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Proper 13 | Ordinary Time 18, Cycle A

The proclamation of God’s free, abundant, loving grace is the dominant theme in these texts. Without it, life for us cannot exist.

Genesis 32:22-31
Jacob, afraid to see his brother Esau who was coming to meet him with 400 men and vulnerable because of Jacob’s unprotected family and large herds of cattle, instead during the night sees God face-to-face and “wrestles” with God. By the free, abundant, loving grace of God, instead of being killed Jacob’s life is spared from the wrath of God and of his brother, his name is changed to Israel, and he is blessed by God. For Israelites and Jews, Jacob represents them and the free, abundant, and loving grace of God bestowed upon them. The free, abundant, and loving grace of God we as Christians receive is not a replacement for the grace of God bestowed upon the Jews, but a continuation of it.

Psalm 17:1-7, 15
Along with the psalmist and the Israelites and Jews represented by this psalmist, we as Christians also call upon God to hear our prayer during the night, to show for us also, along with the Israelites, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and all others who ask for it, the free, abundant, loving grace that comes from God alone. Along with them, in the morning we behold the face of God and live.

Isaiah 55:1-5
The gospel of God’s free, abundant, loving grace is clearly expressed in this climactic portion of the Isaiah traditions. Water, grain, wine, milk, life itself — all are freely, graciously supplied by the Lord! The good news for the poor and oppressed is there is absolutely no cost, either for those who have no money or for those who have resources of their own. Not only this, but in this text we are promised an everlasting covenant of blessings, acclamation by people from foreign nations, honor, and glory.

Hopes were high and perceptions of God’s grace were clear when this good news was proclaimed at the time of the end of the exile of the Israelite leaders in Babylon. Throughout the ensuing ages, during times of high hopes and times of little or no hope, this message has been proclaimed within the Israelite, Jewish, and Christian traditions. It will continue to be proclaimed by us this coming weekend.

We can hardly read this message or hear it without comment. We must ask the question: Is God’s loving grace still free and abundant today? Does it still include clear water, grain, wine, milk, and life itself? Or is nothing, including God’s loving grace, free any longer?

We note that within this text there is no human sacrifice of God’s Son as atonement for sins, no ransom, no payment at all! There is only the invitation from God, the invitation to come and to receive.

Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
Here also the proclamation of God’s free, abundant, and loving grace is loud and clear. In this beautiful confessional statement repeated with variations many places in the Israelite Scriptures it is said that the Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to become angry, and filled with kindness. The hand of the Lord is open in providing what is needed for every living thing. This emphasis on the compassion of the Lord makes this an excellent psalm selection to be used with Isaiah 55:1-5.

Romans 9:1-5
These few verses introduce the very significant Romans 9-11 section of Paul’s letter to followers of Jesus in Rome in which Paul most fully writes about his feelings regarding his own people, the Jews who remain Jews. It is unfortunate that only a few bits and pieces of Romans 9-11 are read during this Series A sequence. These few verses in no way do justice to Paul’s expression of his feelings about his own people, the Jews, in Romans 9-11. We should share with our congregations the fact that Paul was a follower of Jesus of Jewish background and that Paul continued throughout the time that Paul wrote the letters later accepted into the Newer Testament canon to have strong positive feelings about the Jews. Our analysis of Paul’s letters indicates most of Paul’s problems were not with Jews who remained Jews but with legalistically minded followers of Jesus who opposed him and with “spirit-filled” followers of Jesus who claimed superiority over all other followers of Jesus, some of whom were of Jewish background just as Paul was. A different scenario is presented in Acts of Apostles, but Paul did not write Acts of Apostles.

Although the Apostle Paul was deeply concerned when he wrote this portion of his letter to the followers of Jesus in Rome that most of his own people, the Jews, had not accepted the message that God acts to provide salvation for followers of Jesus by means of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as the Risen Christ, the Son of God, Paul was thankful to God for the Israelites and for the Jews. They remain, in Paul’s understanding, God’s special children, to whom, he wrote, the glory of God has been given, the covenants with God made, the Torah and the worship of God and the promises had been given, and from whom had come Jesus the Christ. For all of this, Paul wrote, God who is God over all is to be praised and blessed forever!

Matthew 14:13-21
This account about the amazing feeding of the 5,000 men, plus their families, included with relatively minor variations in all Four Gospels, indicates that within both the Synoptic and Johannine traditions it was proclaimed that in what Jesus had done God’s power to heal and to provide food was fully operative. Jesus is said to have provided the multiplication of the loaves and of the fish and to have provided food for the hungry abundantly. Twelve baskets full of fragments remained in “take home” containers after all had been filled. This is a miracle story, and it certainly should be proclaimed as a miracle story by us. As with Isaiah 55, God’s loving grace, free and abundant, including loaves and fish, healing and life, should be proclaimed as free and abundant here.

Perhaps we should ask once more: Is God’s loving grace still free and abundant today? Does it still include clear water, grain, wine, milk, and life itself? Or is nothing, including God’s grace, free any longer?

The biblical accounts, our own experiences, and God’s continuing revelations to us all indicate that the loving grace of God is still free and abundant and always will be. The problem, of course, is that the product (God’s loving grace) is indeed freely supplied by God for us, but our delivery of the product is not without some expense. (We recall that the Apostle Paul tried to deliver it at no cost to the Corinthians.) We must face the problems caused by the increasing costs of delivery of the gospel openly and honestly within our congregations, and we should exercise careful control over these delivery costs. Much more important, however, we should remember and boldly proclaim that God’s loving grace is free. Then we should work to provide the clear water, grain, wine, and milk as well in God’s name, as Paul did and as Jesus had done.

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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