his disciples that if one wants to become a follower, let him take up his cross [stauros] and follow him (v. 24). For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for Christ’s sake will find it (v. 25). Jesus then asks, what will it profit anyone to gain the whole world but forfeit their lives/souls [psuche] (v. 26)? He adds that the Son of Man [huios tou anthropou] will come with his angels in the glory of the Father and will repay everyone for what they have done (v. 27). While for Mark “Son of Man” implies Jesus’ lowliness, it is a title for Matthew identical with “Son of God” (Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According to Matthew, pp. 336, 340). The title Son of Man seems to have eschatological implications in this gospel, construing him as final judge in accord with Daniel 7:13-14 (cf. 13:37-39). The idea that the Son would repay us for what we have done links with the characteristic emphases of the gospel of Matthew, which construes the Law of Moses [nomos] not as a temporary measure superseded in the kingdom of heaven but as remaining the measure of entrance into the kingdom. In this Gospel Lesson, the law is the way of righteousness (13:52). Jesus adds that some standing with him as he utters these words will not die before the Son of Man comes back in his kingdom (v. 28).
Application: There are at least two possibilities for sermons offered by this lesson. One is to take Matthew’s insistence that the law is not superseded by the gospel and so they remain in harmony. (Some Protestant traditions might be inclined to take this text as a condemnation of our sin, as teaching that if we were judged by what we have done we are condemned [Sin], and so need the word of the Complementary Version of the First Lesson regarding God’s work in saving and delivering us [Justification by Grace].) The other possibility relates to Peter’s problem with the directions Jesus suggests his ministry will move and our Lord’s call for a life of cross-bearing. The Christian life involves a countercultural lifestyle, one that goes against the grain of our expectations about what faith in Christ or the life of Christ should be like (Sanctification). But such a way of life (of suffering) is not an end in itself but points to God’s aims for human beings in the future, at the final consummation (Eschatology).
THEME OF THE DAY
God keeps us together. The texts for this Sunday are about how in all God does he aims to keep us in communion with each other and with him (Justification by Grace, Sanctification, Church).
This is a hymn to accompany a festival dance. It directs that the Lord is to be praised [tehillah] in a new song in the assembly (v. 1). It also directs Israel to be glad in its maker and the children of Zion [the oldest and highest part of Jerusalem, a term poetically used to connote the whole city] to rejoice in their king (v. 2). We are to praise his name with dancing (v. 3). Yahweh is said to take pleasure in his people, ordaining the humble/afflicted [anav] with victory [yeshua, literally safety or salvation] (v. 4). The faithful are exhorted to exult in glory and sing for joy on couches (perhaps a ritual action that was part of the festival) (v. 5). High praises of God should be in their throats with swords in hand to execute vengeance on the nations, bringing their kings and nobles, executing them on the judgment decreed (vv. 6-9a). The dance that accompanied the music and lyrics may have been war-like in character. All this is said to be glory for the faithful. Yahweh is to be praised (v. 9b).
Application: A sermon on this text will link with its original theme of celebrating how God takes those in need with their afflictions and who know their needs and brings them to safety (Justification by Grace and Atonement). But insofar as the celebration is communal and dancing which is tied to the Psalm is communal, God’s salvation that is celebrated is communal, for God is said to take pleasure in his people (Social Ethics, and if read prophetically, this could refer to the Church).
The Psalm is acrostic, with each stanza of eight lines beginning with the same Hebrew letter. The 22 stanzas use all the letters of the alphabet in turn (accounting for the significant length of the hymn). Almost every line contains the word “law” or a synonym. These verses are part of a meditation on the law, specifically a prayer to understand the law.
The psalmist pleads to be taught the way of Yahweh’s Law [torah] and pledges to observe it to the end (vv. 33-34). Petitions are offered to be led in the path of the commandments/statutes [mitzvah], for in them is delight [chaphets] (vv. 35-36). They give life (v. 37). We need to remind ourselves here that references to the law in the Hebraic faith of the Old Testament should be construed in terms of the Hebraic concept of torah, which is not intended as a judgmental, condemnatory decree, but regards the law as instruction or a guide for life (Leo Trepp, Judaism: Development and Life, p. 2).
Pleas are made that Yahweh’s promise [dabar, literally word] for these who fear him [in the sense of devotion] be confirmed (v. 38). His ordinances are said to be good [tob], and pleas are offered to turn away disgrace. The psalmist notes a longing for the law, so that in God’s righteousness [tsedaqah] he would receive life (vv. 39-40). We note again that in the Hebrew Bible righteousness does not connote judgmentalism on God’s part but is about right relationship or deliverance [Psalm 71:2] (Gerhard Von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 371ff). 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: Although the devotion of the psalmist to the law could be taken as an occasion to point out how a life lived under the law leads to despair (Sin), a sermon more in line with the original intention of the Psalm will talk about how good life is when we are guided by God, in right relationship with him, but that he is the one who delivers us into this right relationship (Justification by Grace and Sanctification).
This book is so named for the Greek term referring to the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage. Its Hebrew name (meaning “These are the names”) refers to the first words of the text’s prologue. Like Genesis, the book is a compilation of three distinct oral traditions. This lesson is the version of the Passover from the Priestly oral tradition (the P strand of the Pentateuch, probably composed in the sixth century BC). It follows the account of the final plague the Lord worked against Pharaoh, which does not succeed in liberating the people (chapter 11).
The month of Nissan (March-April) is designated the beginning of the year (v. 2). On the tenth of the month, each family is to take a lamb or share a lamb with its closest neighbor and divide the lamb (vv. 3-4). The lamb is to be one year old and without blemish [tamim] (v. 5). Instructions are given to put the blood [dam] of the lamb on the doorposts and the lintel [mashqoph, or upper doorpost] of the houses of the people (these were the holy places of a house). The lamb is to be eaten the night it is killed, and instructions are given on how it is to be prepared and what is to be eaten (vv. 7-9). The lamb is to be entirely consumed, except for the remains to be burned the next morning (v. 10).
Instructions are given on the attire one is to have when eating the lamb, which should be consumed hurriedly (v. 11). The hurry with which to eat the meal is in commemoration of Israel’s hasty exodus. Passover is explained, how Yahweh would strike down the firstborn of all living things in Egypt, but the blood on the doorposts would be a sign for him to pass over [abar] the house so the plague would not destroy them. The gods of Egypt will also be judged (vv. 12-14). Henceforth the day is to be one of remembrance/memorial [zikkaron], a celebration of perpetual observance (v. 14).
Application: This lesson is a story of freedom, how God set the people of Israel free and so sets us free today (Justification by Grace and Social Ethics). It is crucial to note that the people as a whole, the community, are saved, not just individuals (an opportunity to highlight the importance of the Church). Or the Passover event might be interpreted Christologically, that as the lamb’s blood sets the people free, so Christ’s blood makes our exodus possible (Atonement).
The Complementary First Lesson appears in a book attributed to a sixth century BC prophet from a priestly family whose ministry was to his fellow exiles during the Babylonian Captivity. Some oracles pre-date the fall of Jerusalem. This lesson is part of a series of Oracles of Restoration. The verses pertain to God’s charge to the prophet regarding his responsibility. First Ezekiel is reminded that he is a sentinel [tsaphah, literally watchman] for Israel, that whenever he hears a word [dabar, can also mean thing] from the Lord he is to give Israel warning (v. 7). Not to proclaim God’s judgment of death on the people entails that they will die in their sin and their blood [dam] will be required at Ezekiel’s hand (v. 8). But if warned and they do not turn [shub] from their ways, they will die (v. 9). Thus he is to condemn them for their sins but assure the people that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked and wants the wicked to turn from their ways and live [chayah] (vv. 10-11).
Application: Several options for preaching emerge from this text. The call to turn back from sin is an opportunity to develop the theme of repentance, made possible by the God of love who has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. A focus on prophecy, its character as a critic of society, properly emerges from this text and from this point a sermon condemning problematic local or national social trends might be developed. This theme of condemning sin might be related to the theme of the Power of the Keys which emerges in the Gospel Lesson.
Paul begins to terminate his letter of introduction to the Roman church with a discussion of love fulfilling the law and the imminence of Christ’s second coming. The apostle first urges the Romans to owe nothing to anyone except for love [agapao] to one another, for whoever loves fulfills the law [nomos] (v. 8). The commandments, it is said, are fulfilled by love (vv. 9-10). Now is the time to awake, for salvation [soteria, also meaning safety] is near [egguteron], Paul proclaims (vv. 11-12a). The faithful are urged to lay aside works of darkness, putting on the armor of light [phos], living honorably and not in sin (vv. 12b-13). He urges the faithful to put on [enduo, literally "clothe"] Christ, making no provisions for the flesh (v. 14). Clearly Paul here indicates belief that the Esachaton (or Christ’s second coming) is near at hand.
Application: This text also opens the way for a number of possible sermons. Concern about nurturing community through love is an option in line with the Theme of the Day (Church and Sanctification). But this is only possible when we are clothed in Christ (Justification by Grace construed as being united with Christ, as per Galatians 2:19-20). Other themes (which might be linked to those just noted) include Realized Eschatology (the urgency of acting because Christ’s coming into our lives is on the immediate horizon) or condemning sin (that the Law of God is not fulfilled unless we practice selfless love).
We continue to consider the most Jewish-oriented of all the gospels, addressing an original audience that was probably Jewish Christians no longer in full communion with Judaism (see 24:20). This is an account of Jesus’ discussion of discipline among followers. Except for verse 15 the account is unique to Matthew. This is not surprising, for of the gospel writers Matthew alone concerns himself with matters of the church and how Christians are to live together.
The lesson begins with Jesus claiming that if another member of the church sins against a believer the aggrieved is to go and point out the fault to the offender in solitude. If this succeeds, this one has been regained (v. 15). If there is no reconciliation, then one or two other Christians should accompany the one offended in order that there be confirmation of what transpires by witnesses (v. 16; cf. Deuteronomy 19:15). If this fails, the church [ekklesia] should be told, and if the offender still refuses to listen he or she is to be treated as a non-member (a Gentile or tax collector) (v. 17). Jesus awards the Power of Keys to all the disciples (whatever they bind or loose is bound or loosed in heaven) (v. 18; cf. 16:19). If two agree on earth about anything requested, Jesus promises it will be done by the Father in heaven (v. 19). Where two or three are gathered in Christ’s name he agrees to be present to them (v. 20). This point suggests the vicarious presence of the risen Christ (28:20).
Application: The most obvious sermon emerging from this text is to proclaim forgiveness, how Christ has granted us the Power of the Keys, and the virtues of his mode of discipline — the virtues of private confrontation with those in the wrong before public reprimand (Sanctification). The fact that when we are in communion with each other Christ is present provides an excellent occasion to reflect on the church. And the promise of Christ’s presence among us is also a comforting word to proclaim.
THEME OF THE DAY
Remembering what’s happened to us: The remedy for our stony hearts. The texts have us looking to the past for hope and confidence in facing the present. God overcomes our harshness toward each other with love (Justification by Grace and Sanctification).
This is a hymn praising God’s great work in creating Israel. It is one of the Egyptian Hallel (“praise”) Psalms, perhaps sung during the slaughtering of the Passover lambs. The events of the Exodus are recalled. Judah is said to be God’s sanctuary [qodesh, literally separation] and Israel his dominion [memshalah] (vv. 1-2). Remarkable natural phenomena accompanying Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea are described in the present tense in the last two verses; the moving of the mountains and the seas are construed as contemporary, as verse 8 also seems to imply (vv. 3-6; cf. Exodus 14). The physical world is summoned to praise God (vv. 7-8; cf. turning the rock into water recalls Exodus 17:6; Numbers 20:11).
Application: The Psalm provides a fine opportunity to celebrate what God has done in setting Israel (and us) free (Justification by Grace). Even the created order gives us occasion for this sort of praise (Creation, Providence, Sanctification, as a life of praise). The themes of God ruling over the faithful or separating them [qodesh] are helpful insights for describing how God rules in the lives of the faithful and so overcomes our sin and sloth (Sanctification).
Psalm 103:(1-7) 8-13
A Psalm of praise and thanksgiving for recovery from sickness attributed to David. We are reminded again that psalms attributed to David are not likely written by the king. In fact, many scholars have concluded that references to David in the psalms 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 trust in God in the face of hard times that all the faithful experience.
The Psalm begins with a call to bless the Lord and his holy name. Nor should we forget his benefits in forgiving sin, healing disease, redeeming life from the pit, crowning us with steadfast love, and satisfying us with good for life, redeeming [gaal] us from the pit/ruin (vv. 1-5a). The comment about the soul [nephesh] is merely a reference that the life force or breath of the psalmist praises God. Youth [Neuroth] is then said to be renewed (v. 5b). Yahweh is proclaimed as working vindication and justice [mishpat, literally "judgment"] for all who are oppressed [ashuqim] (v. 6). He has made known his ways to Moses and to the people of Israel (v. 7). The Lord, it is sung, is merciful [chesed] and gracious [channun], slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love (v. 8). His forgiving compassion next receives further elaboration (vv. 9-10). His loving kindness [chesed, also translated "mercy"] is said to be greater than the highest mountain (vv. 11-12). He is like a father [ab] showing love/pity [racham] for those who fear/reverence [yare] him (v. 13).
Application: We are provided with opportunities to proclaim how we can trust God to deliver in tough times. This is an opportunity to proclaim a loving God even in the Old Testament (Justification by Grace and Providence). The editor of the Psalms wants us to recognize that as this happened to David, so in remembering it we can count on it ourselves. As our Father, God can change us to revere him. Reference to God vindicating and bringing about fair judgments for the oppressed opens the way to sermons on justice and Social Ethics.
Again we read from the book of liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage. The book is a compilation of three distinct oral traditions. This lesson is the story of the crossing of the Red Sea. It seems likely to be the work of the ninth/tenth-century BC oral tradition called J for its use of the name Jahweh/Yahweh when speaking of God.
The account begins with an angel [malak] of Yahweh who was going before the Israelites and the pillar of cloud [anan] moving from the front to going behind them (v. 19). Both seem to represent the presence of God, perhaps indicative of the fusing of two different oral traditions here. This cloud divided the army of Israel from the Egyptians, lighting up the night (v. 20). Moses is reported to have stretched his hand over the sea; Yahweh drives these back by a strong wind dividing the waters, and the Israelites cross the sea on the dry ground (vv. 21-23).
It is next reported that at morning watch Yahweh in the pillar of fire [esh] and cloud panicked the Egyptian army and clogged [literally "removed"] their chariot wheels. Confessing Yahweh’s support of the Israelites, they sought to flee (vv. 24-25). Moses is then commanded by Yahweh to stretch out his hand over the sea so that the water will flood over the Egyptians. Moses complies and this transpires, covering the Egyptian army so not one remains (vv. 26-28). By contrast, the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea (v. 29). The editor of the text notes that this is how the Lord saved [yasha, gave safety to] Israel from the Egyptians, and Israel saw the dead Egyptians as well as the great work done by him against them. The people then believed in Yahweh and in his servant Moses (vv. 30-31).
Application: We are provided with an opportunity to marvel at the deliverance of Israel and reflect on trials of life we experience, how like the Israelites we panic and doubt. Analysis of the modern forms of doubt and bondage might be explored (Sin and Justification by Grace). The depiction of salvation as “safety” entails that God’s saving work has implications for justice (Social Ethics) and that living faithfully gives safety (Sanctification). The images of God appearing as fire or a great cloud are a testimony to the awesomeness of God’s presence and how that presence remedies our doubts (Sanctification). Finally, an appreciation of how God used ordinary natural phenomena like strong winds to work his will and protect the faithful (Providence) can both provide us with a way of understanding this miracle in an intellectually palatable way as well as help us understand how to this day God is miraculously active in apparently natural ways.
The Complementary Version of the First Lesson returns us to the Bible’s book of Origins, also a compilation of the same three distinct oral traditions as contributed to Exodus. This lesson is the story of the final reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers, an account usually credited to the eighth century BC source E (so named for calling God “Elohim”). The story begins with the realization of Joseph’s brothers that their father Israel was dead and their concern that Joseph might still bear a grudge for the wrong they had done to him (v. 15). Thus they approach Joseph, indicating that their father had begged him to forgive [nasa] their crime. Joseph wept when told this (vv. 16-17). The brothers also weep, proclaiming that they were Joseph’s slaves (v. 18). Joseph assures them not to fear, for he is not Elohim (v. 19). Though the brothers had intended to harm him, God intended it for good [tob] in order to preserve numerous people (v. 20). In this way Joseph reassures the brothers (v. 21).
Application: At least two options are made available by this text. This is a story of how forgiveness works, how only God may judge and not us (Justification). This is also an occasion for focusing on God’s paradoxical providential ways, how he takes evil and makes good out of it.
Paul continues to conclude his letter of introduction to the largely Jewish Roman church with a discussion of how love respects the scruples of all. He was addressing the issue of tensions in the early church between Jewish Christians who scrupulously maintained Jewish dietary restrictions and those who understood themselves to be free from these restrictions in Christ. (He addressed similar matters in 1 Corinthians 8, 10.) First he urges the Romans to welcome all who are weak in faith but not for the purpose of quarreling (v. 1). He notes that some believe in eating anything while others (whom he says are weak) eat only vegetables (v. 2). Those who do not feel bound by such dietary regulations must not despise those who abstain and those who abstain, should not pass judgment [krino] on those who eat, for God has welcomed/received [proslamsano] them to himself (v. 3).
The apostle then challenges the right of Romans to pass judgment on servants of another, for all stand or fall before their own lord. Then will each be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand (vv. 4, 10). Next Paul notes a debate on whether or not to observe the Sabbath. Those who do so seek to honor the Lord. And likewise those who eat do so in honor of the Lord (vv. 5-6). We do not live to ourselves and we do not die to ourselves, he adds. If we live [zao] we live to the Lord, and if we die we die to the Lord (vv. 7-8). Christ died and lived again so that he might be Lord of the dead and the living (v. 9). Paul then quotes Isaiah 45:23 and its reference to how every knee should bow to the Lord and every tongue confess [exomologeo] to God (v. 11). Each of us will be accountable [logon dosi] to God (v. 12).
Application: Several homiletical possibilities emerge from this text. This is certainly an opportunity to proclaim our freedom from the law and works as a way to salvation (Justification by Grace), basing this on the remembrance of similar dynamics in the early church. This is only possible because God makes us stand, does the work in giving us freedom, and changes our way of living. And precisely because of this freedom from the law we are set free from judging others (Sanctification). Another possibility is to focus Paul’s comment that we do not live and die to ourselves. Because all the faithful belong to Christ’s Body, death does not separate us from each other (Church and Eschatology).
We have previously noted that this gospel is an anonymous work based on oral traditions about Jesus (though traditionally attributed to Matthew, one of Jesus’ disciples [9:9]). It may well have been written in the last third of the first century in Antioch, for its Bishop Ignatius seems to quote it as early as 110 AD. That it is written in Greek seems to rule out the disciple as its author. This lesson reports Jesus’ teaching of forgiveness. Except for verses 21-22 (with a parallel in Luke 17:4) the account is unique to this gospel, perhaps because it concerns itself with relations in the church and an ecclesiological preoccupation is unique to the gospel.
The account begins with Peter asking Jesus how many times he should forgive [aphiemi] a member of the church [adelphos, a brother] sinning against him, if seven times is sufficient (v. 21). Jesus responds that 77 times is necessary (v. 22). The number seven in Hebraic culture refers to completeness, so Jesus is teaching that a fullness of forgiveness is not enough. He compares the kingdom of heaven to a king wishing to settle accounts with his slaves. One owed him 10,000 talents (a talent being fifteen years worth of wages for a laborer). Since the slave could not pay, the lord orders him and his family to be sold (vv. 23-25; for the legitimacy of this practice in an ancient Jewish context, see Leviticus 25:39; 2 Kings 4:1). The slave begs for patience in the repayment, and out of pity [splagnistheism, or compassion] the lord releases him and forgives the debt (vv. 26-27). The same slave comes upon one of his fellow slaves who owes him 1,000 denarii (worth one day’s wages) and demands payment (v. 28). The slave begs for patience but the released slave refuses, throwing the other in prison (vv. 29-30). Fellow slaves are greatly distressed about this and report it to the lord (v. 31). He summons the slave whose debt he had forgiven, asserting that the slave should have had mercy on his fellow slave as the lord had mercy on that slave (vv. 31-33). The lord then turns over his former debtor to torture until his entire debt to the lord can be paid (the torturing was a means of discovering whether the debtor was concealing any money or other valuables). Jesus claims his Father will do the same to those who fail to forgive their brother or sister (vv. 34-35). This God who lays trials on the faithful seems in line with the Jewish roots of the document (cf. Job 23:10; Psalm 7:9; Jeremiah 9:7; 11:20).
Application: The text affords occasions to proclaim our sin (unwillingness to forgive) and how Jesus and the Holy Spirit have their way with us (forgiving us so we can do nothing other than God’s thing) (Justification by Grace). Another possibility is to proclaim that we cannot but forgive others in view of God’s forgiveness of us (Sanctification).
THEME OF THE DAY
A love that never quits. The theme of the consistency of God’s love is a testimony to Justification by Grace.
Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45
Paired with Psalm 106, this song of praise was composed for use at one of the major festivals and consists of a recital of the basic events that created the nation of Israel. It begins with a hymn-like introduction summoning the congregation to worship with thanks for the wonderful works/deeds [alilah] God has done (vv. 1-6). The story of the Exodus is next recounted (vv. 37-45). It is reported that the people, God’s chosen ones [bachir], were brought out with joy [sason]. They were given the lands of the nations in order that they might keep [natsar] the Lord’s statutes [choq] and observe his laws [torah].
Application: The Psalm affords an opportunity to celebrate the previous week’s theme of what God has done in setting Israel (and us) free (Justification by Grace). There is a reminder that God is consistent in his love for us. We are redeemed for service (Sanctification). Predestination is also implied by the acknowledgement that Israel is chosen.
This psalm of David is a hymn epitomizing the character of the God of Israel. We are reminded again that psalms attributed to David are not likely written by the king. In fact, many scholars have concluded that references to David in the psalms 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 this sense the song is a confession of faith about God that can be owned by all the faithful from generation to generation. Since it is not a lament, this Psalm is also probably not a part of the original collection of psalms of David (140-143) in Book V of the Psalms. This particular Psalm is acrostic, with each second verse beginning with the next successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It begins with praise [halal] of Yahweh Elohim and a promise to do so (vv. 1-3). His wonderful deeds [maaseh] are extolled. This is to be done from one generation to another (vv. 4-7). The Lord’s graciousness [channun] and mercy [chesed, or loving kindness] receive adulation (v. 8).
Application: Celebrating God’s wonderful deeds of the past in a chain from generation to generation of the faithful is a reminder that God’s love never quits (Justification by Grace).
Again we read from the book of liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage. It is good to be reminded that the book is a compilation of three distinct oral traditions. The lesson is about the miracle of receiving food in the wilderness. (Also see Numbers 11:1-9.) It is likely that it is the work of the ninth/tenth-century BC oral tradition called J for its use of the name Jahweh/Yahweh when speaking of God. The lesson beings with the congregation (now in the wilderness of sin, probably on the Sinaitic Peninsula [v. 1]) complaining, contending that at least in Egypt there had been food and now they were starving (vv. 2-3). Yahweh tells Moses “he is” [connoting the name Yahweh ("I am Who I am")] and that he will rain [matar] bread on the people and test them to see if they will follow his law on how to gather it (v. 4). On the sixth day when they prepare (set aside) what they bring in, there will be twice as much as they gather other days (v. 5). Moses and Aaron tell the people that Yahweh has heard their complaints (v. 9). Their complaints are not against them but against God. They prophesy that in the morning the people will see the glory of the Lord (which in Priestly oral traditions, which may also have contributed to this account, is associated with light or a pillar of cloud and fire which veils God but was often carried at the head of a marching army) (vv. 6-8; cf. 13:21-22).
Moses instructs Aaron to tell the congregation to draw near [qarab] to Yahweh, as he has heard the complaints (v. 9). The congregation sees the glory of Yahweh in the wilderness (v. 10). Then Yahweh instructs Moses to tell the people that at nightfall they will eat meat in the morning and have their fill. Then they will know that Yahweh is their God (vv. 11-12). In the evening quails covered the camp and in the morning there was dew [tal] around the camp. The dew lifts and there is a fine flaky substance (kephor, a grayish white frozen water, perhaps excrement) on the ground. Moses reports it is bread [lechem] (vv. 13-15). It is identified as manna [man] in verse 31.
Application: The text affords a chance to explore and condemn gluttony (our sinful greed that is never satisfied) and joyfully to proclaim the good news that faith and grace are received as gifts, even in surprising ways that seem at first glance repulsive (like the manna from heaven having origins in excrement and eternal life being given through a death on the Cross).
This didactive narrative is the product of an author who lived after the end of the late sixth century BC Babylonian exile, combining traditional legends about an obscure Galilean prophet who counseled the eighth century BC King Jeroboam II with a concern to highlight Israel’s universal mission. It is a testimony to the breadth of God’s love. In this lesson at the conclusion of the book we learn of the conversion of the Ninevites and Jonah’s regret about it (3:10ff). Jonah explains to Yahweh his displeasure, noting that this is why he had originally fled from this mission. He cites the description of God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:6-7), which entails God to be gracious [channun] and merciful [rachum], a bit too abundant in grace (4:1-2). He asks the Lord to take his life (4:3). Yahweh challenges this (4:4).
Jonah leaves the city of Nineveh and sits under a booth to get shade (4:5). It seems that Yahweh Elohim appoints a bush [qiqayon] to provide shade. But the next day he appointed a worm to attack the bust (4:6-7). God then has the wind [ruach] beat on Jonah, so he is faint. And he wants to die (4:8). Elohim asks him why he would be angry about a bush. If he is concerned about a bush for which he did not labor and did not grow, God asks if it does not make sense that he would be concerned about Nineveh, where there are more than 120,000 who do not know their right hand from their left, and that this love even extends to animals.
Application: Several options emerge from this text. It is an opportunity to consider prejudice and racism (Sin) but along with the awareness that God does not give up on us and that prejudice cannot prevail for God loves all (Justification by Grace). This is also a lesson that testifies to God’s great love, for human beings and creatures, and so the ecological agenda might also be considered (Creation and Providence).
The lesson is part of a letter written by Paul while a prisoner to Christians in a province of Macedonia (present-day Greece). There is some debate about whether the epistle in its present form might be a combination of three separate letters (as early theologian Polycarp [Philippians, 2.3] spoke of Paul’s letters to this church). Its immediate occasion was to thank the Philippians for their gifts, by way of the return of Epaphroditus to Philippi (2:25-30) who had brought these gifts to Paul. His main purpose is to urge persistence in faith in face of opposition. This lesson is part of Paul’s description of his present circumstances along with an exhortation and comfort for the Philippians. It is also a kind of last will and testament by Paul, offering the church a witness on living faithfully even when he is no longer present.
The apostle begins by claiming that for him living is Christ and dying [apothnesko] is gain [kerdos] (v. 21). In essence, his life is not his own. If he is to live in the flesh [sarx] that means fruitful labor, and so he does not know which he prefers (v. 22). Hard-pressed between the two he concludes that his desire is to die to be with Christ, but to remain in the flesh may be more necessary for the faithful (vv. 23-24). (The appeal to necessity here might reflect the presuppositions of Stoic philosophy.) Paul then claims that he will remain and continue with the faithful, sharing abundantly in their boasting in Christ Jesus when he sees them again (vv. 25-26). He exhorts readers to live their lives in a manner worthy [axios] of the gospel of Christ, so that whether he visits them again or not he may come to know that they are standing firm [steko] in one spirit [pneuma], striving side-by-side with one mind and in no way intimidated by opponents (vv. 27-28a). For opponents of faith this is evidence of the faithful’s salvation [soteria], and it is God’s doing (v. 28b). Paul claims that God has graciously granted the Philippians the privilege of believing in Christ but also of suffering for him since all have the same struggle [agona] (vv. 29-30). This last point may refer to the struggles of the athlete.
Application: The lesson is a celebration about how despite our continuous sinning God never abandons us and provides grace despite our faithlessness (Sin and Justification by Grace). Other options pertain to sermons on the Christian life and involving struggle making death sometimes look like a better prospect than life yet with the knowledge that our lives are not our own, and Christ keeps us faithful in unity (Sanctification and Church).
We read again from the most Jewish-oriented of the gospels, an anonymous work based on oral traditions about Jesus (though traditionally attributed to Matthew, one of Jesus’ disciples [9:9]). We consider this week Jesus’ parable of the laborers in the vineyard. Except for verse 16, the parable is unique to Matthew.
The account begins with Jesus claiming that the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early to hire laborers [ergates] (v. 1). Those hired in this way in the Roman empire of the first century were usually poor. He agrees with laborers for the usual daily wage [a denarius], and they go to work (v. 2). Then he goes out at 9:00 and seeing others idle puts them to work, claiming he will pay them what is right. They agree and go to work (vv. 3-4). The same thing transpires at noon, 3:00, and 5:00 (vv. 5-7).
At evening the landowner tells the manager to summon all the laborers and to pay them beginning with the last (v. 8). Payment at the end of the day was mandated for Hebrews (Leviticus 19:13). Those hired at 5:00 received the usual daily wage (v. 9). When the first hired come, they expect to receive more. So when they receive just the usual daily wage they grumble, pointing out the apparent unfairness since they had borne the heat of the day (vv. 10-12). The landowner replies that he did nothing wrong since they had agreed to the usual daily wage (v. 13). He claims that he is allowed to do what he chooses with what belongs to him, asking if the first-hired workers are envious of his generosity (vv. 14-15). The last [eschatos] will be first [protos] and the first will be last (v. 16).
Application: The text is about the paradoxical character of God’s love that grace violates the reason and the law (Justification by Grace), for nothing we do is worthy of merit (Sin). Likewise the least likely people (the poor and latecomers to faith) may be the very people God is counting on to advance his kingdom, for God never gives up on anyone (Providence and Justification by Grace).
THEME OF THE DAY
God takes charge of things. As the texts testify to the fact that nothing gets in the way of God’s aims we explore the doctrine of Sin and Justification by Grace.
This is a Maskil of Asaph, that is, an artful song that is the work of a professional Levitical musician or his tradition (see 2 Chronicles 29:30). This set of Psalms was composed for use at major festivals. The poet addresses the congregation in the style of Wisdom writers. The Psalm as a whole recounts the story of God’s care of Israel. It begins with a reference to dark/hidden sayings [chidah, or riddles, in the sense of the riddle of how Israel could rebel against God; cf. Proverbs 1:6] from the ancestors. The reference to a parable connotes a didactic poem (vv. 1-3). These sayings regarding the glorious deeds of Yahweh and his might [ezuz] are not to be hidden (v. 4).
Application: The Psalm affords occasion to proclaim how God is in charge of the faithful despite the riddle of our sin. His might overcomes our rebelliousness (Justification by Grace).
This is a lament prayer for deliverance from personal enemies. It is traditionally attributed to David. We need again to be reminded that psalms attributed to David are not likely written by the king. In fact, many scholars have concluded that references to David in the psalms 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 the expectation that all the faithful encounter trials and cry for deliverance.
The Psalm is acrostic. Every successive verse begins with another letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It begins with a cry for help that the psalmist not be put to shame [bosh] (vv. 1-3). It includes a confession of sin and prayer for forgiveness by Yahweh whose love [racham, compassion] and mercy [chesed] are extolled (vv. 6-7). The affirmation of Justification by Grace includes a concern with the practice of the religious life (Sanctification). It seems that the forgiven sinner is led by God. He is said to guide and make the meek/humble [anav] to what is right (vv. 4-5, 8-9).
Application: The text opens the way for sermons that explore what our real enemies in life are (Sin) with the good news that deliverance by a loving God is a sure thing (Justification by Grace). This is an opportunity to preach on the Christian life as something that follows from forgiveness, as we become humble in our awareness of sin.
We have previously noted that like all of the first five books of the Old Testament, Exodus is the product of several distinct literary strands, all originating between the tenth and sixth centuries BC. The book is so named for the Greek term referring to the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage. Its Hebrew name (meaning “These are the names”) refers to the first words of the text’s Prologue. In this lesson we consider the story of water in the wilderness (which has a parallel version in Numbers 20:2-13), perhaps in the wilderness of Paran, which is just northeast of the wilderness of Sin. Sin was probably fifty miles west of Mount Sinai in modern-day Saudi Arabia. The lesson is again likely the work of the ninth/tenth-century BC oral tradition called J for its use of the name Jahweh/Yahweh when speaking of God.
Continuing to travel by stages (making various stops in the Exodus) (v. 1), camped in the wilderness the people had no water and quarreled with Moses to receive it (v. 2). They wonder why he had brought them out of Egypt to such suffering (v. 3). Moses is reported to have accused the people of testing [the Hebrew word nasah is more properly translated try, implying a court hearing for] the Lord (v. 2). He pleads with Yahweh, asking what he is to do with the people (v. 4). (They had complained earlier about the need for water and been delivered with both water and bread from heaven [15f:22ff].) The Lord replies that he is to take leaders with him along with the staff with which Moses had stuck the Nile (v. 5; 7:20). Unlike in the version in Numbers, this earlier literary strand tells the story without a reference to a shrine from which to seek divine counsel. The Lord promises to be standing in front of Moses on the rock at Horeb and commands Moses to strike the rock so the people would receive the drink (v. 6). Water lies below the limestone surface in the region of Sinai. The place was called Massah and Meribah (meaning “test” and “find fault” in Hebraic; see the preceding paragraph for more on the location of these wilderness areas), because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord (v. 7).
Application: The text makes clear that all things are in God’s hands (Providence and Creation) in the midst of our unfaithfulness (Sin). We are totally dependent on God, for God provides the good things of the earth even to those who deny him (Justification by Grace).
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
The Complementary First Lesson appears in a book attributed to a sixth century BC prophet from a priestly family whose ministry was to his fellow exiles during the Babylonian captivity. Some oracles predate the fall of Jerusalem. This text, likely the words of the historical prophet, is a discourse on individual responsibility. The word of Yahweh comes to the prophet asking why he uses the proverb concerning Israel that the parents have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge (vv. 1-2; cf. Jeremiah 31:27-30). It should no more be used, he directs. Only the person who sins dies (vv. 3-4). After illustrating this principle in detail (vv. 5-24), Yahweh responds to charges that his way is not fair. In fact, it is the ways of Israel that are not fair (vv. 25, 29). When the righteous [tsaddiq] turn from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it (v. 26). And when the wicked turn from wickedness [rishah] to do what is lawful they save their life (vv. 27-28). Yahweh says he will judge [shaphat, connoting a magistrate's judgment] the house of Israel according to their ways [derek]. He calls them to repent and turn from all their transgressions. They are to get themselves a new heart [leb] and a new spirit [ruach] (vv. 29-31). The idea of a new covenant (like Jeremiah 31:34) seems implied. God says he has no pleasure in the death of anyone (v. 32).
Application: The text affords opportunities to remind the flock of individual responsibility and Sanctification. But the behavioral expectations seem related to repentance and in particular to God transforming the faithful, providing them with a new heart and new spirit (Justification by Grace construed as Union with Christ, as per Galatians 2:19-20). Good works follow from this transformation, it seems. We might stress that it is a God of love portrayed here, one who takes no pleasure in the death of anyone.
The lesson is part of a letter written by Paul while a prisoner, to Christians in a province of Macedonia (present-day Greece). There is some debate about whether the epistle in its present form might be a combination of three separate letters. Paul is concerned to urge persistence in faith in the face of opposition. This lesson is a reflection and early Christian hymn on humility and the example of Christ.
Reference is first made to the consolation, love, sharing the Spirit, compassion, and sympathy encouraged (made to transpire) by Christ (v. 1). Paul says that this news will make joy complete. He would have the faithful be of the same mind, having love (v. 2). As a result, he urges the faithful to do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but in humility to regard others as better than themselves (v. 3). It is best, Paul claims, if each look not to his/her own interests but to the interests of others (v. 4). Then he urges the faithful to be of the same mind as Christ (v. 5). He illustrates this point by citing the ancient Christian hymn about Christ, who though in the form [morpse] of God is said not to have regarded it robbery to be equal to God but emptied [ekenose] himself in the form of a slave, born in human likeness, humbled himself, and became obedient to death on a cross (vv. 6-8). The hymn continues: God therefore exalted Christ highly and gave him a name [onoma] above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Christ is Lord (vv. 9-11)! With the hymn ended, Paul would have the faithful work out their own salvation [soteria] in fear and trembling (humbly and with constant dependence on God), just as they always obeyed the apostle in the past (v. 12). He claims it is God who is at work in the faithful, enabling them to work for his good pleasure [eudokias] (v. 13).
Application: Focusing on Jesus’ humble sacrifice reveals our pride and sin. It is not that we work out our own salvation alone, but only when in constant dependence on God (in fear and trembling) does salvation happen (Justification by Grace). Another option might be to preach on Christ’s atonement and sacrifice as the way salvation happens.
Again we read from the most Jewish-oriented of the gospels, an anonymous work based on oral traditions about Jesus (though traditionally attributed to Matthew, one of Jesus’ disciples [9:9]). The lesson describes challenges to Jesus’ authority and the parable of the two sons. The parable is unique to Matthew.
The lesson begins with Jesus returning to the temple where the chief priests and elders came to him as he was teaching. They ask by what authority he is proceeding (v. 23), and unlike the Markan version of the text (11:27), Matthew’s Jesus is challenged on his authority to teach in the Jerusalem Temple. (He had never been ordained as a rabbi.) Jesus poses a question for the interrogators first, asking whether John’s baptism was from heaven or of human origin (vv. 24-25a). This creates consternation among those questioning Jesus, for they do not want to concede the heavenly origin of the baptism and yet fear an uprising if they do not (vv. 25b-26). Finally the chief priests and elders claim not to know, and so Jesus refuses to tell them his authority (v. 27).
The parable follows, of one son refusing to work in the vineyard for his father but eventually doing so while the other promises to undertake this task but never does so (vv. 28-30). Jesus asks his followers which of the sons did the father’s bidding, and they answer the first. So Jesus claims that tax collectors and prostitutes (that is, moral and social outcasts) will enter the kingdom of God ahead of Jewish leaders (v. 31). This criticism of establishment Judaism nicely fits with the gospel author’s concern to address an original audience that was probably Jewish Christians no longer in full communion with Judaism (see 24:20). John is said to have come to the Jews in the way of righteousness [hodow dikaiosunes] but was not believed, while the tax collectors and prostitutes believe him. But the Jewish leaders have not changed their minds (v. 32).
Application: This text offers an occasion to point out how, like the dishonest son in the parable, we talk big but often do not walk that walk (Sin). Yet God does not abandon us but gets to us working outside the box (Justification by Grace and God’s providential working through lowly, ordinary means). An alternative might be to note how often the leaders of community, the powerful and even rich have it wrong about God, but that those on the margins (society’s outcasts) are often more likely to be in line with the Lord’s plans (Social Ethics, a preferential option for the poor).