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Proper 12 / Pentecost 7 / Ordinary Time 17, Cycle A

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).

Psalm 105:1-11,45b
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).


Psalm 119:129-136
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).

Genesis 29:15-28
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]).

Romans 8:26-39
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).

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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