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Proper 10 / Pentecost 6 / Ordinary Time 15, Cycle A

God gets it done! The texts again highlight how much God’s grace provides (Justification by Grace and Providence) and that the good in life is God’s (sometimes surprising) work and not a function of what we do (Sin).

Psalm 119:105-112
This is a prayer for help in the lengthy meditation on the law of God. This is part of an acrostic Psalm, in which as we have noted each stanza of eight lines begins 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. The Psalm as a whole has the character of a lament, suggesting it may have been composed as a prayer of deliverance. In any case, it is probably one of the last of the Psalms in the book to have been written.

God’s word [dabar] is said to be a lamp and light [or] to our feet. An oath has been sworn to observe it (vv. 105-106). The psalmist claims to be greatly afflicted and pleads with the Lord for life according the word, urging him to accept his offerings of praise and teach his ordinances (vv. 107-108). No matter the circumstances the psalmist pledges not to forget God’s Law [torah] and will not stray from it (vv. 109-110). God’s decrees are the joy of the psalmist’s heart; he pledges to perform the law to the end, for it is the joy of his heart (vv. 111-112). Although as Christians we may interpret these references to torah and its equivalent Hebrew words in terms of a demand which in sin we cannot fulfill, it is important to keep in mind that from a Jewish perspective (and so perhaps in the Psalm’s original meaning) the term means “instruction” or guide for life (Leo Trepp, Judaism: Development and Life, p. 2).

Application: This lesson and its plea for deliverance by God’s word allows for opportunities to reflect on the realities from which we might need deliverance (Sin) and how clinging to God’s instruction (guides for life) can see us through and even give joy. In this sense we might construe the text in terms of a testimony to what God accomplishes in our lives, as grace to deliver us from trials (Justification by Grace). Or the Psalm could be construed in terms of Sanctification as a declaration of how the life of faithful looks made possible by grace.


Psalm 65:(1-8) 9-13
This is a thanksgiving for a good harvest. Praise is said to be due to God [presumably in the temple] for he has answered prayer, atoned for (or forgiven) our transgressions, and chosen to bring us near. Those chosen are said to be happy/blessed [ashere] (vv. 1-4). The Lord is praised for his awesome deeds of deliverance (vv. 5-8). His subduing of the seas [yam] (v. 7) may be a reference to God overcoming chaos (74:12-14; 77:16; Genesis 1:2). God is further praised for making the earth fertile (vv. 9-13).

Application: This Psalm invites sermons on God’s providential rule, how he keeps the earth fertile (Creation and Ecology) or how he overcomes the chaos in life and gives it meaning.

Genesis 25:19-34
Most Old Testament scholars agree that, like the other books of the Pentateuch, Genesis is likely the product of four distinct oral strands. This text, the rivalry between Jacob/Israel and Esau/Edom, was also probably a product of a ninth/tenth century BC source so named for its use of the name Jahweh or Yahweh. The lesson commences by providing the lineage of Abraham with Isaac and Isaac’s marriage to Rebekah (vv. 19-20). Her father and sister are identified as “Arameans,” that is, descendants of Aram, a son of Shem, who was a son of Noah (10:22). It is reported that that Rebekah was barren [agar], but Isaac is said to have prayed to Yahweh for children and the prayer was answered (v. 21). With twins, Rebekah struggles to the point of wishing her own death. Seeking Yahweh in a sanctuary, he reports to her in poetic form that two nations were in her womb, and they would be divided with the elder serving the younger (vv. 22-23). The firstborn had a hairy mantle and was named Esau. He is described as “red” [admoni] (vv. 24-25). This is a play on words in Hebrew, for it resembles the Hebrew “Edom” which is Esau’s other name. Then came his brother gripping Esau’s heel [aqeb]. He was named Jacob. This is a play on words in Hebrew, as the term for heel suggests the term for supplant [aqab]. Thus by grabbing Esau’s heel, Jacob was supplanting him. Isaac is reported as being sixty at the time (v. 26).

Esau is reported to have grown to be a skillful hunter and Jacob a quiet man, living in tents. Isaac loved Esau more for his game hunting, but Rebekah loved Jacob (vv. 27-28). The brothers represent the two ways of life of early homo sapiens — hunter-gatherers (Esau) and agrarians (Jacob). Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau became famished. Esau asked for some of the stew, but Jacob insisted on payment of Esau’s birthright. Esau agreed, despising his birthright [bekorah] (vv. 29-34). Birthright in the ancient world refers to the rights of the eldest son to leadership of the extended family and to receive a double share of the inheritance (Deuteronomy 21:15-17).

Application: This is an opportunity to focus on how God has advanced the human condition by ensuring that the hunter-gathering way of life would be transcended by more sedentary cultural mores (Providence). The fact that this conquest is reported as a violation of birthright secession shows that God’s manner of ruling, his will, transpires by surprise, in hidden ways. We cannot always anticipate the will of God by logic. God’s care for all his people is evident in that even the one who lost his birthright (Esau) became the father of a great nation (the Edomites). God does not abandon his creatures!


Isaiah 55:10-13
The Complementary Version of this Sunday’s First Lesson is found in a book that is really two or three different books edited into one. The first 39 chapters are more or less the work of the historical Isaiah who proclaimed his message to Jerusalem and the Southern Kingdom from 742 BC to 701 BC. Chapters 40 to 66 are written in a later period, probably just before the fall of Babylon in 539 BC. But the last ten chapters of the book were likely composed by a follower of the prophet after the restoration of exited Judah in the homeland, expressing some disappointment about what had transpired since the exiles’ return. This lesson, part of a hymn of joy and triumph, was written by Deutero-Isaiah. The lesson begins with an appreciation that as rain causes germination and provides sustenance, as God gives seed [zera] to the sower, so shall the Lord God’s word [dabar] not return empty, but will accomplish what is proposed (vv. 10-11). This will lead the faithful to go out in joy as in a new exodus. All of nature will rejoice [masos] (vv. 12-13).

Application: A least two possible directions for sermons emerge from this text. God’s care for creation (Providence) is one possibility. But more in line with the text’s intentions is to celebrate that as bad as things may have been (Sin), we have the promise of the effectiveness of God’s word to open us to a new, liberating (as the Exodus was liberating) future (Justification by Grace and Social Ethics).

Romans 8:1-11
Proceeding with his letter of introduction, Paul engages a discussion of God’s saving act and life in the flesh and spirit. The apostle begins by claiming that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (v. 1). The law of the Spirit of life in Christ has set the faithful free from the law of sin and death (v. 2). God is said to have done what the law [nomos] weakened by sin and death could not do. He sent his Son in the likeness [homoioma] of the flesh of sin [hamartias] to deal with sin by condemning it (v. 3). This is made possible the fulfillment of the just requirement of the law in us, not according to the flesh [sarx] but the Spirit (v. 4). Paul adds that those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the flesh and those who live according the Spirit set their minds on the Spirit (v. 5). The first is death, while the second style of life is life and peace (v. 6). The mind set on the flesh is said to be hostile to God, not able to submit to God’s law (vv. 7-8). (This definition of flesh in terms of hostility to God makes clear what we noted last week in the analysis of the Second Lesson that for Paul “flesh” is not a reference to our physical nature as created by God but the reality that we are totally ruled by sin). Paul then tells readers that they are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in them. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him (v. 9). But if Christ is in us, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness [dikaiosune] (v. 10). (It is good to be reminded at this point that the concept of “righteousness” even in Paul’s Jewish 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 [Rudolf Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, Vol. 1, p. 271; Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 370-371].) If the Spirit of him who raised Christ lives in us, he will give life to our mortal bodies through the Spirit (v. 11). Paul uses Spirit, Spirit of God, and Spirit of Christ interchangeably, suggesting the biblical origins of the Trinity doctrine.

Application: The text invites sermons focusing on the Holy Spirit, on how God uses the Spirit to displace the power of sin in us. (The nature of sin as hostility to God might be explored.) This leads to stress on Justification by Grace, but especially construed as Union with Christ, being united with Christ by the Holy Spirit so that we cannot but live in right relationship with God (Sanctification).

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
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]). But it may well have not been written until 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 lesson is an account of Jesus’ teaching of the parable of the sower and the Matthean explanation of it (which, like all the other gospel writers’ similar explanatory versions did not likely originate with the words of Jesus). In comparison to the Markan parallel (4:1-9), Matthew’s version focuses more on Jesus’ own fate (the failure of his ministry to bear fruit) than on the kingdom of God, but in both cases they agree that the focus is not on different kinds of soil we might be (Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According to Matthew, p. 297; Joachim Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus, pp. 149-151).

The same day Jesus had taught that his family includes whoever did the Father’s will (12:49), he went outside and sat by the Sea of Galilee. Crowds gathered around him (vv. 1-2). He proceeds with the parable, recounting seeds [speiromai] falling on the path, on rocky ground with no depth, among thorns, and others on good soil with a great harvest (vv. 3-8). Jesus directs that anyone with ears should listen (v. 9). After responding to questions of why he speaks in parables (vv. 10-17), Jesus is reported to have interpreted the parable of the sower (v. 18). Seeds sown on the path and snatched away by evil are those who heard the word and did not understand. Those failing on rocky ground are those who joyfully receive but with no roots fail to endure when persecuted (vv. 19-21). Seeds falling among thorns are those who hear the word and are torn away by cares of the world and the lure of wealth (v. 22). Those sown on good soil are those who hear the word, understand, and bear fruit (v. 23).

Application: Stress that the original parable did not include the explanation Matthew provides. This insight entails that the focus of the lesson is not on what we do, but on what God does. Soil is passive! It is what God does that brings about fruit (Justification by Grace). And likewise if the cause of Jesus (Ministry) is not established immediately on our timetable, we are reminded that the growth takes place in hidden ways, on God’s timetable, just as seeds bearing fruit happen according to God’s schedule and not ours (Eschatology).

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